Hints of Autumn

It’s December! Often that conjures up scents like evergreen trees and mulling spices, images of snow and the feeling of warmth and happiness. For the past two years, I’ve been living in a season-less country and there is no “feeling” of December. It’s a bit surreal at times, especially when holidays sneak up on you because you don’t have the changing weather to tell you what’s coming next. I’ve forgotten more holidays than I can count, mostly because I just don’t REALIZE it’s coming.

Thanksgiving felt particularly non-Thanksgiving-ey this year… at first. I woke up that morning, walked out of my compound and everyone was going about their business like it was just another day, because here in Ethiopia, it WAS just another day. It wasn’t until we arrived at our Thanksgiving hosts’ house and saw the tables were festively set, a fire was crackling in the fireplace and smelled the roasting turkey that it finally hit. Feeling that sense of community and family that American holidays give me is something I haven’t ever been able to find here.

Over the past few weeks, every once in a while if I was walking to work at just right the time, there was a hint of autumn, of crispness in the air, that reminded me of home. Even the tiniest reminder of home is welcomed and cherished, especially when the days get so hot and the bulk of Ethiopians in my city are fasting (meaning eating a vegan diet) through Genna on January 7. I miss seasons, especially autumn, but I know as soon as we head out, I’ll miss Ethiopia too.

5 Gifts for Peace Corps Volunteers

Photo By Caroline

Do you know a Peace Corps volunteer currently serving somewhere overseas? Unsure of what to put in their next package for Christmas? Here are 5 small gifts you can add to a package that will help make your PCV’s day!

Kicking Horse Coffee
1. Coffee

Even in the birthplace of coffee, the average cup is really not that great. Receiving a pound from a coffee shop in the States and freshly brewing it in my home beats a cup out any day!


2. Journal

It is possible to get stationary and paper-products in country, but only if you don’t want them to last longer than a month. My poor journals have had to sustain water damage, mildew, extreme sun and all sort of random creepy crawlies. As an added bonus, it can be eco-friendly, allowing us to feel somewhat less bad about using all those trees.

3. Silicone Baking Cups

This only really applies to PCVs who love to bake, but I got some of these silicone baking cups from a friend who left and they have been LIVESAVERS for my baking. I bake vegetables, bread, cakes, eggs and other miscellaneous things in them. Sometimes they really help save my sanity when it comes to cleaning.

4. Hot sauce & other spices

I’ve learned that even in a country with “amazing” food (because after all, amazing is relative), there is a definite need for some additional spices in your life. I love Cholula sauce and balsamic vinegar so made sure those were in a package.

5. Candy

Sure, I can get the crappy EMEA versions of some particular candy bars (Snickers and knock off Kit Kats namely) but sometimes it’s just really great to have the American version on a bad day.


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):

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)
  • 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.