International Festival Day aka The Vegetarian’s Thanksgiving

I’ve been a vegetarian for 8 years now, and by far, the most disappointing holiday is Thanksgiving. It’s become a, “sure…I’ll have a plate full of mashed potatoes, raw carrots, and a roll” kind of day. I have to admit, living abroad, I don’t really miss it.

But every year, our school celebrates its cultural diversity by hosting an International Festival Day. The day kicks off with a parade filled with the flags from each country represented at our school (60 in total).


The rest of the afternoon is filled with enough eating to put Thanksgiving to shame. Many countries put up tents and serve (free!) cultural food in an effort to share their diversity and culture with each other.

This year, I counted 20 tables in all and two of them were continent tables: Europe, comprised of countries like Germany, Italy, Ireland, and more, and Central/South America featuring foods from Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, and Venezuela. The Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland) also banded together to offer a lot of deserts and pickled fish!

But the larger representatives included: Nigeria, Pakistan, the United States, India, Jamaica, Turkey, Israel, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Australia, Cameroon, South Africa, Japan, Lebanon, Brazil, the Netherlands, and, of course, Ghana.


Walking around those tents, I kid you not, I filled my plate about three times. I’ve decided the only acceptable way to spend time in line is eating and waiting for your plate to be filled again.

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Thanksgiving: Take two

This year, there was no training to bring all of us together. So instead of having 70 volunteers swarm Addis, we were left to our own devices.

I decided to take part in a Peace Corps Ethiopia tradition – an Assela Thanksgiving. Assela is the hub town all of our training sites were based around, and I hadn’t been back since I left, last August. So I caught an early minibus and began the trek.

Only the first 30 minutes were done solo. I was soon in Shashemene where I switched buses and joined up with a fellow G7 volunteer. We made our way to the next bus station – in Assasa. Another quick transfer and we were finally in the home stretch, only another two hours to Assela.

We arrived, joined some other PCVs and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon in the lobby of the hotel that hosted all our trainings a year ago – they had gotten wifi and were seriously moving up in the world! The food off the menu was even tolerable (I don’t think I ate much more than bread and bananas on the days we were forced to lunch there).

That evening we all joined together (there were probably 15 of us) to watch the traditional awesomely bad sci-fi film. This year’s gem? Sharknado…classic. From the moment it started I knew we had struck gold, but what really solidified it was when *SPOILER* Lauren (from Make It Or Break It – don’t know her real name) was pulled out of shark after another cast member had been swallowed whole by the same shark and had used a chainsaw to free himself from the inside out. Awesome.

That night we all went to bed quite content, seriously looking forward to the spread of food we’d have before us the following day. A few of the volunteers used the morning to slave away and cook the food. That, however, included slaughtering a sheep, so my boyfriend and I decided to go for a hike instead.


Miraculously, we managed to find our way back to this tree, a good 30 minutes uphill from Assela proper. You’re probably wondering why it was so important we find this tree specifically. Well, this tree happened to witness our first kiss, and Chandler, being the more romantic of us two, wanted to hike back up to it. It was an incredibly sweet moment.

Then began the hike back down – much easier : ) It was filled with waves of amber…something we didn’t notice on our way up, due to our preoccupation with finding that tree!


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Baby it’s cold outside…

It’s January 6th and I’m still listening to my Christmas mix. It’s strange because this is the least Christmas-y Christmas I’ve had and yet I’m constantly reminded that it’s the holiday season – tomorrow is the Ethiopian Christmas and all the hotels/shops are decked out with decorations.

This year I’m missing out on making snow angels, sipping hot cocoa by the fire, and looking for the pickle on the tree, but I replaced those things with some pretty great new traditions.


The weekend before Christmas we treated ourselves to a resort day at the Haile to celebrate a friend’s birthday. That evening we went down to the lake for some fresh fish.


The following day was Christmas Eve and to get in a festive mood, we decided to make paper snowflakes. Some of the ladies had been perfecting this craft over the previous weeks and I was sufficiently jealous of some of their snowflake-making skills.


And then came time for the chicken killing…we perfected the act on the second chicken, my apologies to the first. I grew a little attached to them that afternoon, luckily I didn’t try naming them! Everyone said they were quite tasty.


But I know what you’re thinking…you don’t eat chicken. You’re right, I don’t. But we had plenty of other delicious side items: wild rice soup, salad, glazed carrots, mashed sweet potatoes, and seasoned potatoes. Followed by dessert: chocolate pecan pie. Plenty of food to go around.


We woke up Christmas morning, cleaned the kitchen we had annihilated the night before and then opened our Secret Santa gifts. The 5 birr limit was brilliant and I got a hand-painted pot containing freshly planted cilantro and some memorable photos.


Then we spent the afternoon at the hot springs before getting all dolled-up for dinner at the lodge.


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I befriended some hyenas and lived to tell the tale

I had a very Lion King weekend, more along the lines of hanging with hyenas than having to deal with that whole Hamlet thing. The part that surprised me the most…how darn cute hyena cubs are.

Seriously though…these cubs were adorable. And yes, they were wild, but they were so timid around the nearby vultures that I never felt unsafe. And, for full disclosure, we didn’t just happen upon the hyenas in the wild, we went to a lodge in Yirgalem known for their nearby hyenas. We even went to their dens during the day while they slept.

It was a great weekend. In addition to our hyena sighting (which happened twice)…

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