Peace Corps 2018

A Beautiful Reunion.

September 11th to September 28th, 2019

Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.” —Brad Henry

September 11th, 2019 was a day that felt a bit unreal.

I woke up at 6 am from pure excitement pulsing through my veins.

J.J.

My dearest youngest brother.

Who I haven’t seen in almost three years.

We have always been close, however, I left to go hike the Appalachian Trail and he left early August before I got back to study abroad in Brazil for a year. Then before he got back, I left again to be a part of this Peace Corps Ethiopia experience. We had continuously “just” missed each other for the past three years.

And now….he had graduated high school (another event that made my heart ache to miss) so he was no longer going to be the 15 year old boy that I had last seen… That I had last remembered. He was going to be visiting me at the age of 18… (He a grown man now).

I arrived at the airport with shaky hands and an expanding heart inside my chest. Any minute I would see him walking down the ramp. (It quickly hit me that he might be harder to pin out than my past guests since he looked Ethiopian himself). But…. there he was. I picked him out of a crowd of Ethiopians with out a hitch. There he freaking is.

I felt like a little puppy that greets you when you come home. You know, they stand there with their tail a waggin.  You come in the door but have things in your hands so you can’t immediately pet the dog.. So the dog waits there waggling his body until you can cuddle him up? I wasn’t allowed too far up the ramp so there I stood waiting for him to pass the guards feeling my insides waggling about.

At last, a reunion.

I did my best to keep the tears at bay and embraced his warm familiar hug. Family. There sure isn’t anything else quite like it. (Also, why am I so much more emotional now?!?!)

JJ was taller, mature faced, and had a deeper voice than I remembered. It felt almost weird to see him in person… so grown up he was but I felt beyond happy. My cup was gushing over.

From the moment he landed we spent our couple of days exploring Addis, teaching/learning about Ethiopia, drinking coffee,

and talking non stop about our past 3 years. We had so much to catch up on. Sure we talked here and there but only so much can be said through a phone. Telling stories in the flesh is WAY better.

From Addis we made our way by pubic transit to Hawassa. Hawassa is known as the “Vacation Spot” to many Ethiopians and people visiting. It is a bigger, well kept, clean, lake town. Lake. Lake. Lake. Lake. (I wuv lakes). There are  even a few resorts, parks, and trails.

We spent the first couple of days in Hawassa walking the lake trails and spending some time at the resorts. (I walked around the resort in amazement, I kept repeating to myself; where am I right now? It was SO nice).

We spent some time hiking up to the top of a hill on a Sunday where we quickly found out it was being used as a church. Some people were pacing on their own with their eyes closed, some where sitting, some where standing, but they all seemed to be praying to themselves. Some of the people prayed out loud, some quietly, and some down right yelling. Hallelujah! It was quite the adventure to see how everyone was using the hill as their close spot to God. Nature truly does make one feel closer to God.

There are two activities to do in Hawassa that are deemed as a “must”.

The first of these is to see the monkey park. Yes. I said….MONKEYS!

We went to one area that had these small brown monkeys that were human like with their hands and eyes.

When we tossed them bread they would sniff it and then eat the white/inner part of the bread. The crust was not good enough for them and they would toss it aside.  Well…Excuseee me.

Then as JJ was sitting next to me drinking his Coke, he had a piece of bread he was handing to the monkey but the monkey went for his Coke. We all perked up our eyebrows and decided that maybe he likes Coca Cola..(I am not sure how appropriate or wrong it was to be giving a monkey coca cola…don’t judge us. I’m sorry!!) But the amount of times that he kept reaching for it….we just had to. So JJ stuck out his hand and let some of the Coke pour out and immediately the Monkey was up on his hind legs, holding the bottle, and drinking out of it like a little human. They did this for both Coke and 7 up….SUCH weird creatures.

We then headed to an additional park where my favorite monkeys were to reside. The Columbus Monkeys.  I have these monkeys at my site and watch with pure amazement as they fly from tree to tree. They are just down right beautiful. They have this black soft shorter fur and a white stripe down their sides with longer flowy fur. And their tails are extremely long and fluffy. Majestic they are.

This park unfortunately made us pay to get into which caused a little bit of an issue. Since three of us were “white” looking, we had to pay the tourist price even though we had our Ethiopian ID cards and were speaking to her in the local language. However, JJ  and another volunteer who looked Ethiopian were deemed fine and didn’t have to pay. (Even though JJ couldn’t even speak the language). Pure frustration at it’s finest.🙈

Nevertheless, we were glad we still went in. Once we spotted the monkeys we paid a little extra to have some peanuts to feed the monkeys. The monkeys were not shy at all. We all took turns on having the monkeys come onto our shoulder and eat peanuts from our hands. Sometimes they would grab the peanuts with their hands and then other times pull our hands up to their mouths to eat straight from our hands. JJ and I weren’t scared at all.

The second big thing to do in Hawassa is to go on a boat ride to see Hippos.. Yes. I said HIPPOS!! We couldn’t have picked a better time to go either.

The sun was setting and the hippos were out and lively. We saw the hippos play fighting with each other with their mouths and even saw a little baby hippo standing behind its momma.

Truly is quite the site to see animals in the wild instead of in a caged facility. It is inspiring and makes one feel happy because you know that they are too.

After exploring Hawassa we headed back to Addis for a night and then headed to Jimma for a night and then it was time to go to the wonderful world of Chime. It was time for JJ to explore my neck of the woods. No more of this resort shinanagins. We took the bumpy bus ride to Limmu but were blessed with the front seats so we didn’t have to sit squished and then got onto the bigger bus to ride to my site. JJ quickly realized the notion of “There is always room for more” as he sat down in a two person seat that already had one person and I told him to scoot over so I could sit. “On this seat?” He asked. You betcha kiddo. There may look like there isn’t a seat but if there is a sliver of seat… aka enough for one fourth of a butt cheek that is enough for us three to fit. Duh.

Once at site we were embraced by people hollering out at me in every direction “Hi Izzy, who is with you?” I would let people know that he is my brother and almost every single time they would answer with “But he looks Ethiopian”. People in my community could not get over the fact that JJ was NOT from Ethiopia and that he was in FACT from America. “No..he is from Jimma, he isn’t American” they would say.

We spent a lot of time walking around, me showing JJ the school, health center, our breakfast place (best one in Ethiopia), and having him meet the people closest to me.

We were also able to hand out balloons, candies, and bracelets to the compound and school materials to the school (all of these were given by my littlest sister’s middle school club) 🤗 All of it was a HuGE hit… thank you SO much. ❤️

Here is a blurb from JJ about being at my site:

Going to Izzy’s site was just as challenging as I had expected it to be but honestly since I was only there for 5 days, it was quite the adventure for me. One thing that I had never experienced until coming to Izzy’s site is having to give attention and effort to any little thing I wanted to do. Which made it very tempting to just lay there the whole time so no cleaning nor preparing nor any kind of work would have to be done. It’s also crazy to think that the people in her community have never known and likely will never know how it is to live in a world where everything can be granted so effortlessly and instantaneously. But I guess that also goes both ways with people here in the US. It was very keen to see how completely different our human lives can be and that the absolute only thing that dictates our reality is our arbitrary geographical placement on this Earth. I was so glad I was able to be enlightened by this whole experience and that Izzy welcomed me to her friends, her family, and her life for the past two years.”

It’s true. I felt like while we were there we kept having to do all these chores quickly so we could move on to the next thing. But each chore takes a long time to accomplish. For example getting water, the pump in the front yard has been broken for over a month now so we have to hike about a mile away and back to collect water.

We both needed to do some laundry so like usual we had to get water, scrub them by hand, and rinse by hand, (conserving as much water as we could without leaving our clothes starchy).

We both also needed to give my puppy enough play/lovin time.. Yes… I said puppy.

EEEEEEEEEEEEE!! PUPPPYYYYYYY.

So….its not looked upon to have a puppy at site for a multitude of reasons. One of the big no no’s being that most Ethiopians don’t look at dogs like we look at dogs. Dogs are family for us, we treat them with love and care like they were a human. Ethiopians (not all but most) are…well… the exact opposite. Dogs are to be strays not treated with love…and touching one.. touching a dog?! You touch a dog, you better cut off your hand.

So how in the world am I able to have a puppy at my site. Long story short. Since I arrived there has been a mommy dog around our compound. The family would sometimes throw out their leftover food to her, they did not like her but they were okay to give her scrap food. I tried to pet her earlier on in my service and she nearly took off my hand. So I too just stuck to throwing out my leftovers to her. Then. I left for a weekend in June and came home to the family telling me there was a puppy in our compound. (Mind you, as I wrote in a long time ago post, I had shared my feelings for dogs and how Americans treat dogs, I had told them many many times how I wanted a puppy and how I could train it) So they felt inclined to tell me that the Mommy puppy had a pup. Yup. Just one, she is seen as a “Jarti” (Old woman) and said this was her third time having puppies. They led me to the grass hut where they keep the cows at night and al be damn. In the corner there was Mommy dog and the smallest little puppy stumbling around. My heart right then and there shattered to pieces and I knew I was in trouble.

The whole family asked if I was going to keep it and I told them repeatedly, that one, I am not taking it away from it’s mother till after a few months and two, I will not keep it unless the family wants me too. Their decision, not mine.

The girls were indifferent but the brothers all said yes! Keep it and teach it, they said.

So after a few months the puppy dog got his legs beneath him and started to venture outside of the grass hut. I was hollered for when it happened “The puppy is out! Izzy! Come quick!” I sat and watched as mom dog protect it and kept showing my face around them so she could know that I wasn’t going to hurt the puppy. Eventually I started bringing powdered milk and letting both mom and puppy drink some.

That is when I started touching the puppy and people in my compound were speechless as was the mommy dog. She perked her ears up and was amazed that I was petting and not hitting. The compound family stayed a good meter or two away but had smiles on their faces.

After some time we deemed that the puppy needed to be closer to my house and not near the girls and their work so two brothers built him a nice little home attached to the back of my house where both mom and pup could sleep at night.

The puppy is now almost 4 months old and has grown to adore me as much as I adore him. I have named him Jerry and have taught him to sit and lay down. The mom of the compound tells me that she hates dogs almost every other day, but almost daily she asks me if I was able to feed Jerry (yes, she and the family now call the dogs by their names) and if not, gives me Injera to give to it. Then she stands and watches me train the dog more and has a smile on her face. And when anyone else comes to our compound and sees me playing with the dogs she will talk about how “the dog knows our language, I swear”. So…she may hate it…but it gives her something to talk about. 😉

The family will never admit that they LIKE a dog, but they all are constantly asking me about it and love to sit and watch me interact with it. It is funny how they are more okay with the puppy dog than the mommy dog. Who I have now named Konjo (an Amharic word for beautiful) Konjo has equally stolen my heart.

She now lets me pet her and tries to play with me like how I play with the puppy. She has such a personality that I love. For example, when I get home from being gone for a few days she lets out a growling holler and will wiggle her body and reach her front two paws out to my legs in excitement. When she wants to play, she will come up and lean her whole back body on to my leg (When she plays with her pup she likes to do this and then fall on the pup and lay on her back; it is the cutest thing) She also wants to live in my house… this is hilarious but equally annoying because well…its rainy season and her paws are MUDDY! I always keep my doors open and sometimes I will be laying on my bed and she will come through the other door peak around the corner to my bed to be like ” Hey, Come Play”. Jerry is still on a leash so he isn’t allowed to roam around just yet. Konjo has even picked up on my emotions and when I play with Jerry in our front yard and kids come to watch but eventually I tell the kids to leave because the family doesn’t want a bajillion kids in my compound and they usually…well…never leave when I say so. But now, Konjo stands next to me growling at them and occasionally chasing them out of the compound…The brothers and I love this. That’s a Good Girl. (And no, I do not believe she will ever actually hurt a kid she just wants them to leave like I do and never gets close to the kids). Konjo will now follow me when I leave my compound. She won’t yet stay and wait for me to return but she always follows me until I get the health center or school, and then go and do her own thing. One morning JJ and I woke up to go running and she even joined us! I am hoping for the rest of my few months here she will continue to join me on my runs and eventually Jerry too.

It has been quite a joy to not only build a relationship with these dogs, but to see how my family looks at them differently and how my community looks at them differently. They may think I am weird, but they find it quite amazing that the dogs don’t bite me and that I am teaching a dog “their language” and he listens.

Goodness Gracious…Sorry for the getting way deep into my doggy world.

Back to JJ’s visit.

It was a blast having him around at site. My family and I tried to convince him to just stay with me until I was done and then he could go back home with me. My compound family loves when I have a visitor because they can tell just how happy I am. They kept saying to me, you look so happy and I would nod and says yes.. of course.. it’s my brother! They even let him…a BOY.. practice trying to make injera.

It was quite hilarious as the Mom spoke instructions to him in Afanoromo like he could understand but he made one that wasn’t too shabby. It was also hysterical that he had the same issue I did of the smoke bellowing in our eyes. Making seeing where you are pouring the injera almost impossible. Twins we are. Hashtag Twinning.

I hate myself that I just wrote that…..I was with JJ too long. Freaking Gen Z. 😉

We went from Chime back to Jimma and spent the day exploring what Jimma has to offer and got some souvenirs for him to bring home. Then we were off to Addis Abeba… all of this traveling by public transportation. What a true champ! JJ met so many Volunteers and met so many of my Ethiopian friends it was glorious. He got a true feel what my life has been like.

Our last day was bittersweet. Both JJ and I were on edge. We almost hated that his flight wasn’t until the evening because it made the goodbye drawn out.

This goodbye was incredibly tough. Maybe it was because lately I have been extremely homesick…I have been here a year and ten months. (What is time). But lately….the yearn to hug my family has been hitting strong and to have a piece of my family for two weeks here was beyond fulfilling and I didn’t want to let that piece go. It felt warming to have my brother with me everywhere we went, to talk to someone about everything under the sun, to have someone there that was my partner in crime for whatever happened… I just didn’t want to let that go again. I wasn’t ready yet.

I walked him up to the gate and I couldn’t hold my tears back as hard as I tried. Parts of me wanted to be stepping onto the plane with him. I told him I couldn’t even talk because talking would let the flood gates open. So I hugged him goodbye and walked away. Soon. I told him and myself. I will be coming home soon.

What a wonderful life. What a wonderful world.

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” -Frederick Buechner

Much Love,

Izzy

4 thoughts on “A Beautiful Reunion.”

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