“Don’t Kick the Chair”

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.

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Camp GLOW 2014

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.

1 - Arrival

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:

2 - Obama

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.

3 - Reader's Theater

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.

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Saying Goodbyes

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…

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A teacher no more…

Whew…after two years living and working in Ethiopia, my time as a teacher has finally come to a close! Yesterday marked the end of my Reading Program at Adare and we celebrated with an award ceremony and cookies : )

Two students from each grade 7 & 8 class were named “Adare Star Readers” and were allowed to pick a chapter book – graciously donated by friends, family, and strangers – to bring home and continue their reading practice. Books chosen were classics like Matilda, The Magician’s Elephant, Bridge to Terabithia, and Peter Pan.

The joy on their faces was worth the struggle I sometimes went through keeping this program up and running over the last nine months. I just want to say thank you to everyone back home who helped support this program, the students will never forget it!

Adare Readers

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Thankfulness: A Cure For Difficult Circumstances

I share this blog’s title with the title of one of my pastor’s sermons. In it, he mentioned that thankfulness is the best cure for when you’re feeling down and out. His recommendation for when something’s really bothering you: Write five pages of things that you’re grateful for…about the thing you hate or stress about the most.

And while I don’t hate Ethiopia, this country is constantly causing me stress. Now more than ever, from the small to the large aka I practically have to wear rain boots inside my house, it’s flooding so much to the riots breaking out in Ethiopia because Addis wants to expand into Oromia.

So I decided to take my pastor’s advice. I wrote five pages about why I’m thankful to be in Ethiopia. Some of it’s silly, but most of it reminded me of how incredible the time I’ve spent here has been. And with less than 100 days left here, I figured I’d share what exactly it is I’m thankful for:

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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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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