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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.

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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. :) 

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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.

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

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My friend Sarah has a great blog and is a fantastic writer! She actually writes instead of just typing like she is talking to you!