Thrift Shop and Concerning Hobbits

I have awesome new year's resolutions this year. :)

One, is to visit ALEP people. I've already managed to see some folks at Katsucon, and have future trips planned. Very exciting! I also intend to test for ikkyu for kendo some time this year.
But another is to learn to play some music. 15 years ago, I could play the piano a little and sight-read music. But I am very rusty, and would like to try again.

In a stupendous use of my time, I have figured out the notes to Thrift Shop (and by 'figured out', I mean 'watched YouTube videos where people tell you').

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If not, I might have to look up, you written for a tin whistle. Imagine that!

Summer recipes

I love fresh produce in the summer time :) I grew up on an apply orchard, and we always kept a vegetable garden for ourselves when I was a kid, so I just really enjoy getting fresh, local produce that you can't the rest of the year (around here).

So besides delicious fruit, my *favorite* part of summer produce is...fresh tomatoes! And mostly, I make them into tomato sandwiches.

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If anyone has any summer recipes they'd like to share, I'm all ears! :D

Happy Birthday, Alex!

…or, maybe I should write blog posts sometimes.

Alex is my 2 year old nephew. He is also the reason I went to Ethiopia, more or less.

I’d been a teacher in Baltimore for about 5 years when I found out that he was going to be born. This wasn’t exactly surprising news; my sister and her husband had always mentioned the possibility of having a third child, and my sister was a bit weirded out by the strangers who congratulated her on having a boy and a girl already as if she had achieved the motherhood goal of a complete set. But we were a bit surprised that this child was due to arrive shortly after my brother-in-law deployed to Afghanistan again.

So that left my sister ‘stranded’ in another state with no family closer than a 6 hour drive and three children aged 3 and under. That sounded…like a handful. My mother (‘Granny’) was happy to be there when the baby was born and help out, but deployments last for months. So what could we do?

Happily, my sister agreed to let me move in with her and her kids for a couple of months in the fall. I’d help keep her sane, drive the 3 year old to preschool, help paint the house, provide adult conversation, eat her food, etc. It was a great chance to spend some quality time together, and of course I got to know my niece and nephews much better. Only problem? I couldn’t exactly hold down a teaching job in Baltimore while doing this, and her husband was due back in Feb., so I couldn’t move in with them for the whole school year, either. Obvious solution?

Go teach in Africa. Cause that’s a logical next step. [Countries like Tanzania start the school year in January….but Ethiopia doesn’t. Oops!] Well, I'd always wanted to work in Africa anyway, so this was my chance.

Alexander (the Great) arrived during a hurricane. Of course he did; because not only was he born while his daddy was half-way around the world, he had to be born in a hospital where the power went out. No, Granny *isn’t* going to come pick you up at the hospital yet, because it’s dark and there’s trees and wires down and base isn’t open to civilians yet. He proceeded to be one of the easiest babies to watch. He… almost *never* cried. Seriously, I lived in that house for months, and there were a couple of crazy little kids there, but *not* a crying baby. (He cried during Black Dahlia, but who can blame him?) He was super wiggly, though, so a mild challenge to hold on to. A very happy little guy.

Christmas morning 2011:

And so after saying goodbye to everyone at Christmas, I got on a plane and went to Ethiopia. My brother-in-law came back a month later, and somehow my sister survived on her own during that time. I was able to see them all that summer, and so I celebrated Alex’s first birthday by going to the Maryland Renaissance Festival with my sister’s family. It was great fun – I helped make a pirate costume for my other nephew, and he loved it! But we should have remembered…the kid who was born in a hurricane brought the tropical storm with him and we were drenched in a downpour and the jousting was cancelled. But we still had cupcakes, and no one froze to death on the car ride home.

He was quite terrified during this pony ride I foisted on him….

But he was his usual happy self later!

And then I went back to Ethiopia and he moved to Spain.

Wait, what? Yeah, military family…they live in Spain now. So on my way home from Ethiopia, I had to visit my niece and nephews and sister and brother-in-law, of course!

Almost-two-year-old Alex was a bit different from one year old and 4 month old Alex, of course. He’s learning to talk now – in both English and Spanish! He says ‘Hola’ and ‘adio’ and ‘caballo’ (he can’t say ‘horse’ yet). Like the others did, he calls me aunt ‘Re. He’s still a very happy guy. He has a reset button – any time he was upset, I just held him upside down and like magic, he was laughing when I put him down. He’ll eat anything others are eating, and can put away 3 strips of bacon at breakfast without even blinking. He’s a good helper, picking up his toys as soon as his mom asked (unlike the older ones!) and even cleaning the microwave. He enjoys brewing tea, but it came out a bit weak because he got bored with dunking it eventually. He likes the Imperial March, but was terrified of Darth Vader the first time he saw him. He’s become desensitized and likes him better now. He’s difficult to direct in theater productions, losing props and failing to heed directions. [Then again, toddler Swan Lake might have been a *bit* ambitious on my part!] He loves going in the water at the beach and will run away from the waves. And his favorite blanket is the one I made for his sister before she was born.

So happy 2nd birthday, Alex! I don’t have a gift for you, and I doubt it will storm where you are this time. You’ll likely be nearly 3 by the next time I see you in person. Hopefully, you’ll be better at talking and making tea by then. But I guess I’ll get to learn all over again what you’re like. Until next summer!

(To see the photos, you might need to be my friend or my sister’s friend on facebook. Sorry about that! Just trust he’s adorable and cute.)


Bugs :)

Before coming to Ethiopia, I was a little leery of moving to a tropical country because of the…bugs. Giant spiders, hissing cockroaches, ants crawling all over everything. Bugs carrying awful diseases, like African sleeping sickness and malaria. I really wasn’t looking forward to that at all. But…that’s not what I found here. Ethiopia may be at 10°N latitude, but here we’re at a high altitude (2300 m) so this really isn’t an issue. We have bugs, yes, but nothing particularly scary. It’s in the 70s year round, not the 90s.

Here, if a bug doesn’t move much, it’s safe. We have little flies with triangular black wings that just hang out on the wall all the time. They don’t move, or buzz, or bother you, or bite. If you want, you can kill them, but…really, why bother? Likewise, the spiders. They’re skinny little things that sit in the same place for weeks at a time, probably waiting for the flies that don’t move to find their webs. Very few spiders here have any size to them, and very few of them scurry across the floor. So, you can mostly ignore them, cleaning out the cobwebs occasionally.

We do have cockroaches, but they’re honestly quite small; I’ve seen bigger roaches in Baltimore. Of course, if you don’t do something about them, you end up with *lots* of small roaches in your kitchen, and that’s not fun. So, we should probably clean more often than we do. Last year we were spoiled to have Teresa living with us, and she would clean the house on her free day. This year, Guni helps us with the cleaning once a week, but we should still do better. We put out roach traps, but they didn’t seem to work. In tropical places, you’ll have roaches no matter what you do, but I’d rather have fewer of them, thank you very much. I don’t want to see a roach scurrying away every time I open a drawer or cabinet.

The ants are tiny, and mostly stay outside. We get more of them during the rainy season, but they don’t cause any problems. Much more annoying are the house flies. They are both lazy and persistent. The kids are mostly resigned to them, not even shooing them away, because if you do…they only buzz around and land on you again. Next time I’m out, I plan to buy a plastic flyswatter if I see one on the street. Even more annoying are the mosquitoes. We have a lot right now, so it’s a game to see how many you can kill during the day, so they won’t bother you at night. It’s hard to sleep with a mosquito buzzing in your ear! But oh so satisfying to smash them against the wall. We have something we can burn if we are out on our porch to help keep them away. At least we don’t have to worry about catching malaria; at this altitude, those mosquitoes can’t survive. It only matters if we travel south into the Rift Valley; the Ziway volunteers have to deal with that. Also in Ziway, they have giant flying…crickets. That would freak me out if they were in my house, but here, we don’t seem to have them. We have regular crickets that are a bit noisy, but stay outside in the grass.

The most annoying bugs, though, are the ones that infest you: lice and fleas. Lice are of course not fun, but quite straightforward to get rid of. You wash your hair with lice shampoo, comb it out with a fine tooth comb, and wash your sheets. Most volunteers here get them a couple of times a year. The kids have a harder time getting rid of them, since they might be sharing their bed with siblings who have them, and…yeah. Also, showering once a week (like our KGs do here) can’t really be good for that. So often they solve the problem by shaving their heads when the lice get too bad. Fleas are much worse. They’re hard to get rid of (even if you wash all of your bedding and clothes in hot water) and their bites are itchy. One flea can bite you repeatedly, leaving a track of bites on your skin. The fleas really like Marcy; at one point, she counted 100 flea bites on herself! In America, we have dog fleas. Here in Ethiopia, we have human fleas. They are well adapted to preying on their unwilling hosts. Fleas… jump. And once they do, you can’t find them any more. So even if you see the fleas, it can be very tricky to destroy them. They’re worse during the rainy season, for some reason.


You wake up to the sensation of something crawling on your arm. Knowing what it is, you reach for it with your other hand without looking. Once you feel you have trapped something under your finger, you have to kill it before it escapes. You may very carefully trap it between two fingers. At this point, an amateur would sit up and look to see if there is a flea captured between your fingers. Do not give into this temptation! If you open your fingers enough to see what is there, you will give the flea the opportunity it has been waiting for. It will jump… and get lost in your bed. Now you will know you have a live flea in your bed; good luck falling back asleep. No, the experienced person will get out of bed and walk to the bathroom sink before checking to see what you have captured. Now, if the flea escapes, you can still kill it, and at least it’s not in your bed. Fleas are not easily squashed. Mosquitoes are fragile, dying with the slightest impact. Not so the flea. It must be crushed…squished…torn apart, using a hard surface. It may be crushed against the tile floor, ripped in half with finger nails, or smashed against the porcelain sink. A dead flea is a beautiful sight; those powerful jumping legs stick out just like the pictures on the bottles of bug spray they sell for cleaning up after a pet.

Preventative efforts are worth it; taking showers in the evening and washing clothes and bedding frequently. Presumably bug spray would be helpful, though I don’t think it’s healthy to spray DEET on yourself every day. But no amount of prevention seems to keep these pests away all the time. For longer term residents, the frequency of flea bites grants some acclimation. After a couple of years, the bites don’t itch so much. For one year volunteers…there's anti-itch cream. Keep Benadryl next to your bed, and you won’t scratch all your bites open.
And as the Ethiopians say… Izosh. (It means something like ‘be brave, be strong’ and can be used in myriad circumstances, from stubbing a toe to the death of your mother; the masculine form is ‘Izoh’)


We cook with lots of fresh vegetables here in Ethiopia. They’re readily available, generally of good quality, and super cheap. For instance, a few days ago, we stopped by the stand right outside our compound and bought: 1 kilo of bananas, 1 kilo of tomatoes, 1 kilo of potatoes, 1 kilo of carrots and ½ kilo of beets… for 51 birr ($3); 1 kilogram = 2.2 lbs. By contrast, canned and packaged goods are much more expensive; a large tub of peanut butter might cost 85 birr, and a bottle of imported olive oil 200 birr ($11). Other readily available vegetables include: onions, green/red peppers, carriar (a variety of chili pepper), zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, broccoli and cauliflower, green beans, lettuce, cabbage, leeks, pumpkins (in fall) and feed corn (in summer). No celery, though.

We mostly make foreign food – guacamole with fresh bread from the avocados, rice and veggies, pasta and tomato sauce, soups, salads, etc. During Lent, our diet is vegan, but we enjoy meat and cheeses occasionally throughout the rest of the year, and milk, yogurt and eggs are all used in our kitchen. We bake cookies, cakes and the occasional muffins. But we don’t make much Ethiopian food (other than shirowot).

At home, it would be nearly impossible to make anything ‘Ethiopian’. Ethiopian meals all contain injera. To make injera, you need teff, a grain endemic to (and only grown in) Ethiopia. Even if you had the teff and knew how to ferment it properly, you’d need the injera cooker to make it (it’s vaguely like making crepes). And so… that’s not going to happen back home. Here, we can buy injera in many of the shops that sell bread, so it’s much easier. Still, we don’t do it often; we can go out for good Ethiopian food whenever we want, and the cooks serve it to us daily in the community for lunch.

But I did find a recipe for Diffo Dabbo, bread made for feasts and coffee ceremonies. I’m not sure how it will turn out, but I’d like to try that at least before I go. If it really does taste like Diffo Dabbo, it’s a delicious bread! It’s one of the few Ethiopian dishes I can ‘share’ with people back home. The coffee ceremony (with its popcorn and incense) would also be possible to replicate, if I cared to bring back a jebena (clay coffee pot with rounded bottom - I have no plans to; they don’t travel well).

Diffo Dabbo (from a book by a Japanese lady living in Ethiopia)
Ingredients: 4 c. whole wheat flour, 2 Tbsp. honey, 1 Tbsp. yeast, salt, water and oil
Directions: Put flour into a bowl and float the bowl in hot water.
Add honey to ½ c. warm water. Add yeast. When yeast rises, add flour and a pinch of salt and mix well. (If mixture is too hard, add some warm water)
Knead the dough and form into a disc 1 cm thick, 20 cm round. Leave to rise in a warm place for one hour.
Heat a little oil in a thick frying pan, add the dough, put on the lid and cook slowly over low heat. When the bottom burns, turn over and cook the other side.

Also, one of our staples here this year was introduced to us in September by a volunteer from Ghana. Quite simply, it’s delicious, so we make it about once a month, in a quantity large enough to eat for several days. Ground nut stew may be a lot of work, but it’s worth it! (Especially if you have multiple people to help cut up everything and stand by the stove and stir.) We’ve never made it with chicken, but apparently you’re supposed to. We also use sticky rice instead of the original fufu (since that’s not exactly readily available here).Fufu is made from cassava root, I think.It’s eaten regularly in Ghana, apparently. I have no idea how people there can stay skinny; the only explanation is frequent bouts of malaria.

Ground Nut Stew (Ghana)
Prep time: 2-3 hours Feeds: 10-12 people

1 large tub ‘natural’ peanut butter (1 kg) [it’s the only kind we have here]
1.5 kg tomatoes + 1 can tomato paste (800 g)
3 Onions
2-5Carriar (chili peppers) – to taste
1 bulb garlic (12-20 cloves)
5 ginger roots
2 large cubes Chicken broth (substitute veg. broth for vegan recipe)
Chicken (optional)
Spices: Salt, Pepper, Berbere (for spice), ground nutmeg, parsley, basil, dry mustard, etc.
4 c. rice (you will need to make more later)

1. Mix Peanut Butter with an equal amount of water (5-6 cups). Knead with hand, making sure all lumps are gone and water and peanut butter are smoothly mixed. Put on stove and stir continuously until oil separates. Spoon off oil from surface and set aside.
2. Dice tomatoes, onions, and hot pepper. Mince garlic. Grate ginger. Use mortar and pestle to combine ingredients (there will be lots of left over tomato and a little onion).
3. Add a little oil to a large pot. Add tomato mixture.
4. In another small pot, boil 1 pint water and make broth.
5. Add broth and peanut butter to cooking vegetables. Stir continuously. Add tomato paste to thicken. If pot is not big enough, get a second pot.
6. While mixture is cooking, add spices. Stir continuously. Warning: This Will Make a Mess if you let it boil without stirring!!!
7. I guess you can dice up some chicken, cook it, and add it to the pot. In Ghana, they always put chicken in this, but I’ve never made it with meat. So, ummm… good luck!
8. To Make Sticky Rice: Add 7 c. of water to 4 c. of rice. Put on stove. When it boils, leave uncovered and stir continuously. If necessary, add more water. When rice is cooked, use a potato masher to make it one sticky mass.
9. Serve in bowls without utensils. Use your hands to take a piece of rice and scoop up the peanut stew. It’s very easy to burn your mouth and fingers this way, but it tastes better if you eat it with your hands.

I’ve had minimal success frying food. I need to look up how you do it so the food comes out crisp, not mushy. I think the oil needs to be hotter, but I’m not sure. So far, I’ve tried tempura (as a more interesting variation on our veggies) and falafel (we had a recipe in our book). Another recipe I want to try is fried sweet potato balls. But that will have to wait until after fasting time, since it involves egg!

Sweet Potato Balls (from Tanzania, but also from the book by the Japanese lady)
3 large sweet potatoes, 4 Tbsp sugar, salt, ½ egg, ½ c. sesame seeds, ½ c. flour, ½ c. water, oil
Peel and cut the sweet potatoes, add them to boiling water with salt, and cook. When cooked, mash the potatoes. When cooled, add sugar and egg. Form balls 1 in. in diameter. Mix equal parts flour and sesame seeds with some water to form coating. Roll balls in coating. Deep fry in high temp.oil (or else balls will collapse). Serve hot.

Ethiopian food doesn’t really include desserts. I mean, they have bakeries here, that sell cakes and donuts and even baklava, but it’s not really part of the traditional culture. They don’t even have baking soda for sale in the shops, and vanilla is ‘seasonal’. So…we’ve had to import our own idea of sweets. Marcy and I made an apple pie last week, and it was delicious. Ice cream is sold here (you can get it at Kaldi’s, and also buy gelato from places owned by Italians – we’re in an international capital city). But… we never buy it. So, we’ve had to make our own.

Frozen banana ‘ice cream’
Slice up a few bananas and toss in freezer for a couple of hour. Take out and grind them up with our magic European ‘bzzzz’ mixer (I suppose it has a name, but I just say ‘bzzzz’ and make the motion like I’m using it; it’s handheld like beaters, but has moving blades like a blender or food processor). Add a few spoonfuls of flavoring to the cool paste, such as peanut butter, honey, nutella, other fruit, coco powder, etc. I suppose you could add milk or cream if you wanted to. For sweet Ethiopian bananas, sugar is not needed; for tasteless American bananas, it might be. Return to freezer until it is hard. But if you leave it in for a few days, it gets *very* hard and may need to soak in warm water for a moment before trying to serve it.
A cool treat, great for warm weather or sore throats!

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my recipes!

Water, water everywhere

…and all the boards did shrink.
Water, water, everywhere
Nor any drop to drink.

March 26th

The little rainy season has begun, so we often have quite a lot of water here. Well, that is… we had rain for a week straight, and now occasionally in the evenings. On Friday, it even hailed! Marcy’s doing weather with the 5th grade now, so that’s convenient.

We have a bit less water in our house (at least in the places we want it). The pump has broken, so there’s no water for the volunteer house (upstairs or down) and the community now has to rely on city water which is… unreliable. So, my bathroom sometimes has water, and our kitchen will not have water until the pump is fixed. When this happened 2 years ago, it took a month to fix it, so Teresa (the Spanish volunteer) is not hopeful that we will have water any time soon.

The water disappeared on Friday. Also on Friday, our bathroom flooded. It seemed very unfair to have no water all day, but have an overflowing toilet. Presumably, the toilet is still broken, but without water, it’s hard to know. Since I have water sometimes, I’m allowing everyone to use my shower. It’s a good thing I cleaned my bathroom when I did, though more than a bit a shame that I was out of clean clothes when this happened. I’m really not sure when we’re going to be able to do laundry again, so I suppose I can just wear dirty clothes or wash things out in the sink as needed.

Speaking of water, I’m considering which book to use with the 9th grade. They’ll read some passages and then watch the movie, so nothing too taxing. Last year, we did ‘The Secret Garden’, but this year I’m considering ‘Voyage of the Dawn-treader.’ The movie might be a bit long, though, and honestly it’s not as good as the first Narnia movie, so I might try to do that instead. It has snow in it, at least, which is interesting. I’m not sure what I think about using a movie with such a blatant Christian message when I have Muslim students, but I’m sure there’s some way of doing that in a sensitive way.

Update - After 10 days, the pump was fixed, so all in all not too bad. I am super-glad we don't have to rely on city water usually; I only had water Sun, Tues, Sat...that is not enough! Teresa bought us a big blue plastic barrel, though, and Theresa's father made sure we always had water in it. So...all in all, it worked out. Hopefully, we'll get our plumbing issues looked at sometime, but for now, everything is working.

Sorry I haven't posted for awhile; I dated my updates, and will try to be better at getting to internet in the future.

Let the Lenten Fasting Begin!

March 10th

Tsom no. It’s fasting time here in Ethiopia. The Orthodox celebrate Easter on May 5th, so the Catholics here do the same (with less than 1% of the country being Catholic, it doesn’t make sense to celebrate Christmas and Easter on the Western dates, so… we don’t.) The Orthodox, however, are more hardcore about their fasting, not taking Sundays off and beginning 55 days before Easter rather than 40 (so this year, it’s Monday, March 11th). I don’t actually know the reason for that, but I’m sure there is one.

It’s easier to get tired while fasting, but in general I don’t remember feeling overly hungry all the time last year. It’s a reasonable enough fast. You don’t eat animal products (so, vegan) and you don’t eat before the mass of the day ends (3 PM weekdays, 9 or 10 AM weekends). After 3 PM, you can eat as much as you like, so long as it’s vegan (sugar, alcohol and caffeine are all okay). This is easier than the Muslim Ramadan, where you have to fast until sundown. Obviously, as non-Orthodox foreigners, we don’t have to do anything, but it’s such an important part of the culture here that it’s good to experience it. Teresa the Spanish volunteer hates fasting time, because all her ‘I’m only here for one year!’ roommates always want to try it. This year, she lives upstairs and cooks for herself, but… her new roommate (an Italian volunteer) is vegetarian so she has to avoid cooking meat anyway ;). [We don’t buy meat often here, but giving up milk, butter, eggs, cheese, chicken broth, etc. is kinda a big deal.]
The Austrian volunteers calculated that their halfway point was March 4th, so on Tuesday we had a party to celebrate. It was sorta our Mardi Gras before the fasting time, so we cooked with lots of meat and cheese, and made a watermelon full of sangria. (This is the warmest time of the year here; we’ll make spiced wine in the summer when it is cold during the rainy season.) It was a nice meal, only marred by Teresa and Luca being unable to join us. (They had to take a sick kid to the hospital for a meningitis scare, but thankfully it was only typhoid fever.) So we sent plates up to them after they got home.

Next Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day, so we’ll probably want to go out (remember, alcohol is a fasting food – as long as it’s not Baileys!) But Shanae and Teresa are both having visitors coming in this weekend, so it’s bound to be hectic. Shanae’s friend Kristina is coming for a whole month, and will help out in the project as well as travel a little (probably in the south). Teresa’s family is coming for I think 3 weeks, and will travel half that time (probably in the north). So, overall, it should be good for them to have guests, and I’ll get to use all of my horrible German. We’ll also watch The Sound of Music with them ;) [No one in Austria has seen it, whereas most Americans can sing along with all the songs, so it’s funny to show them what Americans think of Austria!] Marcy is travelling this weekend, visiting the American volunteers in Soddo, since she has midterm exams in the schools Monday and Tuesday. I’m sure Paula and Jenna will appreciate getting a visitor! They don’t make it up to Addis hardly ever. We need to schedule a time to get together (maybe somewhere between Soddo and Addis) to get them out of their compound for a bit.



So Sorry I don’t write very much these days! I was tempted to say ‘see Marcy’s blog’ for this, but I wrote up a little about our travels. Hers is Here and has pictures.

At the end of January, the schools were closed for a week, so Marcy and I decided to do a bit of travelling. Lalibela is pretty much the place to see in Ethiopia, but…it’s very remote. Since this was her one chance to do something touristy, we decided to go there….

… by public transport, rather than plane.

Ethiopia has a great airlines, and the prices for flights within the country are quite reasonable. So, a one-way trip from Lalibela to Addis is about US$40. Of course, it’s cheaper to take busses, and… that way you get to see a lot more of the country and experience it. So, that’s what we decided to do. Not too many tourists do that.
I think it was worth it, but I also think that it’s going to be a long time before I plan a vacation where I have to get up before 5 AM more often than not! Monday we left Addis on the very nice Selam bus for the 6 or 7 hour drive to Dessie (210 birr). The bus leaves from Meskel Square about 6 AM, but they ask everyone to be there at 5 AM to load the bus. It’s a nice bus with air and a TV and even complimentary breakfast – very high end! It also took the curves a bit fast, so I got carsick (along with some of the other Ethiopians). That did not bode well, but luckily it didn’t happen again. All of the busses in the north come with complimentary plastic baggies, just in case.
Dessie is a sizable and well-off town, likely related to its location on a main road. The hotels there range from cheap to nice, but the mid-priced ones fill up quickly. So we had a choice of staying in the cheap, cheap places…or spending real money on a room. We opted for the former. So, the first place was 70 birr ($4) for a room with toilet/shower. The power went out and the place smelled like urine, but it was decent enough. On the return trip, we paid 60 birr for a room with a shower (communal toilets only), and a screen above the door rather than a window that closed. So that was… less nice, but worked out in the end. The only other options cost over 200 birr/night, and that didn’t even get you hot water.

Again at 5 AM, we found ourselves in the bus station, taking a 1st level bus to Lalibela (92 birr). The buses all left at 6:30, once it was light. The drive to Wollo is only a few hours, and then after that, we headed up the hills into the highlands. Once there, we drove along the plateau for a long ways. The highlands are…dry. Everything is brown; no green in sight during the dry season. All the houses had large stacks of hay to feed their livestock (in most other places, they just let them graze all year). I was most worried about this leg of the journey, as a 10 hour bus ride through the mountains can be brutal. On the contrary, it wasn’t even unpleasant. When we descended from the highlands, it was by a gravel road, so that part of the trip was slow going (~2 hours). We had to stop for a flat tire for a bit, but other than that, no problem. The only other foreigner on the bus was a Japanese man; it was his second day in Ethiopia, but he was coming from another African country I think.

Once in Lalibela, we had to hike up the hill into town from the bus station. Naturally, we stopped for cold drinks at a café when we got there, and they asked us why we didn’t get a taxi. We planned to find a place to stay on our walk through town, but failed to notice signs for the places we’d picked out of the guidebook. Instead, we kept going to the Ben Abeba restaurant for dinner and a beautiful view at sunset. I figured Marcy would really enjoy it, especially since it was owned by a Scottish lady. We stayed until sunset, and then had to walk back into town and look for a place to stay in the dark. Not our brightest idea (haha), but it worked out fine. We walked into a place whose name I forget (began with a Y) and asked the price. They told us rooms cost $30/night. When we looked at each other and turned to go, the man asked us what price we’d be willing to pay. I said… how about $30 for two nights? He gave us the room for $20/night in the end, and it was very nice. It had a bathtub! They also were willing to give us a ‘wakeup call’ when we needed to leave at 4 AM to get to the bus station when we left on Thursday – but what this meant was the zebenya (guard) would very kindly knock on our door to wake us up!

Wednesday was our day to sleep in, enjoy our beautiful beds, eat a leisurely breakfast, and spend all day in Lalibela. We were a bit SHOCKED to find out the price of admission is now US$50 – it used to be $25, which was already quite high! Apparently, they doubled it in January. We tagged along with two other travelers who had hired a guide, and the guide was of course happy to take us along, too… for double the fee. (He was charging 400 birr for 2 people, but 750 birr for 4 people.) I seriously hate the tourism industry here. Yes, the churches in Lalibela are worth seeing. And, if you get yourself there, you’re going to pay $50 to see them. But I can think of a lot of other things to do with 900 birr, and that’s just a ridiculous entrance fee for anything in Ethiopia. People on package tours won’t notice the $25 price increase, but for volunteers here, it’s a major deterrent – there are other things to see, other places to visit. (Of course, only foreigners have to pay this fee – Ethiopians can visit the churches without paying that kind of money.) The locals are relatively friendly, having honed their begging skills. They scare off the kids who come up to you asking for money, and it’s the older kids who stop and chat and then eventually get around to asking you for your shoes or to buy them a school book. Not surprisingly, they disappeared after we said no!

But anyway, so we met two other travelers, Rita and Josh. Rita was from Belgium and was my parents’ age, and Josh was Australian and younger. It was fun to tag along with them all day, and they even joined us for dinner at Ben Abeba. We got back after dark, and then got up early for our trek down the hill to the bus station. I was a bit nervous to be walking around so early in the morning, but there were other people walking down the hill to the bus station and it wasn’t all that dark. We didn’t hear any hyenas close by, either (Marcy had rocks in her pocket, just in case).

We got on the 2nd level bus to Dessie, and this was an interesting experience. It’s a 3 hour drive up into the highlands (the first hour on the paved road from Lalibela to the airport, and the second 2 hours on gravel). They stopped to let people on and off the entire time, so the aisle was always packed full of people. Luckily, as thru travelers who were there early, we had a seat. This bus driver took very good care of us, making sure we had transport to Dessie when the bus broke down in Wollo.

By the time we arrived in Dessie and secured our cheap room, I was mostly done with travelling by bus in Ethiopia. But, the next morning, we caught a minibus to Addis (200 birr) which should have been a good idea. We made good time for the first half of the trip. But then when we stopped for lunch, a woman discovered that her luggage had fallen off and she demanded compensation from the bus driver. This dispute resulted in a trip for the two of them to the local police station. So, two hours later, we were back on the road.

We finally arrived in Addis, being dropped off near Mercato, and then had to make our way by minibus to Mexico and Mekanissa. We were glad to be back. :)

We of course had to consider what souvenirs to bring back for our Austrian roommates. My first suggestion was the bathtub in the hotel in Lalibela – it was so nice, and wonderful to be able to wash off after all that traveling! Of course, this wasn’t a very practical suggestion…. My next idea was promptly vetoed by Marcy. I thought we could bring back a cat. What gave me this idea was that someone got on the bus with a cat in a bag on our way up the mountain leaving Lalibela! The poor critter sounded very unhappy in the luggage rack over our heads, but the owner was standing and couldn’t do much about it. In the end, we got them some nice oranges in Dessie (most oranges here in Addis are green, but these were actually orange) and some sugarcane. [As you can tell, Marcy is the reasonable one in the group.]

Another thing we brought back were bug bites. Marcy had been dealing with fleas before we left, but when we got back, she had over 100 flea bites! (She counted) I had considerably fewer, but more disturbingly, a tick (my only one here). Anyway, we obviously immediately washed all our clothes from the trip and after awhile, she was flea-free. I do hate those bugs though!!! The worst part of the trip had to be the crazy half-naked man who randomly punched Marcy in the face in Dessie (she was fine, but stuff like that comes out of nowhere and happens very fast.)
The best parts were the view, seeing so much of the countryside (including a baboon and many camels!) and visiting the churches in Lalibela. Oh, and I took pictures.

TIA: It's the altitude!

So, it turns out the movie Blood Diamond is much funnier when you watch it in Africa. I hasten to clarify that a movie about civil war, child soldiers and diamond smugglers is not actually funny; it’s meant to be serious and depressing, and of course it is. Leonardo diCaprio’s character is rather a bastard and if anyone else played him, you’d hate him unequivocally. (As it is, you’re mostly mildly disgusted by him.) But, I’d never seen it before, and I’d always wanted to see it, so I thought it would be good to watch it since we had it here. And…parts of it were definitely funny to see, because…there are some things that are just how white foreigners in Africa operate that were pretty accurate. One was the idea that the foreigners all get out of town when things turn south, but of course the locals don’t have that choice. Also, the idea that there’s only a handful of reasons to be there – so everyone’s a journalist or a Peace Corps type or working for the UN. Another was the phrase ‘TIA’ which stood for… “This is Africa.” And, yes, that excuse explains pretty much everything. The cell phone network has been down for over a month in Mekanissa, but works fine everywhere else in Addis (and other places)? TIA. Another thing was the comment about the red soil…because the soil in Soddo is soooo red. It was funny to listen to Marcy explain to Jenna and Paula that that was because of the iron in the soil, and you have iron in your blood (after we watched the movie together). So, I’m really glad I waited until now to watch that. I really liked Leonardo diCaprio in Catch Me if You Can, so I’ll pretty much watch any movie with him in it, but I waited until this fall to watch Inception and Blood Diamond.

(Of course, I have a brother who pretty much is the character from Catch Me If You Can and/or White Collar, so…that might be why I like that. My brother isn’t a criminal {as far as I know}, though he’d make a great con man. He can make anyone believe his stories, even when he tells you up front that he’s pulling your leg. He {mostly} uses his powers for good. But anyways. Speaking of conning people into things…)

Ah, right, so while the Austrians were in Ziway, Marcy and I were left to our own devices for a couple of days. I thought we should do something super-American while they were gone, but it was hard to think of too many things. So…I managed to talk her into playing Scrabble one evening. Now, I am not the world’s most decisive person. In fact, I’m extremely indecisive. So, the lack of a time limit on turns meant the game lasted 2 hours. Marcy will never play Scrabble with me again. But, at least I got one game out of it! And yes, I won (not by much), but that’s not what I was happiest about. I got to use the word ‘veldt’…in Africa!! So nice. I even let her look it up in the dictionary for free because I was so proud of myself for doing that. But like I said…I burned that bridge. In general, the volunteers dislike playing card games with me, because I tend to win a lot. But they’ll still play Rummy with me, at least (and last night, I lost to Shanae, so I’m not always so lucky). It’s strange…I’ve never been that great at winning games, I don’t think. My family has refused to play geography games with me for years, since I was an expert on that in middle school. But I always lose Settlers of Catan, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit.

The other excuse that I use for everything (instead of just saying ‘This is Africa’) is…the altitude. I mean, we’re at 10°N latitude here, in the middle of the tropics… and it’s 70s year round. So…the altitude is quite high, pretty much the same as Colorado. And some things can be blamed on the altitude. For instance, high altitude cooking means that water boils at a slightly different temperature. And there’s no malaria in Addis for the same reason. But I blame a lot of other random things on the altitude, too. Like, if someone complains of feeling tired out…oh, it’s the altitude. Which might have been true in the first few weeks, but, by now, I feel we’ve probably adapted, and maybe something else is responsible. Alcohol tolerance is also down, but I’m not sure if that’s fair to blame on the altitude or if it has more to do with decreased consumption.

I only have a little over six more months left here, so it’s been weird beginning to think about the end and what will happen when I go back. I’ve spent 10 of the past 12 months in Ethiopia, and since I came back at the end of August, I’ve felt very comfortable here. I’ve definitely settled in for the long haul. Which is why…it is so strange to think, ‘huh, in another couple of months, I should start searching for a new job.’ We won’t hit the halfway point in the school year until the end of January, but it’s still transitioning. I tend to be much happier in life when I don’t have to contemplate endings or beginnings, but at the same time, I’m very comfortable with the idea of going home after this. I don’t want to live in Ethiopia forever, and I think the students here benefit from having a different American come to teach them Spoken English each year. I really enjoy teaching the 11th grade this year, but that doesn’t mean it would be good for me to stick around and teach them as 12th graders. The current 12th grade has their moments, but they’re mostly impossible to work with except for one-on-one.

Anyway, hope all is well in the rest of the world!