Timeline

March 19, 2011 — Submitted Application
March 30, 2011 — Submitted Background Checks and Transcripts
May 24, 2011 — Interview
July 7, 2011 — Nominated
January 24, 2012 — Submitted Medical Kit
February 1, 2012 — Dental Clearance
February 9, 2012 — Submitted Additional Medical Documents
February 10, 2012 — Medical Clearance
February 17, 2012 — Submitted Updated Resume
March 15, 2012 — Email from PO
March 21, 2012 — Placement Interview
March 26, 2012 — Received Invitation
March 27, 2012 — Accepted Invitation
June 4, 2012 — Staging
June 6, 2012 — In-Country Arrival
August 17, 2012 — Swear In
November 12, 2012 — In-Service Training
February 19,2013 — Regional In-Service Training
March 16, 2013 — All-Volunteer Conference
September 1, 2013 — Mid-service Conference
January 28, 2014 — Early Termination

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5 Things I love About Being in the Peace Corps

It’s come to my attention that my blogs tends to be a bit negative. I generally post things when I’m having trouble, or things that I think are fun, even if they’re not particularly culturally sensitive. So, I’ve decided to throw something positive into the mix.

The Best Things (to me) about being in the Peace Corps

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  1. Other Volunteers

Easily the best thing about my life right now, and one thing that has kept me from quitting during some dark times, has been the other volunteers I have met in the last year of my service. Not only other Peace Corps, but also VSO, NGO, and private volunteers who wander over to Ethiopia to see what they can do to help.

The people I met during training have become like a second family to me, and it’s hard for me to believe that we’ve only been friends for such a short amount of time. Everyone is here for different reasons, and personalities are just as varied. I feel so lucky to be a part of my group, G7, and Peace Corps Ethiopia.

Being in a larger town, I have the benefit of seeing many short-term volunteers come through, mostly in Education. These people take time out from their lives (weeks, months) to come to Nekemte and share their skills with the community. I’ve made some great new acquaintances and a few friends this way, and it’s so sad to see them go.

Most importantly, the people around me make me want to be a better volunteer, and a better person.

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2. The View

I’ve never been in a country that is so different from America (to be fair, I haven’t been to many other countries), and the cultural differences that I come across everyday, that I slowly learn to understand and find ways to deal with, have been one of the most frustrating and rewarding things I’ve experienced. The world around me changes every time I realize something I’ve missed, or when I decide not to abide by a certain cultural norm, or I decide to switch to the local way of doing something. My view of Nekemte, Ethiopia, the people around me, and the whole world shifts every time. Not necessarily to make something more beautiful, but who knows what the end result would be?

The physical landscape here is also beautiful. I put up a picture of part of my town a few days ago, and when I glance at it, it just looks so foreign. But this is the city I walk around in every day doesn’t surprise me anymore. When I take a bus from Addis Ababa to Nekemte, the view of the distant countryside, rolling hills, and rising mountains are just another part of my life.

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3. Mothering Women

Didn’t know another way to put this, but whenever I am out of my element – on a bus, in a training where everyone speaks Amharic, being accosted by a crazy man – there is almost always an older, heavy, smiling women there to silently help me and shoo everyone else away. This has happened so many times that I’ve come to trust older women more than anyone else around me. Like they are just waiting around to give me a piece of bread, pat my back, share their umbrella, tell annoying children to go away and mean it, smile knowingly and not say anything or expect anything in return. It makes me feel so much less homesick when these women are around.

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4. Benefits

Peace Corps is definitely a voluntary service – I am paid a living stipend, enough to cover food, communication, travel, and incidentals. The amount I am given every month equals less than $150, but I live well. I am able to buy any kind of food, even meat every day if I wanted. I have enough to occasionally purchase foreign candies – M&Ms, Snickers, Twix, and a few others I’m lucky enough to have in my town. I have enough money to buy medicine – or alcohol – whenever I need it, and pay for internet in my home so I can skype with my friends and family.  I live well.

When I get sick, there is a Medical Duty Officer telephone number I can call, which is manned 24/7 by one of three Peace Corps doctors in the capital. They walk me through my symptoms, give me suggestions, help me buy medicine locally, or have me come see them depending on the problem.  This is a free service. In fact, when I call them, they will hang up and call me back right away so I don’t have to pay for the phone call.  I have never been less stressed about getting sick (or more sick in general).

When I need help with my work, there are a dozen numbers I can call for people who have professional experience working in the education system in Ethiopian whose job it is to make my job easier. There are also 100 other education volunteers living in the country who are doing the same job as me, and are always happy to share their experiences. A few times a year, volunteers and staff come together to share knowledge, hear concerns, and solve problems.

You’d think my life has never been easier!

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5. My Counterpart

I met my counterpart well after I’d arrived at site. I needed to bring a local educator to our In-Service Training in November, and I decided on her after having tea with her for 15 minutes at her school. Everything she said – in barely comprehensible English – was exactly how I felt about the education system, and she even had solutions for some of the problems. She was an unexpected marvel in my life.

Since then, though cultural misunderstandings have abounded between us, my counterpart has shown me that Ethiopian educators can be strong, responsible, demanding, that administrative staff can hold teachers, students, AND PARENTS accountable for their actions or lack thereof. She is one of the hardest working person I’ve ever met in Ethiopia (apart from Peace Corps staff of course), and she genuinely wants to see her country and her community improve.

My counterpart gives me hope that the things I’m doing here will actually make a difference, and that someone will carry on my vision – no matter how frail it seems now – into the future after I’m gone.

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June 6, 2012

Well today is one year since I arrived in Ethiopia. I sat next to Yata and Emily on the plane and watched “Men Prefer Blonds.” There were some young people on the plane going to another country, and a couple of the guys were jerks. The guy in front of me kept his seat back during meals.

I thought the airport wasn’t very nice. I helped take the bags marked Peace Corps off of the carousel. It felt good to be useful.

We didn’t have to go through customs, just headed out to the lobby to see a jolly-looking Dan Baker waiting for us and greeting us all individually. We hauled our luggage outside and got on some nice buses and they gave us Yes waters.

Driving through the city was an eye-opener for me. What I thought then were piles of rubble and dirt I now recognize as signs of construction and development. I remember noting that even well-dressed people walked around areas that I would have identified as ‘extremely sketchy’ in the states. I don’t know how, but I liked the smell back then. I thought it smelled like spicy vanilla.

We got to King’s Hotel, which seemed a bit old and shoddy (would now be first class, five star) but had a hot shower with an English speaking staff. I roomed with Lacey, who was very nice and easy to relax around.

We had lunch soon after, which was just ok. I’ve come to learn that the more expensive Ethiopian food is, the less flavor it generally has. I don’t remember who I sat with that day. The first couple of weeks I used to try to sit with someone different for each meal. I think the first people I sought out were Linda, the Daniels, and Carlin.

We had a few things to do that afternoon, like have a photo taken (I remember feeling really gross, so I guess I hadn’t showered yet, but the pic turned out really good), and I think we got sim cards and per diems. Then we had dinner and the PC staff told us to try to stay up til 9 or 10.

I went back to my room, and whenever I sat down my vision would go blurry I was so tired! So I showered and unpacked a bit. I remember trying to play Sims 3 and nodding off between actions. I gave up after that and went to bed around 8.

I remember not really clicking with anyone. I wanted to be social and I even felt worried that people would make friends and I would end up the odd one out somehow. It took a couple more months before I found an amazing group of friends.

That…was a really, really long time ago.

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Sometimes you just have to get it all out

Dear child who yelled ‘Fuck you, man. Fuck you,’ at me as I was crossing the street this morning,

I’m sure you don’t know who I am or anything about me or why I’m here. Yesterday, when you asked me for a birr while I was waiting for my sitemate to buy a bucket and I said, ‘no,’ I’m sure you thought, “Who the hell does this rich white bitch think she is? Here I am, better dressed than most beggars and not disabled in any way, perhaps, but Ethiopian? Yes. Asking for what amounts to two pieces of the local gum? That’s it! And here she is, Miss Backpack Full of Candy and Disposable Income, telling me that she’s going to stand around in my town in big, warm boots and pants without any holes and refuse to share a single birr with a child who asks for one? How dare she look away from me and ignore me. I’m going to go back to my house and figure out how to shame her in a way that she’ll understand, like they do it in the movies, so that she knows that she can’t just come here and hoard all her money when I could really use a new pair of shoes. What a bitch.”

Well you know what little boy? I accept the fact that you don’t understand who I am, why I’m here, or how the world works. You’re wandering around in the middle of the day on a Monday, so I’m guessing you don’t go to school. But your clothes are semi-new and you don’t appear to be selling anything, so I’m also guessing you’re choosing not to attend school. I’ll accept that you don’t understand that I left America to come to Ethiopia one year ago, to be paid only a living stipend and to help primary school teachers, and I’m about to miss my brother’s 11th birthday, just like I missed his 10th last year and I’ll miss his 12th next year. I’ll even accept that if you did know all of that you still wouldn’t care.

So I really just have one thing to asy to you, prepubescent little asshole who said, ‘fuck you’ to me this morning. Fuck you too. I’m sure as hell not here for you.

Love,

Rich Ferenji Bitch

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I’m kind of ashamed of this

When I was 25

(And please don’t ask why)

I flew off to Ethiopia.

A Peace Corps Volunteer,

What did I have to fear?

From a little town called Debark.

The men looked up to me,

The women made me tea,

I helped the teachers with their English skills.

I made friends with everyone,

Telling jokes and having fun,

Living in peace with the local folk.

No one grabbed my breasts,

Or went in for a kiss,

Because I was a man in Debark.

When I was 25

(And I really don’t know why)

I flew off to Ethiopia.

Nekemte town was big,

But they still didn’t have pig.

I had no problem settling for goat.

I drank beers alone,

Had male friends visit my home,

And no one cared if I wore shorts.

People listened when I said no,

They knew I wasn’t putting on a show,

So no one stopped to watch me tie my shoes.

No one screamed from across the street,

‘Sister please have sex with me,’

Because I was a man in Nekemte.

When I was 25,

(I couldn’t tell you why)

I flew off to Ethiopia.

Chagni had a school

That requested someone cool,

A volunteer to help the teachers teach.

I really did my best

To spread progress from the West

But no one seemed interested in my skills.

They wanted me to make coffee

And made fun of my laundry

And offered me a husband every day.

I hope you’re proud mom and dad

Because I wasn’t raped once

When I was a woman in Chagni!

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Le Burn.

I have an obsessive personality: I get very passionate about stories, tv shows, movies, people, ideas, books, etc.

Sometimes it’s nice to feel passionate about something. When I get depressed, I strive to find something to focus on, and it always pulls me out. It’s a fun distraction from daily monotony, especially while I’m here in Nekemte, pretty much alone, with a long stretch of the same ‘ol same ‘ol layed out before me. It’s so nice to have something to fill my mind, to get me excited about my life and make leaving my house more of an adventure.

But sometimes, it just burns. Sometimes it fills me up and I can’t figure out how to settle down, how to make it simmer instead of boiling over. There’s nothing here to let it out on. Creative projects — writing, drawing, painting — makes it burn harder.

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Oh G9….

Sometimes I check the PCE Pre-Departure page on Facebook to see what questions the soon-to-be Group 9 is asking and talking about…and they’re very excited! Counting down the days and talking about packing and thinking so much about how their time will be in Ethiopia.

Are they crazy?

Are you all crazy? Go eat some cheese, fool!

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An Ode to Fil

“Is that water filter talking to you?”

Of course it is.

that water filter and I go way back

to my college days

when I had become afraid of tap water

bacteria, ameobas, dysentry.

this water filter found me

wandering through the aisles of a drug store

fear lining my face

and took me home

to boil and clean everything

from my rusty faucet

dehydration is an awful way to go

and Fil here saved me

would you ignore such a friend

if he asked for the time?

i wouldn’t think so little of you.

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