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Twenty-Three/Twenty-Four

This past weekend, I made my last rent payment. I’m exactly month out from leaving Bahir Dar and then Ethiopia. For good. Things are winding down here and this is my penultimate Peace Corps update post.

Future of this Blog

I’ve had my blog for three and a half years now, long before it was ever a “Peace Corps” blog, and I intend to keep it. It may transform into a travel blog for awhile but it’s still my blog and I intend to continue using it. So follow along if you wish… I’ll still be here.

COS Trip

This past month, this trip 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 . It will be my third Christmas away, but my first with my fiance! Then after three weeks in India and two weeks in Thailand before Myanmar, we’ll continue our travels according to the plan we decided on months ago. I’ll be landing back in the States in less than 5 months, which is 30 months after leaving in September 2012. It’s weird to think about it like that!

Favorite Blog Posts

Some of my favorite blog posts over my 2 years (in reverse chronological order):

Letters to Self

Peace Corps Ethiopia has a tradition of writing letters. There are two points in our service where we write letters to ourselves to open at a future date, approximately one year later. At COS Conference, our most recent letters were returned to us. I slipped mine into my bag, fearful of what emotions might come spilling out if I dared open the letter.

Inside I knew there were three letters I had written myself: an unfinished one from before I departed the US, the letter written at the end of Pre-Service Training before we swore in and the one I wrote at my Mid-Service Conference right after I had returned from the States. The envelope sat in my bag until recently, when I found it and built up the courage to see what was inside.

Letters to yourself are like a journal, but not quite. It’s a snapshot of where you you have been and where past you thought future you might be. And because I feel like sharing, here they are in all their glory. The three letters I wrote to myself.

Unfinished Pre-Departure Letter, September 2012

Dear Lora,

By the time you’re reading this letter, you’re at the point where you don’t know how much more you can take. You’re likely exhausted, homesick, maybe physically sick and your idealized view is nothing like what it actually means to be a Peace Corps volunteer.

You want to know why you’re doing this?
Because your heart yearns to do something much bigger than yourself.

Consider it now… in the five years you wished, hoped and dreamed that one day you would be in the Peace Corps, that was the only constant. You decided to leave and create the life you wanted for yourself. And in the end, you achieved your goal. In mid-July, you got word you would be going to Ethiopia. You’re actually going. And in less than 10 weeks.

Sitting in your living room in your (fourth) apartment in San Antonio, planning packing lists and dreaming about what it will be like in Ethiopia, it’s hard to imagine the hardship and the loneliness you are feeling. It’s hard to know exactly how hard the isolation and the language have been.

Pre-Service Letter, December 2012

Lora–

Yay! You made it to MSC! As I write this on one of the last days of PST in Assela, your entire service still has yet to happen. Right now you feel anxious and apprehensive about the future–ready to leave Sagure and to get to site, but worried about what the future will hold once you get there. How will the first three months play out? What will having a G8 site mate be life? Will you get to see some of the others anytime soon? What on earth will you do for a project in a town that has everything?

You are still excited about the future and remember all the reasons you decided to join the Peace Corps and accept and invitation to Ethiopia. You remember that you aren’t going to change the world, but just maybe you can change one person’s life. You have already met some of the best friends you’ve ever had and hope those relationships will continue to grow over the next 2 years, despite the distance and uncertainty.

And–taking a guess on how I’ll feel 2 years from now–just remember: Izosh! If I have learned anything, its that all things end and you can and will survive and thrive. You will come out on the other end a stronger person. Your life will be all the richer for this experience. You already gave up everything in the States a year ago to come here and have the greatest adventure of your life. And today I am optimistic and hopeful that my future self will have grabbed the moment and the experience and made it my own.

Also, you should really blog about this. It’ll give you lots of future laughs and giggles. Also, for more fun, here’s a list:
Things I hope I’ve gotten better at:
– laundry (right now my pants are NEVER clean)
– bucket baths (wuha everywhere!)
– reading script
– GREETINGS!
– eating with your hands
– calming down over eager kids
– keeping in touch with the fam
– affording furniture for your house
– sleeping in (roosters and pigeons = problem)

Remember why you’re here and keep on having fun. They don’t call Peace Corps the toughest job you’ll ever love for nothing.

P.S. If you are considering extending for a third year, your past self is all for it!

<3 Lora

Mid-Service Letter, November 2013

Lora–

Sitting on this hotel room bed one of the last night of MSC, it’s hard to envision the emotions that must be running through your mind at COS Conference. This is it. YOU DID IT! You survived and thrived this past year and will soon be heading onto your next great adventure. I’m not sure if you are extending for a third year or not–the view is a little foggy from here–but I am so proud of the amazing, beautiful and brave woman you’ve become over the past two years in Ethiopia.

It’s the end of your two years… Are you emptying your house and moving all your belongings into two 50lb suitcases? Are you excited for a new job opportunity–either in Addis or elsewhere? Have you finally figured out where you and Ryan will spend those four months of post-service traveling? I can’t imagine the emotions running through your mind right now as you think about all the goodbyes you’ll have to make and the memories you’ll leave behind. People who’s lives you’ve changed forever and who will always stay with you in your heart.

Last September, before departing for Peace Corps, you said your heart yearns to do something much bigger than yourself. And you did. You survived this wonderful, crazy, beautiful experience and came out the better for it. I am so proud of you–I always knew you’d succeed. Soon you can yourself a RETURNED Peace Corps volunteer–a distinction a small number of American men and women can claim for themselves. Despite how difficult this experience seemed on your darkest days, its your greatest experience yet.

Smile! Celebrate! Keep adventuring!

“Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy… But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in Peace Corps–who works in a foreign land–will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.” – President John F. Kennedy

<3 Lora

For the record, I bawled each time I reopened these letters because it helps remind me exactly how far I’ve come. It’s a very emotional moment when you see what your past self felt was important to convey. They may not be pure poetry, but each one is beautiful to me in their own way. I really love this idea of writing letters to my future self and think I may continue to use it in my life.

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!