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Things I’ve Learned After 2 Years in Ethiopia

My two year anniversary of my arrival in Ethiopia arrived several weeks ago in a flurry of activity. I got a couple texts from other G8ers, but it was quite uneventful and ended in a flight to Addis for a Cross Culture Committee TOT (Training of Trainers) and handing over the committee I’ve invested so much in. It’s starting to settle in that I’m leaving in less than two months.

Anyway, in honor of that momentous occasion, here are some things I’ve learned over the past 2 years in Ethiopia:

  • how to eat alone
  • it’s not that difficult to tune people out
  • indoor plumbing is amazing and something I will cherish forever after
  • hand washing clothes and dishes all. the. time. is not awesome
  • patience, grasshopper
  • always carry toilet paper and an umbrella
  • being American and a native English speaker is a privilege in some many more ways that I can count
  • that I actually love tea
  • roosters crow all the time, not just at sunrise
  • what a house covered in mildew/mold looks and smells like
  • the youth will always be the change
  • the art of waiting
  • when to keep my cool (and when not to) when men think its their right to harass me
  • digital books are awesome
  • new, clean clothes every day is a luxury
  • rats/mice/fleas/minamin really aren’t that scary
  • avocado juice is a thing and a good one at that
  • chickens and goats will definitely eat your garden, including tomatoes
  • a chilled drink–whether its soda, beer or wine–can turn a day around
  • it is possible to read 18 books in 2 weeks
  • what gratitude really means

Amhara Camp GROW

Amhara Camp GROW

Last summer, I talked a bit about doing Gondar Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). I served at the Camp Director of the fourth iteration of Gondar GLOW and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my service. Meanwhile in Tigray, a group of PCVs was hosting the second Camp GROW (Growing and Renewing Our World) to take place in Ethiopia that focuses more on caring for and appreciating the world. It’s the only one we’ve got so we might as well love it!

Myself and a couple other volunteers thought it was a brilliant idea and decided to bring Camp GROW to the Amhara region. For the past year, we have been creating an entirely new camp model. Instead of being based on a university campus–usually outside of town and quite isolated–we thought it would be lovely to hold camp in the center of a small town. We chose Addis Kidam, the site of my friend and fellow G8er Amanda. There is a local NGO in her town started by Dr. Tilahun Zeweldu called Northwest Investments (NWI) that has a strong dedication to improving the lives of the community in a sustainable way.

I’m proud to say little over a month ago, 51 students from all over Amhara gathered for the first Amhara Camp GROW!

It was a massive undertaking as we had almost 80 people there at one point (including guests and guest speakers). Dr. Tilahun donated his community center in the heart of town for the 8 days of camp and we turned the six classroom, one meeting hall into a place of learning and fun for the week. The classrooms downstairs were turned into dormitories for the students and counselors while all the programming took place either upstairs in the meeting hall or outside.

At first the kids complained about the rough conditions, lack of electricity, rainy season weather and the fact that they were having the do real work outside (digging, planting, collecting trash, etc) but by the end of the week they were proudly showing off what they’d learned to about 200 members of the Addis Kidam community! These teenagers were telling older, well respected members of the community what a composting toilet or double-digging is! Amanda has a beautiful write up of the community fair here.

Not only did we want the camp to be sustainable through community involvement and a strong partner in NWI, but we wanted it to be healthy for the students and end up with little to no waste. First of all, Amanda’s G10 sitemate Ellery did ALL the cooking (read about her perspective here) and provided a variety of healthy, nutritious meals for the students. Cooking for 80 hungry people every day is no easy feat, yet Ellery managed to do it three meals a day for the eight days. We also collected the students leftover food after each meal and at the end of camp we had less than an injera platter of wasted food! Compared to camps past this was an incredible feat.

Here is a not so tiny list of what we accomplished during the week:

  • Creating a small tree nursey
  • Learning about and creating a permagarden
  • Using tippy-taps to conserve water during handwashing
  • No water bottle waste! The students refilled their water bottles with filtered water and then built a bottle brick bench with the bottles
  • A nature walk at Lake Zengena crater lake
  • Building a composting toilet (or three)
  • Learning about the science of soils
  • Cooking more nutritious dishes
  • Creating their own herbal salves
  • Designing an urban/container garden using waste materials
  • Learning what leadership means and how the students can be leaders
  • A community trash clean up
  • Creating art from trash
  • Having constructive free time where the students learned about environmental jenga, science experiments, music, the family planning game and coloring their own versions of The Giving Tree and other books
  • Designing a “Bring It Home” activity in conjunction with the counselors from their town
  • The first-of-its-kind community fair!

We could not have done this camp without a small grant from USAID’s Feed the Future initiative to help us purchase supplies and hold the planning/post-camp monitoring and evaluation meeting, but it truly was a combined effort from the community, our partner Northwest Investments and Dr. Tilahun, our counselors (both Peace Corps Volunteer and Ethiopian counterparts) and the students. The first Amhara Camp GROW was a huge success and I know that I hope to see it for many years to come.

Twenty-Two/Twenty-Four

The days are swiftly counting down. I spent the last week in Addis at a Cross Culture Committee meeting and doing my COS medical. The next time I will be in Addis, I’ll be leaving Ethiopia for good. Every time a doctor or other PCV would ask me, “When do you go home?” and I’d respond casually, “Friday night.” They’d stare at me in shock and say, “You’re going back to America on FRIDAY?” Oh, you meant that home.

It’s hard. As excited as I am for the next phase of my life, Ethiopia HAS been my home for the past two years. As much as I struggle at times with how to talk positively about my service and my experience here, it has been my life. It’s hard to process what exactly leaving means. I’m paralyzed by my inability to describe my end of service and I feel that has been reflected in my lack of posting lately. I have SO many things to talk about, like Camp GROW and Morocco, but I just feel frozen. Maybe they won’t be my best work, but I’ll try to get at some some words out.

COS Trip

This past month, this got very real. We bought plane tickets out of Ethiopia. We booked hotels in India. We got Indian visas. This big trip is so close.

We arrive in India before dawn on Christmas Eve and, if all goes according to plan, will arrive in the beautiful south Indian state of Kerala on Christmas morning. It will be my third Christmas away, but my first with my fiance! Then after five weeks in India, we’ll continue our travels according to the plan we decided on months ago. I’ll be landing in my hometown in less than 6 months, 30 months after leaving in September 2012. Crazy.

Miscellaneous

I mentioned above I’m having a hard time talking about my service lately. Stay tuned for updates on Camp GROW, Morocco and maybe even COS Conference in the coming weeks!

Twenty-One/Twenty-Four

I’m officially in the home stretch. Only three months left! I have 99 days until I leave Ethiopia for good. Yay! This month’s update is a little light, mostly due to the hectic nature of my schedule these days.

COS Conference!

COS (Close of Service) Conference is happening next week. It seems surreal that it’s the last time G8 will be all in one place… now it’s off to the future. Some of my group are staying for another year, some are leaving immediately following the conference and the rest are leaving in about 3 months… give or take.

Travels: Morocco Edition

Morocco was an amazing and much needed vacation. We had an action packed few weeks and had many adventures, including learning to cook tanjine, eating tanjia and other street food in the Jemaa al Fna, getting henna’d, going to a public hamam (Roman style instead of Turkish) and eating some of the best food I’ve had in the past two years.

I loved Morocco and hope to find time to go back someday!

Camp GROW

I’m currently in the midst of the first Amhara Camp GROW so won’t have any updates for you all for another few weeks since after GROW, I’ll turn around and head straight to Addis for COS Conference. Busy, busy!

Pocket Full of Coins

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Found six different currencies in my pocket this morning!