the year that was

Another year is over. My, that went by in a blink. But 2013 was a momentous year. Lots of stuff happened.

It's so hard to say goodbye...

It’s so hard to say goodbye…

It was the year I said goodbye to Ethiopia.

…the year I said hello, again, to America.

…the year I saw friends and family for the first time in more than two years.

…the year I got a nephew, who’s cuter than any baby you’ve ever seen. (Yes, including your own.)

…the year I made my dream of visiting South Africa come true, along with a great safari through Botswana.

…the year I finally made it San Francisco and Denver.

…the year I got to go to Mount Rushmore.

…the year I DIDN’T GET TO GO TO YELLOWSTONE, thanks to certain silly elected officials.

…the year I saw my grandmother for the first time in a long time.

…the year I saw more movies in five months than in the previous 26 months combined.

…the year I learned to appreciate pop music again, tolerate Miley Cyrus (I went there) and hate Taylor Swift just a little less.

…the year I got to see my Brewers in action again, even if they, er, weren’t great.

…the year I started running and didn’t hate it.

…the year I had to start looking for a job, like, for real.

…the year I let go of a lot of things from my past.

…and, most importantly, the year I got to eat bacon again.

There is a lot to look forward to in 2014. I’ll keep up the search for the perfect job (read: one that pays me money). I’ll get a dog. I’ll see some more movies, some more Brewers games. That’s all I’ve got planned so far. But that’s enough for me.

So happy new year! Enjoy it, because it’ll be 2015 before you know it.


PS If you’re interested, here are some photos of my last weeks in Bahir Dar and my first week back in the States.

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the forgotten post

[Blogger’s note: I wrote this as I was getting ready to leave Ethiopia and basically forgot about it and never posted it. So here we are, almost three months post-COS. Enjoy.]

So we’re coming to the end of LethiopiaH. In honor of everyone who read this ever, I’ve compiled a list of the all-time best search terms used to find my blog. It’s a weird, kind of gross list. I’m not sure how these all led to the blog, but they got you (or someone else) here.

Best search terms for LethiopiaH (my comments in [brackets])

  • djibouti jokes [Also searched: jabooty jokes]
  • chicken slaughter [and countless variations about women killing chickens]
  • I want to enter the peace corps but I hate bugs [Also good: what are the best peace corps jobs for people who hate bugs]
  • rats with rabies, on graph
  • killer airplane pictures [Is the airplane killer as in it crashes, or are the pictures killer as in really good?]
  • pictures of broken nose
  • calvin peeing on packers
  • clown ties
  • song billong [as in Alexandre Dmitri…]
  • shinting girl [there were a disturbing amount of variations on this topic, and I don’t know why]
  • blue tears in the rain [still my favorite]
  • little boy pee in bed [again, why?]
  • bitter sting of tears [can you guess what that’s from?]
  • 4 girls shinting and vomiting [see?]
  • my boob site [ha]
  • that’s what she said michael scott shirt
  • education in rural Ethiopia boobs [did I use the word “boobs” in a post or something?]
  • peace corps volunteer cravings
  • he always invites me at his home [does he now?]
  • a plant sucking the blood from an insect [is this even possible?]
  • pee on bus blog
  • now we know just how sharks follow their nose to dinner [I’m lost]
  • why are you thrown backwards when bus starts  [I hope someone got a good physics lesson out of this somewhere]
  • kuriftu massge gril to boy [Sic. Also, I wonder what they meant by this…]
  • sneak attack boob grab [great band name]
  • lying on bed on back with head extending backwards over edge of bed
  • ain’t no party like a scranton party cause a scranton party don’t stop shirt
  • picture of a relaxed feet woman at home [is this a weird fetish of some sort?]
  • make money off a peace corps blog [I wish]
  • tapeworm in nose [does that happen?!]
  • do they have pads for periods in Ethiopia [yes, yes they do]
  • peace corps volunteers do nothing [perfect]

Also, here’s a special shout-out to the folks who got shout-outs in the search terms:

  • Marla (marla fabishak; fabishak)
  • The Good Doctor (dr.jean demarco, peace corps; jean demarco; jean demarco phd)
  • fellow (R)PCV Jessica (jessica mayle africa “peace corps”)

How did you find LethiopiaH?


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the fro-yo-yo-bmo revolution

I’ve been back in the US for almost a month. Everyone’s told me throughout my service that nothing’s changed, and I’ll admit that it seems pretty much the same. I haven’t yet been overwhelmed by the vastness of it all. Haven’t broken down in a grocery store. Drove a car. Like riding a bike. Lots of cheese has been eaten. Yes, I’ve gained a few pounds.

There are small, subtle changes in the Land of Plenty, though, like the amount of frozen yogurt places that have popped up everywhere. Haven’t we done this before? And the yoga studios. I know yoga’s been a thing for a while, but I think the abundance of studios is new in the last two years? Yet people are still gigantic here. Huh. Also, it seems like you can’t drive two blocks without seeing a BMO Harris bank. Not a fan of that.

I’ve noticed a few other trends as well. What’s this obsession with Greek yogurt all of the sudden? Hasn’t it been around for, like, thousands of years? Why is it so special all of the sudden? And there are the wine and painting places. Why is this a thing? How is combining paint and alcohol a good idea?

But, yeah, America’s pretty much the same. Thank goodness?

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I’m officially an RPCV. I made it. Done. Leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again.

I’m sure that in some point in the future, I’ll be able to think more clearly about what I’ve accomplished here. Until then, a few random reflections:

I never fancied myself a tan-by-the-pool/massage kind of gal, but I guess I can be in the right circumstances. While I didn’t spend much time there in my last year, the Kuriftu pool was a welcome get-away on many days, especially early in my service. And, yes, I know how lucky I was to have it.

Ahhhhh, Kuriftu.

Ahhhhh, Kuriftu.

I’m going to miss waking up to the sounds of coffee being pounded, onions being chopped, and the local peddlers announcing their presence in that distinct guttural cry.

It’s gotten so easy to tune out people. I wonder how long it’s going to take me to get out of that habit. How will it be when I can understand everyone?

I’m hoping any negotiating tactics I’ve developed here will transfer into American life. I’m going to need a car eventually.

I rarely ate candy in America (I’m more of a savory lover), but in Ethiopia I eat chocolate on a fairly regular basis. I hope I drop the habit when I get home. In the same way, I hope I can give up soda again. I had given up soda for 10 years before coming to Ethiopia, but I started to drink it again as a treat. I mean, there are so many things we can’t get here, I figured I’d allow it. I’m crossing my fingers that I can quit cold turkey.

I’m not one of those people who drink the tap water here. Why risk it? I rocked that water filter.

On the subject of possible GI issues, I’ve had my share of bacterial infections here (though no known cases of giardia or amoebas), and I think I’m a pro at puking these days. I used to dread the act, and in my adult life had only thrown up a handful of times (two or three, maybe). Now? I can upchuck with the best of ‘em and shake it off.

Yes, I pooped my pants. Once. In the process I broke my nose. Or maybe vice versa. Either way, it was epic.

I never used my hammock. That’s disappointing.

Am I going to feel a loss at the fact that people won’t be screaming at me as I walk down the street? Will the anonymity be a bummer or a welcome relief? I’d like to think the latter, but weirder things have happened.

Compound life is strange and in some ways wonderful. People walk into your house if your door is open. Neighbors tend to share stuff, though some might also call it stealing. I’ve lost brooms, towels, and other assorted household items only to find them in a neighbor’s house. I’ve been invited to coffee countless times, and other times neighbors (especially kids) parked themselves in my house while I was trying to do stuff (ok, ok, watch TV shows). I tend to love or loathe these interactions, depending on the day.

Living in Bahir Dar was great for the most part, but I’d be lying if I said it’s what I expected out of my Peace Corps service. It was certainly challenging in its own way, but part of me really wanted to see if I could hack it in the middle of nowhere, with no electricity, no running water, etc. Maybe when I retire… Ha.


Visiting my host family one last time.

I suck at Amharic. The end.

What did I do at site? Honestly, not as much as I would have liked. That’s my fault, and it happened for a variety of reasons.

I will miss the rain at night during summer. There’s nothing like curling up in bed with a book every night knowing that the rain is coming if it hasn’t already arrived. It makes me feel at home, comfortable.

I’ve grown to love, love, love the dancing in Ethiopia. All of it (except maybe Tigray…). I can’t do any of it, but I like watching it.

I’ve worn Chacos almost every day since I’ve been in Ethiopia. My feet are going to be so confused.

I’m going to miss bulk avocados for cheap. Not that I’ve bought them in America, but I’ve heard that they are expensive, and I’ve become accustomed to a certain amount of guacamole in my life (Thanks, Sarah and Aaron!).

I’ve met some amazing people in the last two years, both Ethiopian and American. Without them, I definitely wouldn’t have made it through this experience. I can’t thank them enough.

Packing up two years of life is quite a chore for a hoarder like me. Naturally, my bags are bursting at the seams. I really should have thought through this travel after PC thing. Oh, yeah, we’re still going to Egypt. J

A final reflection: Every day, I walk by orphaned street kids peddling their wares (usually gum and tissue), people with disabilities that would have been easily fixed in a more developed country begging for change, elderly people on the streets with no family to help them, mothers making their small children hassle foreigners and others for a birr or two. I’ve learned to mostly ignore it. It’s the only way to stay sane.

Peace Corps!

Peace Corps!

As I got closer to leaving, though, it really started to affect me again. I can only say that it has made me be so grateful that by chance of birth, I was born in a country where people have fought so that I and everyone else can enjoy social safety nets. By chance of birth, I’m from a country that, despite its deep and many flaws, seeks to protect its most vulnerable, even if it doesn’t always manage it. By chance of birth, I’m from a country whose citizens have the ability to voice their grievances to a government elected by the people. A country that is by no means perfect, but has the potential to be so, if only we work harder, work together, care about each other more.

And I so clearly understand that in another life, I could be a street kid in Ethiopia, a person with a disability that has no other choice but to beg in order to eat. I could be an Ethiopian child whose mother can’t take care of me or a child orphaned by AIDS. By chance of birth, I am American, and that is a privilege, it’s luck. It’s not something to lord over others. We have something pretty great, and we should share it, should want to let others partake, not hoard it for ourselves because we think we’re special, that we deserve what we have.

I’m proud to have served my country in Peace Corps, by sharing culture and sharing knowledge, by fostering peace. It was difficult and at times I hated it, but ultimately I am the lucky one for having the opportunity to live in Ethiopia.

If that’s corny or preachy, I don’t care.


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coming home, wherever that will be

I’m in Addis now, waiting to close out my service. I said goodbye to Bahir Dar and the people who made my life in Bahir Dar interesting, if not great, for the last two years.

Twenty six months. It’s amazing how much can change in that amount of time.

I left Milwaukee thinking that in two years I could pick up right where I left off. Social life, job, relationship – all of it.

How stupid I was.

I wasn’t prepared for all that has happened back home. Good friends moving away, divorces, near divorces, pregnancies, babies, new jobs, new homes, health scares. The Milwaukee I knew — the life I knew — is gone, has vanished, never to be seen again. (Is that too dramatic?)

Since so much has changed, I’m not sure what really awaits me when I step off that airplane in August. And that’s why I’m casting a wider net in my job search. For the first time in my life, I don’t know if Milwaukee will be my home (besides my time in PC, of course).

It’s exciting but scary.

In that vein, I’ve come up with suggestions for friends and family to help make the transition back to American life a little easier:

Please be patient with me as I readjust. I don’t know what’s going to be difficult and what’s going to be easy. I need to figure that out as I go. Some people freak out in the grocery store. For me, it might be the sight of real bacon. It could be the first time I drive, or the seventh time I drive. Who knows. If I marvel at something simple, give me a pass. It’s been a while since I’ve had running water in my house.

Please only ask me a question if you actually want to know the answer. In return, I’ll try to keep my answer short and sweet so as not to have to watch your eyes glaze over. I’d love to talk about my experiences – in fact, sharing my host country’s culture with people in America is one of the three goals of Peace Corps  – but I could talk about it for a long time. Be warned.

Keep in mind that I’ve changed. And it’s probably in ways I don’t even know yet. If I behave a little differently than you remember, that’s because I’m a little different than you remember. Try to enjoy the new me. I will too.

Tell me if I’m being annoying. If I ever become the “When I was in Ethiopia…” girl, slap me. Seriously, slap me.

Please don’t ask me “What’s next?” or “Do you have a job?”* The answers are: “Not sure” and “Not yet.” If you must, come up with a specific question (e.g. “Where are you looking for work?”) or a creative way of asking me what’s on the horizon (“Did JT leave Jessica Biel for you yet?”). If I don’t have a job by then, it’s going to suck being reminded of that constantly. Not only that, I’ll probably have been asked a thousand times by the time you want to ask. That’s not fun.

*If I do have a job, I’ll answer those questions all day long. “But how will I know if you have a job and thus know if I can ask a question I already know the answer to?” Simple: I’m sure I’ll tell you without being asked. Also, if you have a job to give me, you can ask me whatever you like.

Try to make time to see me if you can. I know you guys are busy, but I miss you! It’s been two years! Don’t worry, I’ll ask questions about your life too.

I hope those are some helpful tips. I can’t wait to see you all in August! America, here I come!


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welcome to lethiopiah – a compound tour

One of the things about PC living that people are most curious about is housing. Housing certainly varies widely from country to country, and even within posts the accommodations can be vastly different from PCV to PCV. I’m lucky enough to live in a city and to have a nice sized space. While I have a bathroom in theory, in practice I still have to get all my water from the tap in the compound yard and take my showers at the PC office. It’s no big deal. I like my house. In Ethiopia, some volunteers have one small room to live in for two years, while others have the main house on a compound, which includes multiple bedrooms and a functioning bathroom. It’s really luck of the draw (and depends on who is paying the rent, how much rent is in your town, etc.).

To give you a better picture of how I’ve lived the past couple years, I’ve put together a short video compound tour similar to the one I made of my host family’s house. I hope you enjoy it.


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bench city

I love it when Bahir Dar tries to spruce up a bit. It makes me happy to see the people and government in town make an effort to present BD’s best face as well as give citizens an outlet for creativity. The benches of Bahir Dar are a perfect example of this.

A few months back, before the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Celebration, Bahir Dar starting installing concrete benches along one of the main drags. I thought they were just extra seating space to accommodate the out-of-towners heading to the city for the festivities, but, slowly, local artists started carving and painting the drab, grey benches, creating lovely little works of art.

Below is a photo gallery of some of the benches. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

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