13 October 2006

Never going to believe it!

Life has begun. I am a big fan of that. My job is hoppin’ no more days of staring into the sun, wondering what is going on and if there is something I should be doing, rather I spend my days doing TONS of things wondering what is going on!! My team is awesome, they all have years of experience on me. They are so kind, so helpful, and SOOO patient. It’s weird to be their manager. But, it is going well. Monday I am off on a Rapid Assessment of an area North East of me (no where near the borders, no worries). I will be camping in the health clinic’s compound, as there really aren’t hotels where I’m going. We take mats, mosquito nets, water and food for the week and work. It will be great fun.

Anyway, on to my explanations and observations:

My office is nice. It’s made up of two buildings. One is shaped like an L the other a square inside the L. To get from my office to my bosses office, I go outside. The L shaped building is a series of rooms, but no hallways. So you must go outside to get to the next room. The square building is just two big rooms. We have a little yard with some picnic tables where we eat lunch. It’s very nice. The internet is dial up, one line for the whole office, so not so good, but other then that nice. We have an Ally McBeal bathroom, meaning one for both sexes. It has five stalls, though as far as I can tell only two work. They are porcelain squat toilets, then outside that room there is a hand-made sink. Cement with random colored rocks in it and a pipe coming out of the wall. It’s nice. Something that has been weird to get used to hear is the weather. I came at the end of the rainy season. It is now ‘summer.’ So the weather is warm and dry. I like it. I forget that is October. I get off work at 5:00 but usually don’t get to leave until 5:30 at the earliest. In the back of my mind I think I have three hours plus to go out and do things, but 6:15 rolls around sun goes down; by 6:30 it’s dark. My mind can’t comprehend how in the summer it’s pitch black at 6:30, then I remember it’s October and I’m a wee bit closer to the equator then I have ever been before. It sucks because we aren’t allowed out after dark on our own, meaning I have to be in a car. I personally like walks. I like to walk around a place and explore. Stop in little shops, just see what is where, explore. But, I can not. It’s very annoying. I don’t really feel I know what Addis looks like, only my office. And, within three weeks of having a job the doldrums of being a working stiff have sent in. Get up, go to work, come home go to bed. However, I will take these doldrums over school any day; don’t think I am having second thoughts. Just need to adjust.
One thing that really entertains me about Ethiopia is that they love country music. Bob Marley and country music. It’s great. You’ll be riding along in the cab listening to Kenny Loggins, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, and then lots and lots of people I have never heard of and I doubt many people have. It’s very entertaining merely b/c it was unexpected.

I have a few stories for you.

First, I was finally able to go into the field, albeit for just a few hours. I was disappointed the trip had to be so short, but it was beautiful. We headed South, about a 2 hour drive. For most American’s, when you picture Ethiopia, you think of dry, unforgiving desert; however, this is not the case. Of course, dry areas exist, but so do lush green areas. The area we visited, called Silte, was gorgeous! There is an old volcano, surrounded by rolling hills, all green and lush. I will put up some pictures when I can. I went down there with a few colleagues to check in on a CTC site. That is an emergency feeding center. It’s not what you have possibly seen on TV being run by Doctors Without Borders. A big tent, rows of women and children. That is the old way, this is the new way. Only the children in the most severe condition are admitted and for hopefully a few weeks only. This cuts down the time the mom has to stay away from her family as well as the amount of time you have sick children all cooped up together to spread germs. The bulk of the participants are on the outpatient program. Their mother/father/guardian comes once a week to get them weighed and checked. Children deemed moderately malnourished are enrolled on the program. Each week they get a week’s ration of ready-to-use-therapeutic-food. Plumpy’Nut is the most common of these take home foods. It’s like sugary peanut butter in a little sachet, pumped full of vitamins and minerals. Each packet has about 500 kcals and depending how underweight the child is they get one to three packets a day. This is a simplified explanation of the program, so don’t go quoting me on details, but trust me it’s a better set-up.
My common frustration of not being able to communicate was magnified here. Not only do I not speak Amheric, the national language, but each area you go to there is a different language spoken anyway! So the 15 or so words I have learned were not useful and just got blank stares, just as if I had spoken English or Romanian (which I did try, by accident). However, smiling and playing peek-a-boo are international, so I resorted to these games with the children. Some absolute dolls; gorgeous babies and toddlers. There were only a handful of children who were very ill; one extremely sick child with Kwashiorkor and several with Marasmus. The child with Kwashiorkor (malnutrition that manifests itself with edema, or swelling. The child looks “healthy” because of the swelling) was very ill. He was quite ornery, and tried to hit me while I talked with his mom. Poor little guy. I hear he is doing well, and the swelling has diminished greatly.

The last two stories need a preface of “I am just fine.” I debated whether or not I should tell both of the stories, but they are both just so funny and really—it is hard for me to hold back the humorous stories, as they are what keep me going during the day to day monotony of office life. SO, I have decided to share my humor. Mom, I am counting on you staying calm and laughing with the rest of us, knowing full well this would ONLY happen to me, and if you really picture it, it would have looked funny. Everyone around thought it was hilarious. Interest peeked? Read on.
The car incident. As mentioned previously, my work is about 30 minute walk from my home. It’s a nice walk, two main roads lots of people, stores, cars, donkeys (carrying cargo), etc. A few days ago I was walking home from work. I stopped at a supermarket called New York. They have a cafĂ©, pizza parlor, and supermarket. Don’t get any grand ideas, the supermarkets are about the size of 7-11’s and not as well stocked. I went in to by some oatmeal. One of few stores that carry it, but it’s ‘quick cooking.’ Ick, but I take what I can get. They also carry skim milk. It’s UHT, which I totally don’t mind, but my housemates can’t stand it. So I come out of the store and turn right towards my home. The roads here are actually quite nice, pot holes of course, but a high percentage of paved roads. The area in front of the store is bricked, very nice. I was walking along the road carrying the oatmeal can, and a bag of fresh bread. YUMMY. Suddenly, it was as if I had been shoved to my right. I felt a big push on my hip, and I fell to the ground, landing on my FRESH BREAD!! I whipped my head around to see who pushed me to see the wheels of a white (good sign it belongs to some NGO or UN something) Land Rover continue on down the road. In the next second I realized everyone was laughing. Not in a mocking way, more of a, “Holy crap did you see the firinge (foreigner) get knocked down by that foreigner car” kind of way. Now on my side and hands, on top of my bread, I to started to laugh. At this point, the adults had main contained themselves and a few women offered to help me while the men yelled at the car that sped away. The teenagers and children in the area were still laughing, as they obviously had no qualms laughing out loud at people, especially foreign people. I of course started laughing, after running the film of what had just happened through my mind and realizing I had let out a little squeal like a little girl when it happened. So I laughed with them. I got up and limped home. Limping, merely because my hip hurt a little and I banged my knee on the way down. I’m an old lady now. The next day I had a rather small bruise on my hip, small b/c it hurt worse then it looked, but that always happens to me. If one of my sisters had been hit, they would have been black and blue all over for three years. GOAL had me go get checked out at the British clinic. The doctor looked at my bruise, poked a few places, and told me to stay out of the road. In my defense, I wasn’t technically on the road, the Land Rover had swerved around something and into my (pedestrian) territory.
Funny, right mom? I didn’t even get a big nasty bruise, nothing—just a little kick in the pride. A few shoe shine boys who work on the corner right by where it happened, still point and laugh at me when I walk by. I just say Selam and smile.

The next story will astound you all. I debated telling it, not because it might upset my mother, but because I will never hear the end of it once you know. I still can’t believe it happened, and possibly am still having nightmares. I keep hoping maybe I made the whole thing up, maybe it was just in my nightmares, but alas, it actually happened. The people involved had the best of intentions, and if they ever knew the truth they would be devastated and I would feel awful. That said, I am 99.9% sure they will never see my blog, so no worries. Here goes—be kind to me.

As mentioned before, we are not allowed to drive as GOAL employees. To make up for that policy, they provide drivers for us. Currently there are three drivers who rotate through the day. There is one or two on 24 hours a day, in case of emergencies or late night munchies I guess. The night shift driver sleeps in a small house outside our house. Good job. Anyway, the three drivers all have the same name, Henok. It’s not even a common name here, but we are lucky enough to have three Henoks. They are all great, and I love the name so I enjoy saying it. I have become great friends with one Henok in particular, Henock T. He is this cute kid, with a degree in computer science. He’s the youngest in his family, and is spoiled. He loves 2-pac, Country Music, and Christian music. He cracks me up. He is hilarious, not even on purpose, just being himself. We have a good time together. Anyway, Henok invited me to meet his family and have a meal at their home. He has a sister who lives in Canada, and she was in town for the first time since he was SEVEN!! He is 20 now. They were having a goodbye for her, as she will return shortly to Canada. Henok and I have talked a lot, as what else you going to do when you are in a car with someone for hours. Henok and I have discussed the fact that I am vegetarian (yes, here it comes). I know we discussed this, as we talked about other American’s he knows who also don’t like meat. I had no problem accepting the invitation, and was excited to see someone’s home. Last Saturday we met up at 12:30 and went to his house. It was a nice home, similar to my office in a row of rooms connected by an outside walkway. I came and met his brothers and sister. They were all very nice and all but one spoke English very well. They put on the English television station for me (they had been watching football [soccer]). It was a rerun of The View. I asked to change back to the football. We talked for a bit, then they brought in the food. There were five dishes, very fancy. Four were regular size serving bowls with lids, the fifth a large one with a lid. I was brought a plate and napkin. The uncovered the large dish, it was full of Injera. It is their Naan, or Tortilla, or Roti. It’s a unleavened bread made from Tef, a grain grown around here. It is fermented, so it is like sour dough and I LOVE IT!! It’s yummy. Excited, I grabbed some. They then proceeded to uncover the other four dishes. The first was beef with onions and oil, the second beef with a spicy sauce, the third GOAT with a sauce, and the fourth LAMB with a spicy sauce. Did you read all that?!?!!? That is three dead animals in front of me and not a vegetable in site. The only thing I eat on the table was the Injera. Trying to hide my absolute horror, I smiled and said yum. I panicked, I didn’t’ know what I was going to do. They had gone to great trouble and expense to make me one of the national dishes, called tibs. Essentially, meat and sauces. I just stared and smiled speechless. What do I do? It’s that moment where you decide what is more important, to respectful of host and culture or be respectful of your stomach and intestines (not to mention taste buds, but I haven’t eaten meet in well over a decade, maybe longer, I’m not really sure, but it’s been a VERY long time. I had no idea how my gut was going to react to THREE DEAD ANIMALS!!!!!!) Noticing my hesitation, which I realized was stupid, his sister began to serve me. I panicked again, as I had hoped to serve myself and get small portions and a lot of sauce. But, as a good host would do, she served me large portions with LOTS of meat. I just stared. I’ll never ever ever ever forget that first bite. I tried the beef with onions, trying to get lots of onions. I thought it was the best choice, but I was wrong, very very wrong. That first bite of cow, it was indescribable. I can’t put into words how awful it tasted. I do not like the actual taste of the beef and then throw in the texture. You are sitting there chewing through muscle, tendons, fat, ick. It was awful. I just swallowed, and decided that was a bad choice. I asked which has the spicy sauces, the goat and beef. I decided to focus on those, because at minimum the flavor of the animal was masked by the strong sauce, and I would just have to deal with the texture. I would take a piece of Injera, grab some of the meat soaking up as much sauce as I good, and put it in my mouth. It was gristly and oily and tough and it stuck in my teeth and it was rough and I just don’t have the vocabulary or articulation to explain it. It was just, ick. I ate slowly, so as not to be given seconds, but I was watched like a hawk. When I focused on the two spicy dishes, only picking at the others, she decided to serve me more of the ones I obviously liked. I ate a substantial amount of meat that day. As everyone was finishing up, I wondered how my stomach was doing. Would I be sick in one hour, two hours, six hours—how long did I have? Would I get sick at all? I was completely nauseated at this point, but would I actually throw-up? I was concentrating very hard the Injera, just pretending I had only eaten it with different sauces.
In the end, I didn’t get that sick. My stomach did feel a bit overwhelmed, I’ll spare you the details, but it wasn’t as bad as my mind had imagined. The next few days I took it easy, but all in all I survived the ordeal very well, I must say. Not just physically, but I put on a great show to be a great meat eater. I ate three animals. THREE. What a way to end your vegetarianism. Not that I plan to continue this way, but really if you are going to blow it, you might as well do it all out.

I hope this finds you all well and healthy. I’m not sure when the next chance I’ll have to write, so be patient. But, I guarantee the next one will be full of stories, as I will have been camping in the Ethiopian desert.


1 comment:

Karen and Lew said...

Jess, You kill me! With the huge buildup I thought for sure your story was going to involve border warfare, bloody mayhem, and, possibly, stampeding wildebeest. As a shameless carnivore, I only feel badly because of the goat. That has an ick-factor. Keep up the good fight! We miss you!