Wednesday, September 28, 2011

South Africa and Back

A little over two weeks ago an eye infection took me out of my small town in Western Ethiopia to Pretoria, South Africa. This is the typical route Peace Corps volunteers serving in most parts of Africa take when thought to need treatment beyond that of their host country's abilities to provide.

During my time in Pretoria, I stayed in a guest house while frequenting malls, eye appointments, the PC office, and various ethnic restaurants I missed the flavours of since departing Washington DC about a year ago. Food/drink appreciated the most: wine, coffee in big cups, sushi, indian food, quality cheeses, South African style beef jerky, and granola. Really, Pretoria has it all - it's basically the US, say many South African Volunteers (keep in mind that Pretoria differs than most cities in South Africa, let alone cities in Africa as a whole).

A couple days ago I returned to Ethiopia and my eye has almost recovered- still blurry, like vasiline over the lens - but getting there (I can read a billboard). My slightly impaired vision will not keep me from functioning normally but I may stay away from sports that require throwing and catching. Heading back to site, I feel born anew, ready to re-engage with the world with a new found sense of appreciation for where I am.

The picutre above is of me and a fellow volunteer @ a baby lion feeding session in a South African game reserve. The lion cub I have in hand is a white lion, a very uncommon phenotype!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eye Probs : Blogging Hiatus

Due to an out of control infection of my right eye and the ulcer it created, I am in South Africa receiving treatment and recovering...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Happy New Year, Ethiopia!

In Ethiopia, this September 12th marks the first day of 2004. As you might have guessed, Ethiopians do not follow the Gregorian Calender. Ethiopians do, however, follow the 13 month Ethiopian calendar system, which contains twelve 30-day months and a 13th month lasting 5 or 6 days, depending if it's a leap year or not. The Ethiopian Calendar is consistently 7-8 years behind the Gregorian calender because it references an alternative calculation to the annunciation/incarnation of Christ*.

Ethiopians also report the time of day differently than most westerners. Although there are 24 hours in the Ethiopian day, Ethiopians set their clocks to encompass the 12 hours of day and the 12 hours of night, rather than to mark high noon and midnight, as most Americans like myself are accustomed to. Being close to the equator -days being the same length to one another and all, keeping track of time the Ethiopian way seems to make sense. So... assuming you are telling time like most Americans and we put the above to practice: 5 o'clock in the morning Ethiopian is 11AM .. and .. 8 o'clock in the day Ethiopian is 2 PM.

If you're wondering: “Can making appointments be confusing and time made to seem frustratingly ambiguous for an American in Ethiopia?” The answer is “Yes” -and we're not even talking about the cultural differences on handling time in those cases where a specific time is mutually understood.

*reference 'calendar' in an encyclopedia for mo info on the subj

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Bombwa

I live near two large cement water reservoirs on a little hill next to my town's market place. Its water is sourced from a local underground spring. Most of the time, the water table is high enough to provide water service twice a day for an hour at a time. There are no personal plumbing lines so like everyone else with a jerrican, I fetch my water from one of the 6 communal multi-fauceted structures strategically placed around town, called a 'bombwa'.

Life is good when water flows from the bombwa. Some days it doesn't flow though and when those unhappy days add up, it means going to a much less near water source, such as a creek or spring not connected to a bombwa. The last time I went out to fetch water from an alternative source was the first time I ever saw people arguing and fighting over water access. Nothing too serious occurred before the drama was resolved but the dearth at the bombwa that day did provide a glimpse at a vital yet fragile infrastructure keeping my community... quenched.

The photo above shows a bombwa near my house. You can see the bright yellow jerricans stacked and queued while children wait similarly nearby on what looks like a cement lawn armchair.

Behold, The Bald Biddeena (Injera)!

Injera, or biddeena (as it is often referred to in Afaan Oromoo) is by far the most commonly seen food item in Ethiopia. Injera is large, flat, round, a little sour, and crape-like. Frequently it is served with wats (dishes akin to stews or soups, which usually host a lot of onion and birbire spice). Most of the time injera is made from teff, a grain that grows beside wheat and corn around these parts. Other varieties substitute part or all of the teff flour for that of corn or wheat.

Dressing a plate properly with injera is easy. You simply cover the plate and fold the injera inwards where it would otherwise spill over the sides. When wat is served it's poured on top and in the middle of injera. Like most Ethiopian dishes, wats are eaten without forks or spoons. Instead, you use your hands to tear pieces of injera from its outer sides to grab the wat on the middle. With injera-wrapped wat in hand, you're ready to chow down. I suggest checking out your local Ethiopian restaurants to and getting familiar with it.

The photo above was taken from the kitchen of a restaurant in my town that I love. As you can see, the batter was already poured. In case you've looked up the recipe and curious to try making a few on your skillet, the technique is to pour from the outside and spiral inwards. Think crape thin. Cover for maybe a minute then remove injera from heat. The kitchen set up in the photo is not typical - it's better/more efficient with wood fuel. The more common stoves use the '3-rock' system. A 3-rock stove requires three large rocks set close enough together to hold a pot or a surface to make injera on.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Last week I participated in a summer camp for Ethiopian youth. The program's aim was to encourage community service and leadership amongst young people. Half of the camp was geared towards HIV AIDS awareness and developing healthy habits while the other half focused on environment conservation and preservation. Although many cultures were represented, staff and campers alike got along really well.

For the majority of campers and the Ethiopian counterpart staff, traveling far from home was not a common experience or affordable, which is why the field trip to Arba Minch and Nechisar National Park was exceptional for everyone- not just for us few Americans on board. During our time on Lake Chamo, we boated amidst crocodiles, storks, and hippos. I have never before seen such large and potentially dangerous wildlife in their natural habitat with so few barriers between us. In short: it was amazing. The photo above is a group of campers and staff aboard a boat on Lake Chamo heading towards what would likely be an unforgettable experience.

Maybe the only redeeming quality of a road trip in Ethiopia using public transport is the scenery. On the way to Welayita Sodo, a 3 day by bus riding experience, my campward party of 5 traveled from the Oromo Region to the Southern Nations Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR). In SNNPR, the inset plant is very popular. With exception to its much larger leaves, inset looks very similar to a banana tree, hence its English name, false banana'. Within SNNPR and other regions where it grows well, inset is utilized in a variety of ways by use of both its roots and leaves.

The root of the inset plant is a main ingredient for gamfo (sounds like: 'gum-foe'), a porridge dish served with butter and birbire spice (think paprika), and for q'ocha, a hard gummy tortilla-like bread. Leaves of the inset are used to preserve foods and the spine of the leaves can be dried to produce tough fibers for rope. Above is a photo taken while traveling to Welayita Sodo from Jimma. The traditionally built house in this photo is within the SNNPR region of Ethiopia. It is huge. The 8ft + inset trees to its right are dwarfed in comparison.