I promised to blog before I left and here it is. And more to follow.
Now that I am at site I have much more time to sit down, gather my thoughts and write.
After 3 months of training I made it!
Rural Ethiopia, my home for the next two years.
Before I get into my town I’ll give a short summary of my three month training. Every day except Sunday I had various classes, and training from 8-5:30. An average day consisted of me teaching Ethiopian 12th graders in the morning, a few hours of learning the Afan Oromo language at midday, then capping it off with some teacher training classes. Yes, it was exhausting. But, it was exhilarating too. There were strong bonds of camaraderie with fellow Peace Corps (PC) members built by going through the same trials and tribulations. My closest friends have become the other 11 PC trainees in my town, Einchini. These are friendships forged by shared hardships. Going a week without electricity, perfecting the squat position for the shint bent, shrugging and eating whatever is put in front of you regardless of whether you recognize it or not.
I had an loving Ethiopian family who opened their door to me with open arms. My host mother, Burtikanna, a wonderful women who made sure I got the full gambit of Ethiopian food. Luckily, I liked pretty much all of it. My host father, Girma, a government worker and the first to get my jokes in Afan Ormo. Mesfin, my host brother, 16, slight of build but skilled in the art of Tae Kwan Doe. Habti,13, is enchanted by the Rush Hour films. Lastly, my host sister Bontu, 5, and the light at the end of the day. I have hundreds of selfies with her. No matter how tired, I never had the heart to not put a smile on and take one more.
Training has come and gone. So,now I sit in a ten feet by eight feet room, rain crackling on my tin roof pondering questions like do I really need a table? My town is called Lalo. Proudly, I am the first and only American in Lalo. It is located in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Oromia is the largest region in Ethiopia and makes a boomerang stretching from the far western edge of Ethiopia to the southern border. It completely encapsulates the Southern Nations region. The language spoken is Afan Oromo although most people speak Ahmaric too. My town is in the far western portion, it probably isn’t on any map but close cities of note are Gore and Mettu. There is a Peace Corps member, Sean, in a small town over, Gordomo, that I have to pass through to get to Lalo. When I met him he quipped about being the farthest away Peace Corps member in Ethiopia. Then he smiled and stated, “Now, it’s you.”. My hub town, a regional town where Peace Corps has offices is in Jimma, almost 12 hours away. The climate is warm and rainy.
Lalo is a rainforest in every sense of the word. Monkeys hollering ring through the night air, torrential storms come at the drop of a hat and it’s hot, damn hot. Ethiopians get a kick out of me telling them America doesn’t have monkeys, they can’t fathom that. One amazing fact is all Ethiopians wear pants, all the time, regardless of weather. They do not own anything else.
I cook for myself now. Living the rainforest has its perks. I have avocados, oranges and bananas year round. The bananas are about half the size of what I would call a normal banana. I buy 4 for 1 birr or an American nickel. The bananas taste the same as bigger bananas but are half the price. Pasta is a go to meal. Even I can’t screw that up. Here there is a plethora of onions, garlic, potatoes and peppers.
One issue. My cooking skills are subpar at best and everything is about half the size of their American counterparts. This leads to me taking 30 minutes to chop and peel some onions and garlic. I’ll adjust, I hope. No fingers lost.
Peace Corps gives everyone a cookbook. First thing I try to look up is tomato sauce. I can’t find tomatoes and plain pasta gets old quick. Recipe for tomato sauce calls for tomato paste, thanks Peace Corps, big help there. I’ve learned by trial and error like don’t cook potatoes, peppers, carrots and garlic at the same time, they cook at different rates dummy. When I inevitably screw up I always have peanuts and honey to fall back on. My region is known for honey production and their raw honey blows away anything I’ve had in America. I’ll have a post on Ethiopian food in a bit extending on local food and what I make in Ethiopia.
I hope this was an light and humorous introduction to my new hometown. Locals ask me to compare my town in Lalo and America and I cannot do it. Everything from the roads I walk on, to the language I speak are utterly different. Maybe I can convey a sliver of that to you.