The contents of this blog are mine and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or Peace Corps.
Sadly, I was unable to post to my blog on Valentine’s Day because the internet was insufficient in the town where I was having training classes. I am going to try to post on February 24th in another city at which point I will try to post both articles. Even more sadly, when I get to my site in a month or so my connectivity issues may be worse than here which means there may be no real point in having a blog but I do enjoy jotting down some thoughts about my experience for those who might be interested. I have been keeping in touch one of the only ways that works and is semi-affordable – WhatsApp! It is great to text with friends and hear about what they are doing so if you are my friend reading this and want to communicate please download free WhatsApp and send me a text at my old number which only works for Whats App. I am having trouble with email and Facebook eats up my data too quickly. Enough tech stuff!
I am finishing up Week 5 and had a language test today – oral. I sounded ridiculous in several parts of the conversation I am sure. When asked what I was going to do after the mock test, I started talking about my farm in Virginia instead of about returning to my host family and washing my clothes and hair. While I am not anywhere near where I need and want to be with my Amharic, I’ve come pretty far for such a short time frame. In my Spanish classes in Chicago I would be at least in the third semester for what I am expected to learn. Four hours a day does produce progress even if you don’t always feel like it. Many words and conjugations are jumbled up in my head now but in time I will be speaking more. It is hard to find the time or a good place to study in the evening, and after a long day of classes and practicum in the field, I am much more likely to sleep than study when I get to my bed which is the only somewhat quiet place to study. Having girls, ages 5 and 1, around can make it hard to focus but they are fun to have around and can usually talk me into watching some Disney film or Wonder Woman movie for part of the evening.
Something my fellow trainees and I have noticed is that our host families do not have mirrors in their homes the way Americans have large mirrors at least in the bathrooms if not throughout their homes. In my home, there is a small hand mirror hanging on the wall by the door but you can barely see your whole face in it. I brought a small mirror with me but it is very strange to live life without seeing yourself in mirrors throughout the day. Given the stress of training, no meat, greatly reduced calories and lack of a hot shower or bubble bath, I am not sure I want to see myself in a full-size mirror at the moment. I have pretty much given up on make-up though I slather on the sunscreen. My hair without blow-drying is very thick and wild looking. My plan to just put it in a pony-tail has not worked because it is too bushy. It is down and dirty as once a week hair-washing outside in my big bucket is the max I can manage. My plan is to try to not care how I look and be grateful there are no full-length mirrors around.
This week we started studying beekeeping which is something I love! The classes were great though I am sorry to hear that none of my fellow Peace Corps trainees has owned beehives though some have worked a bit with bee-keeping. I was hoping to be with people who could teach me more about it but this will still be a great opportunity to learn. The exciting thing about this part of my service is that Ethiopia has such great potential for beekeeping. With a little over 100 million people, only about 2 million households practice beekeeping, mostly small farmers. Beekeeping has been around here since 3500 – 3000 BC but it is done in the trees which sort of makes sense since that is where bees tend to swarm when they get sick of a human provided hive. Ethiopia has the largest bee population in Africa with 10 million bee colonies and forests magically rich in biodiversity. With 18 agro-ecological zones, Ethiopia has the most diverse flora and fauna in Africa with 7000 plants and 400 nectar plants. There are five different types of honeybee races and African bees tend to me more aggressive than bees in America. They can sting more than once like a yellow jacket but the good news is they produce more honey. The African “killer bees” I heard about when I was young were actually not from Africa but created by a British scientist trying to capture the gentleness of an Italian bee and the productivity of an African bee – he failed. Typically European or Italian bees are used in the U.S. at least where I was in Virginia (I used to call mine “Beatrice in Italian” – only a few of you will get that joke.)
One of the reasons beekeeping has not caught on as much here is that the hives are cylinders high in trees and when they are cut down, most of the bee colony is lost which is very sad on all sorts of levels. I would also guess that since Ethiopia is rich in sugarcane and they use lots of sugar in their delicious coffee, honey is not used as much as sugar here which is probably true in the U.S. as well, at least from my observation. Using the cylinder style is much cheaper and requires less skill but ends up with a lot of bee-stung farmers producing less honey full of wax, pollen and dead bees.
The Peace Corps has a middle approach between using cylinders and the “new” modern hives which are like boxes (“supers”) and use frames with sheets for the bees to brood (breed) or make honey. A box of sorts is made with local wood and mud and top bars are made for the bees to create a colony and make honey working from one end of the hive to the other, sometimes with a sort of queen excluder in the middle to avoid larvae mixed with honey. In this way, when they take the top bars with honey, they can lightly brush bees away and save most of the hive, allowing them to continue brooding and producing honey. While it may not be much more nutritious than sugar, it does have medicinal qualities, can lead to more honey and honey wine production, and provide a new source of income for farmers that is ecologically friendly and delicious.
My team is learning about taking care of chickens and we had to separate out a chicken being pecked on by other chickens from one of our newly made coops. Chickens can be quite carnivorous so a weaker chicken can be bullied. After a few days of being separated, she seems to be holding her own in the coop and her strangely open beak is now back to normal.
The garden in my compound was doing well until one of the sheep (it seemed by the hoofs) managed to get in and stomp or eat some of the cabbage. All was not lost, but it was disappointing to lose some of the garden. Our compost bin is stinky and gross so that is a good thing.
That is all I have to report for now. Some of you messaged that you were glad I was happy. I wouldn’t say I was “happy” exactly but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything even if it isn’t sipping red wine in a restaurant in Paris or putting my feet in a fountain in Rome or viewing fine art at the Prado in Spain. When I got back to my house from my language test, my host Mom made me beef tibs, onions and hot green peppers with injera. I have not had good meat in several weeks and it was “Yatafital!” or “Delicious!” and the company was fine. There are many ways to find different kinds of happy even if they are not comfortable or elegant and I am on that journey with or without a mirror. Ciao!