“He realized that he had thought only about the first step, never imagined the last.”
-Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin
Even with the arrival of my third rainy season and subsequent return to living in a cloud that encourages me to do nothing, somehow time got away from me. I find myself with two days left in Durame and a whole lot of mixed emotions. I am a walking oxymoron, that literary device perfectly exemplified by Shakespeare’s phrase “sweet sorrow.” A lot of PCVs seem to favor the word “bittersweet.” If there is a word for overjoyed and devastated, I’m that. For someone that so loves words, they fail me to describe how I’m feeling now. After two years, I feel completely different, I feel so much the same.
Let me backtrack.
The Final Semester
This past semester was a whirlwind. I did the pilot program for Peace Corps direct teaching at my high school. It has been decided that Group 11, 70 new Education Volunteers (our replacements) that arrived at the beginning of July will be direct teaching in high schools. Peace Corps will abandon the Teacher Training focus of the Education program. Durame will get a G11 Volunteer, something I pushed for since my high school and site are so great. I was also invited to Addis Ababa back at the end of April to participate in a meeting between Peace Corps and the Ethiopian Ministry of Education and to help with planning Pre-Service Training for G11.
We also completed the library (see three posts back), I helped prepare 8th grade students for their Regional English Exams, we finished up Grassroot Soccer, the Pen Pal Program, and my Student English Clubs. We also did the International Creative Writing Competition again this year and one of my teachers, Adane, won at the National level. His entry continued on to compete at the International level. The prompt was: If you could make one law that had to be implemented across the entire world, what would it be and how would it change the world? Adane wrote about how a quality education would be free and available to all.
At the end of May, I went for my Close of Service conference with Peace Corps and the rest of my group, G7 at Lake Langano. Sessions included giving feedback to Peace Corps staff, resume-building and interview skills, job-hunting resources, how to talk to Americans back home about our service, reverse culture shock and re-integration. We did six-word memoirs and all voted on our favorite which was Paula’s “I’m looking forward to looking back.” We viewed an incredibly funny presentation of superlatives for G7. I was voted “Person you’d most want to be stranded with on a deserted island” and “Future Olivia Pope.” We did a gift exchange of items we brought from our towns. There were a few nighttime campfires by the lake. Finally, we wrote letters to each other to be given to us to read on our plane rides home.
I went back to Addis Ababa after the conference for final medical and dental appointments. I’m pretty much cleared (still have to do a few things in my final Addis days), but I did pass out after having blood drawn (I’m prone to this, no worries). I woke up on a bed in a random room of the office I didn’t know existed with one of our doctors standing on the foot of the bed fanning me with a giant towel. It struck me that I’ll never have doctors quite like these ever again.
Another part of what felt like Closing Service for me was going to the training site, Butajira (now whole groups of trainees stay in one town), to give two trainings to the new group about the English for Ethiopia textbooks and about Lesson Planning. It was very odd to see an incoming group of volunteers as an outgoing volunteer. I had spent most of my time leading up to these trainings in a bit of denial over leaving. I had been focusing a lot on what I don’t like about Ethiopia to make departing easier. It was hard to imagine one of these trainees being placed in Durame, it was hard seeing them get to know each other, discovering Ethiopia. And for me? It just all ends. G7 will never again be all together in Ethiopia, I’ll not live again in Durame. Where did two years go? You don’t realize the growth as it’s happening and it’s difficult to grasp and explain what we’ve been through, how far we’ve come. Standing with a group of trainees all amazed when one girl said she almost dropped her phone down the shint bet, I was trying to count in my head how many PCVs I know actually have dropped their phones down the shint bet. They’ll figure it out. Answering some people’s questions, I realized how much about Ethiopia used to seem strange to me and left me wondering:
When Did This Ethiopian Life Become Normal?
A few weeks ago, Durame celebrated the completion of a water project. Basically many more water sources were tapped and pipes laid throughout town to bring in more water. Not running water or anything. Just water. Most houses have a tap in the yard that sometimes has water. Any time the tap is on, we spend an hour or so filling all our buckets for the week. At this water party, there was lots of singing and dancing, guests from the Ministry and other offices, gift-giving, food and coffee for everyone. Just because we have more water. It felt like the whole town turned out for the party and it was quite surreal to look around the hall and realize I knew most everyone there. When did this happen?
A few days later, the staff from my primary school gathered together to celebrate the marriage of Peter, one of our teachers. Afterwards, my walk home that should have only been one minute turned into an hour. Walking hand-in-hand with one of my best friends, Adanech, the school librarian, rubbing my hands to keep them warm from the cold, we stopped to greet many people. We ran into my Ethiopian dad, then his brother, my uncle who also happens to be my boss, the head of the town education office. Next, we stopped to talk to a new police officer that was curious about me. “Oh, she’s Peace Corps, you can talk to her. She speaks Amharic. She’s lived here for two years,” explained Adanech. Then, we saw another friend who invited me for breakfast the next morning at 7am in her house. Then, we met another friend who invited me for dinner the next night. Only in Ethiopia.
Yesterday, I went to try to say goodbye to Adanech (I say “try” because she just invited me for breakfast this morning anyways). We ate potatoes and drank three coffees. Ethiopians just boil potatoes, let them cool, then peel the skin off with their hands and eat them. I remembered back to my Pre-Service Training days and the first time my host mom just handed me a whole boiled potato. How strange when strange things become normal life. So much that happens here is bizarre and you just don’t see it in America and that’s something I’ll miss. Even daily chasing chickens out of my house, out of the shint bet, out of the shower bet I’ll miss. I’ll miss my students showing up at my house, even when I’ve just gotten out of the shower bet and I’m in my shower dress with my hair up in a towel and they’re just sitting, waiting on my front step.
PCVs are packrats. You never know when you might need some random material for your house or school. It’s been a challenge cleaning out my house. Luckily Jaynice came to get a lot of my stuff, most of it being kitchenware. I’ve been drinking out of old jars and using a Frisbee as a plate, just like when I first moved here, so I feel my service has come full circle. Mostly, I’m fed outside my house anyways and too much. Goodbyes in Ethiopia are rough on the heart and on the stomach. At least three huge meals and nine cups of coffee a day. Their generosity never ceases to amaze me. I never know when the sadness is going to hit, it comes at the oddest times like when I was closing my bank account or when I was breaking down my water filter.
I continued English Club with my 5th-8th graders after school ended. Mostly we played Jeopardy. They can’t get enough of it. The last time we played, every team ended up with zero points. They all bet all their points in Final Jeopardy and they all got the question wrong. It was in the midst of the World Cup frenzy, so I called them Brazil and said I was Germany. They loved it. Then I called them all winners for that day. They loved that, too. I remember how in the beginning, my students just mostly stared at me blankly. Now they get me, it’s incredible. I guess I can measure my success in their little laughs. We had a goodbye program a few weeks ago, something the kids plotted by telling me to leave after a meeting, but I listened at the door. We made tea and popcorn and I made them banana bread. A million photos were taken. I gave each student a certificate and a photo with a note written on the back. They gave me letters, bananas, little gifts. I told them we don’t say “Goodbye,” but “See you later.” It’s funny to hear the phrases they’ve picked up from me like “See you” and the exact way I say “Oh my gosh.”
My Ethiopian family. Do you know how when you’ve spent so much time with someone, usually family, you can recognize their footsteps? I know Luya’s quick, light steps. Roza’s terribly slow, meandering gait. Milli shuffles and drags his feet. I always know who is at the gate by their knock whether it be Milli’s loud pounding for such a tiny person or Askale’s tapping fingertips. And so on. They are truly my family now and I’ll miss them every day. They are having me plant a mango tree in the yard. Philipos says they want to open a business soon and they will name it after me, something like “Jacqueline Stationery” or “Jacqueline Internet Cafe.” I’m not sure why the full name. When I asked them if they’d house the next Durame PCV, they were hesitant. My room is my room forever they say.
The End or Onward
Next, I go to Addis for five days to say goodbye to Peace Corps and officially close out. I will have a few exit interviews, final medical clearance, and a lot of paperwork to sign. Then I’m off to journey home through Europe with stops in the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland. As far as future plans, I know I’ll be eating everything, cuddling my dog, and playing a lot of cards with my grandfather. I’ll eventually get it together, but will probably float around seeing family and friends for a while first. So maybe don’t ask me about future plans.
I apologize for this lengthy and rambling, not-so-eloquent-or-poignant post, but it will likely be the last with much text and it was a long time in the making. I might post a few more photos. Thanks to anyone who may have followed this adventure through this blog. The most overwhelming of my jumbled mix of current feelings is thankfulness. Is that a word? Gratitude. It never escapes me how damn lucky I was to be placed in this town, with this family, these students, in these mountains. So many people keep saying “Don’t forget us,” “Don’t forget Durame,” “Don’t forget Ethiopia.” Well. That’s just silly.
On being a female PCV in Ethiopia, by my fellow G7, Danielle: http://800daysinethiopia.blogspot.com/2014/03/on-being-hated.html
On gender inequality in Ethiopia, by my fellow G7, Leslye: http://leslyewomack.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/my-experience-with-gender-inequality-in-ethiopia/
In short, it’s hard to go through this experience and not come out a feminist on the other side (or you always were, of course, but did not know how to talk about feminism and champion it).
I will say I try to focus on the positive always (because at the end of most days, that’s all that gets you through) and I do know many respectable men here including my Ethiopian dad and the father of another family I spend a lot of time with. Ayano is incredibly supportive of his six daughters. He always says he is “rich with daughters” and that he would never give up any of them for a son. He calls them all beautiful and clever and passes much time helping them with their homework. He encourages their talents; one girl, Fitsum is an artist and another, Kidist sings. Rediet is one of my English Club students. He is proud of his wife, Worknesh, the only female school director in town. When we have dinner it seems he gursha’s (hand-feeds) most of his food to his girls, a sign of love.
…. for my imminent return:
Personal space means absolutely nothing to me.
I will likely show up unannounced to your house.
If I want to greet you with three kisses on the cheeks or by shoulder bumping 3-5 times in a row, just let me.
I’m sorry if I forget that toilets can actually flush toilet paper.
When I speak, it will likely be at the speed of turtle and I will leave out all articles.
On a related note, some of my words/phrases have been completely replaced by Amharic or Kambata. Be patient as I re-learn English even though I’m supposed to have been teaching it for two years. The English I do speak is Ethiopian English mixed with British English.
Don’t be surprised if I abandon my fork or spoon mid-meal. I may also eat off your plate. I will hand-feed you and you’d better take it.
Everyone knows I’ve been a slow walker my entire life. Ethiopia has only made this worse.
If I break down crying in the middle of the supermarket, know these are tears of joy for the abundance of choices and the fact that I don’t have to haggle and tears of exasperation at prices.
If I break down crying at the sight of a washing machine, know these are purely tears of joy.
It took me a while to remember the term “washing machine.” I was thinking “laundry doer.”
Don’t judge my unwillingness to shower daily.
I may wear the same clothes three days in a row and not see any problem with this.
I will eat all of the sushi, Mexican, pizza, apples, et cetera in my first week back. Then I will want injera and will be forced to open an Ethiopian restaurant. You’re welcome.
Be warned: I know nothing about the newest technology or pop culture. I will simply be amazed by things like microwaves.
What is a hashtag? #theseareclearlysharpsigns
What makes a phone ‘smart’?
I will slurp hot beverages.
I can’t drink anything with ice in it.
I will see no reason to refrigerate anything.
What are germs?
If I choose to use an umbrella to shield my fair skin from the sun as opposed to sunscreen, it’s okay if you’re embarrassed, but I’ll still expect you to walk with me.
I will be freaked out by so many white people. I may stare.
If I gasp during your story, this means ‘yes’ or that I’m paying attention and following along. Raising my eyebrows means ‘hi’ or that I’m agreeing.
I’m fairly certain I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff I should warn you about.
Pretty sure I’ve also forgotten how to drive. Please come pick me up. Despite everything you just read. I think public transport will only get me so far, no?
After weeks of sketching our world map and painting in the water bodies, I invited my English Club students to come on a Saturday morning to finish it by filling in the countries. I’m thankful that my high school counterpart, Daniel, and two nearby PCVs, Jaynice and Theresa, also joined us.
Friday evening it poured rain until Saturday morning. I really wasn’t expecting many students to come on a Saturday, especially since it had rained. I should’ve known my babies better. Seems my entire club turned out.
First, we had a competition. I pointed to ten countries and the students had to write down which country they thought it was. They then traded papers to correct each other’s work. Bereket was our winner with the most correct answers and he was awarded a fist bump. We then split into groups to paint different continents.
Luckily, I had brought distractions for some students while other kids painted. We watched The Lion King and Mulan and Theresa showed students how to make friendship bracelets. Our school program evolved into a party.
We carefully mixed eight light colors, so that when I label everything, it will be easily read. Tekalign, a precocious 7th grade soccer fanatic, however, had other ideas. In his excitement for the impending World Cup, he was intent on coloring Brazil fire engine red. After desperately trying for two years to teach my students to be more creative, how could I say no? This inspired other students to mix their own colors and our map now looks a bit like a tie-dye of every color under the sun. Next weekend, I will touch-up and label the map without compromising their creativity.
In the chaos of the day and having “Jack! Jack!” yelled at me for hours asking instructions, I had no idea how the program went and was actually feeling like I had done a terrible job of planning. After viewing photos full of smiling faces, I realized it went just fine.
Did you know a child dies every minute from malaria (a preventable and curable disease)? The 25th of April was World Malaria Day and the entire month of April is dedicated to raising awareness of the disease throughout Peace Corps by its Stomp Out Malaria initiative. According to the World Health Organization, about 200 million cases of malaria occur every year. 85% of those cases and 90% of the resulting deaths are found in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly children.
Some important information to share about malaria:
1. Malaria is a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. When they bite and suck the blood of an infected person and then move onto another person, they transmit the parasite.
2. The malaria parasite attacks human red blood cells and if left untreated, it spreads to the brain and can result in death.
3. Malaria is only transferred by the female Anopheles mosquito. Mostly, they bite during the nighttime and they breed in different types of water, usually stagnant.
4. Malaria can be prevented by sleeping under a bed net, by getting the Indoor Residual Spray (a spray that stays on the walls and poisons mosquitoes), by wearing clothes that cover your body, by using bug spray (not found in most of Ethiopia), and by eliminating or avoiding stagnant water areas.
5. Symptoms of malaria are fever (most common), severe headache, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, shivering/chills, sweating, convulsions, and backache/joint pain.
6. If you have symptoms, go to a hospital, clinic, or health center immediately. You will be tested for malaria and given the medicine if you have it. If left untreated for more than 24 hours, the disease can become life-threatening.
Data collected from Durame’s hospital and health centers indicates we had about 3,650 confirmed malaria cases last year, so my students have been learning all about malaria recently. We’ve discussed the cause of malaria and its transmission, prevention methods, and symptoms and treatment of malaria. We’ve played a modified version of Malaria Freeze Tag, a fun game that has three key messages: mosquitoes transmit malaria, a bed net can protect you from malaria, and you should seek treatment immediately if you think you may have malaria. In groups, students completed a crossword puzzle to test their knowledge. Students also participated in an art contest making posters about malaria.
Of two years is incredibly heavy. Walking to school yesterday with Luya, I realized his eyes met my own. I’d been looking down for so long and all of a sudden, this change. When did he grow so tall?
When I arrived in Durame, we had two cobblestone roads. Now we have four. The main road has been torn up and widened for paving. We used to have one internet-bet, now there are four. There are countless new restaurants and cafes.
When I began this journey, I couldn’t remember anyone’s name. Now I know who is related to or best friends with whom and I know nicknames. I know which class each student is in and can track them down easily. If one is absent, I know which other student to give his or her paper to. I know their parents. Everyone is my neighbor. Everyone claims me as their daughter. I know this community better than any other I’ve ever been a part of. I know them as well as they know me.
This week I found out my COS (Close of Service) date. August 6th. Suddenly I feel like I have no time left. I thought two years would be easy, a piece-of-cake. In the span of hopefully 70 years or so, two years out of my life would be nothing. Strange to find it actually means everything to me. This place is my world. It’s not been easy; it’s been downright gut-wrenching at times. Two years is a physical, true weight that grows heavier every day, that I’ll carry in my heart for the rest of my years. Here’s to savoring my final five months.
I jog watching the sunrise. A little later, I leave my house early because I know I’ll need to stop to greet everyone on my way to work.
I hear ‘Jack!’ yelled every five seconds. My favorites are the little boy that does cartwheels while screaming at the same time ‘Jack! Are you fine?!’ and the baby girl that can only holler ‘Dackieee.’
All know I love soccer and balls made from old plastic bags tied together are kicked at me at least three times a day. Procrastination ensues.
I can find at least two random students at my door on any given day. Usually they want to play soccer.
Walking down the street, my phone rings, I answer and hear something along the lines of ‘Jack, wait me! I see you! Wait me!’
A car carrying the town’s policemen and women drives by, all start waving. They stop to offer me a ride.
I am tackle-hugged by about five children a day.
I see students doodling with pens on their wrists. They’re doodling my wrist tattoo.
Saturday afternoons, Luya teaches me Kambatissa and I teach him Spanish. Milli wants to watch Scooby-Doo and keeps interrupting with ‘ruh-roh.’ Rosa giggles.
Ayu, one of my program assistants from Peace Corps visits Durame. We go to the town education office. She asks if they want another Peace Corps Volunteer after me. They say, ‘Of course. But it’s better if Jack stays.’
I daydream often of being back home in America. I snap back to reality and realize I am home.
During school, I mostly worked with the 8th grade teacher in her classes, model and co-teaching. I continued my Students’ English Club for 5th-8th graders. About 40 students attend regularly and I now have an awesome Civics Teacher, Adane, that helps me run the club. I started a pen pal program with my mom’s 6th grade students in Blacksburg, USA. We have 60 students writing back and forth. We (Lidiya and I) started another intervention of Grassroot Soccer, the program that teaches about HIV/AIDS through soccer (or football as it’s known to the rest of the world). I started another Students’ English Club at the high school with two very motivated teachers, Daniel and Kebede. We have 30 students. I also started a book drive to add much-needed material to the library. If you are interested in donating, information is here. The book drive is open for the next four months.
I’m continuing the 5th-8th Grade English Club, the High School English Club, the pen pal program, and Grassroot Soccer should finish up in the next two weeks.
Peace Corps asked me to do a pilot program at my high school, so the majority of my time lately has been spent there. Since our program has not been very successful at the primary level, our next group of Education Volunteers arriving at the end of June will most likely be placed in high schools. I’ve been doing interviews with administration and teachers, observing English Teachers, and administering surveys to teachers and students. I have also been direct teaching 9th and 10th grade classes with three amazing teachers: Daniel, Belayneh, and Zewude. They have blown me away by always attending and being on time, asking questions about my methods, and helping during class. These three teachers and their students have brought great joy to my work and while this pilot program has been exhausting, it’s been so rewarding.
I got a grant from Peace Corps to paint our library, so that will happen very soon. I’ll continue both English Clubs and the pen pal program. Once I finish the high school pilot program, I’m free to work with any interested teachers in their classrooms. Most likely, I will return to the 8th grade to help prepare the students for their regional exams at the end of the year. I would like to hold a camp in Durame for my students and I’ll participate again this year in a Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in a nearby town with four of my students. My primary school, high school, and interested teachers will soon participate in the Peace Corps’ International Creative Writing Competition. In both clubs we have been doing a lot of creative writing lessons. Here’s a piece by Rufael, Grade 7:
“One day a goat is hangry goes to eat by water shore. A big storm come yesterday and goatkeeper sayed where my goat. Now goat is at Mars and no one knows why but I know because storm.”