When my dad was in Iraq many of our correspondences ended with the current soundtracks of our lives. What songs were playing on our i pods at defining moments, what songs seem to be narrating our stories and what songs have changed in our new contexts. At that point I was about 6 months into my service, and one song that I noted was “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” By Colin Hay. I felt that living in Masha was leading to something bigger, I didn’t realize why I was there yet and didn’t feel like I was living my “real life”. Sometime over the next year and a half that changed. Ethiopia became my life and home, but especially now that I live in Addis and have a “real” job I feel like my ship has come in.
So what is my “real” job? This is something I’ve been asked frequently. I’ll try to explain it, but for the non-Peace Corps person it is a little hard to describe. My title is Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL). It’s a common position throughout Peace Corps worldwide. Our framework is made up of 6 main goals:
1. Volunteer Support (to help with work and integration within the capital and regional office locations)
2. Agency Relations (coordinate with regional Ethiopian agencies and NGOs to strengthen relationships with PC)
3. Site Identification (Assist staff in the site development process under the coordination and oversight of program managers)
4. Internal Office Capacity & Efficiency
5. PCV Training (support staff in technical and cross-cultural training sessions of PCVs)
6. Committee Work (work with Peer Support Network, Program Action Committee, and Volunteer Advocacy Committee to support their productivity, efficiency and organization with the goal of providing enhanced support to PCVs)
So what does that all mean? In a nutshell, helping PC Ethiopia run better and keeping volunteers happy through support. By putting a volunteer perspective on programming, office culture and protocols, PCVLs can make the program run smoother and reduce the number of PC issues that hinder a volunteer’s experience.
Aside from office work, I’ve done 2 Regional In Service Trainings for the new-ish health group. In the two trainings I worked at (in the Oromia towns of Ambo and Jimma) I did 2 full day trainings on creating Income Generating Activities, Accounting, Savings & Credit Associations and Program Design and Management. The third day I organized for other groups and individuals to come in to teach skills that PCVs wanted to learn. Overall I think they went pretty well, and a good start to this year. I’m keeping busy and I’m feeling quite productive.
That’s the work aspect. Living in Addis has also allowed me to have a “real” life socially as well. For those of you who knew me before junior year of high school you know that I’m actually a very shy person and it takes a lot of push for me to put myself out there in social situations. It’s taken a lot of effort and forcing myself out of my comfort zone to get as far as I have come. The tendency to hole up and enjoy my own company still remains, and I’m trying hard to make myself get out there and make friends in the new city. By saying “yes” to every opportunity I find that now I am too busy, and while I don’t have any new friends that I’d call to hang out with individually, I’ve met a lot of new people that I see regularly. I got a gym membership and I go every day that I’m in town, I joined a salsa dancing class with another volunteer 3 days a week (this may sound strange, but many Ethiopians were sent to Cuba during the Derg days for training and know latino culture), on Thursdays there is an ultimate Frisbee game and then there are occasional weekend trips. Which brings me to this past weekend.
While I was in Jimma doing the regional training another volunteer invited me on a trip that his doctor friends in Gonder were organizing. I was pretty exhausted from 2 weeks of training, but, because I know I need to make friends, I agreed to go. So glad I did. The first night we spent in Hawassa (I’ve mentioned this city in a few previous entries) because the doctors have never been, and it was good for me because one of my closest friends lives there now. The following day we drove to Dinsho, a small town at the base of Bale National Park, where another awesome volunteer lives. After entering the park and making reservations at the lodge we left for a long, winding, dusty journey to Sof Umar Cave. This is a religious place way in the middle of nowhere at the bottom of a valley in the Bale region. The cave system is 15.1km long, the biggest in Ethiopia and arguably the largest in all of Africa. I felt like Indiana Jones, Batman and Willy Wonka all at the same time. After a little argument about prices at the entrance we began our adventure into the cave. The first room has bowls with coals and a pile of animal skins. Our guide told us that people pray there, and if the prayer is answered they must slaughter an animal and leave the skin there. Moving on through the cave there was a “room” with a huge boulder that had fallen in, and a tree trunk on it. The story there is that long ago there was a thief who was killed and put there and turned into the tree trunk. That one may have gotten mucked up in translation. The rest was a maze of rivers, shrinking tunnels, crazy formations and bats. Lots of bats. It was a place unlike I have ever been, and the fact that it is so inaccessible and few tourists make it out there made it that much more romantic. Once we returned to Dinsho from the long drive, the volunteer there led us on a night hike that overlooks the park. On the way there we were startled by charging footfalls. Mother warthog was defending her piglets. It was fine, but the sudden angry sounds scared me a bit. I kept thinking of those wild boar in Lost. The next morning we did a bigger hike into a gorge, climbing trees, scaling boulders, seeing animals, waterfalls, birds and beauty.
And now I’m back at work. Both enjoying the break and trying to decide if I should go camping this weekend or if my yearning to be alone is the need for rest or my anti-social tendencies surfacing. But whether I decide to go or not, I am enjoying my "real life" and happy to be where I am at the moment.
Current Soundtrack: “Lull” by Andrew Bird