*This blog was written a few weeks before my service ended.*
March 1st, 2020
The start of 2020 has flown by for me. I feel like it has been one thing after another and now here I am with only a couple weeks of service left. I felt like I should have a “wrap up” post about how my life has been the past few months or so since I haven’t posted about site in a while.
I ended 2019 celebrating Christmas with a neighboring volunteer named Jess. We woke up early on Christmas morning and hiked to the top of a “mountain” (big hill?) at her site. We had to bushwhack our whole way up, holding on to weeds to keep us from falling backwards. Then, once up top, while enjoying the gorgeous views, we found a path that led us to the bottom. We laughed about it because we didn’t care, the bushwhacking part filled us with adrenaline and satisfaction that we could make it without a trail.
We spent the rest of the day making breakfast, watching movies, and talking to loved ones while drinking terrible, cheap, burn your throat alcohol. It was a simple, but incredibly enjoyable Christmas.
A couple days later we decided to hike to my site. A hike that we had done a few times before and I believe I have posted about it during my first year of service. This time however, Jess and I planned to go without an Ethiopian with us. We decided we knew the trail well enough and that we could make it on our own.
The trails in the forest and coffee farms split up in many different directions constantly so we find ourselves guessing which way to go repeatedly.
“I don’t know.”
“We need to head….this direction!”
Our memory was failing us and we kept going back and forth until we find ourselves without a trail and in the middle of a coffee farm. Yes, I am not kidding. We were walking through a forest with no trail and asking ourselves if we were going to become those dumb Peace Corps Volunteers that became lost in the forest and died.
We decided to follow the GPS on my phone that worked without cell service and kept heading in the general direction we knew we were supposed to. Bushwhacking again, hopping over fences, getting some kind of poison ivy on my arm that burned intensely (I literally thought I was going to die.), to the universe bringing two young women down a the same random trail. The young women led us back to the trail we were supposed to be on and then from there, we were able to make our way home. We weren’t too far off of where we were supposed to be, but had gotten mixed up. The two hour hike ended up taking us 4 hours and when we reached my house we both exasperated with gratitude and relief. “That was the coolest adventure ever” I exclaimed! I felt stupid thinking I was going to remember the trail after a year, but after actually making it back. I felt stupidly proud.
For New Years a small group of us got together in Jimma and pretty much stayed up all night in a hotel room. Since most bars close early and it wasn’t Ethiopia’s New Years, we figured we would buy beers and enjoy each other’s company in the hotel room. It was yet again a simple way to celebrate, but I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would . The intimacy of a small party with close friends was starting to become something I thoroughly enjoyed as opposed to a big crowd, thriving night club,and overpriced liquor.
Then January came before I told it it could and at the end of the month we, us G18s, had what is known as our Close Of Service (COS) Conference. COS consists of Peace Corps paying for us to stay at a resort and providing us lessons during the day. Lessons that talk about an array of things; ranging from how to cope with the transition of returning home, picking leave dates, to learning about financing, about closing medical checkups, about resumes and interviews and so on and so on. The resort itself provided food for all our meals and was located by a lake in a town called Bishoftu. When we were assigned our rooms/mini house? I was shocked. I opened the door to the cottage and started freaking out. It was a big spacious area with living room space, multiple rooms and big bathrooms. It was by far one of the nicest places I had stayed at since being in Ethiopia. The resort also held a spa and pool and many places to sit around and enjoy the copious views.
It felt like the perfect place to have a COS conference. Here we were… a group that started out with 58 volunteers and now 30 of us remained. Slowly throughout the two years people had left and now our once grand group felt so small. It was a blast getting to socialize, drink, and cry with everyone again before we started the trek for America Land.
After our three day conference, we all had our medical checkups and then Eli and I headed down to Hosanna. Hosanna is about 5 hours from Addis and it holds what is known as the best school for the Deaf in Ethiopia. After going to the Ethiopia National Association for the Deaf(ENAD) in Addis they let me know that the Hosanna school would be best for Sara. Especially since they have room and board for all students. They talked to me about registration, about getting Sara into the school, and gave me important contact information. I was also thrilled when I met my first Ethiopian CODA (Child Of Deaf Adult) who was also working at the ENAD. We found ourselves flowing in and out of speaking and signing with ease. It warmed my heart and I think his too.
I decided that since this was deemed the best school for Sara, that I needed to see it for myself. So Eli and I rode down to the Hosanna School for the Deaf and I will tell you, I was not let down. It seemed to be one of the best schools I had seen in Ethiopia. The school was founded by an Ethiopian man and his wife who is from Finland. So if Sara was to attend this school, she would not have to pay a single dime. All students attend for free. How amazing is that?
The school was out of session when I showed up but I found some kids who helped point me in the right direction and then I went into the girls dorm area. I wanted to see what it would be like for Sara and all the girls of course freaked out that a Forengie was coming in and one that was speaking sign language to them. They all huddled around me and brought me out a chair so that I could sit and answer all their questions. They melted my heart as they all asked me with sparkles in their eyes if I was going to be teaching them. I only wished I could have said yes.
Then the vice principal came and I was able to communicate to him about why I had come. He told me that Sara would have to register and take an entry test in the beginning of August and if she passed that she would be able to join the school.
My heart was fluttering as I couldn’t contain my excitement. “She has to go here” I said repeatedly for the rest of the day.
I have stayed in contact with Sara’s mom who now seems supportive of getting Sara to this school. I have filled out a registration form for Sara and in addition to that, a support letter from the ENAD, so now all that is left is to get a test date and if she passes, I believe she will be admitted into the Hosanna School for the Deaf in the fall. Sara’s mom, Abeba, and Melat all want to help take part in transporting her to the school and seeing this happen as I won’t be around to help take her.
Sara’s mom came to visit Sara while I was working with her a few months ago before I went to visit the school and she was shocked when she arrived. Sara and I would have conversations and then I would translate it into Afanoromo. Her mom would just shake her head with tears in her eyes as if she couldn’t believe how Sara was able to communicate. I proceeded to tell her that her daughter was so smart and capable of learning. This was when I told her about the school and how I wanted Sara to attend there. She was hesitant but told me to find out more information and report back to her.
When I returned to site after being away for a couple of weeks, I had found out that Sara had been sent back to live with her mother, so I asked for Melat to ask Sara’s mother if her and Sara could come back to visit for a short time as I had some gifts I wanted to give to Sara. My dearest friend Ellen had made a sign language vocab book for Sara that included a large amount of pictures with coordinated signs. I was so lucky to have received it in such little time. It was as if the universe wanted this for Sara as well. Sara and her mother came to visit Chime and Sara seemed beyond excited to see me as I was for her. Her mother told me that she constantly was signing my name sign and asking her mother about me. I vividly remember looking at Sara right then with a pounding in my heart. It shook me how much I fell in love with this child. We spent the afternoon talking/hanging out and going through Ellen’s book.
She seemed excited to be back with someone who understood her. Her mom also would sign signs to me and asked if this sign would mean this word and I was constantly telling her yes. It appeared that Sara was now teaching her mother sign language. It also appeared that their relationship was a lot better now. When evening was approaching, it was time for me to say good night to Sara. I tried to explain that I would come back in the morning for coffee but I don’t think she completely understood as she started to put her head down and tears formed in her eyes. She pulled on my wrist in a gesture of “don’t leave”. I hugged her tight and left for the night.
The following morning I returned and enjoyed coffee with the girls and Sara quickly whipped out her new book and went through signs with me. Eager to learn more like always. I loved that about her. I sat with a sorrow forming in my heart as I knew it was probably going to be the last time I saw her before I had to leave. My time was simply running out. When it was time to go, I hugged her tightly. I squeezed her like I was wanting to put all my love and courage and hope into her body. “Take it all child and flourish into the woman I know you can be.” I thought. Then, we kissed each others foreheads like we do and I walked away with tears in my eyes and hope in my heart.
The last couple months at site I finished out my clubs early and decided that I just preferred to spend my time hanging out with the compound family and close friends. There was a constant theme of “Izzy when are you going home?” being asked everyday. We all could feel the time dwindling down and wanted to spend as much time together as we could.
I found myself sitting with the family more and them coming into my house more to hangout.
We felt a sense of urgency to spend as much time together as we could. I started to eat more often at Abeba’s house with her boyfriend and Melat,
I started to spend more time at the small coffee area in the middle of town, I started to enjoy my evening walks more, taking in the absolute beauty that was surrounding me.
The bond with the family continued to grow tighter and tighter as we were embracing the last weeks of me living with them, the bond with the dogs grew as well. I figured I should share an update about them as well. Since we all love dogs.
Konjo and Jerry’s bond with me grew exponentially. After my last update about Jerry he had actually become very ill and sick, pooping blood in heavy amounts. I had been away for a week or so and when I came back, I came back to a very sick puppy. (It’s a hard life for puppies here and sad to say a lot don’t make it). Jerry came to a point where he was shaking and hardly able to walk and I sat there not knowing what to do since there were no vets around. I sat trying to comfort Jerry and started crying. A couple of the compound women walked over and no, they didn’t make fun of me, but they felt for me. They claimed that when you raise something, no matter what it is, you become attached to it. They understood that Jerry was like my child and I was raising it so of course I didn’t want him to die. They all also told me to have Jerry sleep in my house since it was getting cold during the nights. I looked at them with a questioning eye. Here were these people that claimed dogs were so gross, but yet, they respected me and my relationship/culture with dogs so much so that they were telling me to have him sleep in my house. Which normally would of been a big fat NO. It made my love for the family grow even more. They truly respected and loved me.
After a little bit of research with a few PCVs, we decided to give him some medicine in small doses and after a few weeks. Jerry, thank the lord, returned to normal.
Jerry eventually was a healthy dog again and became a leash-less dog. Jerry was so much happier being off the leash and free to do whatever he wanted. He always roamed with Konjo but was always back home when I came home. It made me happy to know that Jerry still didn’t want to leave my side even though he had the capability to.
This is when I believe I truly fell in love with Jerry. He followed me…everywhere. Whenever he heard my front door shut, he would run up and walk with me wherever. He was so curious about the rest of the Chime world and exploring it with me. To the “Suqs” (stores), to coffee shops, to the health center, to the school, to the breakfast place. Everywhere I went, there was Jerry. At one point he tried to go to the market with me and let me tell you; Women were yelling and hollering at what this crazy little dog was doing in the middle of the market and I had to calm them down and say he was mine. Eventually it caused too much of a ruckus that I had Abeba buy the rest of my groceries and I took him home. We made sure to never make that mistake again. Although I did laugh and smile at my little daredevil dog. Good boy.
Everyone in town eventually learned about me and my dog and if I walked somewhere without him, they would ask either where is my dog or where is Jerry? That may have been my favorite cultural influence I brought, having other people call my dog by his name. How crazy was that? For a town who hates dogs? To be honest, I think people thought it was a bizarre, neat thing to see. Something that they wouldn’t ever do, but cool to see how a dog could follow around and not bite a human. I constantly had to tell people no no, he is mine, he won’t bite you, etc. so that they would let their guard down a little bit.
Then, Isabella, got herself into a little bit of a beautiful mess. The compound had always had Konjo and Jerry and then there were two other dogs that continuously came in and out of our compound. They looked just like Konjo so I figured that maybe they were her first litter? Anyhow, They always showed a timid interest in me as they watched me pet Konjo and Jerry and eventually….after many days of holding out my hand to them, they let me pet them. And then it all went downhill from there.
Isabella went from one to two to four dogs following her around. No joke, I had a pack of dogs. Everyone couldn’t understand how these dogs weren’t biting me but I repeatedly told them that dogs are nice and if you pet them, feed them, they will like you.
My evening walks became even more enjoyable as I had four dogs following me. I felt like Daenerys and her dragons, no one would ever mess with me because they are terrified of dogs and if they tried..well…I was almost 100 percent certain the dogs would protect me. My love for dogs grew as I took in these four. They were so sweet and kind and I had wished I was able to take them all away with me.
This was the last few months of my peace corps life. It had felt peaceful. Life felt easy and simple and enjoyable. Embracing good people, good food, and good dogs. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to close out the last few months of my service.
I plan to write a couple more blogs about the last week and last day at my site. So stay tuned.