Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Are coming, I swear!  Power outages and then a public computer that doesn't have word and so fills my post with Wingdings, and an ill working Google Docs as a back up, are preventing you from learning about Ethiopia and I deeply apologize for that.

In the mean time, in joy a photo of me in somewhat typical getup.  Umbrella for sun, back pack full of school supplies for English supplies. The speaker is new, but I didn't feel like packing it and so just let it play while I walked home. Wearable boomboxes. It didn't gather as much attention as I thought it would.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Water

After several times were either the water doesn't come or the power is out, I have determined I'd rather be without power than without water.

Huruta's pretty lucky. The town is surrounded by rivers and while most of them dry up in the dry season one still runs. We usually have water, and if it does disappear it's never been more than a week. I've gotten pretty good at rationing and limiting my use. I can make ten liters last while, even with washing dishes and a few pieces of laundry.

It not uncommon for my compound to not get water 24/7, especially during the dry season but that time of year in the early mornings and evenings the faucet usually gurgles enough to fill our buckets. Even if, like we had to do for awhile like last month, the water only came around 4 am and we had to be awake to get it.

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Verbs

It is the verbs that make Amharic so dang hard to learn. In English, conjugation is simple. Very little variation in the endings. (Exceptions not included)
 I eat
We eat
You eat
You (Plural) eat
He/She/It eats
They eat

I ate
We ate
You ate
You (Plural) ate
He/She/It ate
They ate

 To make something negative, you put a 'not' in front. (I did not walk) To make something future tense, you put a 'will' in front. (I will walk).

 Oh, Amharic. (please note, I left off the accents because they are a pain to type and not needed for this comparison)

 I ibalalahu
We inbalalan
You (male) tibalalah
You (plural) tibalalachihu
You (female) tibayalash
 You (formal) tibalalachihu
 He yibalal
They yibalalu
She tibalalach
 He/She (formal) yibalalu

 Please note, that there is an entirely different set of endings for simple past based on the stem. Both are shown below.
 I Balah (hedku)
We Ballagn (hedin)
You (male) Balah (hedk)
You (plural) Balachihu (hedachihu)
You (female) Balash (hedsh)
 You (formal) Balachihu (hedachihu)
 He Bala (hed)
They Ballu (hedu)
She Balach (hedach)
 He/She (formal) Ballu (hedu)

 You have to do a whole new conjugation, not matter what the tense, for negatives.

And simple future and simple presents are...the same. When means when someone says 'there is no bus' they could mean there is no bus now or there is no bus today at all. You learn to ask follow up questions.

Last but not least, verbs are always, always the last word in the sentence. So instead of saying 'I walked to the store' you'd say 'To the store I walked'. Yoda speech! But very few people here have even heard of Star Wars, so no one gets the joke.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Unicorn

Unicorn is a Peace Corps Ethiopia slang word, meaning that rare, mythical Ethiopian that you just connect with based on English skills and Western sensibility. I'm not saying I don't connect with the people I work with, but well, language and culture are huge barriers in forming friendships here and when you find someone whom you would hang out with in America it's a miracle.

I've meet on in Axum, who speaks English with no accent as she taught herself by watching movies and flipped out when it was discovered we like listening to the same non-mainstream bands. Most people don't know about Within Temptation and Nightwish, and to find an Ethiopian who does? Unicorn moment.

Here in Huruta, I do have my own unicorn, Dani. Who is also my landlady. And sister, as we have conversations in noises and both love chocolate chip pancakes. And mother, who knows what food I will and won't eat and rolls her eyes when the state of my room shows just how lazy I am.

Dani is, essentially, a life saver and I don't think I would have gotten through my Peace Corps service (3 months to go!) without her.

She used to be a maid for a family in Beirut, a pretty well known one considering she has a french issue of Vogue with a picture of the daughter parting, told me once she made coffee for Obama, and recently lamented about some Middle Eastern president whose event in his honor had her and the other staff members up way longer then they wanted to be. Dani came back to Ethiopia, and got married, a few months before I started my training here.

We'll have conversations about 'Papa Noel' and Easter eggs that have her husband baffled, whine about how the corn here isn't sweet, and share a kilo of strawberries while most Ethiopian's lack of tolerance for sweet things has them only having a few.

Dani will be what I miss the most when I go back. She'd my real life unicorn sighting.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Twilight (and Time)

Twilight here is very predicable. Being so close to the Equator, Ethiopia's days are pretty uniform in length to the point were the longest day might only have an extra thirty minutes on the shortest day. Roughly, the sun rises at six thirty and sets at six thirty, and this is so consistent that Ethiopian time is based on it. That is, what a European calls 6 AM an Ethiopian would call 12 AM. Hour zero, and thus a new day, is when the sun is just peaking over the horizon.

Things can get confusing. Is that meeting at three o'clock three o'clock international time and thus in the afternoon or local time which would be nine am in international standard?

Additionally, Ethiopia has it's own calender. 13 months, 12 of which are exactly 30 days and the last one varies between 4,5,or 6 depending on the year. New Years is September 11, instead of January 1st, and as of right now the year is 2006. As awesome as it is to have a school year identified by one numerical year, it's a mess when I want to take a day off for the American New Years (or Christmas, those dates are different too).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Shopping

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Run

Ethiopia is crazy about runners, mainly because the country has had great success at the international level in the sport. It's not uncommon to see broadcasts of wins from four Summer Olympics ago and when these past summer Olympics were going on ETV only broadcast the running events. A big shame for someone who loves watching the gymnastics and horse events.

Most of the runners who do well come form Bekoji, a small town about two and half hours from me. Close to the mountains, it's cold there. Very cold, but it still is home to many runners for training. That, and the athletic compound in Assella. 


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Queen of Sheba

Local lore says that the Queen of Sheba when to visit King Solomon and while there conceived a child – Menelik I. Menelik then later went back to Israel, met his father, and swiped the Ark of the Covenant from him and brought it to Axum. Menelik's descendents then went on to rule Ethiopia until modern times, aside from a brief time during the middle ages.

Most historians disagree with the story, the Queen of Sheba is not thought to be from Ethiopia and even if she was she lived in a time way before Menelik sat on the thrown according to popular belief. However, I am reading the Sign and Seal right now and the author so far sounds pretty sure that the story, complete with transporting the Ark to Ethiopia, is plausible.

Not that any one can see the Ark. It's pricey to just get into the church the chapel holding it is, and the Ark's space can only be accessed by a single priest. I have however gone to see Queen Sheba's palace in Axum and I can imagine it used to be quite impressive. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Public Transport

Public transportation here really is just loosely governed private buses. The government awards levels of certificates, Level 1 being the best and Level 3 being the worst, based on driving experience, and controls the prices between cities based on mileage. There is also a law about how many people can be on a bus at a time.

Buses are privately owned, they don't run on a set schedule. They leave a station when they are full of people and you may be sitting in a seat for over an hour waiting for a bus to depart. And then you have drivers who just decided to not work for a day, meaning the lack of a bus might mean standing in the sun for an hour waiting for one in the station.

Being eager for bir, it's also not uncommon for bus drivers and radits (assistants whose job it is is to find passengers, handle paperwork, and collect money) to fit three people in a row of two seats and pack the aisle and a small space next to the driver with passengers. This results in a cramped bus where you're breathing in the sweat of others, someone's elbow really needs to get out of your side, and the windows are shut tight with drawn curtains. You're hoping and praying that the police won't pull the bus over and let you get on your way.
Road near my house, the donkeys didn't move for like a full five minutes and the bus kept honking and honking.

I rather imagine sneaking into Arizona from Mexico to feel the same way.

Of course, since I've been here the cops have been better about checking passenger numbers. It's been months since I had to sit on a bit of space the size of my fist or stand smushed between people and bracing myself on an overhead rack over bumps. But I still wait over an hour at least twice a month for buses. At least the local bus stations have some semblance of order now, be it lines or ticket numbers, no more mad pushing to get on a bus!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Onions

Onions are I think one of the few things most sites have year round. Huruta, my site, is said to be the place where all onions in the country come from.

I believe it.

When the onion market comes to town after the harvest, so late September/early October, many sellers have to move because the towers of onions take up so much space. These piles are huge.

Onions here are called kai shinkirt or red shinkirt (garlic is called nach shinkirt or white shinkirt) and are used in pretty much every single meal the Ethiopians cook.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Names

Names here are super important, in that they are though out carefully. I know my mother chose my name because she thought it was pretty. Here, names are chosen because of their meanings.

My ladylady is Tegeenesh (tie-je-nesh), or sweet. (Though I call her Dani cuz I can't get the first sound right). Tadese , my landlord, is renew. Dani's mom is Balynesh (ba-lie-nesh), or more than all. Tadese's sister, who stayed with us for a summer is Tadelech or in English good chance, whose name comes from the fact that since her family had two cows at the time of her birth she had a good chance to drink milk.

Common Ethiopian female names are Tirunesh, Birtukan, Tigist, and Zanabech or you are good, orange, good conduct, and rainy. Or rather, that she was born during the rain.

Common Ethiopian male names are Alamayu, Tesfaye and Girma or future happiness as a couple, future plan, and boy.

Or at least, those are rough translations. Many are words and situations that are summed up in a word that in English would be told in many, and Dani's had trouble translating the situations. Regardless, names are given a lot of thought here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Marriage

I remember being shocked when I learned that the words for 'to marry' and 'to take' were the same, particularity because the traditional marriage (which sometimes still occurs in the rural areas) is when a man (or boy) kidnaps a girl for the sake of the rite. The criteria for a good wife in a case like this is that she's pretty.

Dani almost had this happen to her when she was twelve by a high school student.

While the concept of marriage is one that's changing very rapidly here, many ceremonies are now held for love as opposed to being arranged or forced, the idea of a virgin bride is still very strong. Strong enough that it's not unheard of for a man to force himself on a woman and to force her to marry him. Or for a couple in love to whose parents don't approve of the match to consummate the marriage before a ceremony to force the parents to agree to it.

Keep in mind, that many girls in these situations are still that – girls. As in minors. Child marriages, willing or unwilling, are common as are teachers taking their students as wives. Dani's brother got married last summer to his sixteen year old student. Her nephew hide out on our compound with his wife from her father who didn't approve of the pairing. She's an eight grade student who insisted she loved her husband and would rather stay home and take care of him and future children rather than continue school.

Situations likes these grate me, doubly because I don't like them and can't do anything about them. They are so ingrained into the culture and supported by multiple forces that I'm happy Dani's new niece-in-law is in the marriage willing, even if I think she's way to young.
At weddings, the couple are escorted by party goers clapping and 'lalala' made by doing something with your tongue I can't.

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Lalibela

Lalibela is a city in north Ethiopia named after a king who spent some time abroad and then came back to oust his half-brother from the throne. But when you talk about Lalibela, its usually about the town and not the king.

Lalibela is known for it's stone churches which are not built from stone, but carved from them. It's a complete mystery how they were done, the common lore is that angels did it, but there's another theory that the Knight Templar had a hand in them. Regardless, the town is once of Ethiopia's most visited, and most expensive, tourist sites.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kitfo

There are very few foods I haven't tried here, but one of them is kitfo.

Kitfo is ground meat, usually mixed with spices, that is served raw.

Meat is usually hanging on a hook out in the open air until it's cooked to served.

So I tend to avoid the raw dishes with good reason.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jebena

Jebenas are clay kettles that coffee is boiled it. Usually hand made, they come in a range of sizes from capable of two teacups to fifty teacups, but the average sized used by families holds six cups.

Jebena bunna, that is, coffee, is considered superior to machine coffee because the taste is different though the price is usually the same. It is however easier to get a cup of jebena bunna because 1) when the power goes out the machine doesn't work but the characol stove jebenas sit on do 2) small stands that sell them are everywhere.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Injera

Injera is...very hard to explain. Think a spongy, sourdough soft tortilla and you might be close. It's main ingredient is teff, a locally grown grain, that is used to make a pancake like mix that is then poured over a large flat stone (extra large pizza size) and cooked for a few minutes.

Injera is served with every meal. Or rather, every meal is served on injera. You cover the plate with it, put the wat on top, and then rip off pieces of the injera that you use to pick up food with to eat. Think using pieces of bread to eat hummus, only your could be picking up something as solid as a piece of potato or as liquidy as ketchup. Also expect to use injera to eat injera, either as a dish called firfir or just to clean the plate.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Habasha

Habasha is the Amharic word for the local people. It means 'burnt face'. Here, it's used in all manner of ways, typically to mean local by PCVs and HCN (Peace Corps Volunteers and Host Country Nationals). Habasha libs is local clothing. Do you have a habasha friend? is the way local men ask if I have an Ethiopian boyfriend. Habasha nagn (I am habasha) is what I say to kids when I'm upset they call me ferengi (foreigner). It is adjective (I want habasha food tonight) and noun (habasha are always calling out to me on the street) and for a white girl being called habasha is the best feeling ever because it's a sign of how well I've integrated with the people around me.
My landlady Dani (in the black and orange mumu) and her siblings. Well, some of them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Gorsha

Physical affection isn't very common here. In Huruta, I never see couples holding hands and I've never seen my landlords even share a peck on the cheek. Hugs are one of the mysteries of the world. I didn't even realize two teachers at my school were married because they sometimes don't even say 'hi' when they meet in the lounge when he is going back home and she is coming to work the second shift.

Enter the gorsha.

Gorsha is when someone picks up a handful of food (cuz we don't use silverware here) and then feeds it to you. During a meal, you can expect to get maybe seven or so from your husband. If you're child, you can go a whole meal without using your hands and just be feed like a baby bird.

There's an art to it, what with aiming and picking up the right amount. It freaked me out at first, when my host sister in Eteya just stuck this piece of bread in my face saying 'bi' and expecting me to eat it. I...can feed myself, thanks.

Even now, I don't accept them aside from joking with other PCVs, and I think it's hilarious when Dani puts up a fight with Tadeck about a gorsha when she's upset with him. Refusals are rare.

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Fasting

Most of the country is Ethiopian Orthodox, and religion plays a big part of the culture here. More than I've seen any place else. Thus, fasting influences everything.

On a weekly basis, Orthodox followers fast on both Wednesday and Friday – no meat or dairy. It's in respect for Holy Wednesday and Holy Friday, but it's practiced year round and not just before Easter. It's not uncommon, at least in small towns like most PCVs are in, for restaurants to not even offer meat on these days. And it's just as likely to only be able to get vegetarian days on these days. If I want shiro (a chickpea powder dish) on a Thursday, 3 out of 4 times the restaurant will tell me they don't have it.

It does mean however during the big fasts, before Christmas and Easter, the price of eggs drop and I'm more likely to get milk from the local cow owner because demand is down. I have so much alfredo sauce during those times.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for ETV

ETV stands for Ethiopian Television. It is one of two channels public channels. The other is OTV, Oromia Television.

The main difference really is simply language, though they share a lot of programs. OTV had Oromifa programs. ETV has mainly Amharic, but also regional programs so sometimes the language is Afar, Oromifa, Tigrina, Somali, or a minor language from the south. And then occasional new in English twice a day – just before lunch and after I've settled into bed. But it's local concerns, not news from America or Britain.

There's not much in terms of programing, news and maybe a documentary or two. Dramas are sometimes on, but it's not back to back like a Friday night comedy line up. And there are British League Football games at night once in awhile.

What's mainly on TV though is music videos, traditional ones. Dancers and singers dress in traditional clothes, sing traditional songs, and do region specific dances. You can learn a lot about the different culture's just by watching the songs, and it's amazing how diverse Ethiopia is.

I think my favorite part of ETV though is the schedule. It's rather inconsistent. The 8:30 Wednesday night drama might not start till 9:15 and the schedule for programs might list something starting at 3:32.

Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for Doro Wat

Wat is a type of dish here. Essentially a one pot meal with a base of onions, garlic, burbere, and oil whose extra ingredients change: lentils, meat, chickpea powder, potatoes, tomatoes.

Doro wat though is special – it's only eaten for holidays. And fancy dancy important meals. But regardless, it's a rare dish. Doro means chicken.

It's the common wat base, onions, garlic, oil, burbere with a whole chicken and usually about a dozen hard boiled eggs thrown in. Depending on who makes it, it can be very oily, or very spicy. It's sometimes mixed with the local variant of cheese.

I guess I just get a kick out of chicken being the holiday, and most expensive, meat. Chicken was a cheap, biweekly meal in the states. Here, you can go to a fancy hotel and either get a meat stir-fry for 30 bir or doro wat for 70.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Coffee

Ethiopia is coffee country, considered the birth place of it actually. Every one in Huruta tells me the good stuff is exported so what's in the market is only okay, but hey, I'm rather fond of it.

Coffee is such a huge part of the culture here that while I hated the stuff in America I have it all the time at site. There's a ritual called a coffee ceremony, and it involves roasting the beans, hand grinding them, and then boiling it in a clay kettle called a jebena. It's essentially an excuse to have people over to talk. In the States, you go to Starbucks. Here, you make your own. Much cheaper.

It takes awhile though, usually 90 to 120 minutes because roasting and boiling are done over charcoal and a coffee ceremony includes three cups of coffee. If you're in a hurry, you still have to have at least two cups.

You use the same grounds for all three cups, so the coffee gets weaker as you go along but it starts out what I imagine to be stronger than most American drinks. Each round has a special name, matching what locals call the discoverers of coffee.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for Bir

Local currency is called bir here. Bills are colored based on amount, black ink for 1s, blue for 5s, red for 10s, orange for 50s, and greed for 100s. Coins, sadly, can look alike. Both the 10 cent and 5 cent have the same heads and color, but the 5 cent is smaller and the tails says '5' instead of '10'. The 50 cent coin is silver, and the one bir coin is gold with a silver ring.

What really gets me though is that I'll get a bill from restaurants saying 6.01 or something similar. Pennies don't exist in the country. No one ever pays that extra cent.

Bir, on average, is dirty. I've only seen clean ones when they've come from the bank or as change from a place in Addis. Out where a lot of volunteers live, dust is all over the place and wallets are passed over in exchange for just stuffing money in a pocket or clutch. It's impossible to keep your money clean, but when I get a gritty one I try not to think about things too much.

I will say this though, the fabric they make bir out of hold up pretty well.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Amharic

Amharic is the main language of Ethiopia. It's not the only language spoken in country, many regions, and even zones down in Southern Nations, have their own, but Amharic is the only one taught to every child.

It's not an easy language. There's some sort of chart out there in the world that describes a language as a level 1-5 depending on how easy it is to learn from the standpoint of English as your native language. Japanese is a 5. Amharic is a 4.

I like to think of it at Yoda speech, the grammar is rather similar – verbs at the end.

Despite being in the Oromia region, and having Afan Oromo/Oromifa as the official language, Huruta citizens speak mainly Amharic. All the paperwork however, is Oromifa. I just get people to translate for me. XD Many people have a knowledge of both languages here in town.