Peace Corps 2018

Reflections, Drew, and Frightened Toddlers.

April 3rd – July 11th 2019

I APOLOGIZE TENFOLD!! It has felt like years since I have last posted. It is not that I haven’t wanted to….but I have spent the last few months studying for the GRE and watching all of the Game of Thrones series…(I was against it for so long until I finally was convinced to watch it…)

Then I got sucked down the rabbit hole….

I think most you of you know what I mean..

ANYWHO!

I am back in action and excited to dive into writing again! Be ready for more blog post to be heading your way!

SO what the H. E. Double hockey sticks have I been up to besides studying and binge watching…

Absolutely nothing.

HA.

Just kidding.

I have drank too much coffee on this glorious morning.

Coffee sweats all day! WOO YEAH!

Where to start….

Where to start…

Honestly, I feel like so much has happened. But, I will try to be concise and give only the good bits… and pieces…and nibbles…

SO

It has been since last December that I wrote about the work I was doing at site and what kind of work I was looking to do in the year of 2019. Looking back on it and my goals for this year… it has been fun to see how much I have accomplished thus far.

Reflection at its finest. It’s good for the soul no?

Therefore, Without further ado…

GOAL 1: “Build a handwashing station at the school”

Boom shakalaka! Done. The last piece to remain is making it look pretty and giving it some POP (Paint it). The process of the handwashing station was long and obnoxious, but I am glad it was accomplished. It started with finding the right contractor from the neighboring town that could do a good job and wouldn’t charge me out the butt. Even though I have been here (at that time) for over a year, it was beyond frustrating to still get charged the “Forengie Price” meaning, they doubled or tripled what things should have cost. We talked to a couple people and then landed on a young dynamic duo. They initially tried to over charge me and I was fed up with all the BS. Luckily, I was with the head director of the school so I felt more comfortable and well… I let the two have it. I explained (yelled) that just because I am white doesn’t mean that I have money, that I came here as a volunteer to learn from Ethiopians, to share my life, and help increase the health of people here in Chime. That I am NOT getting paid to do this. Then I pulled the classic bargaining move of walking away and telling them we will find someone else. The two came to their senses and we were able to compromise on a price. The actual construction of the handwashing station did not take too long, the men were pretty on top of it. It was joyful to watch my baby come to life.

There has been a couple issues of getting the right water pump attached to the washing station, it is pretty far from any pipe so the pipe has to have enough power to get it all the way to the station. We have changed it twice and fingers crossed it will work!

The last few steps are to finish painting it and then hold a camp for the students when school starts up again in a few months about why I built the handwashing station and WHY handwashing is SO important. Wash em Wash em Wash em.

GOAL 2: “Meeting some men who work for Fairchain Founation and working with them.”

I am actually still in contact with the men that work for this foundation but have found myself preoccupied in other areas. Therefore, I have been able to assist some days and other days just meet up and give them some insight to Ethiopia and help with language. It has been cool however to be so close to their coffee washing station and seeing it being sold all over Addis Abba. I am excited to see how this coming coffee season turns out!

GOAL 3: “Visiting the Deaf school, learn Amharic Sign Language, and build resources for PCVs”

Visiting the Deaf school has decreased as work at site increased, however, I am hoping after a couple months to return to a weekly schedule of visiting them. I have definitely learned more Amharic Sign Language and have almost finished a Amharic Sign Language Tutorial for PCVs in Ethiopia to use to practice and communicate with Deaf people they see! This has been SUCH a fun side project to work on.

Additionally, as a Abilities Committee Member, the members and myself have made and completed a manual to give to PCVs to help guide and educate them on incorporating work with People with Disabilities. I have also been able to get in contact with people from the Ethiopia Center for Disability and Development and am in the process of setting up a training for our staff and volunteers to increase awareness of people with disabilities and be more inclusive in our work.

GOAL 4: “Continue with girls club and hope to start English clubs.”

This truly has been one of the most rewarding parts in this last semester of school. I found myself the past five months constantly at the school. Last semester I had two different English clubs, one for grade 5-8 and one for grade 9, both occurring twice a week. I also held a girls club once a week.

This section of my service was one of the best pieces. I love kids and getting to be goofy while teaching was rejuvenating. My community kids are often quiet and shy so I did my best to get them out of their bubbles and laugh and play and use language as something tangible. I am looking forward to next school year and starting these clubs back up.

GOAL 5: “Hold a camp GLOW”

I am SOOOOOOO stoked for this. We (myself and 5 other PCVs in the area) have applied for a grant and received it to hold a Camp GLOW at the end of August. I am over the moon about this. Each PCV gets to bring around 4 to 5 students for a week long Gender camp. At this camp we will help promote gender equality through games and meaningful conversations. I think the kids are really going to enjoy it. (Or they better) So in a couple months, stay tuned for the Camp GLOW blog post!

Personal Goals I stated for 2019 were:

“Become the next Israel Kamakawiwo’ole” (Ukulele musician)

I can play somewhere over the rainbow pretty accurately, but lord have mercy… My voice sure does not sound like Fergie and Jesus. So… I have been great at humming along as I strum to different tunes.

“Study and pass the GRE”

I have been studying a butt ton and was all ready to take the GRE on June 17th to only find out as I reached Addis the day before that it had been postponed due to technical issues. This was infuriating as the bus travel from Jimma to Addis makes me want to rip out my hair. But that wasn’t the worst part. They went ahead and reschedules it for me to July 2nd. Cool, I was already planning to be in Addis then and they AGAIN postponed it. I was livid, all I wanted was to take this test and get it off my conscious. So I decided to reschedule it to September because I know for sure I can be in Addis then. So…. I guess I should be happy I have more time to study? Trying to find some positives here…

“Try to write a book”

I have 29 pages down!! WOOOOOO! Like I said, I was spending my time on other things like studying and Game of Throneing. The pages will start flowing soon I am sure.

So, I guess I have been doing alright! It is summer now, however, so there is a lot more rain…

and free time around site to hang out and work on my own personal goals, which will be nice. It has been a whirlwind. It is like I blinked my eyes and here I am, a year and a half later.

Truly Unbelievable.

The family here has been doing well since Abba’s death. Occasionally people will have their sad moments especially during a holiday, but for the most part, the family is doing well. It is strange how when a death happens it can bring people closer together. I will tell you, I have never felt as close to this family as I do now.

When you experience something tragic together, you become just that much more comfortable with each other. I sometimes spend my whole day in my compound hanging out with family members because I do not feel the need to go anywhere else. They are my people. I can’t even think about leaving them now with under a year to go without getting tears in my eyes. They also seem worried as they keep asking me “Jia meeqa qabda?” (How many months do you have?) and when I tell them, you can see the pain in their eyes. So I told them all… lets just not talk about it okay?

More recent news to address!

I have been SO blessed.

My good friend Drew from The University of Kansas had a planned trip to Uganda and decided since I was just a few countries over, to jump on over to Ethiopia. How friggin cool.

I always get nervous when I am about to pick someone up from the airport….WHY IZZY??

No idea, but it happened with Tia, David, and now Drew. I think it is because I want things to go smoothly, but most the time things here are pretty unpredictable. Anywho, it was a rainy day when he arrived, but seeing his tall, lanky self had me smiling ear to ear as we embraced in a hug.

I can’t explain how weird it is to see someone from the states here, but it truly make my mind do summersaults ???

Like where are we right now?

The first part of our journey we spent primarily in Addis. We unfortunately became stuck there because as I am sure most of you guys heard, the Military Head General was assissinated and three other officials. All of us PCVs were put on “Standfast” which means you stay at site and be ready to leave if Peace Corps tells you to. However, I and a few other volunteers were on vacation with friend/family so they allowed us to stay in Addis Ababa. The biggest issue is traveling, so where ever you are on a standfast, it usually means….stay put and don’t travel. (I should also note, Ethiopia has been pretty peaceful since).

In Addis we were able to spend time with Mike (the PCV I replaced, I keep repeating myself on blogs because I haven’t posted in a while and I am not sure what everyone remembers) for his last night in Ethiopia. Which was SO bittersweet. A group of us (Mike, Jacob and his parents, an RPCV and her husband, and Arwa (PCV) plus Drew and I) went to a cultural house to watch cultural dancing and eat Ethiopian food. It was such a great night sharing local food with Drew and Jacobs parents, having some local drinks, and then having some of us called up to dance. Solid first night for both Drew and Jacob’s parents. (And a HUGE thanks to Jacob’s parents for being AMAZING human beings.❤️)

You are missed Mike!

Then Drew and I made the trek to Jimma for a couple nights to meet more PCVs and then finally to my site of Chime. I absolutely love having people come to my site. Because…. it is the best. It is fact. (Mike will agree) But that is not the only reason I love showing it off, I love doing this because it has been my life for the past year and half and having someone from America come and see my neck of the woods is uplifting and inspiring.

However, this time was a little different… it wasn’t a friend that was a girl, or a male that was my bother. But a male…friend…

OooooOOOOOOooooo

The constant covering of mouths and whispers “That’s Izzys Husband!” Was the constant theme.

Drew fit into the family smoother than peanut butter spread on warm toasted bread. It was such a joy to show him around the town, the health center, the school, the small little restaurant that has the best breakfast known to man…. I would try to explain it.. but I wouldn’t do it justice so you can just come on down to chime and try for yourself.

After going on a few walks and meeting people, we mostly hung around the family. There was a nice comfortable feeling between everyone and him. Minus the smaller children who cried when he was around. Haasna has this whole ritual she does….As she will look repeatedly at the person and then curl herself into her mother and close her eyes. While “crying” then she will use whatever she can to cover her eyes as they are already shut. Like she needs that extra barrier. She was fine looking at Drew but as soon as they made eye contact, her brows would scrunch and she would start to let out whimpers.

My favorite part of Drews experience is when he was able to embrace the whole family together for dinner and coffee. It is such a HUGE part of my world here and that is what Ethiopians have to offer us. Food and Coffee. So we all sat squished together on the floor grabbing for our food.

My MOST favorite however is when we Gorsha people. (Just like we did when Tia was here) I sat there speaking in Afanoromo telling the family to Gorsha him (To feed someone else with your hand) and they all started laughing and saying no Izzy you do it first, he is your guest! And so the “ritual” is to ask the person “Si Gorshuu?” Which means I suppose “Can I feed you” and then if the person says okay you can or no. (Usually they say yes) So naturally I did this first to Drew and of course he didn’t know the word yet. So I asked him if he was ready and showed him my handful of food. He did well. The family laughed. Then later I told the family for someone else to do it and next up was one of the brothers Saabit. He balled up a big handful of food and shoved it in Drews mouth. He took it like a champ and it made us all laugh out loud. He was slowly but surely learning our ways.

How fun it is to know another language. It also makes me think of how much I probably missed when I first came here, they had to be talking about me all the time and I had no idea. Haha, the beauty of learning a language because now I can call them out on it.

During coffee it was primarily Drew’s Afanoromo lesson and comedy show for the family. Drew would write down words he heard and would practice using them in his American accent. The family thought he was doing fantastic though and even said he was a quick learner. Needless to say, they all loved him and his nose. (But seriously, I dont think Drew has ever gotten so many comments on his nose, but they all wanted it, saying “wow he has such a pretty nose”)

Of course when it came time to leave, they wanted him to stay longer and were upset to see him leave.

I decided to switch it up this post and have a guest writer. I had asked Drew if he would write a little snippet about his experience here, cultural differences, etc. (Of course he did opposite of what I asked and decided to be verbose! Enjoy! 😁)

Izzy asked me to supplement her blog post with some of my experiences and observations while visiting her in Ethiopia. I have never felt more famous. Let me start by saying that without her, this trip wouldn’t have been half as spectacular. Not because she’s a good travel companion or anything, but because she makes an excellent tour guide and translator. Seriously though, I am incredible thankful because I got to experience a part of Ethiopia that most visitors do not get to see. I felt like I was seeing the ‘real’ Ethiopia, and not just the parts that us Americans like to review on TripAdvisor. 

After spending a week in Uganda, I flew into Addis Ababa on June 21. Izzy and her friend Mike picked up at the airport. First thing I noticed was how out of breath I was. She likes to think it’s because she took it away, but really it was just the altitude and air pollution that inevitably occurs in cities of 15 million people. 

Coming into this trip, I didn’t want to have any preconceived expectations about what I’d see/what I would experience. I just told myself I’d embrace the culture and participate in as much as I could. So, when Izzy and Mike had stopped twice within the first hour of my arrival for a cup of coffee, I, of course, enthusiastically drank with them. They were calm, carrying on as normal as I’m all over the place, more jacked up on caffeine as I’ve been since the old-school Four Loco’s were still around. Whew. In fact, while I grew a bit of a tolerance over the two weeks that I was there, I don’t think I ever got fully used to it. Ethiopia is obviously known for its boona and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Other than the coffee, there were several other things I picked up on that stood out. 

1)      Addis Ababa is a strange city. Never had I been somewhere that had the mix of modernity and traditional that Addis has. There are beautiful skyscrapers everywhere, food and restaurant options from all over the world, and shopping malls. And there’s also people relieving themselves on the sidewalks, groups of young men herding cattle through the streets, directing the cows with blows from a stick, and new, modern vehicles next to donkey drawn carts. Not to mention all ‘dem chickens. 

2)      The ‘line’ is a series of busses that pick people up and drop them off throughout the city along a designated route. These busses would sit about 10-12 people in America, but that’s not the Ethiopian way. At one point I counted 27 people in one bus. These same busses are also how we transported between towns, which usually takes 2-5 hours. It’s not the ideal form of travel for someone 6’1”. I’m convinced personal space is an American Invention. 

3)      There is not a set price for most things. This means haggling over just about everything. My first experience with this was when finding a taxi leaving the airport. The driver only saw three white people and quoted us 300 birr, but much to his surprise got a response in Amharic. Not sure what the response was exactly but we paid 200 birr

4)      Watch your pockets. There are teens constantly reaching for your belongings. They’re quick too, it’s like swatting flies. 

5)      The food was strange, yes, but also incredible. The first rule I learned was to eat solely with your right hand. The reasons for such were initially unclear to me. Is the left hand seen as dirty or something??

Addis is fun, but what I was most excited to see coming into the trip was how Izzy had been living over the past 18 months. I’d heard stories and imagined what it must be like, but I really wanted to meet her compound family and check out her digs, including the infamous manufenchani. Some observations from Chime, her site:

1)      It’s baaradha. It’s the middle of rainy season so there’s green everywhere you look. Taking walks through the fields yielding one amazing sight after the other. 

2)      Some people use Eastern Africa Time, while others use traditional Ethiopian time. There’s a 6-hour difference (the Ethiopian time starts when sun rises, so 6am). This is true throughout Ethiopia, but it’s most confusing when scheduling flights. You really have to wary about what time they’re using. 

3)      Izzy’s compound family are amazing, humble people. I’ve never felt more immediately welcomed by a group of people. They were patient with me as I tried to learn the basics of Afan Oromo and helped with the pronunciation, even though they were laughing at me the entire time. In fact, they laughed at pretty much everything I did. 

4)      There’s no such thing as alone time. If you’re walking outside the compound, a posy of kids would be on your tail in a second. If you’re chilling inside the compound, they’ll mosey up to the door to see how you’re doing. There’s something very communal about it. You can’t go anywhere or do anything without a reminder that someone cares about you. 

5)      EVERYONE loves Izzy there. Even in the bigger cities we couldn’t walk far before someone would be yelling her name. Hilarious

6)      Again, I could not have had the experience of learning how rural Ethiopian’s lived if it weren’t for my personal tour guide. Truly a one-of-a-kind experience. ”

-Drew

Drew and I were also able to make a trip back to Terre to visit my old host family. It was their daughters one year old birthday. Ababo had called me wanting me to be there, but I wasn’t sure if I could make it. Drew and I decided to go without saying anything and surprise them

I loved it. Hollering out to Ababo from outside the fence like I used to do when I came home from ttraining. She immediately knew who it was yelling out “Isabella!” In her sweet, soft voice.

We spent the day eating her delicious food and walking around the town. It was hard to imagine that their daughter (Waangaari-such means good thing aka good thing from God) was starting to take her first steps with assistance. She is a stunning little girl and it was adorable to see how Ababo and her reacted together. They went together like two peas in a pod as Waangaari just stuck to her back.

The only issue was she was scared of both of us unfortunately. Ababo kept saying “Why are you scared?? This is your sister!” But, I think this picture proves her hysteria.

I am looking forward to the second half of this year and all that it will bring. I plan to post more frequently about a variety of topics. So if you have any Peace Corps questions please ask. Or questions about life….love…pandas… whatever you want.. I’m ready. 🦹🏽‍♀️

Stay tuned and MUCH LOVE,

Iz

1 thought on “Reflections, Drew, and Frightened Toddlers.”

  1. Good morning my friend so good to hear from you and see how you’re doing. You are there making a difference in others quality of life. Sharing yourself in so many ways you are a light of inspiration to us all!! Have a Wonderful Day!

    Jenifer Valencia

    Liked by 1 person

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