So far I have filled 5 journals with ramblings, thoughts, and all the mundane details of my life in Ethiopia. For posterity right? Some of these journal entries get cleaned up and refined into blog posts here, but most sit unnoticed, buried in the obscurity of my journal’s pages. Until now. Think of this as a sort of collection of B-Sides from a musician; stuff that’s not good enough for the final cut, but maybe worth something to someone who cares. Please take a look but just remember that these are all unrefined and probably out of context. But I like it that way.
Volume 1: October 3, 2012 to February 20, 2013
October 4, 2012: On Tuesday morning we boarded a 3 month old Boeing 787 Dreamliner with direct service to Addis Ababa. That jet was so nice! Big seats, good lighting, good service, lots of head room. It’s such a juxtaposition to fly into one of the poorest countries in the world on the most advanced airplane of our time. I helped make parts for the 787 while working for Hexcel in Kent. Maybe some of those parts were on this plane.
October 11, 2012: I made a fool of myself, but that’s pretty common here.
October 14, 2012: A lot of people give me a statement about America, or a comparison between America and Ethiopia and ask me for an affirmative statement. Like “In Ethiopia we grow corn, teff, wheat, and cabbage. What do you grow?” or “Football was invented in Ethiopia right?” or “Chickens lay eggs which turn into new chickens after a few weeks. Is this also true in your country?” or “In America there are more Universities than students right?” well not exactly…I say.
October 17, 2012: I got in the shower and got wet..then because the water is so cold, I went to turn it off while I soaped up. But I must have busted the sketchy wired-up jerry rigged handle valve because water was shooting out. I fiddled with it for a while and just made things worse, so I decided that I would at least get clean while I could before calling for help . After another failed attempt to turn off the water, I put on my underwear and opened the door. I called for Wogany, since I was indecent, by Ethiopian standards, but Natee responded instead. I told her to turn off the water supply. She tried to but ended up opening the valve full bore instead by twisting it the wrong way. She woke up Befakadu and he cut the water, finally! Water was everywhere. What a mess. Tonight I told the family about righty tighty and lefty loosy. They thought that was hilarious.
October 21, 2012: I tried the small intestines of the sheep cooked with the heart, onion, and hot peppers. It looked like a big bowl of pasta but tasted like the smell of slaughter and barnyard poo. Even the main dinner dish was that way. I think I like a lot of foods and flavors, but the intestines were too much. Only a few bites for me. Luckily Gashe was so into it and had no qualms with eating most of it.
November 3, 2012: Well the first night at my house in Abi Adi turned out to be a bit more than I expected. The mosquitoes turned out to be completely terrible. I couldn’t sleep because they were so bad. After lots of swatting and rolling around, I finally just put my pants and socks back on and covered my head with my sleeping bag. It was too hot to cover up but I didn’t want to open the windows and let more in. I would wake up every few minutes and go on a mosquito killing spree by smashing all the ones I found “resting” on the walls. I gave up and put Wilco on my iPod and passed out at midnight. But I woke up with a room full of fat red mosquitoes and around 50 red dots on each hand and foot. [This turned into a blog post later]
November 3, 2012: First impressions are funny and often misinformed.
November 4, 2012: Today I told Tuha about Mira. I explained how she works in marketing for a financial company. Then I realized that probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. He tried to summarize “marketing” by equating it with the real market here in Abi Adi. While it’s all an exchange of something for money, it’s very different; financial markets, 401ks, and actuary accountants are pretty far removed from the lay person of Abi Adi. Mira and my life are pretty damn different now.
November 7, 2012: GoBama 2012! He won! I think. I just saw bits and pieces of the coverage on ETV. People here in Ethiopia seem pretty stoked.
November 10, 2012: Ataytay says that the people of Tigray are hard working and very clever because they can farm the poor sandy soil. The people of Oromia are not very hard working: “All they do is eat, eat, eat.” This is a pretty funny assessment coming from one of Oromia’s hardest workers. She must view herself as an exception, or fails to acknowledge the work she does teaching, grading, planning, cooking, and running the household. I still find it interesting how much pan-Ethiopian pride there is among the various regions even with their differences.
November 15, 2012: Ryan and I ran to an amazing overlook this morning. Joe, the PCV who lives in Asella, told Ryan about this viewpoint a while ago but Ryan hadn’t been there until today. We just ran down the hill for about 1/2 an hour. The trail kept getting smaller and smaller until finally it reached the edge of the plateau. We came across a whole group of baboons too who were just chilling on the side of the cliff. The view west is amazing and you can see forever. The sun was coming up which made it even more epic. I still can’t believe I’m going on morning runs to places this magnificent and beautiful and exotic. The farmland between Asella and the viewpoint makes for a great run, all the while passing rural houses, farmers, donkeys on their way to market, and kids on their way to school. The back up the hill was killer and we had to walk parts of it. [This turned into a blog post later]
November 16, 2012: Yet another huge language day comes to a close. We covered so much today that I don’t remember any of it. Something involving past, preset, and future tenses, vocab and more. We all got pretty frustrated at Yonas today.
November 17, 2012: Pretty sure I failed the language assessment this morning. Oh well, f*** it. That’s all I want to say about it right now.
November 22, 2012 (Thanksgiving): I had a great meal then decided to try some of the homebrew arake that Klaus brought. It was so gross. Like really really bad tequila and paint thinner. I don’t know how to describe it, but it sucked. It’s kind of like scotch mixed with tequila, but all the flavors are extremely strong and offensive. So for the next 3 hours all my burps tasted like gut rot arake.
November 23, 2012: There were some bites where I just tried not to chew or breathe (to avoid the taste) and swallow. Once it’s down the hatch, my gut will take care of it.
November 24, 2012: Had a bit of a queasy stomach last night and didn’t sleep all that well.
November 27, 2012: Mooley is a funny lady. She invited me over for coffee tonight after dinner. She lives in a tiny room with Abdisa. That’s all. She doesn’t have much but makes it her home. Lots of Christian posters on the wall. One busted sliver of a mirror. One bare light bulb that fades in and out. Abdisa slept on the bed the whole time. She’s so nice. [This turned into a blog post later]
November 29, 2012: Wow the women of the neighborhood are going all out for this lunch party tomorrow! I got home today and people were running all over the compound doing all sorts of tasks (cleaning, chopping, cooking). I looked into the injera kitchen and there were 4 women in there cooking. One lady was stirring a huge cauldron of sliced onions with a big broom handle, wicked witch style. The room was so smoky and oniony. I couldn’t see much. It was also poorly lit by battery/rechargeable lanterns. I can’t believe they can get anything done in those conditions, and yet they are making a bunch of different dishes in huge quantity. It’s amazing really. […] The kids were cleaning the house tonight. Even the Teddy bear collection got a washing.
November 30, 2012: I wish there were a few more guys in our PC training group. Esto Festo! Gets to be too much at times.
December 2, 2012: We made it up Mt. Chillalo today! Ryan, Mary, Andrea, Lauren, our LCF Dinko, and I made it to the edge of the top in about 4 hours. We left from Soljam Hotel at 6am. No serious problems except 3 very mean dogs that came after Ryan and I. It scared the s*** out of me and we were rescued by an old lady and a stick. We picked up sticks after that and kept them for the rest of the day.
December 2, 2012: She had a hard time believing that I don’t have a religion and told me that I should read the Bible, then I would be a believer for sure.
December 3, 2012: I decided to try out an Ethiopian barber. Todd came with me and we found a guy in the barber shop row. I asked for a trim and acted out scissors, and hair length gestures, but ended up with a buzz cut. Shit. Oh well. He “cleaned” the clippers by lighting a match. Then wiped it down with a nasty old rag…so much for the flame sterilization. It’s a pretty shitty buzz cut..he missed a few spots…
December 4, 2012: We talked a lot about all these lofty aspirations and goals today. People had a bunch of solid positive values and goals. I kept having sort of negative thoughts though. Not negative, just realistic. I kept thinking about the Selfish Gene by Dawkins and how a lot of what seems altruistic is actually selfish. All these PCTs, including me, think we are so f***ing noble and s*** for coming over here…but I feel like a lot of it is not altruistic. We want to promote our careers, experience, adventure, etc. But I think that’s completely acceptable and part of nature to feel that way and we would be foolish to deny it. But no one brought it up and I didn’t because I didn’t want o be the downer.
December 7, 2012: On our way we stopped at Dinko’s house to use the toilet. But it was locked so Gebre told the girls who had to pee that they would just have to “do the dance of primitive times.” It was hilarious. Yonas chimed in and said they will just have to “urinate in the brush.” These responses epitomize both LCF teachers. Yonas is formal and straight to the point; Gebre has a goofier spin to put on it.
December 7, 2012: The moral of the story is 1. Continue to try new things instead of just doing what’s comfortable. 2. Embrace goofy awkward situations and own them. Dance sober in front of a bunch of people when your host wants you to. 3. Go with it. Always.
December 8, 2012: …and we were talking about how we’ve seen it all now…well not all, and we’ll continue to see more crazy s*** in the next two years: animal slaughtering, meat delivery, blowing up dead chickens like a balloon with the tube from a pen, preggo goats, shit and piss in the streets, etc. It was pretty funny. It’s also funny how many things that were shocking at first are normal and common now. Things we stared at during the first few weeks have become more and more mundane and commonplace as we continue to adjust.
December 9, 2012: “Let me add you a small amount of wat.” Today I learned how to make shorro wat from Gooday and her friend. We all squatted around in the kitchen and sat on little stools exchanging thoughts in 3 different languages. Some imagery before I forget: 3 week old kitten feeding from her mother who was keeping warm by the charcoal stove. The smell of charcoal burning slowly. Prayers from the distant Orthodox Church’s loud speaker. Chickens squawking as Wogany puts them into their henhouse for the night. Wind outside. Re-used containers in the cabinet but never lost or forgotten. Light from the LED rechargeable lantern. 5 year old Mattee playing with the kitten. “Next we add a small amount of salt.” Sandals and shawls. The pounding of bunna outside somewhere.
December 11, 2012: I heard that the wedding yesterday sucked. Apparently part of the tradition is to negotiate a dowry on the day of the wedding. Land, money, goods, and such. They didn’t reach an agreement so there was no wedding. Everyone just went home. That sucks! Anyway, that’s what Rozina said.
December 16, 2012: Later Yonas, Todd, Ryan, Mary and I visited the Sheraton hotel. Ridiculously nice and extravagant. 2 security check points. Yonas set off the metal detector and joked that he had a bomb. I told him that’s not a funny joke for security guards and he said it’s fine because he knows Ethiopian’s sense of humor. And he was right, or course. No problem getting through.
December 16, 2012: Greg told a really nice story about a PCV from 50 years ago who recently came back to Ethiopia for the 50 year reunion. This old man reunited with one of his students who grew into a very successful businessman or something. The RPCV said that it took him 50 years to realize that he made a difference, said Greg, with tears in his eyes. It was very touching.
December 16, 2012: He brought me to his son’s house where they loaned me a jerry can to carry water in. They also loaned me a 12 year old girl to carry it. I didn’t know what to do but she insisted on carrying it. So I let her. Maybe I’m an asshole for letting a child do the manly work? I don’t plan on making a habit out of it, but carrying water for the indefinite future is definitely going to suck.
December 17, 2012: Holy F*** these trainings are boring…since I don’t speak Tigirgna and can only pick up like 3 words an hour from the presenter. Basically I’m sitting through 6 or more hours of Blah Blah Blah for the tea breaks and before and after tidbits of interaction with my new co-workers. Gotta build that trust and credibility somehow right? Face time can’t hurt…as long as I don’t fall asleep which I almost did today. That’s why I’m in bed now before 10pm.
December 20, 2012: I got home and went out with my jerry cans to find water. The place I went the other day had a 15 can line. They tried to cut me in but one girl in line objected. Rightfully so. So I said we should wait in line like everyone else. My helper dudes (Samson and Towodros) thought I would be better of going up the hill for water, so we left and headed up the hill. We found a house and filled up. The boys insisted on carrying the cans which they struggled with but managed. When we got close to home, other kids tried to help and were fought off by the youngsters who wanted to do me the favor of carrying the jugs. I gave them some biscuits when they got to my place. I don’t know what I’m going to do about the water situation in the future.
December 20, 2012: Then he showed me his “report” he submits to HAPCO Mekele. What a f***ing joke. It’s a standard spreadsheet that he just X’s through and signs below. PLHIV programs = N/A. OVC programs = N/A. etc. What a f***ing joke! What does he do all day? Then he goes to lecture me about how I need to take it all seriously because people here have nothing and won’t get anything without my help. haha! WTF?! I tried to correct him to say “OUR” help.
December 22, 2012: It was also irritating how ambiguous he was about the meeting. Some BS buzzwords like capacity building and community mobilization. I kept asking what that really means. No meaningful conclusions. Anyway I gave up on it and we ended up talking about political stuff in Ethiopia which was pretty interesting.
December 23, 2012: I finally made the blog scene. Hopefully I can keep adding more stuff in the future. Good stuff with a bit of thought involved, unlike these journal entries.
December 23, 2012: It’s crazy how I have to really mentally prepare to go out. Take a deep breath and get pumped to do it. It really does take a lot of energy and power to deal with this much attention, combined with the element of unknown. Plus the pressure of being a nice guy that the community will respect…Trying to remember everyone’s name, not ignoring people, being nice to little kids yelling at you. [This turned into a blog post later]
December 26, 2012: I took the first bus out on Monday morning. I was airborne out of my seat at least 10 times, since the guy was hauling, the road sucks, and I was in the 2nd to last row. But I made it to Mekele pretty quickly. [This turned into a blog post later]
December 26, 2012: While eating, a crazy butt naked lady came into the restaurant and took a bit of food from one of the tables by the door. Then she just boosted the whole tray of food and ran away. The whole restaurant was like WTF!? Crazy. We saw her a few more times around town that day. Being naked of course.
January 1, 2013: A new year is upon me! Thor, Gere, and I started the night at my place with a few shots of Uzo before venturing out into the city. We ran into Dan and some guys from the college. We were all dancing Tigray style in a big circle at Ground Bar. Pretty damn funny really: like 10 grown men dancing around without any women. Haha! In the States there are always women around, especially at New Years and this was quite a contrast.
January 2, 2013: I met some nice people too, including a tailor, Mustafah, who invited me to tea. We chatted for a bit. He’s a nice guy and even offered to take me to Mylomin on Sunday. [This turned into a blog post later]
January 3, 2013: I asked for her name but it was something weird so I immediately forgot it. Damn.
January 4, 2013: Then I got a pretty hilarious text message from him: “Hy my dear now I’m meeting so am call u fish meeting.”
January 8, 2013: So I stayed and bullshitted with these guys and others at the bar. Including an Orthodox priest in traditional garb who was stoked that I am living here in Ethiopia. He had a big piece of hambasha bread in his pocket for some reason. When the guys asked him about it, he pulled it out, dusted off the lint, and gave us all a piece: literally breaking bread with a father. haha. He was wasted.
January 21, 2013: Sunday we all dressed up in Habisha clothes and went downtown to observe the Timket Parade. AWESOME! All the guys have a stick and run around in a big circle mosh-pit thing, chanting. All the women are stunningly made up with elaborate hair braids and beautiful traditional dresses. There were thousands of people, all decked out, going up the street parading around.
January 22, 2013: I went into the office and read by myself. They guys come and go all morning. I’m not sure what they leave for or where they go. So I read Bill Clinton’s book and looked busy. I don’t really have anything to do and I don’t know how to make much happen without the help of Tuha or Gebremichael.
January 23, 2013: I just can’t imagine how much more difficult this whole experience is for a female. She can’t go out drinking, must be cautious of everyone all the time, can’t be as friendly, and must constantly battle the norm of submissive weak women. I don’t know if I could handle those challenges for 2 years and my hat is off to the female PCVs who face these obstacles yet still persevere.
January 24, 2013: I can’t believe that the scheduling can be this bad sometimes. The big final exam was scheduled for today, but most people stayed home from work and school. Hagos called it a hidden holiday. Good description!
January 24, 2013: He said they lost 28 sheep to Hyenas a few months ago. At 1000 birr each, that’s a huge setback. He says it’s a difficult year.
January 24, 2013: There are a few nasty soft core porn posters on her wall, next to the one of Jesus Christ. Juxtaposition!!!
January 26, 2013: Today this kid in town called me “CHINA!” I replied and said I was not Chinese, so his immediate response was “FERENJI!” haha! F*** it.
January 26, 2013: I walked through the market and thought everyone was sick until I realized I was in the berbery pepper section and everyone, including me, was sneezing from the spice in the air. I don’t know how the vendors survive.
January 29, 2013: I had a moment of appreciation as I thought about where I was and what I was experiencing and juxtaposed that with what I was doing one year ago while staring in to my computer’s soul at Mt. Baker Products.
January 30, 2013: At the hospital I met one nurse and one health expert. I asked one of them what the biggest problem was at the hospital. He replied, “we don’t have enough salary and the management sucks.” I guess I didn’t make my question clear enough because I meant with respect to health issues…not political issues and greed. What a punk. Maybe he has a point and high performing employees should be compensated. But how do you judge that? # of babies caught? [This turned into a blog post later]
January 30, 2013: I came home and did laundry, bucketbath, and burned a bunch of trash. Should have burned the trash before bathing because now I smell like cancer/burned plastic. Duly noted.
February 1, 2013: I tried to fill my jerry cans this morning but the line was way too long so I gave up. There was no power this morning, so I couldn’t cook breakfast. But my morning was saved when Mira called.
February 7, 2013: I look 40. Thor told me that a girl we both know said that she thought I was 40 years old. It’s hard to tell the age of other ethnicities.
February 10, 2013: Then we drank beers in town and watched a policeman pretend to shoot the town monkey with his AK-47. He didn’t seem very confident with his weapon.
February 11, 2013: My egg that I cracked into the skillet was rotten or something so I tossed it out the window where the chickens ate it. Weird. Cannibals!
February 11, 2013: Then Ryan texted me to say we got the OK to run in the Hawzien 1/2 Marathon. Holy Shit! With Scott Jurek!! So I gotta get in shape for that in 3 weeks. I’m f***ed, but this is an incredible opportunity that I can’t pass up! [This turned into a blog post later]
February 13, 2013: I made it to the High School at 7am but no one was there except for the guards who were watching the news. School was on break today but some students showed up anyway not knowing any better. The scheduling system here sucks so bad, it’s pathetic.
February 16, 2013: …I thought about all the “dead”s that showed up in the People Living With HIV tracking sheet I was reviewing from the hospital… So I got overwhelmed with negativity yesterday. The amount of problems here seem insurmountable.
February 18, 2013: Anyway I feel like I hit a wall on Friday and have been kinda bummed out on stuff lately. Not really sure why. No one cause. But frustrated with my sucky language skills, constant attention, lack of a clear job, overwhelmingly bad current state of health care, and just straight up homesickness I guess. And physical sickness which doesn’t help at all.
February 19, 2013: I’m in bed now at 9pm because I want to get better and I need to run again tomorrow morning early. Come on GI! Get your s*** together! haha! Get it?!?! F.M.P.C.V.L.!!!
February 20, 2013: Actually sharted again. But went for a good 30 minute run anyway.