Publishing in Ethiopia

Blog - 1The idea for our Eager 4 English children’s books was conceived in the fall of 2012. At first, my role was small. I was one of about 30 volunteers who was paired with a creative writing student in the US. Our job was to provide the writer with information about our towns so that a story could be written that our students would really relate to.

As time passed, my role expanded. First into editing – I spent months going over every story and copyediting line by line. And then I spoke to the creator of the books about her vision for the design…her initial plan: a Word document. My shock and appall turned into understanding when I realized she didn’t have InDesign, nor had she worked with it in the past.

During my university days I was the fiction editor and design & layout editor for our school’s lit mag. I had also worked in publishing after graduation, so I offered my (wildly limited) expertise. But still, I had no idea just what I was getting myself into. We waited months and months for our illustrator’s edits. I got tips and advice from a friend in the US, while trying to work with an uncooperative internet connection. We weren’t allowed to speak with the printers directly for fear that they would jack up the prices due to our foreign status. I waited weeks, WEEKS for responses to the inquiries I made to our partners. I was working on four books simultaneously (one for each region – Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, SNNPR), all the while keeping up with my projects at school. I was busy, too busy.

But then, magically, it was all over. And on March 20, 2014 (a year and a half later!!!), all that hard work paid off. Peace Corps had printed 2,000 copies – 500 of each book. The printing coincided with our All-Volunteer Conference, and we were able to pass out the books to the rest of the volunteers. And just like that, it was all worth it. These books were definitely one of the hardest projects during my time here, but they were also one of my favourites : )

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On being a woman: On being hated

Living abroad can be difficult, for men and women alike. Both sexes are treated like outsiders, miss family and friends back home, struggle with the loss of creature comforts, and can find it difficult to cope alone.

But for women, there’s more. As a woman living in Ethiopia, I constantly dread leaving my home. And I’ve had to carry this around with me for the last two years. It’s not something I talk about with many back home, mostly because I wouldn’t know how to say it, where to start. And I was afraid people wouldn’t understand, that they’d find me weak or ungrateful or exaggerative.

Luckily, I’ve met some absolutely incredible women (and men!) through my service here and one of them has spoken out about the treatment we receive in Ethiopia. She is heartbreakingly honest about the struggles she faces, I face, every foreign woman I know faces.

Her blog post is not easy to read, but neither is life here. And I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I only told you about the coffee ceremonies I attend, the projects I complete at my school, the travel I’m able to experience. Those are all aspects of living in Ethiopia, but the harassment is an aspect of my life too. Sometimes the largest aspect.

So, if you’re interested in what life is really like for foreign women living in Ethiopia (and, I suppose, in many non-Western countries), read this blog post:

On Being Hated by Danielle Luttrull

World Read Aloud Day

Wednesday was World Read Aloud Day and it couldn’t have had more perfect timing. The first week of each month I host a reading program in my school’s library that every student – all 1,368 of them! – participates in. This month’s theme was nonfiction and it shouldn’t surprise me that the students enjoyed it more than the previous fairytale lesson.

The preferred read alouds of the students: Flight by Robert Burleigh and Snow Is Falling by Franklyn M. Branley. Who knew they’d love snow and planes so much, seeing as most of these students will never experience either. But that’s what makes books so important in the first place – opening up worlds you’d never be able to experience otherwise.

And I can’t lie, I loved reading Flight to them…thank you Charles Lindbergh for being born in Minnesota : ) It was like reading a little piece of home. If I’m being honest, reading about snow made me feel right at home as well.

Some other much loved books were…


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Ten common misconceptions about Peace Corps

Peace Corps turns 53 this week, and in honor of that accomplishment, I’ve decided to let you in on the truths behind some of the more prevalent myths surrounding this organization…

  1. We all live in huts. Ok, I thought this too. I joined Peace Corps figuring I’d live in a hut and walk to the stream to fill my buckets each day, not true. Yes, many volunteers live in homes made of mud and sticks, but they’re still homes. Mine’s made of concrete and gets really hot during dry season!hut
  2. We can only connect with those back home via snail mail. This one’s pretty dated, but I think all volunteers head to their country of service curious about how frequently they’ll be able to get in touch with friends and family back home. Well here in Ethiopia, which has one of the worst telecommunication systems in the world, I can get internet most days, same with cell reception (although that can actually be harder). And clearly, as you’ve all seen, I can stay in touch just fine.letters
  3. We only get exotic illnesses. This one may sound ridiculous, but no one thinks about the everyday illnesses. I was afraid of catching malaria, typhus, typhoid, etc…but it never occured to me that in addition to my frequent bacterial infections, I’d develop reoccurring strep throat. Nothing exotic about that.malaria Continue reading

Wait, you’re going to Djibouti…for vacation?

That was the follow-up question the US Embassy Officer asked us after we told him we were going to Djibouti for a few days. I’m a Peace Corps Ethiopia Volunteer. Volunteers go to Djibouti all the time. In fact, in the last three months I can think of at least six people I know who have gone to Djibouti – all for vacation.

So I guess I forgot that Djibouti is not a normal tourist destination. But on the flight over I couldn’t imagine why not. I had done my research, obviously I already knew that Djibouti was on the ocean (a major reason for going), but I had also looked into a number of delicious sounding restaurants, as well as a number of scuba/snorkeling companies. Djibouti sounded great.

And then we arrived…

There is nothing in Djibouti. I’m not kidding and I’m not exaggerating. There’s nothing there…except military outposts. But at this point of the trip I only vaguely knew that.

We stepped out of the airport just after 11 am, arriving a little late, thanks to a sick passenger who made us taxi back to the gate before we could finally take off. We hopped into a taxi, thrilled that all of the prices were predetermined and posted on a sign (in Ethiopia, taxi drivers are constantly trying to rip you off, there’s no set price or meter). We told the driver Kempinski Palace, not because we could afford to stay at the nicest resort in Djibouti, but because the company we were using for our whale shark adventure had their office there.

The smallest bill we had gotten from the ATM was 5,000 Djiboutian Francs, so I handed it to the driver expecting 3,000 in change – because the sign had clearly read 2,000 to Kempinski. Instead he handed me 2,000. Chandler was already out of the taxi, but I sat there and refused to move, demanding my change. 1,000 DJF may only amount to $5.56, but I wasn’t about to be ripped off. First, the driver claimed that the sign had really said 3,000. Then he claimed that he had to pay a 1,000 fee to park at the airport (it’s really 200 and clearly, it’s already been calculated in). I simply stared him down and eventually he threw another 1,000 DJF bill in the backseat. Classy.

Chandler and I laughed about how some things (like being ripped off by taxi drivers) must simply be universal. We wandered around and found the diving office only to be told that while they had booked us for a night on Moucha Island for that night, they couldn’t take us to see whale sharks on Friday. They had rented out all of their boats and had lost our reservation. Neat. But they promised to contact another diving agency and get us signed up. So we paid up and waited at Kempinski for about an hour before the boat arrived to take us to the island.


We made the trip over with two others, both going to the island to scuba dive – there are plenty of beautiful reefs and fish by the island, but no whale sharks, so we didn’t join them. We soon discovered we were the only people on the island. At around 5 pm, the divers left and Chandler and I were alone with the manager, dive instructor, and chef. Awesome.

We spent the evening on the private beach just down the way from our cabin and then came up for dinner at 7 pm. We had told the cook we were vegetarians, but in this part of the world that means you eat fish. He made a delicious soup (I couldn’t even begin to tell you what was in it) for our starter, and then we had fresh fish, green beans, and french fries for our main course. Dessert consisted of pineapple in pear sauce and all of it was devoured in the soft light of the bar just meters away from the ocean.


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A friend in a sea of enemies

Ok, so other volunteers can back me up on this: traveling in Ethiopia can be a nightmare. Your typical minibus has seats for 12 people, but usually crams on a minimum of 18…on an average day.

Well, this week I went to Yirgalem for a day trip to spend some time with a fellow volunteer and I had the pleasure of being one of 25 on my bus. But luckily, I had a seat. And not only a seat, an outside seat.

I was in a row for two, which can often mean three or four (it definitely did for the other rows on my bus), but when I sit on the outside, I refuse to scoot over. I paid for this seat, why should I share it? The bus drivers over pack the buses, charging everyone the full fee, and they think I should make room? I don’t think so.

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Julie & Julia

As you can probably tell from my title, I just watched Julie & Julia. I know…a little late. It came out in 2009. But we all know I have a lot more free time on my hands here than I ever did back in the good ol’ USA.

I decided to watch the film because I’ve been a bit more adventurous in my cooking lately and I therefore wanted to watch a film about cooking…and I just wasn’t in the mood for Ratatouille : ) I’ll be honest, it was a bit hard watching the film and seeing all of the incredible ingredients both characters had available to them in France and the US.

If you like NPR, you might have seen their article “Where In The World Is The Best Place For Healthy Eating” which prominently features France as the second easiest country in the world in which to find a balanced, nutritious diet. The US made the list, tied with Japan, at number 21. Not great, until you put it in perspective. Ethiopia made the list at 123. Out of 125. And they tied with Angola. Which means the only country where it is more difficult to find a balanced, nutritious diet, is Chad. Man, I’m glad I’m not in Chad. No wonder I’ve developed anemia here and my weight fluctuates constantly.

Funny thing is, that’s not what stuck with me the most – my lack of available food. Instead, what stuck with me were Amy Adams’ blogging scenes (well, and anything with Stanley Tucci, but that’s just because I’m in love with him). Those scenes made me think about why I started this blog in the first place. Full disclosure: I thought this would be easier than mass emails to friends/family back home, letting them know I’m still alive.

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