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AGE Summit

Let’s pretend it is March and I’m still Ethiopia and not FOUR months beyond on telling everyone about the amazing experience that was the AGE Summit. I actually wrote this blog post in April and then, well, you know…ethnic conflict ensued and there was that evacuation and unexpected return to the USA. Blah blah. I am STILL getting questions about it…so I’m going to post what I originally wrote with some updates. I am WARNING you: this is a very long blog post because this was the biggest and BEST thing I did in Peace Corps. I didn’t write it to be beautiful or sound fancy. I wrote it as if I was talking directly to you about it. I get distracted and go on rants about all sorts of fantastic things involved in this project. It is not concise or organized. Deal with it.  

A year. That is how long I had actually been dreaming about the Action for Gender Equality Summit and praying it would happen. It takes a lot of work to put together a huge event anywhere, let alone another country in another language where you barely have power or internet access. After getting the approval from Peace Corps, I worked on this project almost everyday for 9 months with the rest of the amazing volunteers in the Gender and Development Committee. It was not easy. But it sure was worth it.

I should preface this by explaining what the hell the AGE Summit was and how it came about. When my group in Ethiopia, G8, had one of our conferences in Addis, it coincided with one of the Great Ethiopian Run’s events. The WomenFirst 5K run.  A bunch of us signed up for it not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. And I think most of us can say it was one of the best things we did in our entire service. It was a 5K race ONLY for women through the streets of Addis. It was created by Haile Gebrselassie, the great Ethiopian runner, to celebrate women’s achievements and contributions in Ethiopia. We were running through the streets of Addis with over 3,000 women while men sat on the sidelines and watched. Some of OUR male volunteers woke up early, made signs and cheered us along the sidelines. And it made other men look at them and think…’what is going on!’ This is a very, very rare sight to see in Ethiopia.  Women were celebrating all around us enjoying this rare moment. After the event, we all met up together again and had a celebratory lunch. I remember sitting down with a bunch of the ladies and talking about what it would do for girls all over the country if they could experience this. If they could see the power and strength of these women in the ‘big city’. Luckily, three of us had just been nominated to the Gender and Development Committee. And a promise was made. It would be our One Big Initiative for the Committee that upcoming year. 

As you know I am very passionate about working with women and girls. Being a female in this country (Ethiopia) is extremely difficult. Just to give you a little perspective, the World Economic Forum named Ethiopia as the 7th lowest country in terms of Gender Equality out of 135 countries in 2012. That means only 6 countries in the world are worse in terms of gender equality. I have seen and experienced some truly horrifying incidents related to sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender based violence. Looking back, I can say there is not ONE day I can think of when I left my house that I was not harassed or assaulted. These are the facts.


In September I was elected as the National Coordinator for the Gender and Development Committee. And from there on, the AGE Summit was my baby. Ask any of my PCV friends and they will tell you as soon as the idea came about, I was DEDICATED to making it happen. I don’t know if I have ever been so dedicated to my work in my life. I knew it had the potential to be great. To change lives. I just didn’t know if it would all actually come together the way we needed it to. Because, well, lets face it. It is Ethiopia. And I don’t say that to sound like an ass. But it’s the truth. Anything that CAN go wrong in this country, usually does. We decided to press ahead. We thought it would be a small ‘conference’ with some Peace Corps Volunteers and students. It turned out to be something much, much larger than that. That’s partly my doing. And partly due to all of the amazing support we received. My parents use to tell me when I was younger not to do anything half ass. I realize now that I have really taken that expression to heart.

We decided as a Committee that the big initiative would be called the Action for Gender Equality Summit (AGE). And it would not just involve girls. Anyone who knows anything about development, or gender mainstreaming or inequality, can understand that change will not just happen by focusing on one gender alone. In this country where almost every decision is controlled by men, we knew that empowering women would only get the students so far. So, we decided to include young boys in our Summit. If women are to be treated as equal, men have to first see them as equal. We created a competition for the Peace Corps Volunteers to be selected. We wanted it to be open to every volunteer, but logistically and financially, it wasn’t realistic. So we created a mechanism for choosing Volunteers and how those volunteers would choose students. We wanted male PCV’s to bring male youth, and female students to bring female students. Although, we did allow for exceptions in the case of outstanding students of the opposite sex, as long as there were no overnight journeys involved. The Summit was to focus on course gender issues of course, but also what it means to be a leader. We wanted the students to walk away as Ambassadors. So they could return to their small towns, and be a force of change in their communities.

In November, some of my PC friends had dinner with the US Ambassador to Ethiopia and were talking about gender issues. I will tell you now I am very fond of our Ambassador as she has tirelessly fought for gender issues since arriving in Ethiopia (and long before). One of my best friends Sarah told the Ambassador, “my friend Morgan is putting together this awesome event in Addis” and things took off from there. The Ambassador told her to have me contact her for support. We met in Addis and she said to me: “whatever you need for this event, you let me know. I’m behind you 100%.” And she was not kidding. Thanks to her, we had full support from the Embassy, Coca Cola, the Girl Hub and the press.

That was in NOVEMBER. And from that day, my Peace Corps service was all about this event. I am not exaggerating. I can’t even tell you what I was doing the whole time, but I sure was busy until March.

Before I knew it, March arrived. And it was time. It turned out that the Ambassador, who was so set on coming to the event, was called to DC for some fancy shmancy event and couldn’t attend. She was genuinely upset. It was, however, HER idea for me to come to the Embassy and interview her for the students to watch during the weekend. And the Chargé d’affaires would also come in her place to speak to the students. The Ambassador made sure to connect me to the last few people who she assured me would support our cause. I spent the last week working with Coca-Cola designing t-shirts, arranging delivery of the product, and give aways for the students. I worked with the truly wonderful Girl Hub to arrange a guest speaker for the event. I was speaking with Peace Corps about travel arrangements. And making sure the schedule was corrected for all of the different parties.

And then it was Wednesday before the event, and the time finally came for me to head to Addis to get things ready for everyone’s arrival on Friday. I was busy running around working with Peace Corps on logistics, financial issues, lodging and vehicles. I met with The Girl Hub to talk about their presentation with Selome Taddesse (will speak more about her later). I had to run to Coca Cola’s East African Bottling Factory to pick up 10 cases of soda, 100 tshirts, 100 baseball hats, pens and key chains. On Wednesday I went to the Embassy to tape the speech with Ambassador. She was so gracious and willing to take time out of her extremely busy schedule to help us with the event. I met with Katherine, the most amazing Information and Press Affairs Officer. She told me she had 10 confirmed press coming to the event.

So, yes, a little bigger than we had imagined. 

Thank goodness for my main girls Kirsten and Breanne. I would have LOVED to be more involved in the nitty gritty of really planning the sessions, but most of my time was taken by planning logistics and working with the Embassy, Peace Corps and other organizations.  The event never would have happened without those two (and the other GAD members clearly). Especially putting up with my 100 phone calls a day. Sorry girls. Thursday was all about the supplies shopping. Getting materials and posters ready. We did our best trying to find 40 buttons to make RUMPS (reusable menstrual pads)-it was not easy. It’s not like there is a Michaels you can just hop on over to. Nor was it easy finding 55 ponytail holders. Kirsten, Breanne and I were running around all day! I also had to go to the Red Cross Training Center where we were holding our event to make sure they had everything ready for the following day. They did not. They of course had overbooked. The manager told us it was because we in fact had booked TOO early. OHHH of course. Moving on. It worked out. Kind of. 

And then before I knew it, it was Friday. Let’s just say some things had not gone according to plan, which was expected, but still extremely stressful nonetheless. Friday morning the GAD committee headed over to Red Cross to start getting everything set up. 17 Peace Corps Volunteers and 39 students were on their way to Addis. They would start arriving around 2 pm or so. We had activities for them to stay busy until everyone arrived. Friday night was a little hectic and everyone was so tired. People settled into their rooms, ate dinner and then came together for a fun game to learn everyone’s names. After dinner we went over the rules and talked about the weekend.   

I won’t go into every detail of the weekend, because it was long and exhausting. But I do want to cover some of the highlights. On Saturday, the chargé d’affaires, Ms. Phee, arrived to open the Summit. She was absolutely fantastic. She spoke to the students about what it means to be a leader, the relationship between Ethiopia and the U.S., and why gender equality is so important. We watched the video from the Ambassador, and of course, the students were very impressed that the US Ambassador to Ethiopia was talking to THEM. 

There were some really fantastic activities on Saturday like ‘Walk a Kilometer in Her Shoes’. It’s an activity where the boy participants have to carry out activities that are typically done by women in Ethiopia, like chopping vegetables, retrieving water,all while carrying a baby, etc. It went over very well. We also had the fantastic ‘Strong Women Pinatas’. These can be done in many different ways, but we decided to do them as ‘We Are Strong Pinatas’.  We had all of the students write on the different pinatas statements that stand in the way of gender equality. Then the students went outside and one by one read their own statements as to why they are strong or how they support gender equality. It was really amazing. Thanks to the one and only Amanda. 

I think the highlight of the day, possibly the weekend, was the guest speaker arranged by Girl Hub. Girl Hub is an organization that is part of the Girl Effect Network and is a collaboration of DFID and Nike. To say they are a genius project would be an understatement.  They offered to arrange a guest speaker for the event. Her name is Selome Tadesse. I of course had not heard of her, but before I knew it my email was blowing up with emails from the Embassy and Peace Corps telling me that if she was willing, we should secure her to speak. There was actually one emailed that said “she’s even been mentioned as a future possible president”. Welllllll OF COURSE she is. Fantastic.  So, I did the only logically thing I could think of. I emailed her. Asking her to take part in our event. 

11 minutes later, (yes, I actually know the timing) I got an email from her. Saying THANK YOU to me and that she would LOVE to take part in our event. Wait, what?!  I worked with the Embassy and Girl Hub to figure out who should take the lead on this. It turns out she actually works for/with Girl Hub and they were more than happy to create a special presentation for our event with her. They also offered some great gift bags/takeaways for the students. I made it clear that we didn’t want to give the students ‘free stuff’. They agreed and instead developed some materials that would help the students with the goals we were leaving with them in terms of leadership. 

So. Selome arrived Saturday morning, and after helping with the pinatas, was ready for her presentation. She knocked it out of the park.  This woman. She has such a way of speaking and captivating an audience. The students went from being so serious and shocked to laughing hysterically. It was absolutely perfect. And Girl Hub had arranged to play two music videos by the sensational girl group Yegna for the students to watch. It really couldn’t have been better. 


To learn more about Selome-read  here:

 http://www.ethiopianwomenunleashed.org/profile_detail.php?PId=36

To see more about Yegna and listen to their music, click here: 

http://www.girleffect.org/explore/creating-change-for-ethiopian-girls/girl-hub-ethiopias-yegna-radio-show/

The rest of the weekend’s sessions included: Gender basics  (gender vs. sex,etc), leadership sessions, a tour of Addis Ababa University and discussions about higher education, condom demonstrations/Olympics, girls/boys club and safe spaces for discussion, a fantastic family planning board game,  RUMPS, lessons on brushing teeth, hygiene, and of course a Girl Rising showing. 

And then it was time. The closing event.  Time for Sunday. Really the best part. The whole reason behind the madness of this event is that it was on International Women’s Day. And it also happened that the WomenFirst 5K would also be on that Sunday. Ooohlala! The girls would run in the event while the boys…did what?  They would stand on the sidelines and CHEER the girls on while they ran to the finish line of course.  Saturday night, all of the male students and male PCVs got together and made signs for the girls. They were working SO hard on them and kept asking for extra paper when they messed up. But we didn’t see them until Sunday. 

We were all ready to go Sunday morning for the race. The boys knew what their job was, and the girls knew that although it was a ‘race’, it wasn’t about who finished first. The point was to celebrate and enjoy together. So we walked through the streets of Addis screaming at the tops of our longs. Some of my FAVORITE PCVs, Amanda, Hailey, Lauren, etc helped me with some fantastic cheers and we really got the girls excited as we were marching.  We had seen the boys at a few stops along the way, but it was a tough route to really pick out a spot to stop and cheer us on. There were a lot of points where I saw them and we cheered back at them and it really was fantastic…BUT… it still didn’t feel…right.

And then it happened. And the tears started to flow before I even had a minute to think. I mean, waterworks over here. We had turned a corner around an overpass, and on a ledge to our left were all of our ‘guys’. Standing with signs that said things like “RESPECT”, “YOU are the chosen One”, “Don’t Wait for Men, JUST DO IT”, and “Rise Together”. Before I knew it, a dance party had broken out in front of the boys and everyone was celebrating together. But there was a little confusion. There was SO many girls/women I didn’t recognize. And I got really worried. I realized that women from the race just wanted to come say thank you to the boys for supporting them. Women starting running over and shaking their hands and dancing. And then the CRAZIEST thing of all happened. Ethiopian men, who had NOTHING to do with the event…started to join in. They joined the sidelines and started CLAPPING. FOR WOMEN. That was the moment I knew my PC service was complete. It.does.not.get.better.than.that.

The rest of the race was full of moments like this. After that it was just a party the rest of the time. We caught up with most of the Embassy staff who was running in the race to support us (amazing right?!), including our Country Director’s wonderful wife. So.many.dance.parties. 

We finished the race and stayed for a while soaking in the wonder. Just celebrating. Celebrating the fact that women and girls are absolutely amazing. Most of our girls had NEVER LEFT THEIR TOWNS BEFORE THIS. We were told there were over 5,000 women at the race.

We had a wonderful after party with cake and delicious food. More FUN and engaging lessons for the students. And the following morning, the students left for their towns. 

We had a lot, A LOT, of issues. A lot of things that went wrong. But it was also so much better than I ever imagined. And I know that every year it will only get better. Because it will now be an annual event :)

There has been a lot of talk lately about Peace Corps and the future. Is Peace Corps still relevant? I am very honest about my opinions regarding Peace Corps. Boy it was not easy. But NO ONE ever said it would be. The one thing I will always say is that it was the best thing that I have ever done, or probably will ever do, in my life. Is Peace Corps still relevant? We were only able to bring 39 students to Addis for that weekend. But when you hear that over half of those students have already shared what they learned with their fellow students…that’s how many more students? And how many students will they then tell? And so it goes on and on. And in a world where schools are being bombed and planes are being shot from the sky, personally, I believe that an organization sending volunteers to all corners of the world on their own, to promote the message of world peace and friendship, is absolute relevant, and necessary.

Take a look at the pictures and decide for yourself…

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10101093207056208&type=1&l=4031c721a2 

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The ‘Mini’ Evacuation

Well it’s about time I know, I know. A lot has been going on. Instead of writing a new blog, I thought I would post the ‘statement’ of what happened that we sent to PC. Then I’ll write a little bit about what’s happened after that and what else is going on!

On Tuesday morning, April 15, Laurissa went to Serako, her primary school, for a training. As she was walking to her school she ran into a teacher who informed her that there was no school today. He said “Haven’t you seen the students running around?” She asked him why there was no school, and he didn’t really have a clear answer, but just told her that the students weren’t at school so there was no school that day. At school the first teachers she saw told her that there was no school and all the students were at the stadium and made it sound as if they had some sort of sports event. Then she ran into some more teachers who told her the most accurate news, that some Kemant teachers and students were arrested and the students were protesting, so there was no school. As she was leaving her school, Morgan called and asked if there were any students at her school. Laurissa explained what she had heard and then Morgan told her that there were several thousand students outside the government building near her house .That was when we first realized that things were a little more serious than just “no school.” Morgan was headed to Addis for a meeting to return on Thursday if flights allowed. She left later that day after seeing the protest.

Laurissa’s neighbor is a teacher at another school, but was teaching in the afternoon. Laurissa asked her if they had school that day and she said yes, they had testing that day. She seemed confused as to why there were no students at Laurissa’s school that day and as Laurissa didn’t really know the answer herself, she couldn’t give her a great answer. Laurissa’s neighbor came back later that afternoon and told her the same thing had happened at her school. She told Laurissa she went to school, the students were there and sat down to take their tests. In the middle of class they got up and started banging on the desks and chanting and all the students left in protest. It didn’t sound dangerous, but just like a peaceful protest. Soon after, Morgan called Laurissa and told her she had been told that the situation was dangerous. Laurissa called Hishe and explained the situation, still not all that concerned, and he called her counterpart Demeke, to figure out what had happened. Together they decided that it might be good for Laurissa to go to Gondar, just in case, but that it was up to her. Demeke and her school’s vice director, Sitotawa, came to her house after the phone call to check on her. They told her they were unsure how long it would last but that it might be a good idea for her to go to Gondar until school is back. She didn’t feel threatened at all, but decided not to take the chance plus she needed to work on a grant for Camp. She left the next day after her neighbor checked to make sure the town was peaceful.

Laurissa and Morgan stayed in contact trying to get more information and could only really find out that there was still no school. Laurissa was also in contact with Sandy in Tikil Dingay knowing that the two towns had similar situations.

On Thursday, Morgan and Laurissa both heard from friends and counterparts in Aykel telling them not to come back as momentum was building with the protest and things ‘were not peaceful’.

Later that afternoon, Hishe called Laurissa to tell her that there were gunshots and students were blocking transportation and trying to keep people away from the market (Thursay is market day). Morgan also talked to her best friend Nesra, who told her things were not good and that Morgan and Laurissa should not return to Aykel.

Friday morning Laurissa awoke to a phone call from her parents. They told her they found an article online describing Thursday’s events in Aykel, including new detials and describing it as ‘a bloody affair’. Laurissa called Morgan to see if she knew anything about it and update her. Morgan then called Nesra again to find out that Nesra and her daughters had been locked in their house since Thursday when they could hear gunshots and a lot of chaos in town. Nesra told Morgan that people had died and things were very unsafe and she would call Morgan once they were better. Nesra sounded terrified and was very worried about Laurissa and Morgan’s well being.

Morgan updated Peace Corps on Friday with what she had heard and Laurissa and Morgan stayed in touch with people in Aykel to make sure everyone they knew were safe and okay.

As of Sunday, they still did not know much about what was going on other then the roads had been reopened and things were ‘better’, although civilians were still said to be locked in their homes. Both of their counterparts told them it was still not safe to return, and Teferra, one of Morgan’s counterparts, told her there were a lot of thieves and they needed to stay in Gondar.

Monday, Morgan spoke with Nesra, and Laurissa spoke with Ayalnesh to find out that schools were still closed indefinitely because of the shooting and Kemant issues. Morgan, Laurissa and I have been checking in with other and supporting each other through this difficult time.

I returned back from Addis on Sunday and have been at the Lodge since. Our Regional Office Manager came to Gondar yesterday to try and find out more information. When he got to Gondar, we found out that there might be a Kemant protest in Gondar city which complicated the situation. We also found out that one of the high priests from the Kemant passed away (interesting timing yes?). 

So, this morning we had to move to a new hotel in Gondar outside of the city center in case there is a protest that turns ugly and we have to evacuate to Bahir Dar.

The Regional Manger went to Aykel today and will be talking with a lot of different people trying to get information. It will be a big factor in what happens next for us.

So, that’s my life right now. Keep your fingers crossed that I can go back to Aykel soon and be with Nesra and the girls. I want to go home! <3

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Harar! What a wonderful trip! So much fun feeding hawks out of my hand, seeing camels and letting Hyenas jump on my back and feeding them with my mouth!

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Meggy, Marshmellows, Mountains.

Well, a blog post is very overdue. I suppose it’s a good thing that I’ve been so busy I haven’t done a post in a long time. But boy has a lot happened. I am going to type this like I’m talking to you on the phone, as usual. Where to start…

How about starting with the fact that I summitted the Roof of Africa! Whaaaddduppp! Let me first say this was no cake walk. So, I went on a five day trek with 6 of my favorite girls. Meggy came from America (how freaking amazing is that?!). And then 5 other amazing Peace Corps ladies joined us for the epic adventure. Ras Dejen is actually rated harder in difficulty than Kilimanjaro. Why you ask? Because what they don’t tell you is you are actually climbing about 7 mountains before you even reach the summit. As much as I don’t like hiking up hills, I REALLY don’t like hiking down the hills for hours. SO.MANY.HILLS. There were so many ailments along the way you probably wouldn’t believe it-broken toes, feet covered in blisters, dysentery, actual shitting of the pants. The list goes on.

BUT despite all of the craziness, it was an absolutely wonderful, inspiring and emotional journey. We camped in the cold, ate some really amazing food, and played some hysterical games. When we weren’t trying not to push each other over the edge of a cliff, we gossiped and told ridiculous stories.

One of the most memorable experiences of the trip was on our last night after summitting Ras Dejen. We were sitting around a camp fire and I had decided to bring smores on the trip. I mean, why wouldn’t I?! We decided to teach our new trekking friends how to make smores. Keep in mind, they don’t have marshmellows, graham crackers, or really chocolate here so it was a really new concept. Erica collected sticks for the marshmells. That right there was a disaster. She gave the staff the sticks before we started passing out the marshmellows and they just threw them in the fire. I mean, it really does make sense. They were just trying to help the fire. Moving on. Marshmellows. Wow. They were TERRIFIED of roasting the marshmellows, but especially eating them. If you had seen the faces of these grown men attempting to eat a marshmellow…priceless. All joking aside, it was definitely one of the coolest Peace Corps moments I’ve had. By the end, a few of the guys really took on the job of teaching the others how to correctly roast a marshmellow. It was a full blown Marshmellow roasting TOT. It was one of those moments where you say to yourself “Is this really happening right now? This is freaking awesome!”

After the trek Meggy, Sarah and I travelled to Bahir Dar for a little R&R. We had a great time just relaxing and enjoying the views of Lake Tana. And then Meggy left me. Womp womp. But I really had the most amazing time with one of my best friends. To share this experience with her was so special. I feel like we reconnected in a way that we will be talking about 50 years from now. There are no words to express how thankful and grateful I am to have had her visit when she did. It was really meant to be.

So, what else have I been up to now? I’ve been busy working on my gardens! My counterpart and I met with my office compound Manager who is excited to put in a community garden. I work on a compound with most of the government employees and it gets a large volume of visitors so I think it is a great place! We went to the agriculture office and got the tools we needed to start clearing the area. The office manager even said he would use his budget to buy the seeds. NO ONE ASKED ME TO BUY ANYTHING. Do you know how amazing that is?

I also getting ready to start my second Grassroot Soccer intervention. I will be working with two of my counterparts and the Special Needs teacher to do an intervention with the students with disabilities. Everyone thought I was crazy and said that it wouldn’t work. Well, you don’t know me very well, do you? I despise how the students with disabilities are treated and how often they are ignored. So, we start GRS tomorrow. I’m adapting some of the activities so all of the students can do them, even in wheelchairs. AND we have some deaf students who I have printed manuals for so they can read and follow along. Wish me luck!

However, the biggest thing I am working on right now is for the Gender and Development Committee. Now that I’m National Coordinator, a lot of the big stuff is up to. After taking part in the Women First 5K last year, I, along with a lot of the women who participated, thought that this was something Ethiopian girls should participate in. So, I started brainstorming with some other PCV’s months ago and couldn’t let it go. So, when our GAD Committee met we decided to go for it. So, I have been busy contacting different organizations and working with PC to see if it’s even possible. So, I can’t give too much away because most of it is not finalized and is still a secret, but I am making progress and very excited for what is to come!

I am also still working a lot with Lodge du Chateau in Gondar. They have become my family here. They take such good care of me whenever I’m in town. They give me a place to stay, a hot shower, and they feed me! I’ve been working a lot with the staff on different trainings and working with the owner to improve their services and materials such as the website, pamphlets and facebook page! After Chris passed away, I came back to Gondar a day early and when the owner saw my face he knew something was wrong. I told him what happened and he put me in one of the guest rooms and the whole staff took care of me. They even made me special soup and brought it to me in bed with a sprite and bread. Who does that? The most amazing hotel in this country, that’s who.

Next Sunday I leave for Addis for our Mid Service Conference. Mid Service!! I am half way through! Unbelievable. All of the volunteers from my group will be in Addis for at least 5 days together-some of us will be together for almost two weeks because of our medical check ups. I am so excited to see everyone! And then I have two weeks back in Aykel before I leave for London. I am SO EXCITED!!

Well, thats all for now! More later..

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Simien Trek! Roof of Africa: Done!

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How Do You Measure a Year?

I cannot believe one year ago today I arrived in Addis Ababa to begin my Peace Corps Corps journey. I think for a lot of volunteers the one year mark causes us to do a lot of thinking about the time we’ve spent here so far. I know it sure has for me. Recently I stumbled upon an article about a student who traveled overseas in Asia and her experiences with harassment and the effects it had on her. The article caused a lot of controversy. People couldn’t believe what she put up with during her months abroad. This article caused me to do a lot of thinking about the past year and the struggles, successes and absolutely crazy experiences that have happened. I don’t mean to diminish what she went through. It did, however, make think about how peace Corps volunteers deal with harassment on a daily basis. There has not been a day I haven’t dealt with some sort of harassment: whether it be physical, sexual or verbal. Most of us are on our own in pretty rural areas where we are the only white person within 60 kilometers. We deal with things that most of you probably cannot imagine. Our housing conditions are more than a little shady. We travel in vehicles that don’t even need keys to operate (Jen and Rose you can attest to this). We face reverse racism EVERY day. Some of the stories we have are so ridiculous people don’t believe they are true. Well, they are. So I thought my one year blog post would be about sharing some of the things that have happened over the past year. Here’s a quick rundown of what went through my head:

In the past year:

  1. I have been grabbed, touched or fondled on nearly every part of my body including ass grabbing, boob fondling, hair petting and all sorts of poking and touching

  2. I have had numerous ‘stalkers’ including one serious one that called me over 27 times in one day and continued to call for 6 months. No means no-it does not mean try harder.

  3. I have had someone hock a loogie and then spit it on me

  4. I have had more sexual advances and invitations from unknown men than most people get in their entire life

  5. I have had rocks thrown at me on numerous occasions

  6. I have been chased, followed and threatened by mentally disturbed individuals where no one else stopped to help

  7. I have had money and other items stolen from me

  8. I have been ripped off beyond belief at shops, restaurants and hotels because of the color of my skin

  9. I have had people take pictures of me without asking and without my knowledge

  10. I have had men whip out their penis at me

  11. I have had someone try to break into my compound

  12. I have lived without water, power and phone connection for over 5 days at a time

  13. I have dealt with a complete rat infestation where they turned pretty much everything I own into their nest

  14. I have also dealt with a serious mold issue that also took over almost everything I own

  15. I have had a man come up to me and breathe heavily in my face (who does that?!)

  16. I have had people (including children) make me cry because of the horrible things they have said or asked me to do

  17. I have had 2 parasites, a bacterial infection, bloody throat infection and who knows what else…

  18. And last but certainly not least, I have been mugged with a group of friends at knife point by two men (sorry mom and dad-knew you would worry so decided to wait)

So, why do we do it you might ask? I joined Peace Corps because I truly believed I could make a difference. My parents raised me to believe that every human being has a right to live a life with dignity. My family has taught me that I was born into a position where I never had to worry about much of anything, and I had responsibility to give back in some way. I have felt a connection with Africa since I was 18 and have a master’s in human rights. I think we all have a duty to help our fellow human beings, whether it is in our home country or a small corner of the world. If everyone did a little bit of good, the world would be a better place. For me, everything pointed to Peace Corps.

With everything that has happened, why do I stay? Despite all of the bad things that happened, I love my life. I love Ethiopia. I love my community and my friends. And because I truly believe that I am making a difference. Although it may be small, I see change happening. After only a year, I can measure change.


To date I:

  1. Trained 202 youth on safe hygiene and sanitation practices

  2. Trained 1844 people on the prevention, transmission and treatment of Malaria

  3. Talked to 143 students on the prevention and transmission of HIV/AIDS

  4. Taught 118 people how to grow their own food and support their families-who then in turn trained another 140 People Living with HIV/AIDS

  5. Discussed hygiene and sanitation and proper nutrition with the PLWHA(people living with HIV/AIDS) association

  6. Helped put on a week long Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) for over 43 female youth and 23 Ethiopian counterparts

  7. Seen my friend Nesra learn how to feed and support her family without the help of her husband

  8. Planned Grassroot Soccer interventions for over 30 youth

  9. Worked with the local People with Disabilities group on hygiene, sanitation and life skills

  10. Had three different Ethiopian counterparts attend training on a variety of topics

  11. Have become proficient in Amharic

  12. Finished a full rotation of Insanity workout

  13. Participated in 2 races put on by The Great Ethiopian Run

  14. Worked on a national Big Initiative for the Gender and Development Committee

  15. Won a football match 13-1 with some friends against a team of Ethiopian men, all the while putting up with them trying to consistently get rid of us females.

  16. And last, but not least, fought past all the barriers and became part of a community in Ethiopia. I made a home for myself.

So, here’s to hoping year 2 is as crazy, unbelievable and amazing as the first.

Photoset

I had all of one day to move in so it’s still rough around the edges but you get the idea. It kind of has a warehouse loft feel to it. And the window shutters above the couch can be removed from the outisde to let more light in.

Tile floors, cement walls and ceiling and no rats. I really can’t complain. :) 

Text

Things Fall Apart…

 When Peace Corps first told me I might have to move I was devastated. I love my compound family. They are MY family. I babysit the girls. My friends help me with laundry. I help Nesra bathe baby Jessie. I talk to Nesra about gender equality. They help me buy things in town and make sure I barely ever have to go the market. I couldn’t imagine living without them in Ethiopia. But I tried to remind myself that worrying about it wasn’t going to change the outcome and I just needed to be flexible. So easy, right?

Then we went to my house and saw the disaster that it was and I gave in and accepted I had to move. I got on board and we spent the day looking for another house in my town. Five hours later and we still couldn’t find a house in my town. Let’s say I started to get stressed out because if they couldn’t find an adequate house in my town I might have to be moved to another site. We had people looking in my town but they started to call me the next couple of days to tell me they hadn’t found anything

Then the whole ‘being flexible’ thing didn’t go so well. Because even worse than not living in my old compound is moving out of my town entirely.Not. Happening. No way was I going anywhere else.

I had been in Gondar for about 10 days when Peace Corps came to help me look for a house again. I was talking with my parents on Skype telling them how frustrated I was the night before we were leaving and my mom said “don’t give up. Sometimes bad things happen and we have no idea what will come out of it.”

We went to Aykel and started looking for houses. After a couple of failures, we literally started picking boys off of the street in our car and asking them to show us every good house in town. They started calling people and trying to see what they could find. Again, five hours later and nothing. We were standing in the middle of the street trying to recruit more people to find a house when all of a sudden the PC Office Manager’s phone rings. It’s the Peace Corps driver Nebiyu and he said he found a house.

And oh boy did he find a winner. We walked around the corner and into the back to see this big compound with a house in the back. We opened the door and it was like my Four Seasons. I saw cement walls. Tile floors. ACTUAL power outlets IN the wall (doesn’t sound like a big deal but my last house had ONE ‘outlet’ hanging from a cord in the ceiling. AND I have actual light fixtures (I had two light bulbs before). I mean of course it had it’s issues but it has character. And most of all: it didn’t have RATS!

We signed a lease and paid August rent to make sure no one else go the house. The landlord said he would clean the house before I get there and is working on building a shower and a shint bet (toilet). It was fantastic.

I came back to Gondar and Skyped my parents to tell them the good news. And of course, my parents and I talked and she had been right. She said: “See! I bet you never thought that this terrible situation would get you into a nice new concrete rat free home!” It made me think of a quote:

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. Things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” 

Yeah, it has sucked being homeless for 18 days and counting…but I’ve gotten to have some fun and do some different work in Gondar. I’ve eaten some yummy food, met other PC volunteers from other countries…AND I got to go on a hike in the Simien Mountains. Really, life is pretty good.

Thanks parental units.

Photoset

Half Day hike in the Simien Mountains…can’t wait for the 5 day trek to Ras Dashen!!