She’s Hot and She’s Cold

Today I decided to make a trip to the market, and spend some time in my kitchen. It’s weird to think this is the only time in my life I’ve ever had my own kitchen. (Ok, so maybe it’s a hallway with a table and a propane tank hooked up to a stove top. But still, it’s mine.) And I have my own bathroom, and my own room. And I can walk around naked if I want. And after living here for more than two years, I’m packing things up and heading into a new unknown adventure.

It’s not the first time I’ve done this. It’s not even the fifth time I’ve done this. In the last 10 years, I’ve been doing nothing BUT packing and moving. In fact, this is the longest I’ve lived in one place since graduating high school. Scary.
What’s really scary, is that no matter how many times I pack up and head into the unknown, it still makes me jittery. I end up laying awake at night, and fretting through the day. I know I’m doing the right thing, things always work out, blah blah blah. I’m still nervous.

What’s next for me… I’ve decided to go to India and do a 6 1/2 week yoga teacher training course. If you know me, you know this is pretty much what I was born to do. I’ve been heading towards this since my first downward-facing dog. The flight from Ethiopia to India is cheaper than I could ever get it from the States, and the flight from India to the States is cheaper than I could ever get it from Ethiopia. So basically, the universe is saying do it. I’m incredibly excited. But also, India is crazy populated and I’m wondering, what the heck am I getting myself into? I’ve spent the last two years getting to know a completely foreign culture, and now I’m about to dive head-first into another completely foreign culture. I’m a little exhausted.

Or maybe not.

Maybe I’ve just been stagnating a little too long, and I’ve forgotten the rush of new sites, sounds, foods and smells. I look at pictures of India and I get an instant smile. Like a dog being tempted with treats, I’m drooling on the inside. This is coming up, this is really happening!

And then.

I start to pack, and it’s like a river of memories from the last two years. I pack all the things in different piles that I’m giving away, and then I picture what it will be like saying goodbye to all of the people and places I’ve made home for the last two years. I have a best friend here who’s been my other half for the last 10 months. Will it be the last time we ever see each other? Maybe. I have a trip planned next week to visit my host family for the last time. It was hard saying goodbye to them the first time. This time.. Oh boy.

One of the great things about moving around and exploring is that you’re always meeting new and amazing people. One of the hard things about moving around and exploring is that you’re always saying goodbye to amazing people. I think this time just might break my heart. I’m hoping to put it back together in India. And what’s next after that you ask? I’m wondering the same thing.

One Final Road Trip

I’m in Addis now, watching the last of my Peace Corps-Ethiopia intake group fly away to new adventures. I still can’t believe our two years have come to an end. Some days it felt so long, I thought I’d be here forever. Most months flew by, recognizable only in the rearview mirror.

LalibelaOne thing I’ve long had on my Ethiopia bucket list is a visit to the holy city of Lalibela. It’s the largest attraction in Ethiopia: A UNESCO World Heritage Site of 11 giant churches carved from the ground into bedrock. King Lalibela ordered their construction as a second Jerusalem, providing pilgrims a shorter distance of travel. The churches are nearly a thousand years old, and are said to have been carved in 25 days. Legend says it was through the help of angels that they were carved so quickly and beautifully.

Now that my time in Ethiopia is nearing the end, I decided it was time to go. Now or never. My Ethiopian friend, who has also never seen the churches, and I set out on a bus two Thursdays ago. Seven hours later we were in Addis, and the next morning we got on a bus to Dessie.

The first two to three hours of the trip felt exhaustively long. Four, five, six, seven, eight… we had had enough. It was the slowest bus I’ve probably ever been on. We exited early in a town called Kombulcha and collapsed at the nearest hotel. Once recovered, we visited the local Castle beer brewery, and the next morning we perused the local market. We saw giant mangos, textiles and camels, large tarp sacks covered with teff grains, and a bustling population weaving in and out through the narrow paths. Every town’s market has its own unique character.

After two straight days on a bus, we decided to take a day off and travel just an hour up to Dessie. We got our tickets for the next morning to Lalibela. Five-thirty A.M. rolled around and we were packed with our bags at the bus station in another small, crowded bus. We drove for seven hours up winding roads. Small plots of land were planted all over the mountainous countryside, with rock terraces built up to prevent watershed. Little round mud huts spotted the land. Occasionally we braked for small herds of long-horned cattle, skinny ribs poking through their hides. A few times we spotted a dead ox lying roadside covered in flies. A sign, we were told, of the recent drought.

We finally reached Lalibela in the early afternoon. We got a hotel and wandered around the quaint little town. It was definitely responsive to the influx of tourists it receives, having little souvenir shops on every corner and exploiting the costs on “Ethiopian coffee ceremony.” A small cup that costs 2 birr in Jimma was priced at 15 in one local cafe.

Regardless, I enjoyed the town. I came expecting a higher level of harassment, and instead was greeted with mostly “hello.” The pace of the town felt slowed down, with little of the hustle and bustle I see in other towns. Huge mountains loomed as a backdrop, and a light fog floated near the tops in the distance.

One of the 11 rock-hewn churches.

Me, in front of one of the 11 rock-hewn churches.

Day two in Lalibela, we found some breakfast and made our way over to find the churches. Ten minutes into walking and I was already feeling run down. We walked further and further, up hills and down, asking directions and getting pointed into different directions. By the time we reached the entrance, I was feeling nauseas. Clearly I was not used to the elevation.

At the ticket office, I paid a non-negotiable 937 birr. That’s the cost of about 75 meals. It’s more than 3 times the average cost of rent in a month. It’s a price reserved only for foreigners, and my resident ID card did not trump the color of my white skin. I winced as I counted out each 100 birr note. I tucked away the most expensive piece of paper I’ve ever bought. My Ethiopian friend entered for free.

Bete Giyorigis: My favorite of the rock churches.

Bete Giyorigis: My favorite of the rock churches.

It took quite a few minutes to get over my nausea, at both the elevation and the cost of my ticket. But once we started climbing down the rock walls into the churches, I felt the awe. The churches were much taller than I had imagined, carved from a single rock. Doors, windows and beautiful designs were etched into the surface. We removed our shoes to step inside, and felt the cavernous silence surround us.

My friend, walking through a rock tunnel.

My friend, walking through a rock tunnel.

Outside, we walked through narrow rock tunnels from one massive church to the next. My favorite, and the most well-known of the churches, was Bete Giyorgis (The church of St. George). It’s cross-like shape descends down into a deep crevasse, and looks flatly visible from the ground above. Inside, we saw both ancient and modern paintings of St. George, all slaying a dragon to save a fair maiden.

We finished touring the churches by late afternoon, and were both exhausted. We bought our bus tickets for the next morning, with a departure time of 4:30 A.M. The thought of that alarm gave me shivers, but I didn’t let it ruin our last night. We spent the evening at a local Asmari Bet, a popular tradition in the Amahara region. They served t’ej (home-brewed honey wine) and had a man and woman team playing a cultural guitar and singing impromptu lyrics to the patrons. The lyrics were either flattering or insulting, depending on tips, but almost always comical. Two men played giant drums in the background, and another man performed cultural shoulder dancing. (If you’ve never seen their dance style, check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrYLvcHF15U)
As the night was just kicking off, the dancing man came and stood directly in front of me, indicating for me to join him. He grabbed my hand and pulled me into the center of the room. It was a repeat-after-me sort of gesture, and I shook my shoulders in response, along to the music. It was a nervous rush, with so many eyes staring, and I having no idea how I was doing. My friend said it was amazing, he was shocked that I could do that. Whether or not this was flattery, I guess I’ll never know. But it felt exhilarating.

We stayed until early evening, then called it a night in anticipation for our early departure. The time came too soon, and we walked with our bags in the moonlight to the bus station, 20 minutes down the mountain. A small boy saved us a good seat for the price of 10 birr. The bus finally departed at 6 A.M. and we arrived in a small town before Dessie in early afternoon.

The town, called Haiyke, is home to a lake and a monastery. We decided to stay the night there and check it out. The rain ended up foiling our plans, and instead we spent the evening with no water, no power and searching for a decent meal. The town had practically nothing. I woke up early the next morning ready to leave. My friend wanted to sleep, so we met late morning in Dessie. We caught a mini bus to Kemisse, a low-land Muslim town about 2 hours away. We arrived around 10:30 A.M. with the sun already beating hot. Dust covered the streets, and cafes were boarded up due to Ramadan.

We arranged another mini bus to a town called Debre Birhan, 130 km from Addis. The mini bus experience was infinitely better than our normal slow bus experience on the way up. We were in Debre Birhan by early evening and found a decent hotel with a hot shower and good food. The town itself though was freezing. I would have liked to see a little more of the city, but the cold, foggy rain imprisoned me to the warm blankets of my bed.

We left late the next morning and were back in Addis by noon. My friend continued on to Jimma, and I stayed in Addis to treat a sinus infection I picked up along the way. I’m also doing my close-of-service medical tests and bidding farewell to my friends who are leaving.

I’ll be in Ethiopia for two more months, until early October, when I depart for India. It’s been my dream to do a yoga teacher training course, and I’m signed up to start October 7th. After the 6 weeks I plan to explore the rest of India, making it back home to snowy Minnesota by Christmas. I’m not going to lie, the thought of winter has me terrified. But I’ll see my family and friends for the first time in over two years. I hope they have their heaters turned up! I can’t wait to see them all.

Four Months of Madness

There are times in Peace Corps when I can sit in my room and listen to the mosque calling, the birds chirping, and the music blaring from the café across from my house. I can stare at my wall, write, read a book, do yoga, and stare at my wall some more.

Then there are times when I’m swooped up by a whirlwind of projects, events and what we so frequently refer to  here as ‘programs.’ The last four months have been part of that whirlwind.

It all started in April with the celebration of World Malaria Day. This yearly event was celebrated by the Ethiopian government in a small village near my house. One of my Program Assistants traveled down from Addis to attend. We spent the first day in Jimma, listening to research results and project outcomes from organizations around the nation. Then we traveled to a rural village for a tour of a local health post and to learn about the process of residual spraying. As we drove up the road, hundreds of kids lined the street clapping and cheering for us. It felt like the welcoming of royalty.

After the tour, the local people had tables set up with a variety of traditional foods to taste. It was a huge event for the rural women, and it was fun to see their excitement.

On the last of the 3-day celebration, chairs were lined under a tent in a field, and numerous people participated in music, speeches, dramas and acrobatics to spread the word for anti-malarial efforts. We came home with a T-shirt, and a small container of locally-made mosquito repellent.

University Success ProgramThe next big event was in May. A few volunteers and I designed and led a 5-day facilitation workshop for 29 female lecturers from 3 universities. The training was part of the University Preparation Camp project that I’ve been working on over the past year, helping to support first-year female university students. Originally, two Peace Corps Volunteers and I were in charge of leading student trainings. Our new objective was to give teachers the skills and confidence to facilitate discussions on their own. The training was centered on 11 topics, including self-esteem, leadership, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS.

I came to the training expecting a group of shy, reserved Ethiopian women. Instead, I was met with a group of engaged, thought-provoking  leaders. The women were inspiring.

Next was our Close-of-Service conference, which started May 27. Close-of Service. That means that the 5th group of Peace Corps volunteers who came to Ethiopia two years ago are preparing to go home.

The G5 Jimma Loopers (minus Chelsea and Laura)

The G5 Jimma Loopers (minus Chelsea and Laura)

Our group came in with 69 volunteers, and lost about a third of them along the way. The surviving members met in Addis and proceeded down to Lake Langano for one last week of memories. Our sessions focused on job searching and readjusting. Our free time consisted of Whiffle ball, beer pong, massages and relaxing by the pool. On our last night, we celebrated with a bon fire and sheep roast, a guitar around the fire, and sharing all of the embarrassing and hilarious experiences we’ve had.

Directly after COS, I traveled with 8 spectacular volunteer friends to visit The Once-Forbidden City of Harrar.

After Harrar, I had three days to kill in Addis while I waited for my friend Amanda to fly in from America. I thought perhaps I would use these days to take it easy and rest up. Instead, I stayed with a friend and had two adventurous nights at big parties, and re-visited a lesson I learned too many times in college.

Amanda flew in Sunday morning, and we went straight from the airport to Mercado. (Mercado = sketchy, crowded bus station) She jumped right into the Ethiopian experience by having to bum-rush a bus and fight for a seat, then sit for hours while the bus stopped a hundred times along the way for ch’at.  We made it to Agaro by nightfall.

The next three days were spent touring my little town, trying the food and participating in a coffee ceremony at a local teacher’s house. It was everything I loved about Ethiopia, and it was fun to be able to share it.

The last part of her trip included a visit to Hawassa, a beautiful lake-side city in Ethiopia. It was a 15-hour journey from Agaro, and we made it all in one day. (She’s a total champ.)

Feeding the monkeyIn Hawassa, we visited the fish market, hand-fed some monkeys, laid out by the infinity pool and ate a lot of good food. During her stay, the Ethiopian soccer team beat South Africa for a spot in the World Cup Tournament and the whole city paraded in excitement.

Her 10-day visit was over far too soon.

I’m back in Agaro now, and it’s been non-stop camp-planning mode ever since. Tomorrow I leave for this year’s Nekempte Camp GLOW. (Camp GLOW 2012 ). And yesterday I found out I have amoebas.

There’s certainly never a dull moment here.

The Once-Forbidden City of Harrar

HyenaHarrar is an ancient walled city near the border of Somalia, and until a few months ago was off-limits for Peace Corps Volunteers. Now that we’re allowed to travel there freely, we jumped at the opportunity. It’s a 10-hour bus ride from Addis, so only four of us braved the road; the other five decided to fly. When we all arrived, the first thing we did was head out to see the infamous hyena man.

Just on the outskirts of the city, a man emerges from his house every night at dusk. He lures out hyenas with scraps of raw meat, and teaches visitors how to feed them by mouth. At first, the idea seems insane. The first sights of a hyena up close are strange and exciting. They’re like some spotted mix of cat, dog and bear, lurking in the darkness.

The longer we watched, the more we saw their timid side. Surrounded by people, these hyenas were way out of their element. They cautiously emerged from the shadows, swiped the meat, and ran back into the darkness. All nine of us stepped up, and all nine of us kept our faces.

Camel MarketOur next mission was camels. About an hour outside the city of Harrar is a town called Bilbile. Twice a week, Bilbile hosts a camel market where thousands of camels are collected for buying and selling. We arrived a little late, so we saw maybe a hundred camels. Average price for a camel: 20,000 birr (over $1,000). We got up close, took pictures, then walked down to the tents where they were serving camel milk. I shared a cup with two other people. I thought it was a little smoky. A few sips were enough for me.

Bilbile is also known for their natural sparkling water, and the “Valley of the Marvels,” which are a few giant rocks balanced naturally on small pedestals. It was interesting, but not quite worthy of the term marvelous.

Camel T'ibsAfter Bilbile, we decided to go back to Harrar and try the camel meat. Looking like tourists inside the old walled city, a young girl ambitiously offered to help. She led us to the butcher shop where you buy the raw camel meat, and we pitched in to buy a kilo. She then led us through the narrow paths to a small shop with two tiny benches and handed the meat over to a woman behind the counter. The shop was hot and clammy, and filled with flies. In 20 minutes, the camel meat came out on a pile of injera. We timidly dipped in, and fed ourselves the chewy meat. Nothing spectacular. Not entirely delicious. Just meat piled on injera. I don’t think any of us were too thrilled, and we ended up leaving the majority on the plate. Then the bill came. It was in the form of a round number that made our jaws drop. Clearly the girl wasn’t helping out of the kindness of her heart. She saw dollar signs in place of our faces. There was no arguing the price though, after it was cooked. Rookie mistake. We forked over her exorbitant fee.

So I had enough of the walled city for one day, and met the rest of our group out for a beer. The beers were served in mugs with the logo of Ato Condom. (Mr. Condom, that is.) He’s shaped like a condom and has a big thumbs-up to support using protection. What a fantastic place to advertise.

Factory TourOur third day was a visit to the infamous beer factory. Among Peace Corps Volunteers, Hakim Stout is the favorite of Ethiopian Beers. It’s brewed in Harrar, along with a few other varieties. If you want to tour the factory, we were warned to wear close-toed shoes. Unfortunately, I never wear close-toed shoes.

When we got to the gates, we read the sign: Must Wear Shoes. We considered sandals shoes, but the guy at the gate didn‘t. Christina, our ever-most persistent volunteer, insisted that we speak to the manager. A few minutes later we were walking up the stairs to a cushy office with a big desk. A lady sat behind the desk and made small talk for awhile. She then asked our shoe size and brought out three boxes of shoes. “Don’t tell your friends about this,” she warned with a smile.

After our brief tour with a spirited guide, we were informed that it was time to try the beer and we were to invite him. We agreed, and it was as fresh as you’d expect. Half-way through the beer, our brazen guide informed us that we should also invite him to lunch. Though it was only 11 a.m., Paul conceded to share some t’ibs.

A little while later we were back in the walled city, this time on the hunt for Shities, or what we Americans like to call Muumuus. The fabrics in Harrar are plentiful, colorful, and completely affordable. I bought two.

ShitiesBest. Decision. Ever.  You wouldn’t believe how comfortable they are. And it’s the hot fashion in Harrar. Almost every woman you see is wearing one.

On our last day, we decided to have a photo shoot and wear them to dinner. It was loud and fabulous.

Harrar just might be my favorite city in Ethiopia yet.

Operation: Find the Smiles

I got a call Sunday night from an Ethiopian friend I had met, who does work with Operation Smile. He said he was in Jimma, and tomorrow he was going out to look for kids who had cleft palates. Did I want to come?

I threw some stuff in a bag and left the next morning. I got into Jimma at 10 a.m. and met Teddy in his car on the road leading to Jimma. Off we went.

There was a file he had with a photo of 3 siblings, all of whom had cleft palates. I was expecting babies… children even. These siblings were adolescents, maybe even adults. Two boys and one girl, all looking down or to the side, averting their vacant eyes from the camera. Teddy talked to them two years ago when they were in Jimma, waiting for the surgery that would fix their birth defects. He said they were ridiculed as children and never left the house. I could see the truth of it written in their frozen faces.

Luckily, Operation Smile was able to perform the operation, and now we were on a mission to find them for a follow-up. The home-of-record written on their file was Limu Genet, a town 2 hours off the paved road from Jimma.

The road to Limu Genet was dusty, but infinitely more comfortable than our usual methods of transport. We got to there around noon, and met up with Chris, another Peace Corps volunteer who lives there. We started showing the photo and asking around. A lot of people got excited, and swore they knew the girl but not the boys. One man was so confident that he jumped in the car to show us the way; 17 kilometers in the direction we just came from.

Back on the dirt road, we arrived in another small village and started asking around. This time people got even more excited, and soon formed a massive crowd around Teddy and the photo. They knew the girl they said, but not the boys. It was sort of perplexing, since they were all siblings. Why did they only know the girl? Either way, another man was so confident that he also jumped in the car. And off we went.

If the dirt road was a little rugged, the next roads we traveled on were complete off-roading. We took little paths winding up and down the jagged village side. I watched from the passenger seat, gripping the door handle and trying not to imagine what would happen if the car broke down. At one point we came upon a small river. Teddy drove right up and was ready to forge it. I was certain we’d get stuck. He asked a naked man to our right, who was bathing, is this ok? Yeah, fine, the man said. And forward we went. To my relief, we made it through.

It was nearly 2 in the afternoon when we reached the next village. We pulled out the photo and asked around. Some people thought maybe they knew the girl. No one knew the boys. Another confident man jumped in, and we continued on.

A little farther in, we came upon a leckso bet– a giant tent set up for funerals. Teddy and the men got out and started asking around. Chris and I stayed in the car. Slowly, kids started emerging from small mud huts around us. Some came with giant, excited smiles, while others had wide, frightened eyes. We greeted them, and they turned their timid faces. We sat for awhile, staring at each other.

Soon a farmer came to the window. Unlike any farmer I had ever met, he spoke a little English. We told him our names, where we’re from and what we’re doing here. He asked if we’d had lunch; Chris eagerly replied no. It had been hours since breakfast and we were both fully aware of our location in the middle of nowhere. The farmer disappeared, and returned with four small bananas. Chris divvied them up, two and two, and I tasted the sweetest banana I’ve ever had in my life. Not the local Kenya variety that I expected, nor the farenji variety that we usually see in American stores. This sweet variety had a smooth, glossy peel and was delicious. I saved the second one for Teddy, but eagerly devoured it when he passed.

The guys got back in the car, and we drove a little closer to the leckso bet. The girl happened to be at the funeral, and emerged to speak with us. It turns out she was not the girl we were looking for, but instead another who had a cleft palate. She told us that she knows the family we were searching for, and that these three siblings live nearby on the opposite side of a dividing river. In order to reach it, we would have to return to Jimma and take the road from another direction. We thanked her and left.

Tomorrow, Teddy said. Tomorrow is a new day.

We went back through the bumpy roads and dropped off the men we had gathered along the way. It was 5:30 when we arrived back in Jimma. Famished and ready for dinner, we ordered almost a kilo of t’ibs (roasted meat) between the two of us.

The next day we started off again, this time in the other direction. Our new adventure was very similar to the last, but ended more abruptly. The best advice we got was from a farmer who said to come back tomorrow, when it’s market day. The people from the remote villages will surely come to town.

That was all we needed to hear. We headed out and called it a day. Teddy needed to leave for Addis Wednesday, so that would be his last and final attempt to search for them. I headed back to Agaro and wished him luck.

Unfortunately he never found the siblings, but we got quite an adventure out of it. I hope that they’re out there somewhere, living their lives in the sun.

Peace Corps Ethiopia Invades Addis

Peace Corps Volunteers of Ethiopia 2013

Peace Corps Volunteers of Ethiopia 2013

Originally, I was nervous for an All Volunteer Conference. There are about 200 volunteers in Ethiopia now: more than double the number here when I arrived. I spend almost every day surrounded by local people or alone in my house. The thought of suddenly being dunked into a pool of hundreds of farenji was intimidating.

As it turns out, the event was remarkable. Overwhelming, yes, but also exciting. Names and faces and regions and group members all started adding up. More than anything though, it was the first time all of the people I arrived in country with (minus those we’ve lost along the way) have been together since we swore in as volunteers almost 2 years ago. Catching up with them was amazing. It’s hard to believe that our G5-ers have only one more group event together before we all leap from our Ethiopian nests this summer.

As for the conference: Friday night was a dinner at the Ghion hotel. The U.S. Ambassador of Ethiopia joined us. We were all dressed up. (It’s amazing what PCVs can look like with a hot shower and some clean clothes.) The Ambassador gave a brief talk on the state of development in Ethiopia, and how Peace Corps fits in with that.

Saturday was a full schedule of events designed to help us meet each other, learn about the cross-benefits of working with different sectors (environment, education and health), and get information from different committees.
Saturday night, the talented members among us took the stage for a talent show. It sounds a little juvenile, but the show was wildly entertaining. (Who knew we could save the world AND bust out rap?) Even our country director participated with some folk songs he wrote himself.
After the talent show, the bulk of us wandered out to the nearest club and stayed out way past our 9 o’clock bedtimes.

Sunday came far too early. None-the-less, we learned about PEPFAR and Food for the Future: Two initiatives that sponsor HIV/AIDS related programs and food security. Afterwards we broke into regional groups to plan this year’s summer GLOW camps. Almost all of the volunteers I worked with at the Nekempte camp last year have decided to participate again, which is awesome because we had an amazing group. We’ve also got some new G7 and G8 members I’m excited to get to know.
And finally, we gathered for closing remarks. They weren’t your average closing remarks. In fact, they’re hilarious. Check out the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auBHtyTYcYw&feature=youtu.be

I went to dinner Sunday night with eight or so friends to a local Indian restaurant. Six of these friends had recently been to India and continue to make me more excited to go. After a long and delicious family-style meal, we met up with the rest of our crew. From India to Ireland, we went to celebrate St. Patty’s Day at our favorite local beer bar. One of the volunteers had gone all-out in decorations: Green glitter, green coasters, green everything. There was even green beer. The Ethiopian staff not only accomodated us, they full-on participated in our greeness. It was a great cultural exchange, even if it wasn’t entirely our culture to exchange.

Laura and I, getting our St. Patricks Day on.

Laura and I, getting our St. Patricks Day on.

Monday was supposed to be our departure date, but a change in the bus schedule kept us in Addis an extra night. Thirteen of us filled the bus on Tuesday and we shared one last dinner in Jimma before arriving to our own beds Wednesday night.

Talking to Goats

The delicious chakala t'ibs with awazi and tej

The delicious chakala t’ibs with awazi and tej

Sometimes I find myself talking to the stray goat who wanders into my yard. A random cat pokes its head into my room and I ask her how she’s been. I curse death threats out loud to the roaches in my bathroom.

It’s right around this time that I realize I’ve been alone at site a little too long. I pack a quick bag and jump on a mini bus to Jimma. My friend there happens to speak perfect English, has access to MTV and owns a working fridge: three amazing amenities for a girl from Agaro. A cold gin and tonic later, plus a some Macklemore, Nicki Minaj and Avicii, and it’s almost like I’m back in America again.

For dinner, we often go to a restaurant famous for their chakala t’ibs. This is probably my favorite Ethiopian food ever. It’s roasted meat–usually sheep or goat–served in a clay pot with hot charcoal underneath. You eat it by hand with injera and a spicy awazi sauce.

This place also has the best t’ej in all of Jimma. T’ej is a local alcohol made out of honey. It’s traditionally served in beakers that look like they came straight from a science lab.

If we have enough of these potent beakers, we might make it to the local club in Jimma. They have a DJ and play a mix of Amharic and American music. There’s a little cultural dancing, a little farenji dancing, and a lot of crazy dancing.

By the next day, I’m ready to head back to Agaro. I welcome the kids, the local greetings and another stretch of time in my quiet little community.