Last Days

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“A Peace Corps Volunteer does not say:

That glass is half empty.


That glass is half full.

She says:

I could take a bath in that!”

I’m clearing out my house tomorrow, so I organized my belongings today. In the process, I found this quotation from our Pre-Service Training more than two years ago.

One more week in Metu.

Friends say, “I can’t believe Peace Corps is over.”

I can. It’s been a great two years. Enlightening. Fun. Tough. But it feels like two years to me.

Another quotation I found in an old notebook, this one from Scott:

“Celeste always sees the silver lining. Sometimes she misses the cloud.”

Scott claims I have “positive blinders,” but Peace Corps has been difficult for me at times. Sometimes I’d walk down Metu Main Street and be greeted by name every few steps, by a mixture of acquaintances and people I didn’t know. I’d feel terribly lonely… strangely, by having so many people know me and not knowing any of them.

I’ve also cried because life can be so unfair.

A friend of mine died of infection after a C-Section at Metu Hospital.

Outside a movie theater in Addis, I saw a little boy crouching in the street gobbling injera out of a plastic bag.

Mostly, there have been happy times. You’ve read about some of them here. Here are a few I haven’t shared before:

I was once handed a baby on a bus when his mother was feeling carsick.

I danced at a nightclub in Jimma, the biggest city in Southwestern Ethiopia, and I was one of three women there… the other two girls were my friends. (Outside of Addis only men frequent clubs.)

And tonight at dinner, I laughed with Kassaye, Aster, and Kim. When they gave me a goodbye gift, the other two tables in the room started clapping.

People ask me, “Would you do it again?”

And no, I would not sign up for another Peace Corps term. At least not until I’m retired.

I would definitely do Peace Corp Ethiopia 2010-2012 over again. Knowing everything I know now.

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Abuti’s Leaf

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Again, some fun, unrelated photos to start us out!


My little neighbor Abuti was wearing a leaf on his head. I pointed out the leaf to his mother, Woynshet, who was carrying him around.

“Kibe!” she explained.

Kibe is spiced butter, which is used in cooking and when slightly off, used to soften hair. The leaf was keeping Abuti from messing with the kibe in his hair. I thought it was too sweet—Woynshet conditioning her 9 month old’s do!

Seeing Abuti’s leaf reminded me of my favorite Ethiopian expression:

“I love her so much, I love her when she has kibe in her hair.”

Meaning: I love her so much, I love her even when she smells like rancid butter!

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48 Days and The Puppy

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I’ve posted pictures that have very little to do with the blog below. Most are from a recent lunch I had for my old neighbors—the photos were just too cute. I love the sequence of Seena. Her friend Kidist got ahold of John’s camera and took about thirty shots. Most posted photos have captions.


744 days gone.

48 days to go.

Normally, I hate countdowns. Countdowns make me feel like I’m counting my life away. But it’s pretty hard not to count down right at this moment… with only 48 days to go. That’s 93.9% of my Peace Corps service completed. Soon, I’ll be proud to claim RPCV status from Environment Group 1 in Ethiopia.

This is the time when Peace Corps Volunteers wrap up their projects and say their goodbyes. John and I are busy writing up a final report for my office, which we’ll present next week. I’ve also written a letter with tips and project suggestions to the Peace Corps Volunteer who will replace me. Hopefully, I can spare the new volunteer my many months of floundering—which were important and an enormous learning experience for me as the first environment volunteer in Metu, but are probably not necessary for the second.

These last few weeks feel a lot like my first few weeks in Metu. I drink tea and coffee with friends, stop into the office once in a while. Life is leisurely. Though, life has been pretty leisurely throughout my service, sometimes to my chagrin.

I’m enjoying my open days.

Especially because I don’t know when I’ll live a life again where I ask myself everyday, “What shall I do today?” knowing I have complete freedom to choose.

I have been so lucky to be a volunteer in Ethiopia and in Metu, but I am also ready to go home. I am ready to see my family and friends in the States and to start something new.


The Puppy

I found a puppy in the street when I was last in Addis Ababa, so I have plenty to do as things slow down. Little Bear and I play for at least two hours a day and she is quickly learning to “Come” and “Sit.” She is very slow in learning not to nip though! I am gradually boring my site mates to death by constantly regaling them with her exploits. It is just so much fun having a puppy!

Before LB, I never thought about how puppies are just little babies. She knew nothing and could barely see when I first picked her up off the curb.

I always get attention when I walk down the street, but walking down the street with a puppy on a leash, it is a whole ‘nother level! All dogs here are outdoor dogs. No one. No one walks her dog on a leash down the street. I’m met with stares and giggles, and “Come quick! It’s the foreigner and her dog!”

People ask me,

“Did you bring that dog from America?”

They can’t believe such a pampered pup was just a regular old Addis stray.

I asked Zeytuna whether it was okay to walk Little Bear on a leash, before our first outing.

“It’s no problem. People have seen dogs on leashes before. In movies.”

Speaking of dogs, in an earlier post, I mentioned that I thought Metu Town’s method of leaving poisoned meat out for stray dogs made a lot of sense for reducing the number of unwanted and pesky strays. Though I love dogs. I was called out for being heartless, which perhaps I was. I rethought the poisoned meat method far before becoming a puppy owner…

One day, John and I left my house to find: Dog Armageddon. There were dog carcasses everywhere. We were stepping over them. Some of the dogs had collars on them, they were cared-for dogs that had wandered out of their family compounds on the wrong day.

We saw only one dog walking the streets and rather morbidly spoke from the dog’s perspective: “Where’s Aunt Lucy? Bobby? Where’s everyone gone?”

All those carcasses were the most effective argument against poisoned meat I could have imagined.

Whoa. I shouldn’t end with a terrible image like that!

Think instead of Little Bear frolicking in the grass outside my rooms, making the nearby children laugh at her silliness.

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The Blessing

Aster and I cut through a herd of cows and then stopped to wash the mud off our feet and sandals in a little stream. We were right outside Metu but taking a shortcut through a pasture.

“We’ll go to church, then you’ll come to my house for lunch, and then I’ve asked one of my pastors to come to my house and bless you. Because you’re going back to America,” Aster said.

I only have two more months in Metu, so the goodbyes are starting. I didn’t expect the first to be a blessing. Aster was sending me off in the kindest way she knows.

I was a little nervous as Aster cleaned up lunch and began to boil coffee. I sat on the bed and made chit chat. Protestant spiritual songs played on TV.

Up to that point, I’d never been blessed by a pastor. At church that morning, I had seen one pastor lay his hands on parishioners. In response, most cried, wailed, or spoke in tongues.

When the pastor arrived, he was a short, young man who laughed often. He ate the injera and lentil wat very cheerfully while asking questions about America.

“Is there injera in America?”

Two of Aster’s neighbors arrived and drank their three cups of coffee. Then the pastor took out his Bible and we bent our heads.

I didn’t understand everything, but I accepted the blessing gratefully. The pastor blessed my family, asked for my life to be peaceful, asked God to hold me in His hand…

Throughout we said, “Amen, amen.”

And when the pastor was finished, we blessed him too.

“Raba si eebbisuu.” – “May God bless you.”

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Come with us… as John, Lindsay, and I discover Ethiopia’s historical side! This August we spent 10 days visiting Lalibela—in Amhara— and Axum, Mekele, and Hawsien in Tigray. We took hundreds of great photos, but here are a representative twenty with captions.

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Visiting the historical loop in Northern Ethiopia is shockingly easy. There are Ethiopian Airline flights to all major tourist destinations that are $50 a pop. And if you decide to take the bus, as we did to the Gheralter Cluster, the roads are perfect and the scenery is fabulous. We traveled on the moderate/cheap, but were able to stay at very nice hotels with hot showers for $12 per night. Lonely Planet calls some hotels “budget” that are really lovely, like Africa Hotel in Axum. We decided many of the $12 options in the historical loop are as nice as the $50 options and have more ambiance.

Spanish and Italian tourists have evidently discovered Northern Ethiopia in droves, partially because of proximity of their countries to Ethiopia (cheap flights). But I loved this trip and would highly recommend it, particularly in the summer time when there are few tourists. At some rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, John, Lindsay, and I were the only tourists visiting. And you don’t have to rough it anywhere in these towns, unless you want to!

I found Lalibela to be a small, friendly, hassle-free place, despite the thousands of visitors who come to see the rock-hewn churches every year.

Tigray surprised me by its cleanliness and organization. Tigray is the driest part of Ethiopia—the region is known for spectacular landscapes as well as famines, in the past. All the houses in the countryside and small towns are made from stone. I almost felt I was in Italy!

If you visit, you’d be in good company. The New York Times Art Critic Holland Cotter wrote about visiting Lalibela and Axum this past April… “Bedrock of Art and Faith.”

Tomorrow is Ethiopian New Year. Happy 2o05!

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Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Has Died

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, died on August 20th at age 57.  Meles fought for 20 years to free Ethiopia from the Marxist Derg regime, as a leader of the Tigrayan Liberation Front. He then governed Ethiopia as Prime Minister from 1995 until his death in 2012.

On August 20th, John, Lindsay, and I were just flying into Tigray, his home region, where he is most beloved. Through the rest of our vacation we encountered Meles posters on every house, billboards of Meles speaking, memorial photo montages on Ethiopian State TV, and processionals through towns. The Girls’ Holiday Ashenda was cancelled. And many Tigrayans told us how upset they were over the Prime Minister’s Death.

We were also in Addis Ababa for Meles’s funeral, the first State Funeral held in Ethiopia in 80 years.  Thousands of Ethiopians attended as well as the Presidents of Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Benin; the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice; and Chinese and European dignitaries. We did not go, as it was impossible to enter Mescal Square, but we watched the broadcast.

I’m late in posting this blog, but as Meles’s death is very important to Ethiopia and really to the world, I thought it was worth it. There are many good news articles available online on Meles’s life, which give more detail and analysis than I can as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

(Photo is from Belle News.)

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“Girls, Leading, Our, World!!”

That’s what GLOW stands for. Say it out loud, loudly, but this time rolling all your R’s and you’ll kind of hear what our campers sounded like as we walked from place to place on the Nekempte University Campus.

“Girrrrls, Leading, Ourrrr, Worrrld!!

At first, the girls had just looked at us counselors when we’d encourage them to yell and be silly. But only a day into camp and they were participating in everything.

The counselors had also split the girls into animal teams, for games and to build cohesiveness. We’d started them off on a few cheers. Princess and I would prompt our Lions:

“One, two, three, Lions… ROOAAAARR.”

A week later, they were making up their own cheers… Including, “Girls, Leading, Our, World!”

The Elephants would enter rooms shouting:

“Elephants Stomping! Elephants Stomping!”

And the Monkeys would shriek in unison:

“Monkeys Climb Trees!”

The girls were somewhat constrained by their animal vocabularies, but their fight cheers were great nonetheless!

Camp GLOW in Nekempte was a one-week leadership camp for thirty-one 9th and 10th grade girls. Ten of us Peace Corps Volunteers planned and ran the camp. Laura was our fearless and capable leader. We had sessions on self-esteem, gender roles, planning for your future, HIV/Aids, peer pressure, and other life skills.

We also had daily crafts, an afternoon of Olympics, a Girls Night, and plenty of games.

Scott taught gardening—you should see how some of those girls wield sickles!

John and I taught hay box cooking.*

And I introduced my laundry stick during laundry and bath time—slightly modified.**

31 girls did laundry and bathed on a day when the campus was without water…which is no mean feat. Then we proceeded to be without water for the next two days! John, Dustin, and Scott made it all happen– they brought water to campus from town in huge barrels in the Peace Corps car. Mckonnen and the Peace Corps car were invaluable throughout the week.

Every day was non-stop.  The girls impressed us with their knowledge, curiosity, and willingness to learn. They also had a lot of fun.

One thing about Ethiopian teenagers: in some ways the girls are very put together and grown up. They’ve had a lot of responsibilities in their families for a long time. Most of them cook and do laundry for their families. At the same time, these girls seem a lot less self-conscious than American teenagers to me. After the girls learned how to make friendship bracelets, a few walked around with bracelets taped to their foreheads, so they could work during free moments.

During the final ceremony, on a beautiful terrace up in a tree—with a bonfire—the girls roasted smores, wrote in each other’s journals, and drank sodas. Paul broke out his ukulele and everyone sang.

It was an amazing week.

[Photos are courtesy of Paul and John]


*Hay Box Cooking is a method of fuel saving cooking that John and I learned from an Aprovecho publication. Essentially, you cook food as you normally would, but instead of boiling rice or beans or lentils on a stove for an hour, you place the pot inside an insulated box to finish cooking. We modified the design slightly, using a traditional woven market bag (zambelli) and a plastic bag, instead of an airtight box.

1)    Cook food as you normally would, but only bring the food up to a boil for five minutes.

2)    Place plastic bag inside of a zambelli. The zambelli gives the plastic bag shape and solidity.

3)    Pack the bag with about 10 cm of hay.

4)    Place pot inside bag. Fill hay around and above the pot. Use plenty of hay.

5)    Tie off bag.

6)    Allow the pot to sit for 2-4 hours inside the insulated chamber. Time varies based on type of food and amount.

7)    If you are cooking meat, bring the pot up to boil for an additional five minutes before eating.

Read “Capturing Heat: Five Earth-Friendly Cooking Technologies and How to Build Them” for more details.

** The Laundry Stick was a hit! I improved the design slightly, having the carpenter cut the base of the stick to fit the bucket almost exactly. He also cut four holes into the base, which allow water through, keeping clothes from coming up around the side of the base when washing.

In their written evaluations of camp, 74% of the girls said they would try hay basket cooking at home (23 girls). 71% of the girls said they would try the laundry stick (22 girls). Some girls even said that the hay basket or laundry stick was the most important thing they learned at camp!


In other, entirely unrelated news…

John and I just put down money for a cabin on the Queen Mary 2! We thought after an epic two years, it would be pretty incredible to take a transatlantic ship home.

So, our service ends November 30th—though we may leave a couple of weeks early to travel. We board the QM2 on December 15th and arrive in New York on December 22nd. It will be John’s first time back in America in 28 months.

I hope my New York family and friends are free on the 22nd! Let’s have breakfast! Chinese? Japanese? Burgers?! Or just plain old, delicious bacon?

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