list-en up

I’m counting down the days. It’s coming up fast. Between the last minute projects, packing up my house, getting in hang time with friends, and applying for jobs, my time in Ethiopia is flying by.

I need to take a moment to reflect on my time here. What better way to do that then make a few Top 5 lists (in no particular order).

Haven't yet taken her out on beautiful Lake Tana. On the to-do list.

Haven’t yet taken a tankwa out on beautiful Lake Tana. On the to-do list.

Things I’ll miss the most

  • My friends, of course, Ethiopian and PC
  • Fasting food (bayinet) and fresh injera
  • Beautiful, beautiful Bahir Dar and Lake Tana
  • The slow pace of life (or, more accurately, being lazy)
  • Night rain beating on my tin roof during rainy season

Things I’ll miss less

  • Being grabbed in inappropriate places or being propositioned on the street
  • “youyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyou”
  • Bacterial infections (though I’ll miss the weight loss side effect)
  • The ETC lady telling me that the number I dialed cannot be reached at this time
  • Bajajes

Favorite Ethiopianisms

  • “Get in!”
  • “Are you sure?”
  • Chigger yellam” (“No problem.” Everything is no problem.)
  • Shoulder bump greeting
  • Dudes holding winkies
Good food, good friends, good day.

Good food, good friends, good day.

Favorite moments with PCVs

  • COS sing-a-long (sounds corny, but it was anything but)
  • Thanksgiving at Peter’s
  • Fourth of July in Huruta
  • Christmas movies in BD (complete with A Very Brady Drinking Game)
  • St. Patrick’s Day at Hakim Stout Bar during AVC (I danced a lot. And it was fun!)
BDU students from around Ethiopia are kind enough to pose with me.

BDU students from around Ethiopia are kind enough to pose with me.


Favorite moments with non-PCVs

Best previously unseen TV shows watched in country

  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Parks and Rec
  • Happy Endings (damn you, ABC)
  • Game of Thrones (I guess I technically started watching it in the States, but it was only four eps)
  • Pretty Little Liars (Yup. I went there.)

Most watched TV shows in country

  • The Office
  • 30 Rock
  • Parks and Rec
  • Community (Yeah, so basically NBC’s old Thursday night comedy block)
  • Happy Endings

Best books read in country (top 10)

  • East of Eden (one of the best books I’ve ever read. Thanks, Peter!)
  • Fingersmith
  • The Big Short
  • Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • All the Pretty Horses
  • Devil in the White City
  • King Leopold’s Ghost
  • Under the Banner of Heaven
  • War
  • Dubliners

Worst books read in country (er, bottom 10?)

  • Pillars of the Earth (a thousand pages of awful writing)
  • Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven (ugh)
  • The Alchemist (dreck)
  • The Lost Symbol (dreck times a thousand)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces (just not my cup of tea)
  • You Shall Know Our Velocity! (nice try, Eggers)
  • Sleepwalk With Me (unfunny)
  • Zombie Survival Guide (was it supposed to be funny? Cuz it wasn’t.)
  • Time Traveler’s Wife (contrived)
  • About a Boy (who cares?)

Favorite blog posts

Meeting my host siblings for the first time way back in June 2011. Elsabet, Yohannes, and Sofi.

Meeting my host siblings for the first time way back in June 2011. Elsabet, Yohannes, and Sofi.

Things I want to fit in before I leave

  • Trip to Zege peninsula
  • Tankwa ride (papyrus boat)
  • Last trip to Huruta to see my host family
  • A couple more trainings (and summer camp!)
  • Tattoo!

There, that feels better.

I’m going to try to cram in a few more posts in the next month. And before you (and I) know it, I’ll be home!


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drink up

A long time ago, before I really knew anything, I posted about food in Ethiopia. In that post I promised that I’d write something about the drinks found here. So here goes. I can’t promise that I know much more than I knew back then, but I’ll do my best.


Coffee, or buna, in Ethiopia is a way of life, both as its main export and its primary cultural ritual. It’s said that coffee was discovered here when a monk noticed his goats’ increased energy after consuming the red beans. Somehow that got turned into the warm beverage billions know and love today.

Most Ethiopians drink it several times a day, though it’s not the giant mugs and ventis and grandes we in America know. A traditional coffee ceremony includes the washing, roasting, pounding, and boiling in clay jebanas of the raw beans, all by hand. The coffee is served in small cups, called sinis, that hold about two shots. A full ceremony calls for the process to be repeated three times using the same grounds, causing the coffee to get weaker with each batch. Throw in a little grass on the ground and incense throughout and the ceremony is complete.

The author pretends she knows what she is doing.

Coffee ceremonies are reserved for special occasions, which can be anything, really. “I haven’t seen you in a while, come have coffee” counts as a special occasion. The ceremony is an integral and wonderful part of Ethiopian culture, a chance to get to connect with neighbors, celebrate a holiday with family, take time in the day to relax.

Have I ever performed this ceremony? You betcha, but only twice and with help from my friend. It’s tricky to get the amount of grounds right, to know when it’s finished, etc. Making delicious coffee is a highly sought after trait in a woman. And it’s the women who make it, though I know some men who are able (and have even had one make it for me).

Along with this coffee culture comes the tea and coffee, or shaybuna, break. People take 15 minutes (or an hour in a lot of cases) in the morning and afternoon to have coffee or tea and conversation. It slows down the (already slow) pace of the day.

While I’m discussing coffee, I have to include the ubiquitous macchiato, a legacy of the Italian occupation of the mid-twentieth century. Delicious, frothy macchiatos – basically, coffee with steamed milk — are one of my favorite things in Ethiopia and are found in most cafes on non-fasting days.


Next up is the beverage that’s made my hometown (Milwaukee!) famous. Beer in Ethiopia is an interesting prospect. There are a lot of beers made here. The two most popular are St. George and Dashen. They’re like the Bud and Miller of Ethiopia. You can find at least one of the two most everywhere. Neither is great. In fact, they both wreck my innards, and I avoid them. Dashen is headquartered in Gondar, in the northern part of Ethiopia, and is named after the country’s highest peak, Ras Dashen. St. George is made in Addis Ababa, and is named after the patron saint of Ethiopia, who is famous for slaying a dragon.

St. George recently added a new beer called Amber, which is pretty good. It also has the highest alcohol content of any Ethiopian beer, a fact that every Ethiopian seems to know for some reason. Whenever I order it, someone seems to always remind me that it has 6% alcohol. Is that high? I don’t think I could tell you the alcohol content of any beer I drink in the US.

Nuzzling with Harar Birra.

Nuzzling with Harar Birra.

My favorite beer, and the favorite of many PCVs, is Hakim Stout, made by Harar (also a good beer) in Harar, which is in the eastern part of Ethiopia. Hakim Stout is dark and somewhat sweet (Is it malty? I’m not a huge beer consumer, so I don’t know the technical terms.) When I first arrived in Bahir Dar, it was only found in a few places, but it seems to have spread its reach, which is good for the PCVs around here.

Another favorite of mine is Bedele Special, made in Bedele, which is found in the Oromia region. In case you’re wondering, there is also Bedele Normal, though it can’t be found in a lot of places outside of Western Oromia, including Bahir Dar.

I think the last brands that I’m aware of are Meta and Castel (maybe this one isn’t strictly Ethiopian?). I honestly haven’t had a lot of either. I’m ok with that.

Traditional Drinks

Tej, tella, arake. The big three of Ethiopian traditional drinks.

Tej is a honey-based alcoholic drink, or honey wine. It can be soft (weak) or hard (you guessed it – strong). It’s homemade, but we can buy it at tej bets, which are usually populated by old men. It can be a fun experience.

Tella is a more, er, acquired taste, if it is acquired at all. It’s a traditional grain-based (teff or barley) beer. Often, it’s not strained, so bits of twig, grain, whatever find their way into your mouth. It’s disgusting. I’ve had some really bad tella and I’ve had some that hasn’t made me want to throw up. For me, it’s a kind of run out the clock situation at holiday events. I drink as little as possible, despite attempts by my hosts to keep re-filling my glass.

The sign that someone is selling tella from their home is an upside-down cup on a large stick. They’re everywhere.

Arake. Fire water. I don’t drink it. It’s basically Ouzo, which is sold here, but there are regional variations. My landlady sold me a type she called catespil, which I gave to a PCV as a Christmas gift (he wanted alcohol). It was toxic.

Ethiopian Wine

Gouder and Coke make a welcome appearance at a birthday party.

Gouder and Coke make a welcome appearance at a birthday party.

Look, it’s not great. Gouder is a cheap red wine that wouldn’t pass muster for a couple bucks in the US. But I really like it. But I’m not much of a wine person in the States, so whatever. Some folks cut it with coke, and it’s delightful.

There’s Kemila, Awash, and Axumite, sweet wines (white, white, and red, respectively) that are also cheap. I haven’t had much of either, and I don’t know a lot of Ethiopians who drink it, but someone must, right?


I saved the best for last. The juice in Ethiopia is out of this world. For what is the equivalent of 50 cents, you can get a large glass of frothy, sweet juice in a variety of fruits. The most common are avocado and mango. There’s also guava, orange, pineapple, and banana, my favorite. Ask for a spris and mix and match your favorite kinds. In Addis, you can add strawberry to the mix.

Unfortunately, not all towns have juicebets (juice houses). I’m lucky enough to live in a large city that has fruits year round. It’s a fabulous, refreshing treat.

So that’s a brief summary of the beverages of Ethiopia, at least what I know of them. I hope it makes you want to crack open a cold one.


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safari, so good

Living in Africa affords one great opportunities for travel, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to take advantage of that.


Cape Town from Table Mountain!

My latest excursion took me to the continent’s south, specifically, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. I spent the first few days exploring Cape Town and then set out on an overland safari trek from Johannesburg through Botswana and ending in Victoria Falls. I can’t really think of any way to describe it outside of the usual cliché adjectives. Amazing. Beautiful. Stunning. Fantastic.

I won’t bore you with the details, but here are some highlights of the trip:

  • Upgrade to business class on my first leg of the trip (from Addis to Dubai). Leg room! Tablecloth! Free champagne! Thanks, Emirates!
  • Cape Town. All of it.
  • Bush camping in the Okavango Delta.
  • Lions! Lions!
  • Availability of snack foods. Chips, nuts, fruit snacks. Amazing.
  • Our safari nicknames: collectively, we were the Snack Pack, though we each had individual “bush names.” Mine? Wildebeest, because I could never see the damn animals without my glasses. Apparently, they have poor eyesight, too.
  • Warthog meat. Holy delicious.
  • Soweto bike tour. Awesome way to see the township.
  • Apartheid Museum. Intense.


If you’d like to see some pictures, here’s my album on facebook. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and one I probably wouldn’t have taken if I weren’t living in Ethiopia.



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home, harlem shaking and harar

One hundred ninety volunteers. Two days. One hotel.

All volunteer conference.

Peace Corps Ethiopia held its first AVC over St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Surprisingly, it went smoothly (no one was administratively separated anyway).

Two kind of awesome things came from the conference. First, I found out my COS (close of service) date: July 22. That means I get to leave Ethiopia on that day. I probably won’t be heading home right away, but don’t worry, I’ll be back in time for State Fair.

The other kind of awesome thing is the video below. It’s Harlem Shake on steroids, PC/E style. Give it a look and try to find me amid the chaos.

Less than four months and I’ll be home. I’m doing a little jig. Or at least a Harlem shake.


P.S. Post-AVC, The Good Doctor and I took a short trip to Harar. Check out the photos.

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here’s how

I get asked often about what I’m doing in Ethiopia, in Peace Corps. Not in the “How the hell did they let you in?” way (usually), but “What the hell do you do every day?” er, way. The answer is: all kinds of things.

Almost as often, though, I get asked, “How can I help?”

From where you guys are sitting and reading this, the easiest way to help out a PCV (as far as work goes) is through donations. While I don’t have any projects that need funding, there are some amazing PCVs who have projects that could use some money, if you’re so inclined.


For example:

Karin’s microenterprise development project for women in her community

Ben’s Kids For Kids project focused on fostering creativity among his community’s youth by producing educational music videos

Inge’s literacy program and library development project

Ryan’s refurbishment of a local youth center in his rural community

Berdette’s effort to provide teacher training and kindergarten classes to low income families in her community

If you’re in the giving mood and none of these projects strike your fancy, you can always make a donation to the Peace Corps Ethiopia country fund, which provides small grants to volunteers for trainings and smaller projects.


Even if you can’t donate, reading about these projects could give you some idea of the variety of work that is happening here in Ethiopia. You could also forward the info to anyone who you think would be interested.

I know that not everyone can donate. We’re inundated with emails and facebook statuses imploring us to give to this charity, that fundraiser, his or her campaign, whatever. I just wanted to give you the option, you know, if you’re one of those people who at some point asked me, “How can I help?”


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highlight of the highlands


I finally made it. If you don’t know, the rock-hewn churches found in Lalibela are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ethiopia and a UNESCO world heritage site. The intricately designed churches are carved from the rock. It’s like an Ethiopian Orthodox Petra. And it is found in my neck of the woods, but I hadn’t made the trip until now.

In many ways, as my site mate and fellow traveler Sarah pointed out, the trip was like a condensed version of our Peace Corps experience: somewhat stressful and frustrating (flat tires, farenji prices, cramped buses, annoying people) but ultimately worth it.

The churches are amazing. The history is fascinating. King Lalibela wanted to (or by God was instructed to) build a New Jerusalem. Each of the main eleven churches has a different meaning or relevance. You can find the “tombs” of Adam and Eve, Jesus, and the three wise men. The most famous of all the churches (or, as our guide, Efram, put it, “the highlight of Ethiopia”), St George, represents Noah’s Ark. There is a River Jordan. There also is one church, Golgotha, of which is said that merely stepping inside is a ticket to heaven. Women aren’t allowed in, naturally.

So I may not get into heaven, but at least I made it to Lalibela.

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welcome to lethiopiah – debub gets down and other cultural craziness

What a week. Bahir Dar hosted Ethiopia’s annual Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Celebration. I bounced from event to event, enjoying the music, dancing and general merriment.

Bahir Dar really spruced itself up for the event. New sidewalks, a mostly finished huge stadium, benches and garbage cans installed, freshly painted crosswalks and lines in the road. And flags. Flags everywhere.

Here’s a video of some of the celebrations.


If you’re not on facebook, here are the photos I posted. I even have a dress on (!) in some of them.


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