The content of this blog is mine and mine alone and does not reflect any position of the U.S. Peace Corps or Government

Hello from Ethiopia!

It has been very, very difficult at site to access Wi-Fi on my laptop so my D.C. friend is posting this short message and some pictures on the blog.

I am in the Amhara region near a beautiful lake.

Everyone has been wonderful to me and it is great to live in a place where I see camels, monkeys and beautiful birds often.

The two months here have been good but at times very challenging.  Just the adjustment to living without modern appliances has taken weeks and I continue to try to figure out ways to streamline my process for chores that take very little time at home.

I love to walk to the school and talk with the wonderful teachers there as well as the children who are very bright and friendly. Kids stop by my house and I show them my maps of the world and the U.S.A. We work on language together, and they play with my ukulele and binoculars.  

I am working on a small vegetable garden (with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, carrot, cabbage, swiss chard and sweet potatoes) at the Farmer Training Center as well as building a chicken coop with a local carpenter to keep my own chickens. We will demonstrate the benefits of chicken coops with some free ranging for them in the afternoon.  About 200 chickens will be distributed this month so it is a good time to encourage coops because of the many benefits relating to healthier chickens, better eggs for the family and for sale, and better sanitation at the homestead. I hope to do some cooking demos at the Farmer Training Center featuring eggs and vegetables, two ingredients whose nutrients are often lacking in the diet here. Beekeeping projects are in process, but resources are hard to come by and I am still hesitant about bee-keeping at night on farms with small children. Another PCV who focuses on beekeeping may come visit and work with me which will be fun.

Overall, being here is a life-changing experience and I am grateful for the opportunity.  I do have plenty of days where I long to be home on a comfy sofa snuggling with my dog and eating ice cream.  I miss my loved ones in America very much and enjoy the treats they send me and the funny texts about life in general as well as huge support when I have a hard day.

Today was pretty neat.  I worked on weeding a corn crop with my landlord friends in a gorgeous pastoral setting overlooking the lake.  Pix posted. Then I made six of us peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches on white rolls for lunch.  I explained the huge significance of this food in America, especially for kids, and how we like to eat PBJs with big glasses of cold milk and potato chips. They seemed reasonably impressed.  A while back, I shared a bag of double stuffed Oreo cookies with my compound from a fabulous care package I’d just received. They loved them, gobbling up the entire package in 20 minutes flat! That was fine but I hope to work with them next time on the finer art of taking apart the Oreo cookie slowly and the importance of nibbling on your favorite parts as well as dunking them in milk.  

I was able to watch a televised forum a few days ago with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister speaking in Amharic, and though I did not understand all of it, I was very proud when I heard him use the term “American values.”  Though I struggle with the challenges of my work here, I marvel at the beautiful decision made over 50 years ago to undertake this ongoing global effort to promote world peace and friendship.  

While sharing PBJs and Oreo cookies is only a very small part of my service here, it sure felt good to enjoy a taste of home with my new friends and family in Ethiopia.

Last Word on Peace Corps Training…

The content of this blog is mine and mine alone and does not reflect any position of the U.S. Peace Corps or Government.

Final Training Focus – Language and Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture Projects

Language Challenges

After returning from our site visits, Peace Corps Group 20 got back to work on language and agriculture.  While I tried to focus some on Amharic in the months prior to my departure, I am afraid I ended up towards or at the bottom of my class.  Though I have never been a brilliant student, I was never a flunk-out either.  Surprisingly, I took it in stride and feel kind of strangely proud of my Intermediate – Low grade (I needed a Medium).  I feel like I learned a lot and it is all jumbled up in my head and waiting to someday be beautifully spoken.  The good news is I am now required to hire a tutor at site (which I wanted to do anyway) and I will continue my Amharic education and be tested again in three months.  It is a very beautiful language so I don’t mind at all and I look forward to having more fun with it outside of the classroom.  The Peace Corps language facilitators are excellent and very nice, and I don’t envy them the task they have because they need way more than 12 weeks to really get us to Intermediate-Medium.  I hope I can find a good tutor at site. 

Right before I left for Ethiopia in January, I had Chinese food with my friends, Bob and Lisa, and my fortune cookie read, “A smile can bridge all language barriers.”  From my experience thus far, that is a very true fortune.  Respect and kindness are shown in ways other than words and phrases.   Some people just appreciate being acknowledged with a smile, nod or bow.  We are all human beings looking for kindness.  Though many material things are lacking in Ethiopia (reliable electricity and water, for example), kindness is definitely not one of them – and that would include the laughter and/or giggles when I try to speak Amharic to them.

Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture

When I was in high school in the mid 80’s, the famine in Ethiopia that killed ONE MILLION people occurred and the song/video “We are the World” was popular.  I think it is lodged in my brain (more than Amharic probably – ha ha) but the statistics I am learning right now are very interesting and help me to believe that what I am doing is worthwhile. 

To begin with, in my limited experience, I haven’t seen many children here that look like they are starving and hungry but, of course, I am no expert.  What I am learning, however, is that Ethiopia has very high rates of undernutrition which results in over 1/3 of child deaths from increased severity of disease.  According to USAID, in Ethiopia, 51% of children under the age of five are stunted, 33% are underweight and 12% are wasted (low weight for height).  About 1 in 5 infants are born with a low birth and MOST OF THE IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE DUE TO MALNUTRITION HAPPENS DURING GESTATION AND IN THE FIRST 24 MONTHS OF LIFE.  Therefore, the first 1,000 days are critical to helping a child (in utero and the first 2 years) to achieve the highest physical and cognitive growth possible.  These statistics are also reflected in economic costs and lost productivity.  For all of these reasons, the Peace Corps Food Security – Seven Essential Nutrition Actions are as follows:

  1. Promotion of optimal nutrition for women
  2. Promotion of adequate intake of iron and folic acid and prevention and control of anemia for woman and children
  3. Promotion of adequate intake of iodine by all members of the household
  4. Promotion of optimal breastfeeding during the first six months
  5. Promotion of optimal complementary feeding starting at 6 months with continue breastfeeding to 2 years of age and beyond
  6. Promotion of optimal nutritional care of sick and severely malnourished children
  7. Prevention of Vitamin A deficiency in women and children.

Both Peace Corps Agriculture and the Health volunteers work on a variety of projects to improve the nutrition and overall health of the communities we serve.  I will go into more detail in coming months on this blog which will include additional statistics regarding the future that I find extremely compelling.

Final Word on Pre-Service Training

Boy – I am happy this is almost over!  The program is intensive and more information is pushed at us than can possibly be retained.  A law school professor once said that teaching 3rd years was “like throwing mud at a brick wall to see what would stick” and that is what it feels like here at times.  Still, I want to thank our Peace Corps directors and administrative staff, trainers, doctors, language facilitators, safety and security, logisticians, and drivers (the last of them had to listen to us singing on long bus rides – yikes!) for all of their help and patience.   While there is no way to totally prepare us for what we are about to do, I feel my fellow trainees and I are all well-equipped – with our training and our own special talents – to take on our assignments and make a difference in the communities we serve.

To my friends from the U.S. who are always checking on me and always there for me when I contact them on WhatsApp – thank you so much. Your encouragement (and the peanut butter crackers you sent) gives me the fuel I need to keep going. Your love makes all the difference.

And, finally, I want to thank my Host Family for taking such good care of me and making me a part of your family.  I love you.