The contents of this blog are mine and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or Peace Corps.
HOST FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
My team, Group 20, has departed Addis Ababa and each of us has been placed with a host family while we are in Pre-Service Training (PST). We were provided some information and a presentation on living with an Ethiopian family, information about our host family members, and some other details. My family is wonderful and very kind and includes Dad, Mom, and adorable and spunky 5- year-old and 1-year-old girls. My room in the house in the compound is small but sufficient and I have a window that looks out at a haystack, two cows and two sheep. The process of adapting has been fairly easy as I tried to prepare myself mentally for rural Ethiopian life. I would not be honest if I did not say it is still a shock to the system, both body and mind, to adapt to this way of living.
A shared pit latrine is a big change for any American and while some days I am glad to say it is no big deal, other days it is a challenge especially as everyone’s body is adapting to the food, water filtering and monitoring, shots and the meds given to us. Some of the trainees have gotten ill briefly but all of us seem to be taking everything in stride. I am lucky so far in that I’ve only had nasal congestion but it results in chapped lips and scratchy throat from breathing through my mouth. At the end of many days this week, many of the trainees in my village arrive at a very small bar for a cold drink since most of our homes do not have refrigerators and we cannot use ice even if it were available because it is not filtered. I thought I’d given up soda for the most part but now I look forward to and treasure a cold Pepsi or Mirinda, the African orange pop.
This smallholder farm is very typical in Ethiopia and often is no larger than an acre or two and includes gardens and livestock. This week I enjoyed learning how to make injera, the flat fermented pancake like bread that Ethiopians eat at most every meal. There are also big red peppers smoking in the smokehouse that my host “Mom” (though I am old enough to be her mother), will turn into berbere, the famous Ethiopian red spice used in so many dishes. It is the pride of many Ethiopian women to have their own secret recipe for their berbere which is very red and includes a lot of paprika.
The people in my town are quite friendly, especially the children, and they seem aware that we are Peace Corps volunteers or somehow at least not tourists. The adults smile when we use our fledgling Amharic greetings and the kids run up to us and say “You, you, you!” or “Bye Bye!” The small shopkeepers are glad to have our business as we buy toilet paper, laundry detergent and mobile phone charging cards. I already feel quite safe walking around by myself though my Peace Corps friends and my host Dad are with me much of the time.
The pre-service training makes sense to me now as it would be very difficult to go straight into service without adapting to the language, culture and allowing the body to adjust to the changes of life in Ethiopia. I feel confident that by the end of the PST in a few months, I will be in good shape to move to my site/post. By then, I should be adapted to the regimen recommended by Peace Corps staff regarding health, safety and security including water purification methods, malaria prevention and treatment medications as well as a bed-net, food safety skills and general cultural considerations. Though lucky to be spared thus far, I have now learned more about diarrhea and its prevention than I ever wanted to know. The first few days for my fellow trainees proved somewhat rough but the medical care has been great.
We are just beginning training in agriculture and nutrition and began garden projects yesterday. The goal is to increase these small farms’ food security by helping to install home gardens that produce more variety and better nutrition for the family. We are learning that even if there is enough food to escape hunger, the lack of proper nutrients leave many children malnourished and by the age of two some of the physical and cognitive damage is permanent. My team were enthusiastic to learn about measuring slopes and “double digging” and we will be working on several garden projects including one at my host family’s compound. Once in service at our individual sites, we will be working with 5-6 small farms to begin with and then trying to expand the service to other farms.
Connectivity has been a problem for me that I hope to resolve next week by getting another SIM card so I can be in much more contact with everyone in the U.S. Also, I’m having trouble posting pictures here but will figure that out as soon as I can.
I miss everyone and hope if you are in a cold place you bundle up and snuggle up and enjoy some hot chocolate for me!
The contents of this blog are mine and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or Peace Corps.
Though not sure how much I’ll be able to find the time or the Wi-Fi that I’ll need during my service to post regular blogs, many people have expressed interest in hearing about this experience, and, of course, I want to bring my friends and family along with me on the journey. I also want to provide useful information to anyone who might be considering Peace Corps, especially those who like me are over the age of 50. I know I thought my fantasy of “chucking it all and joining the Peace Corps” was a dream of long ago, but here I am and thrilled to have the opportunity at this exact stage of my life. Thank you for your interest and please do send me a message if you have questions or comments about anything posted on any part of the blog.
Preparation for Departure
After 7 months of great anticipation and preparation, I am finally here in Ethiopia as a Peace Corps Trainee. This period involved a lot of medical clearance and other administrative tasks, spending some time studying the official language, Amharic, and putting together the items I would take for the 27-month commitment. Fortunately, I was able to spend a lot of time travelling around visiting friends in Chicago, Florida, Virginia and D.C. and working out some to be in better physical shape for the journey. Packing was a challenge as we are directed to pack more conservative clothes for the different weather conditions in parts of Ethiopia –hotter, dryer climates versus mountainous, cool regions. The technical recommendations included power banks, hard drives and solar panels and was somewhat challenging. Saying goodbye to family and friends was the hardest part but I have had so much love and support from friends that I went to staging ready and excited for the big adventure.
Training starts from the moment you check into Peace Corps “staging” usually near D.C., the day before the flight to your post. The staff check nearly 50 people in and provide a very welcoming environment for the Invitees to mingle and learn even though we are there for less than a day. Everyone was nervous and excited and many frantically weighed and measured luggage, fearing strict airline requirements. The staff presentations centered on Peace Corp history, goals and expectations and managing fear about the challenges that come along with serving. In one case, a terrific “ice-breaker” proved quite revealing as several dozen complete strangers from all over the United States learn to guide and trust each other often showing their own strengths and weaknesses in communication. These people, most but not all in their mid-to-late 20’s, emanated an energy that was very inspiring – so positive, so hopeful, so giving. Wiping away any misty-eyed visions of my decades old image of Peace Corps Volunteers, from these first moments, they were all so beautiful to see and to meet face to face.
Arrival and First Week of Pre-Service Training
The 13-hour flight to Addis Ababa resulted in our happy but jet-lagged group landing into the arms of a finely tuned staff and the carefully orchestrated process of turning us into Peace Corps Volunteers began. The staff handles the coordination of the many basic tasks (getting cell phones and visas and medical kits) like clockwork and we get to work right away.
The excellent programming on language, development, skills, safety and security involve scenarios that groups discuss and present and interesting question and answer periods to help us contemplate the many possible situations we may face. Language classes, though intense, are exciting and Amharic is a beautiful language. Though I was glad I put some work into Amharic before I left, my classmates quickly catch on because of our outstanding teachers and the fact that we are all highly motivated. The Peace Corps provides language teachers and tutors throughout service so that we can communicate effectively with our communities.
After a week of all-day initial training, we are each being placed with host families in several regions and will continue with community-based training for about 12 weeks. All of us are excited about meeting our host families and have brought small gifts for them. While with the host families, there will be four hours of language each day and many classes and practicums to prepare us to integrate into the small village of between 500 and 3,000 that we will eventually serve. Because I am in the Agriculture Sector, my field work will be in poultry, beekeeping and nutrition centered gardening while the other half of the group are in Health whose projects include working with mothers and children to improve health. All of us will also have opportunities to work on malaria prevention projects, HIV education, gender empowerment, and disability programs. If we pass our tests throughout community based training, we will be sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) before being placed at a site for two years. Many of my fellow Trainees are anxious to get to their sites as quickly as possible and I am as well, but I am also trying to savor this entire time for the amazing experience it is and anticipate the potential for great service to our communities at our sites.
The Peace Corps staff works diligently to choose our host families and our eventual sites, considering many factors and seeking the safest and most possibly productive sites available. Most of the sites have never had a PCV and it may be their first opportunity to have an American living among them. The leaders of the community must request the Peace Corps to place a volunteer with them and these leaders assign co-partners to work with volunteers on projects that are mutually-agreed upon endeavors. In training, we are provided numerous scenarios and instruction on using our knowledge, skills and attitudes to effectively manage successful outcomes in our efforts to promote development.
Closing Thoughts on My First Week with Peace Corps
Last night after a long day of training on medical safety, language and several shots in my arm, a very nice gentleman in his early sixties approached me and asked me if I was with Peace Corps. He told me as a child growing up in Ethiopia, a Peace Corps Volunteer had sponsored him and how much she meant to him. He was such a fan of the Peace Corps, he said his friends nick-named him “Kennedy.” He went on to say that he would soon be going to Ohio to visit his daughter, a doctor in Cleveland. His story and countless, countless others are part of why I think people join the Peace Corps and why it represents something very special and unique about the United States to this day.
Though stressful at times, this has been one of the most interesting and in some ways the greatest week of my life. A dream I had envisioned long ago, and thought was impossible for me is now actually happening. I long to do justice to this opportunity to serve and to encourage others to do the same despite the fact there will be many challenges ahead of me. As I think about my fellow Trainees and our work together this first week, my heart is full of love and hope for the future, confident that the work of Peace Corps Ethiopia and around the world will continue to make meaningful, positive changes in people’s lives.
*Below is the “Core Expectations For Peace Corps Volunteers,” a topic of great discussion during our training sessions.
Core Expectations For Peace Corps Volunteers
In working toward fulfilling the Peace Corps Mission of promoting world peace and friendship, as a trainee and Volunteer, you are expected to:
1. Prepare your personal and professional life to make a commitment to serve abroad for a full term of 27 months
2. Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom you live and work; and, in doing so, share your skills, adapt them, and learn new skills as needed
3. Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service
4. Recognize that your successful and sustainable development work is based on the local trust and confidence you build by living in, and respectfully integrating yourself into, your host community and culture
5. Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance
6. Engage with host country partners in a spirit of cooperation, mutual learning, and respect
7. Work within the rules and regulations of the Peace Corps and the local and national laws of the country where you serve
8. Exercise judgment and personal responsibility to protect your health, safety, and well-being and that of others
9. Recognize that you will be perceived, in your host country and community, as a representative of the people, cultures, values, and traditions of the United States of America
10. Represent responsibly the people, cultures, values, and traditions of your host country and community to people in the United States both during and following your service