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
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.