Peace Corps isn’t real life? Prove it.
I have to apologize yet again for my absence. It’s hard to hit my year mark and still write about my new and exciting adventures because many things are either routine or just another holiday, celebrated the same way… There is only so many times you can explain just how much dullet (intestines) you were forced to eat that day; and I suppose only so many times you guys want to hear that the dullet wasn’t cleaned enough and was grimy.
Honestly the past few months haven’t been easy for me. My mother has gotten countless calls via Skype where I just couldn’t stop crying. So I guess this is what it feels like to hit your emotional low… good to know. My down turn really started spiraling out of control when my sitemates left for their vacations. I was incredibly excited to be the only one in my town again. I often forget that those two girls that are actually in a crude sense, my government issued friends, are anything but that anymore. These girls are my sisters, my support system, the girls who know EVERYTHING about me (yes this is even down to our bowl movements which often become the topic of our conversations. “You had dorro wat?!? Lucky!!!! Hows your stomach today? Visit the shint bet 100 times yet?”). With these girls gone having awesome adventures and me stuck in Korem I was already just feeling a bit down. After a few days alone in Korem (as if that’s really even possible) I was having coffee with a woman that I would have considered a close friend and Mulu. About half way through the woman informs me that the reason that my sitemates are invited to her niece’s wedding and not me is because Mary and Pamela bring her gifts from where ever they go, and when I got back from America I didn’t bring her anything. I was so upset by this comment I couldn’t help to just point at her, ask Mulu for clarification on what she said just to be sure my Amharic wasn’t faltering, and then freak out. “What makes her so freaking special that she ‘deserves’ gifts just to be her friend?”, “ If that is ‘friendship’ in this culture then I’m disgusted by everything. She’s insane to think she so amazing she deserves things from us”… it just kept going. Maybe I’m just missing things culturally but it’s also my job to teach them about my own culture and in America we don’t HAVE to buy people things to be friends. Not OK.
Then things just got worse.
With frequent visits by my roommates (the rats) all followed by very sleepless nights I was getting a bit irritable. I was then invited to a wedding for the priest’s daughter in town. My whole compound was preparing to go to this wedding. We made large paper flowers in all colors to decorate the bride’s area and my landlady got her hair done. So like the good little Peace Corps Volunteer I am (…was?) I put on my pretty Habasha clothes, had the neighbor girl braid my hair, and sat and waited for my landlady to tell me where to go. Not even 20 minutes into getting there I not only had my butt grabbed once, but THREE times. I either slapped their hands away or grabbed them and told them not to touch me, but I didn’t want to make a huge scene at a wedding. I told my landlady what happened and she told me we should go hangout by the bride because there weren’t men there. So her, her little girls, and I all went into this room where there was probably nearly 50 people in a tiny room. I’m a bit claustrophobic so with all the dancing I swear by the second all of the oxygen was getting sucked out of the air. After my token Ferenji dance around the circle I made room for myself against the wall to sit. I was doing well not freaking out on my pending suffocation, when the men who had harassed me before came into the room to dance with these girls who are baring their shoulders and a bit tipsy from all the sewa they have drunk. Trying my hardest to blend into the wall to avoid further harassment I see one of them point me out to his friends… shit. The boldest (or drunkest) of the group decides to make the first move, a ferenji sitting and not making a fool of herself in one of the most uncomfortable situations is NOT acceptable. So he saunters over thinking he’s hot shit. “Dance!” He says to me, still being polite at this point I tell him No thank you, I’m tired. Apparently that’s not an acceptable answer and he grabs my forearms and tries to pull me onto the dance floor. Pulling a little move I’ve learned on how to escape those types of grips from a self-defense training, I whip my arms out of the hold and tell him not to touch me very angrily. He leaves. This turns into a little game with these drunk Ethiopians. I had maybe 3 men do this all while the women in the room watched. No assistance, no interference, no support. I hit my breaking point. I tell my landlord I’m going home, although confused she lets me go. As I weave through the people in the big tent I’m trying my hardest not to freak out make a scene. I finally make it out and as I’m hurrying through the streets of my town I lose it. I start to hyperventilate and tears flood my eyes. Trying my hardest to calm down while walking the streets back to my house I fail miserably and tears cloud my vision. I finally am able to catch my breath as I reach the futbol field outside my gate. I sit down to watch the little kids playing and as the anxiety lessens anger fills its place in full vengeance. Why did no one stick up for me, when I clearly didn’t want to dance? Why in a room full of women they were content at just watching on get harassed into tears? Why would no one help me? Pissed I went into my room and wouldn’t say a word to anyone for 3 days.
I suppose it was an eye opener to what my town really consisted of. A town I once had truly loved, with people I really wanted to work with and be around. No matter how much you think you’re friends with someone or integrated into a community, you’re still the white girl. It’s a game with people, not with all people I realize, but it’s a game to see how far you can go with this foreigner. I’ve been told multiple times “Carla, if you want to get stuff done here you have to play the game.” This game consists of bribes, cheating, humiliation, and very harsh words exchanged shaming people into action. This is the game I have to “play” in order to be a successful Peace Corps volunteer? This is something I’m NOT willing to do. I’m not going to succumb to treating people like shit just to look good in the eyes of the government who just wants to see results. Honestly this is nothing against Peace Corps. They receive money from government and you can’t get money if you don’t prove that the money is doing something. But this idea is leading to people getting results by playing this game in one way or another.
After hitting my all-time low emotionally in Ethiopia with the previously stated series of events, I NEEDED to take a break. My friend Nichole and I started planning our trip to India. In our heads what better place to take a break from Ethiopia? You all back home laugh, but especially in my eyes, anywhere was better than Ethiopia. So we booked our tickets, attempted a quick visa process, and started planning. Where do you go when its just 2 young girls traveling across such a big country? Well limited by budget we decided staying in Rajasthan with a trip down to Goa would be nice for our nearly 3 week trip. With our cities chosen we got a few of our hostels booked and headed on our way.
We flew into Mumbai and had just a day before heading up to Udaipur. We worked hard on getting a sleeper train booked through the woman at our hostel and then headed out on the town to find a camera for me. We started at this mall that I swear was American. Clean, had escalators and a Starbucks we found the Indian version of a best buy. I was able to get a Sony camera for around $100 and we were on our way. The hostel had recommended a few places to go shopping and get some better clothes for India, so we went to those and bought just a few to hold us over until we got to Udaipur.
Udaipur was gorgeous, with our hotel having a rooftop view of the lake and breathtaking sunsets every evening. There we were able to see the City Palace, along with a few temples and gardens. It was a nice way to ease into India. When we got into Udaipur we thought it necessary to book our train to Jaipur right away at the train station. Looked like we were a bit too late and we got 8 hour train tickets booked on the lowest tier. In our heads this still couldn’t be worse than traveling by mini bus in Ethiopia… and it wasn’t. In the lowest tier car of the train we were able to talk with the people around us and really get to know how Indians travel, much like Ethiopians it is in a car with 3 times the amount of people there should be, only difference they really enjoyed having the windows open and often yelled at people who shut them.
We got to Jaipur and visited the Amber Fort, Old City, the Palace of the Winds, as well as an old observatory. Jaipur was a bit harder getting around than Udaipur where we just walked everywhere. In Jaipur we kept trying not to get swindled by the Rickshaw drivers and store owners. By the time we got there to the time we boarded the train on our way to Mumbai we never really knew if we were going to be able to leave due to it being the weekend after Holi.
Finishing our trip with 2 days in Mumbai and then nearly a week in Goa on gorgeous beaches, we couldn’t have been more happy with our choices of places to go and stay. Over all the trip was a huge success and a nice break from the stresses of Ethiopia.
Now I’m back in Ethiopia with a meeting scheduled with my boss to talk about the stresses of my town and how we can work together to make things better. Although I’m excited to see how my tomato plants, small tree nursery, and even my garden at the school is going, I’m not sure how it will feel to go back to my town. Go back to a place where my trust in people is little if any. We’ll see. I’m a new and refreshed person and ready to take no prisoners in my work and life. With only 8 months left I’m committed to making it work for me. I’m done overextending myself in trying to get things to work for others. If you don’t want to work with me, fine I won’t work with you.
I’m interested in where the next few months will bring me. I have summer camp to look forward to and plan for, as well as a visit from my cousin in early July, and a short vacation to Hawassa in the south with a bunch of Peace Corps Volunteers. Down turns are a part of life, it’s events like this that you learn what you’re made of and how you grow and become better versions of yourself. I’m still figuring out how to deal with what happened every day, but what I do know is that I’m going to come out of this a better version of myself.
Until next time…
Peace and love from Ethiopia.