“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” – Paul Newman (R.I.P.), Cool Hand Luke

3 Feb

Besides that quote, the only thing I remember from the movie Cool Hand Luke was the scene where he ate a ridiculous amount of hard boiled eggs (a vomit-worthy scene). However, I think the quote is directly applicable to so many situations here in Ethiopia. As with many things that happen, I find out after the fact, then am asked why I did not attend X event…well, that’s because no one told me. I know I’m white and should be omniscient/a mind reader in the eyes of most Habesha, but sadly, this is not the case. It’s frustrating and amusing at the same time….

In other news, my first, and presumably only visitors came over Christmas, being my parents (love you guys!!). Their visit was amazing and much needed. We spent a week in Ethiopia – they got to see my site and were warmly welcomed by my townsfolk. They got to experience multiple authentic coffee ceremonies, got to cut a large round loaf of bread (quite an honor!), were given the gift of gebis (traditional white shawls), and were even gursha’ed (hand-fed – a sign of love/respect). After spending Christmas in the Q, we headed to the religiously historical (historically religious?) site of Lalibela, which was totally worth the trip. It’s really an impressive place – google it for more info. After Lalibela, we drove to Gondar, which is again, an impressive/worthwhile jaunt (if you like castles and churches). Our last Ethio stop was in Addis before starting part deux of our trip. I spent my New Year’s Eve in Addis Ababa, watching R. Kelly perform @ the Sheraton (on TV). He’s gotten quite old and not so good at performing, but luckily he didn’t pee on the crowd. I was OK with doing nothing exciting to ring in the New Year, as it is not a widely celebrated event here…in fact, it’s almost the start of the 6th month of 2003. Different calendar, you know. It was really great to do touristy things in a comfortable manner – something I’m not usually able to do on a PC salary. So, many thanks to my parents for affording me the opportunity to see a few sites in Ethiopia!

Greetings from the Q!

New Year ’s Day, my parents and I headed to northern Tanzania for a wonderful 2-week safari vacation. We did the northern safari circuit, starting at a place called Ndarakwai, then went to Ngorogngoro Crater/Conservation Area, the Serengeti, and lastly a place called Lake Natron, then to Arusha. Being in Tanzania was incredible and I felt at home. I studied Kiswahili in college and spent a summer there a few years back…and it’s just a really awesome country, and a place where I could see myself living/working in the future. I have an affinity for the language/culture in general…and I actually understand and am able to speak Swahili! It’s somewhat poetic and lyrical sounding to the ears, unlike Tigrigna, when it’s sometimes hard to differentiate whether someone is speaking to you, or clearing phlegm out of their throat. My parents thoroughly enjoyed their time both in Ethiopia and in Tanzania, which is great, as I was really nervous about them coming here. That’s part of the beauty of travel though – most aspects are so new/interesting, that one does not have time to develop any sort of distaste for the culture.

It was so nice to go 2 weeks of my life without being called Farenji, China, or YOUUUUUUUUUUU. There is a farenji equivalent in Swahili, which is Mzungu, but that just sounds a bit more pleasing to my ears and doesn’t make me want to hit small children. When I got back Ethiopia, literally the second I stepped outside of the airport, my ears were tormented with the words, “Where are you go???” Ughhhhhhhh, really? Yes, really. Welcome home! And within just a few short minutes, I was called all of the aforementioned names…

While I was away on vacation, I missed Ethiopian Christmas, which is celebrated 2 weeks after the “regular” Christmas. However, I did make it back just in the nick of time for Timket, or Epiphany. It truly is a beautiful holiday – and a colorful one at that! All the priests in town don their fanciest robes and umbrellas and hit the town. Everyone gathers at a certain location with a pool of water, which is blessed by a priest, making it holy, then the water is dispersed among the crowd. Everyone goes a little nuts in the process of trying to get them some holy water. I was fortunate enough to have 2 large doses of it sprayed right in my face. So, for the time being, I am living sin-free. What a way to start the year!

Now that I’m back at site, it’s kind of nice to be home. I’ve been able to catch up on my computer TV watching – just finished some Glee and the latest season of Dexter. Both are addicting. If you ever have a few spare hours on your hands and want to do something real fun with your time, hand roast a kilo of coffee. Just do it. I did it for my dad as part of his Christmas gift…and I also got my hair did, with extensions and braids, the whole 9 yards. I sat for 3 hours on the dirt floor in a “Chaguri Bet” (hair house) to have it done. I thought it was extremely tacky/hilarious and it felt like I was wearing a helmet of hair on my head, but my Ethio friends loved it. Just living like the locals…Cultural integration.

I know I’m a bit tardy in my writing, but thank you so much to everyone who sent some holiday cheer my way…I really appreciate everyone’s kindness…it’s actually a bit overwhelming! But, at this point in life, few things are better than a block of velveeta cheese highly fortified with who knows how many preservatives…no refrigeration required! And again, I can’t thank my parents enough for globe trekking to come visit me…you two are truly amazing – and real troopers at that. As usual, let the good time rolls. I’ll try to update this thing more frequently.

As you know, pictures are worth 1000 (if not more) words, and say much more about my adventures than I do in this blog. If you’d like to see some pics from when my parents came, check out my shutterfly site: http://pioneerdaze.shutterfly.com . Enjoy!

And Happy New Year/Groundhog Day/Valentine’s Day/President’s Day/etc…


Let The Good Time Rolls

10 Nov

I recently saw that on a sign in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. English spelling/grammatical errors are overly abundant here, and they make my life much more enjoyable. Menus, signs, etc… are usually teeming with errors, and the funny thing is that no one seems to care whatsoever. I think it could be a fun full time job to be a grammar genie and travel around the world and document such misspellings in countries where English is not the primary language spoken. Perhaps post PC that’s what I’ll do. If you’d like to sponsor my travels, let me know.

A few examples of what I find humorous, from menus:
• Fillet Mingo with Mushroom Room
• Bananas Flammable
• BEAR (beer)
• Chicken Hip-Hop (First ingredient: Chicken’s Hip)
• Jousted Bread
• Vegetable Soup with Online
• Custed Loof Sandwich
• Lamp Sandwich
• Shiro FECES

Get em while they're hot

Tshirts are another thing that crack me up here. I’d say 90% of the time, people have no idea what they’re wearing/advertising on their shirt. It’s just something they picked up at the market. And I have no clue where some of the shirts come from…well, I’d say most are second hand from America, but then there are also reject shirts that end up here, that just having really random sayings/phrases/pictures on them that don’t make sense. Example: YACHTING! (insert picture of a motorcycle)…epic fail. I recently saw a man wearing a shirt that said, “All I want is Peace in the Middle East…and a blow job.” Really sir? You’re asking for a lot…

Ethiopians don’t mind blatantly taking pictures of the farenji with their camera phones, so I feel as though I should start doing the same whenever I see a hilarious shirt someone’s wearing. I could make a few coffee table books between the misspellings and funny shirts. Sounds like someone found an idea for a secondary project! Until then, I’ll keep letting the good time rollllllllllllllllllllls! (And if I ever own a bakery, that’s what I will name it!)

1 year down!

10 Oct

I got my hair did

Well, it’s been a whole year since I’ve been in Ethiopia, or the land of 13 Months of Sunshine (however, I don’t know how this tagline sticks for the country, as the sun sure isn’t out during the few months of the rainy season!). Our plane landed the evening of October 7, 2009, when 42 Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) showed up in the country’s capital city, Addis Ababa. From the time we cleared customs to the time we made it to the bus that would bring us to our hotel, I was bitten by 3 mosquitoes. Great, I thought. Bring on the malaria when I’ve only been here for about 10 minutes and have yet to start any prophylaxis! (Don’t worry, I’m still malaria-free)

This past year has been so different from anything I have ever experienced – it’s been full of change, challenge, and reward, but it’s something I signed up for – Peace Corps didn’t come knocking on my door! The whole application process was rigorous and took about 11 months to complete, from the time I applied to the time I left…that alone should have given me some clue as to what the next couple years of my life would entail…things that are long and drawn out. I didn’t really come over here with many expectations, as I had heard that everyone’s PC experience is just so vastly different, which is so true.

I’ve gone from living in an apartment with ample space, to having my existence be in 1 large room…it’s kind of like a large dorm room. I cook, sleep, eat, and live all in one room. When describing my living situation to my mom when I first moved to site, she was a little concerned that I may get bugs in my room…well, it’s not really like I had much of a choice…plus, I live in Africa! All things that I used to have at my fingertips, such as hot water, indoor plumbing, sanitary conditions, space, privacy, TV, a car, a bike, appliances, noise control, access to a gym, the ability to walk down the street unnoticed, etc.(just to name a few things) are all a part of my past life, but I will return to such simple luxuries again one day.

Adjusting to life here and integrating into my community was harder than I had it envisioned it being. It’s hard to explain how just existing/trying to live in this country is at times very difficult. There are so many daily hassles/frustrations that come with being foreign, and sometimes those hassles make me not want to be here, while other days I am able to look past them and thrive/take pleasure in my daily living. Every day is not a walk in the park (if only my town had a nice park, haha), but it’s not all that bad either.

It’s always been my theory in life that most things are doable in small increments of time. When it’s all said and done with, the time length for PC is not much in the grand scheme of life. It’s challenging, it’s rewarding, and it’s interesting, to say the very least. If anything, I will have some great stories to tell with great pictures to go along.

Surely there are things and people I miss from home. Mainly 4 factors in life: Comfort, convenience, efficiency, and variety. Those 4 concepts aren’t overly prevalent here. I still can’t say that I love everything about living here, but I do enjoy it for the most part. I’m content with where I am in life right now. It’s been a very unique experience thus far, one that such a small percentage of Americans will ever take part in…and I still have a little over a year to flourish. So, 1 year down, 1 to go. This is a tough country, I’m not going to lie about that fact…so here’s a virtual shoulder bump to myself and everyone else in my group who has made it this far! Gobez…or go home. And we’re still here!

P.S. – I really appreciate all the love and support I’ve received from friends and family, both back home and in-country. It really does mean a lot 🙂

And the cat ran away with the…

17 Sep

…Testicle. Of a sheep (pretty similar situation to how the dish ran away with the spoon). And that’s how I rang in the year 2003 (for the second time in my life)! Happy New Year!

Here in Ityop’ya, it recently turned 2003. And how does one celebrate such an occasion, you ask? Pretty much in the same exact manner as every other holiday is celebrated here. The family on my compound purchased a large rooster many days before the occasion, and then also a large sheep on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know if you have ever lived in close proximity to a rooster, but it’s not something I recommend, unless you have a lot of land or really stellar ear plugs. However, this is not the case with my living situation, and for the few days that the rooster was here, he would graciously wake us up at about 5am with constant cock-a-doodle-dooing, although in Ityop’ya, that’s not what a rooster says.

Anyhow, about 11:40pm, I got a knock on my door from the family on my compound, saying they were going to start the sheep slaughter. The little guy and I had bonded earlier, over his last meal of cabbage leaves and water, before he proceeded to head butt me with his small horn in my left knee (he was trying to get at the cat but I happened to be in the way). Sad times, but what enjoyment the family got out of him! Back to the title of this entry, once he was killed, he was hung upside down in the doorway of the family’s outside kitchen. During the skinning process, my landlord cut off the [large] testicles of the sheep, and gave one to the cat, who devoured it. Can’t say I’ve seen that before, but it was entertaining!

When the clock struck 6 (the midnight equivalent), we didn’t pop a bottle of bubbly, set off fireworks, or bang on pots and pans; we merely sat and continued to watch the sheep slaughter. It was the ultimate family affair. I excused myself and went to bed awhile afterwards, and I have no idea how late everyone else stayed up for the “excitement”.

*Cultural note* – There is a very multi-purpose knife that is used in this country – it looks like a sickle, and it is used in the fields to cut grass/plants of sorts, in the kitchen to chop food/vegetables, and also to slaughter animals!

On New Year’s Day, I was woken up to join my compound family for breakfast. The most beloved holiday breakfast meal is sabihi darho (Tigrigna for chicken wat/stew) – served with injera, of course! I try my hardest not to eat meat here, and my Habesha friends/neighbors know that, so I always get a heaping pile of scrambled eggs on special occasions. Another holiday favorite is a homemade local beer called sewa (in Tigrigna, or tella in Amharic)…aka sewage in my opinion. Some people refer to it as dirty water…it’s kind of yellowy-brown in color and sometimes tastes what I imagine worn car tires would taste like (and don’t mind the floating chunks that may or may not be at the top of your cup – you just casually spit them out). Everyone’s sewa tastes a bit different, and I must say that it’s an acquired taste. At first I thought it was horrible, but it’s slowly growing on me! And your host never lets your glass get below half full!

It’s quite typical on holidays to receive many invitations to peoples’ houses, so basically you have a day (or many) filled with nothing but food, local beer, and coffee (and of course traditional dancing!). It’s at times exhausting and a lot to take in, literally! Holidays here basically are huge meat fests – and no part of the animal goes to waste. Another local favorite is a dish called dulet, which is of the intestinal variety (something I pass on…). The mentality is, if there is meat to be consumed, why on Earth would you not want to eat it?! I think I’d rather have ham, black eyed peas, and collards.

So that was how I spent my new year’s 2003, part deux. It made for a nice time! And I was recently told that Flag Day is this coming Monday, whatever that entails (no work or school…I’m not sure if it’s a National holiday or just a Tigray thing)…there are sooooooo many holidays in this country!

Waving in the wind


14 Aug

The PCVs in my region and myself (9 of us total) recently finished a weeklong summer camp for young girls. I use the term “camp” loosely, as there really is not a camp culture here in Ethiopia, meaning no horseback riding, archery, canoeing, or daily visits to the snack shack for a candy bar and a soda. It was more along the lines of a series of trainings (siltana in Tigrigna) for adolescent girls. Our camp was modeled after Peace Corps’ Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), but we tailored the name of ours to something more Ethiopia-specific (the Queen of Sheba was Ethiopian, or so it’s been said), and played along the lines of a queen theme during the week for the youngsters.

We selected 25 OVC (Orphans/Vulnerable Children) girls from 2 of the volunteers’ sites, who had just completed the 8th grade. It was an overnight camp, which was a very new concept for most of the girls who attended (some had never left home before). The camp was centered around leadership/women’s empowerment, and the topics we covered during our days included personal hygiene, goal setting, decision making skills, communication skills, HIV/AIDS, positive body image, self esteem, leadership, nutrition, and women’s rights in Ethiopia … We had a few Habesha (Ethiopian) facilitators/translators who greatly helped us lead all the sessions (to bridge that language gap!)Each day we also played games and had an hour of arts and crafts, where the girls were able to be very expressive through art, which is a rarity here. We were fortunate to have a lot of arts & craft supplies sent over from the states from kind people, so the girls went to town with supplies they’d never seen before. They decorated journals, notebooks, Burger King crowns (haha), t-shirts, foam photo frames, made bracelets, etc…typical camp stuff!

Most girls in this country (at least the ones that I have come in contact with) have a heavy workload from a very young age, especially around the house. There are very few machines here, so everything is done by hand – cooking, dishes, laundry, etc…and often times, it is the responsibility of a young girl to take care of a younger sibling or 5. This being said, it was really neat/enriching to watch the girls just be girls and not have to worry about daily chores. Their transformation from shy to loud and rowdy during the week was also uplifting.

We also fed the girls 3 hearty meals and 2 snacks a day, so I hope they all gained a kilo or 2 during their time at Camp Sheba! On the last day of camp, we took the girls on a field trip to a nearby rock hewn church – another new adventure for most of us. Upon our return from the field trip, we had a closing ceremony, where we handed out certificates, photos, and a little gift bag full of useful supplies and treats to each girl. When it was time to leave, a few of our campers cried, which I think is an indication of a job well done on our part. We were all a bit skeptical going into the camp, as it’s never been done before by PCVs in Ethiopia until this year, but overall, it was a great success. We had a bonfire the night before camp ended, and some of the girls spoke about their time, and all of them had really positive and encouraging words and felt empowered by the opportunity to learn and grow as future leaders. I’m glad I was able to be a part of something that will most likely have an impact on the select girls for the rest of their lives.

Side note: We really only had 1 incident involving a camper – one day about an hour before dinner, one of our campers was wailing/flailing/convulsing on the floor of the dormitory. We were told she was possessed by the Evil Eye, or Buda…and was in need of traditional medicine. So, a fellow camper fetched a few cloves of garlic and a bottle of Holy water…the garlic was rubbed on her tongue and the Holy water was flung across her body multiple times…within about 30 seconds, she was “cured”…then later, a wad of cotton soaked in purple rubbing alcohol was shoved up her nose…perhaps to ward off the return of the evil spirit? Not sure…it was one of the strangest things I’ve seen in my time here, adding to the theme of there not being many dull moments. Now whether she really was possessed or is just epileptic unbeknownst to us, I’ll never know…but it was an interesting thing to watch. For Oromiya & SNNPR camps: perhaps put garlic and Holy water in your med kits! You.just.never.know….

Hadoosh [new] blog site!

29 Jul

I had previously been blogging on blogspot, but for whatever reason, it’s a blocked website in Ethiopia, therefore updating it at my convenience is not really an option for me. Whenever I wanted to post an entry, I had to email it to my sister in the states, who would have to do it for me…roundabout and annoying. So, the address to my old blog is: http://copelandle.blogspot.com – check it out if you want to catch up on who I am/what I’ve been doing for the past 10 months or so. From now on, I’ll only be updating this site – I can access it with my internet connection, which is quite exciting. More to come soon!