A Day in the Life of a PCV

In a couple days I depart for my visit back to America with a little over a year into—and left in—my service here in Ethiopia. The impending visit has made me reflective and contemplative on my daily life here. Although there is no such thing as a “typical day,” there are good days and bad times, sometimes a little of both in the same day.

Most days start with the compound cat meowing outside my door at 6 a.m. until I drag myself out of bed to give him an egg. Cat fed, I head to the compound shint bet (latrine) hoping that I beat the neighbor before his morning shower. I then squeeze back under my mosquito net for a few more hours of sleep.

Around 8 I get up, get dressed and head to the secondary school where my site mate and I have been working on a school garden. On my 20 minute walk to the school, my favorite little girl in the entire world, Halla, shouts my name and sprints down the street to greet me. She grabs my hand and kisses it, throwing me a beaming smile as she turns back to run home. About halfway across the street she turns back around and shouts, “Ciao!” and keeps running home.

Today my site mate, Corey, is building a base for the containers that will be the container garden portion of the garden. While enough compounds have space for a garden, many more are all concrete or just don’t have enough room for the average person to have a garden. Teaching the students they can garden out of bags, old tires, old broken jerry cans or even baskets and clay pots will show them they don’t need a lot of space to get nutritious food. While Corey and our counterpart, Getacho, does most of the hard work sawing and hammering the base, I putter around the garden picking out weeds and bringing him pieces of wood. Almost any time I try to pick up the hammer, a well-meaning student or teacher is quick to relieve me of it and contribute to the building of the garden.

After we finish at the garden around 11 a.m., we head to a nearby café with Getacho and order a couple of bayonets (mixed vegetable platters) and two Kool wuhas (mineral water that is bottled in my town). Finishing up around noon just as the lunch crowd is wandering in, we wash our hands, pay and head out. Corey and I walk part of the way together, but I still have about a ten minute walk after he breaks off toward his house. Arriving home, my compound is empty save one sarategna (servant). I cut some fresh Swiss chard from my own container garden, wash it and with a quickly mixed balsamic vinaigrette, have lunch.

With no plans after lunch, I take a lazy afternoon to listen to podcasts (downloaded a month ago in Bahir Dar) and read or watch TV shows. Right now I’m reading Martin Walker’s newest novel, The Devil’s Cave, on my Nook. The power has been out since I arrived back at my house, so I avoid using my laptop in case I need to charge my phone on it or send an important email if the power outage lasts more than a couple hours. I take the opportunity to wash my hair in the broken shower in the shint bet for the first time in several weeks. I sit out in the sun handwashing dishes from the day before while my hair air dries in the intense African sun. I finish up, rinse out my bucket and get everything inside just as the late afternoon thunderstorm rolls in around 3:30 and the sky opens up and pours down. Soon the sounds of rain turn more urgent and insistent, and a quick glance out my open door confirms that it has begun to hail. I rush to slam the door shut and stuff a rag in the small crack below it as the hail tries to get in my house. The cat, who had been snoozing under my desk, suddenly is alarmed by all the noise and started crying.

By 4:30 the storm has passed and I can hear life slowly getting back to normal. I put my shoes on, grab an umbrella (just in case!) and head back up to the secondary school where Getacho teaches a daily English class for gobez (clever) students. He teaches the quick lesson he had planned and then we start playing games with the students to teach them English vocabulary. After the games the class turns into a “free talk” session, and several students bravely stand up in front of their classmates to answer any questions thrown at them. One particularly clever 4th grader asks Getacho for a translation, and asks the girl at the front of the room, “When you went to the Gondar Camp GLOW, did you stay awake all the first night?” and when she answers that she slept because she was tired, he follows with, “Did you have snore?” I corrected him and he said quickly, “Did you snore?” “Yes, I did,” she replied boldly and took the next question. With sunset quickly approaching, I excuse myself from the post-class shay/buna that we usually take and head home.

The sun has just set and one of the compound sarategnas knocks of my door. When I shout back, “Abet?” (Yes?) she let’s me know in her limited English, “Drinking coffee.” Tonight I find my landlady, Alga, sitting on one of the outdoor couches eating corn on the cob (Ethiopians pick off the kernels with their hands) and tossing pieces to the cat. I sit down, am presented with my own corn on the cob, and sit in silence occasionally tossing pieces to the cat while contemplating the night sky. Eventually my landlord, Shebabo, arrives home from work and the coffee ceremony begins. I usually get four cups here, never a good thing this close to bed.

After I’ve finished coffee, I am showing my compound the new buna mat Corey’s compound helped me purchase as Linga, one of the sarategnas, brings out injera and wat for dinner. Luckily I didn’t eat before, which I usually do, so I gladly accept some of the spicy misir wat (lentil) and tasty gomen wat (greens). After three corns on the cob, I’m not too anxious to eat much more and have to beg out of more wat being added by telling my landlady, Alga, “Bakaign" (Enough for me) and “T’gahbku” (I am fulfilled). I tell her that I already ate meksas (small meal around 5pm here) and corn, so this is enough. We continue to discuss my plans to host a buna ceremony of my own in America. She tells me the next day we are going to “make” my jebenas (clay coffee pots) which means break them in/cure them. Additionally we will go find a small buna table for me to take with me to America. That settles everything except the coffee itself, and she is horrified to find out I can take only 2 kilos of green coffee with me (a little over 4 pounds). I let her know that it’s actually possible to buy Ethiopian coffee in America, and all is well in the world again. After dinner, my landlord says good night and disappears as my landlady and I continue to talk about my impending trip to America.

I tell her “Ishi bekka” (Okay enough) and good night as I head back to my room for the night. I lock my door, stuff a rag under the gap at the bottom to keep creepy crawlies out, and turn on my lamp. Most nights I write or read on my computer—and tonight is no exception as I work on this blog post. Then I pull out my internet card and connect to the internet, checking and responding to emails, maybe Facebook chatting with friends, as I wait for the effects of four cups off coffee to wear off. Tonight is no exception and I’m sure I’ll be up for several more hours as exhaustion finally overcomes me and I drift off to sleep.

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