We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
This verse got me through a lot of moments in Ethiopia. Never before have I had such a trying experience. Never before have I been adored or hated, based solely on the colour of my skin. Never before have I craved anonymity. Never before have I felt such a need to make a difference.
My time is up; I’ve said my goodbyes. And now I can’t help but contemplate all the things Ethiopia has put me through. The days I couldn’t bring myself to leave my house because I didn’t want to encounter life outside my walls. I look back, assuming I’ll be full of rage, but I’m not. Odd as it may sound, I’m actually glad I went through this. I was tested and learned just how strong I am.
A while back, another volunteer told me that once I leave Ethiopia, the bad things will start to disappear and I’ll only be able to see the positives. Instead, I’m focusing on the positives that came from the bad things.
Never before have I appreciated my friendships as much as I do now – probably because true friendship has been hard to come by here. It’s difficult to have an open and honest relationship with someone when in the back of your mind, you’re dreading the moment when they ask you for something, reveal their true intentions. And while that happened more times than I can count, I am incredibly grateful for the number of true friends I made here, both Peace Corps Volunteers and Ethiopians.
Because my boyfriend and I don’t know how not to plan…and because I knew everyone who reads my blog was dying to know…here’s our SE Asia itinerary. The real itinerary took months to plan…I’ll give you the highlights : )
Doha – Al-Corniche, Souq Waqif, and the Museum of Islamic Art
Bangkok – Banglamphu neighborhood, Siam Ocean World (I’m dating a guy obsessed with aquariums – who knew?), and SHOPPING…hey, I’ve spent the last two years in Ethiopia
Koh Tao – Scuba certification and beaches!
Phetchaburi – Tham Khao Luang Cave and Tham Khao Bandai-It Monastery aka bats, bats, and more bats
Kanchanburi – Death Railway Bridge aka Bridge Over the River Kwai (which we all pronounce incorrectly, thanks to Hollywood)
Bangkok (again) – Ko Ratanakosin and Thonburi neighborhoods for the Grand Palace, National Museum, the Amulet Market, and countless stunning wats (temples)
Hanoi – Water puppets (can’t wait to find out what exactly this is), Women’s Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake & Temple, Temple of Literature (because how could two people as nerdy as me and Chandler not go?), Old Quarter, and the Perfume Pagoda
Halong Bay – Kayaking, rock climbing, and island exploration, especially Hang Trong (aka Drum Grotto) and Dao Titop
Phong Nha-ke Bang National Park – Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Cave, and the Nuoc Mooc Eco Trail (wanted to see Hang Son Doong, the world’s biggest cave, but it costs about $3,000 and only 200 people can enter each year)
Hue – Imperial Enclosure and the Royal Tombs
Hoi An – Historical Old Town
Nha Trang – Louisiane Brewhouse and the Oceanographic Museum. Can you tell which of us chose this town? : )
Mui Ne – This stop was all me though, motorbiking through sand dunes
HCMC – Jade Emperor Pagoda, Fine Arts Museum, and the Tao Dan Park
I’ve done a fair amount of research for my SE Asia trip. I’ve read the Lonely Planet Guidebook for each of the countries I’m traveling to, my boyfriend did the same and then we compared notes, we looked up activity prices, travel routes, hotels, and restaurant options. And all I could think was: Damn, everything looks so nice!
I was shocked, really. The hotels we looked up were all listed as budget options; they were cheaper than the place we stay when we come in to Addis. But they’re so much nicer! I focused on cheap and mid-range food – and there’s so much more variety! Shocked might actually be an understatement to my real reaction.
During my online research, I stumbled upon this blog – “It’s a Real City!”: Hanoi Through Cambodia Goggles – and I couldn’t stop laughing. The blogger was living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and moved to Hanoi, Vietnam and couldn’t get over how developed it was. People would tell her everything that was still wrong with Hanoi and the only thought that came to her mind was “If you think this is underdeveloped, you should check out Cambodia!”
As for me, I’ve seen photo upon photo of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and all I could think was: Damn, everything looks so nice! Clearly, after two years in Ethiopia, I’ve developed Ethiopia goggles. I’m viewing the world through a developing nation in East Africa. I’ve spent the last two years pretending a hole in the floor is a bathroom, thinking a cold shower is normal, living in an uninsulated/unheated/uncooled home, and eating the same food week after week – often with bugs in it. And you know what, I’ve gotten used to it.
Last year, on the first day of camp, I packed my students cold lunches. I introduced them to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, apple juice, complete with a banana. This year, with fewer students, I decided to give them something even more shocking: cheeseburgers. I took them to Tropical Burger and ordered us a few burgers to share (including a veggie burger for myself), and watched their eyes light up as they tried something new. Luckily, they loved it! And then it was off to Wondo Genet.
One of my sessions was Journal Making – and we quickly learned a little more about the campers. Sultan loves to draw and he sketched an image of Jasmine he found on one of the stickers, quite well if I might add. And Michael admitted he wanted to go to Peru of all places, so he drew a ship to sail away on. But my favourite journal cover by far combined America and Ethiopia:
My next session was Reader’s Theater. This year, we used the Eager4English books I helped publish here and we had the campers act out stories from Yirgalem in SNNPR and Gimbi in Oromia. Even some of the shyer students began to come out of their shells.
My final activity was the Camp Olympics, and much like last year, it worked out wonderfully, despite being left to the last minute haha We had a water balloon toss, obstacle course, tank & driver, water challenge, relay races, and puzzles & piggies.
Last week I was in Wondo Genet for our second Camp GLOW. And while I’ve officially gone through all 6,000 photos taken during that time period, it’s hard to decide which pictures of the campers to share.
So while I continue to sort through those, I figured I could at least show you what Wondo looks like and why we returned there for a second year of camp:
This guy greeted us almost immediately upon arrival. We have a lot of monkeys in Hawassa, but most aren’t this stunning.
These mountains were our view every morning, noon, and night.
My countdown began the day I set foot in Ethiopia, but the end is finally starting to feel real. Which made me realize – there are still things I haven’t done here.
You could live in one country your entire life and still not do everything there is to do. But after 26 months in Ethiopia, I want to be able to say I did everything I wanted to do.
Which is why Chandler and I got up on Sunday and after a late breakfast with some fellow Peace Corps and VSO volunteers, we met up with some friends of mine for a boat ride to see the hippos.
Now this trip isn’t exactly cheap when you’re getting paid in the local currency, but it’s something you can easily save up for. That’s my excuse as to why it didn’t happen during my first two years in Ethiopia: cost. But when a friend and her family were going and invited us along, I realized my chance had finally come.
After waiting for about half an hour down by the water, our boat arrived. My friend, her husband, their two kids, Chandler and I all pulled on our life jackets and hopped aboard. Another 15-20 minutes later and we had crossed Lake Hawassa and were in hippo territory.
I quickly realized going out to see the hippos can be a bit anti-climatic, because you only see the tops of their heads. But the scenery, as well as imagining their size beneath the water, was incredible.
As weird as it was saying goodbye to teachers and students a few weeks ago, saying goodbye to my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers has been even more surreal. Especially knowing that I’ll go back to Hawassa on Thursday and I’ll still have another two months here.
Our Close of Service Conference took place May 25th-29th and about half of us are still in Addis for our Post-Peace Corps medical check-ups. The other half finished up before the conference. It’s hard to believe this is already happening. I’ve had so many trainings and vacations to look forward to and to count down to throughout my service, but this is it. I only have one countdown left: 65 days until I fly out of Ethiopia.
The Close of Service Conference was by far my favourite “training” we’ve done with Peace Corps. We discussed our reintegration fears: Will I find a job? How long will it take before I remember I can flush toilet paper? When will I realize there’s hot water…and it will NEVER run out? What if people think I’m weird? What if I think others are weird?
We also discussed different career paths open to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs)…and got to hear what others had in mind. It was also comforting to hear how many volunteers didn’t yet have plans. My boyfriend and I plan on spending about 3-4 months backpacking in SE Asia, but my life after I set foot on American soil is still a blank slate.
Instead of spending all our time in Addis, which is common for our PC trainings, our COS Conference included a trip to Lake Langano, and not one, but two resorts – though that was due to a scheduling error. We spent our days in sessions and having our final shay/buna (tea/coffee) breaks, and our evenings down at the lake basking in the glow of bonfires. Some goodbyes were harder than others, knowing this was the last time we’d see some of these people in Ethiopia.
I may have two months left, but one of my closest friends has already left Ethiopia, and another leaves next week. And while this is incredibly sad to me, it also makes leaving all the easier. If I stayed, everyone else would leave me behind. So I definitely feel ready to move on. But even with that in mind, I’ve never been good at goodbyes…