Friday, April 26, 2013

Subways, Puppies, and Crazy Trees!

Hey everyone!

I last left you right before leaving for America to go on a MUCH needed vacation. As much as I love Ethiopia, after nine months without leaving the country and 3 months at site with only small weekend trips, I was ready to get out. I was irritable with most Ethiopians, annoyed with pretty much everything that happened, and was even treating the cute dog in my compound with some disdain. Bernard how could you ever be mad at this beautiful face? I know it seems difficult, but at 330 in the morning when she's barking at ghosts.... Yea it's hard to love her then.

Nonetheless I was glad to get out and see my family! It had been WAY too long since I'd seen them, and I missed them dearly. I stopped in Germany on the way and got to see both my grandma and my older brother. Even thought I was just there for a day and a half, I was still really upset to leave. I love Germany with all my heart and am determined to move back there in a few years. Afterwards, I met up with my parents and younger brother in NYC. I spent just over a week with them seeing the sites in New York, Philly, and D.C. We don’t take vacations like this often, and I really enjoyed this one. Afterwards I spent a few days with my cousin in NY living it up, and I had a BLAST. What did I think about my family after so long away? Pretty much the same as before. My mom is as cute and as German as ever. My dad is as awesome and as stubborn as ever. And my brother is still annoying, still cooler than I could ever hope to be, and most shockingly STILL growing. I actually have to look up at him now. Michael what are you eating? I ate a lot of hamburger helper in college too and I didn’t grow this much.

After my two weeks break I came back to Ethiopia refreshed. I won’t lie to you: while I wasn’t upset I was coming back, I wasn’t happy either. I was basically like “Well this is where I live.” But what I love about Ethiopia is that even through the harassment, power outages, and moments where you just want to scream, “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?”, Ethiopia sneaks up on you and makes you love it again. And that’s exactly how I felt after only a week back. The little things like the cute little girl who always waves at you and says hello…. The ridiculous young kid who lives in your compound and entertains you with his antics…. The constant invitations to coffee, food and anything else they have at the time. I was super glad to be back.

And it’s only gotten better since then! I’ve finally gotten to the point with work where I am satisfied with how things are going. For a long time I was really upset. Everyone in Peace Corps strives to have this big project that
changes your community. And some of my friends have accomplished this. One is building a dairy and chicken farm to take care of orphan and vulnerable children in one of the schools. Another is making music videos that teach proper nutrition and care to youngsters. And the list goes on. While I tried for a long time to get one of these big projects, I ultimately didn’t for many reasons, some of which are definitely my fault.

But since I’ve stopped trying to do these dramatic big things, I’ve started doing a lot more smaller things that have all added up and have helped me to realize the impact I’m making and also to actually get bigger opportunities I didn’t have before. I LOVE my work now. I go to the high school twice a week where I help the environment club there get better and better by introducing all kinds of new ideas. I have started my own community environment club that meets every other week. We learn about composting, gardening, tree planting, dog training, and much more. I still teach English twice a week at a private language school, and have expanded this to include helping anyone out who asks, including if they just want to have tea and talk for a while. We are planning the next summer camp in my town, and I have had a big role in helping to prepare for that. Together my sitemate Lizzie and I will be starting a garden at the health center where we will give trainings in the latest permagardening techniques. And with Sam we also plan on painting a world map in one of the schools.

….And then there was Earth Day. I wanted to do something big. Something crazy. Something only I would do. And the perfect idea came to me: Why don’t I dress up as a tree!!! So that’s what I did. Yep, I dressed up as a tree and walked around my town telling people about Earth Day. I looked really ridiculous (more like a crazy farmer than a tree), but it was a really effective way of getting a lot of people's attention. I was able to introduce many of them to the concept of Earth Day, and give them eco-friendly advice (such as not to break branches off of trees, plant two trees for every one that you cut, etc.). While many thought I was celebrating some really strange American holiday and some thought I was simply crazy, most people got the point in the end that Earth Day was about the environment. News of my activities spread quickly and many of my friends told me how much people were talking about it and asking each other what the antics were about. This was a really fun way of getting people talking about the environment! I can’t wait to find out what crazy idea I come up with next.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Celebrating International Peace Corps Week

This week is international Peace Corps Week, and in honor of it I’d like to revive the blog I’ve neglected for the past few months by talking a bit about the people of Peace Corps who’ve changed my life and service for the better: my fellow group 6 Peace Corps volunteers. This blog will forever serve as an ode to those fellow Americans of mine who, like me, didn’t know what they were getting into but managed to overcome anyway. These people are near and dear to my heart, and it’s about time I told you a little about them. I’m not much of a poet, but I felt particularly inspired about this idea and I hope you enjoy it.

Fly Like a G6

It all started in the great town that some might know as Philly,
Where founding fathers once stood tall, now young people get silly,
For staging we all gathered here, though no stage was in sight,
Yes here began my great journey, yes here began the fright.

As I stood in my white-washed room, lost, dazed, without a clue,
A young man did enter right then, with red hair and eyes all blue.
He came from Colorado Springs but hated milk I learned,
And that began the awesome pair of Benji and Ato Burns

We went downstairs together then and joined a group of twenty,
Men and women, old and young, new friends we had a plenty.
First on our list to meet at once, two girls that were quite hot,
Both came from my own Texas state, one I knew, the other not,

The Swedish model I made known, was my good ole friend Ingers,
She had corn silk hair, moon white teeth, and really, soft white fingers,
Ms. Katheryn, we soon found out, was a truly Texas gal,
With her awesome smile and southern charm, I knew she’d be my pal.

We heard the boisterous laugh of the charmed young Breanna then,
Whose dazzling smile and lovely skin surprised all us young men.
Not quite to be outdone at all, came next the beauty Bridget,
Whose other earthly qualities, were her great smart and wit.

Our three ole grandpas then came next, with all their wisdom and age,
Dexter was from great California, he’s a chiropractic sage
Rashad ole boy, was a playa, North Carolina born and raised,
And our dear young Pappy Andrew had an old soul twice repaid.

Next on the list came side by side, two very special ladies,
I think of them, like all the rest, as two of my dear maties,
Nichole’s a doll whose done Peace Corps, Ethiopia makes twice
And Carla hails from the cold north, but really she’s quite nice.

Repeated names we searched for next, and Ryans we found galore
Though if they all, are this awesome, then we could use two more
Sir Ryan K. goes by google, all the facts he seems to know.
And Ryan P. looks Neeson-like, a fact he abhors so.

Kenya and Becca are too cool, they’re very awesome chicks
More awesomeness you couldn’t find, in two such good ole picks
Becca’s hoola hoopin skills are said to be crazy off the chain
And Kenya’s not to be trifled with, she’s got quite the amazing brain.

Orion and Theresa are our resident lovebirds
Such a loving pair you can not find, or describe in mortal words.
Frank is a pretty chill young guy, whose really quite quiet.
Though I hear if you get him going, he’s a hoot and a riot.

That leaves us with two warriors, who go by Jess and Wayne
These two have done feats of wonder, and never feel the pain.
Wayne’s hiked quite far, through hot and cold, along the whole Pacific coast.
And Jess does run, oh does she run, 20 miles a day she boasts.

These people are my family, through the thick and the thin.
I could never do a thing so hard, without this loving kin.
I appreciate them every day, in the highs and in the lows,
For G6 is the best group made, this fact everyone knows!

Love you group six! Congratulations on 9 months left and let’s do it big!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Are Chickens Carnivorous?

When talking about third world countries, we as Westerners used to use words like “backwards” and “uncivilized” to describe the conditions we’d find there. Ethiopia is neither uncivilized nor backwards, and I am grateful that these derogatory terms are no longer politically correct nor used to describe countries as majestic and noble as Ethiopia. However, Ethiopian culture is still very different than our own, and in two cultures so different, there are bound to be instances where our two cultures have almost opposing customs, viewpoints, or traditions that probably spurred the whole faulty notion of “backwards” in the first place. Here are some of my favorite of those instances.

"Finger Food"
In America, we have a very dignified table presence. We eat with utensils, have appropriate dinner conversation topics, protect our plate from the intrusion of others, frown upon those who don’t have their elbows in the right spot, and are mortified if you happen to need to say something important while your mouth is full. One of my favorite things about Ethiopia is that most of that is thrown out! You eat almost exclusively with your hands, are expected to share your food with anyone who walks by (even strangers), can keep your elbows wherever you like, and say what comes to your mind whether your mouth is empty or so full of injera that all that comes out is a muffled “ghdsfalufdsaufhierwiaofji”. Ironically, one of the only table manners we have in common is that it’s still rude to lick your fingers, even though in this country you always eat with them. While I do like this style of eating, partially because I already dislike most table manners in the states, it’s mostly the intimacy this eating style brings you that makes me so happy. Sharing food is a pretty awesome way of both getting to know someone and showing those you know how much you care about them. A piece of food to the face every once in a while is a pretty small price to pay for that bond.

“Hey bro. Wanna go play soccer and then listen to some Celine Dion?”
Another interesting and sometimes hilarious difference between our cultures is the differences in gender roles. America has a pretty descriptive picture of the ideal man. He’s tall, handsome, strong, excels at sport, and has wicked charm to match. Every guy strives to fit this image for at least some period in their life (I gave up once I realized the only one I’d be was tall and handsome), and most fail because these qualities are generally out of our control. But we do adhere strongly to those behavioral things that make us more “manly” and scorn those that do not, especially when it comes to music. Here in Ethiopia, no such scorn exists when it comes to music. Ask any guy who their favorite singers are, and they will tell you Celine Dion, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and numerous other artists that most guys in the states wouldn’t be caught dead jammin out to. There’s nothing quite so entertaining as a group of grown Ethiopian men singing “I Will Always Love You” as they’re walking down the street.

"Women of Steel"
On a closely related note, guys aren’t the only ones with some gender role differences. While I was growing up, I was taught to always treat a woman like a lady. We are to hold the door open for them, walk closer to the street, and always carry the heavy stuff. I won’t get into the debate about whether this is chivalry or chauvinism, but either way the expectation often exists. Here, it doesn’t. The women do just as much of the heavy lifting as the guys, walk wherever they want, and the concept of door holding does not exist. I’ve met some tough old women here who will offer to help me carry my stuff whether they are 5 or 80, and it’s pretty cool.

"The Chicken vs. The Cat"
Even the animals get in on the action! The other day I walked out of my house to see why our cat was mewing so pitifully. There he was in the middle of the compound crying pitifully watching one of the chickens. Upon further inspection, I was surprised to find that the chicken had somehow stolen a large bone the cat had been eating meat off of… And he was eating it instead! Honestly, I don’t blame the cat too much for being scared. The chickens on my compound are some crazy crossbreed between the local scrawny domestic chicken and a wild prairie hen and those things are beasts!

Those are just a few differences between our two worlds, but they’re enough to make me love this place so much I’m sticking it out for these two long years. Who knows what other cultural differences I’ll keep discovering!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Please sir, I want some Wings N' More..

I’d like to start off by saying Happy New Year! According to the Ethiopian calendar, it is now the first month of 2005. In our year it’s now September, which means I’ve been keeping this blog for almost an entire year (WHOOP! for surviving almost a year in country). In that time I’ve tried my best to follow the Peace Corps recommendations for my blog and keep it about Goal 3: Sharing Ethiopian culture with Americans. We’ve talked about Ethiopian food, transportation, holidays, what I’ve learned, and my overall adaptation to this amazingly beautiful country. But today, we’re going off the books and talking about one of my absolute favorite subjects: hot wings.

Coming to Ethiopia, I knew I was going to be making a lot of sacrifices. I was going to give up being able to see and talk to my family, hang out with my friends, watch TV, and take hot showers. But for the most part, I knew I’d be able to adjust. I’d been away from my family for a long time before, I’d make new friends in Ethiopia and be able to reconnect with my old friends when I got back, I could bring TV with me on a hard drive, and hot showers I figured were overrated anyway (they’re most definitely not). The one thing I worried about, and rightly so, was if I would ever be able to live without hot wings. The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is not very well.

My love affair with hot wings began one fateful day somewhere around the age of 11 or 12, a couple years before the years of teen angst started (I didn’t have teenage angst, but a friend of mine did). Up until that time, my favorite food had been spaghetti for as long as I could remember. Then one Saturday, my dad came home with a curious paper bag. The bag was hot and the bottom greasy, and on the side was a curious logo; “Wing Stop” the bag proclaimed. I’d never heard of this Wing Stop before… What were hot wings? And why were they stopping? My initial reaction was suspicion, but as soon as my dad opened that bag and the smell hit me my mouth began to water and my heart began to sing. Somehow in that moment, a tradition that was both lovely and monstrous was born.

You see, that meal was such a success that my family decided to make a tradition out of it. Every Saturday since, Saturday has been “Hot Wing” day for my family. Most Saturdays would go like this:
1.       Wake up by 9am - Dad never liked us to waste daylight, even on a weekend.
2.       Commence yard work - Lots of it. Cutting grass, picking weeds, edging, trimming, raking, you name it, we did it. Dad had us believe that this manual labor was good for us. It would make us strong. Well I’m 23 and still thinner than most toothpicks, so I think there were ulterior motives.
3.       Keep doing more yard work – It may be good to stop for a short lunch, but once you’ve filled your belly and cooled down, head back into the jungle.
4.       Pretend to be done, but do more yard work - Around 2 or 3 when we thought we were done, my parents usually remembered at least six more things we could do that day.
5.       Make and eat hot wings while watching a movie - When the yard work was finally done, we’d all pitch in to make (or buy) delicious hot wings, which we’d sit down and eat together while watching a movie.
6.       Go to bed - Usually around 10pm. Wouldn’t want to fall asleep in church the next day.

I don’t know why my parents decided to put the best and worst parts of my week in the same day, but that’s pretty much how an average Saturday would go. I think it was my parents’ trying to experiment with subliminal messaging. Well it worked. To this day, I still can’t see grass clippings without my mouth watering a little in expectation of the hot wings that were sure to follow. Once I left for college, my family continued the tradition, though I was only there on the occasions when I came home for the weekend. My first few years saw a decrease in my hot wing consumption, but once the drive thru Wings N’ More opened only 5 minutes from my apartment senior year, consumption level returned to normal. My roommates can definitely confirm this.

And now here I sit in Ethiopia, not having had hot wings in almost a year and not sure I can make it another year without. If I think about them, my friends talk about them, or I even see the words “hot wings” in print, my mouth starts to water. As a practical joke, one of my good friends sent me a key chain shaped like a hot wing that looks eerily realistic. I was so unprepared that I actually nibbled it in a moment of weakness to see if it might be real. Yes, I admit it: I tried to eat the hot wing key chain. And I am not ashamed. I’d do it again. And have. Almost once a week ever since.

Now, some of you may be asking, “Bernard! We get it! You like hot wings. But did you seriously just spend an hour writing an entire blog post about them? What about your family and friends? Why not write about them instead?” First off, I do not merely like hot wings. I love them. And secondly, yes I did. Because for me hot wings are more than just about food. I’ve eaten hot wings so many times in my life, that for me many of my fondest memories and best moments occurred with a wing in my hand and hot sauce on my cheek. I’ve eaten them with my family while watching movies and while on road trips all over. I’ve eaten them with friends at Buffalo Wild Wings on fun nights out, and while being lazy in the apartment with the roommates. I’ve shared them with my dog who I love to give scraps to, and my toilet when I’ve had a few too many. I’ve even talked about them with people here in Ethiopia, who have no idea what I’m talking about but are enthusiastic to learn all the same.

For me, hot wings represent everything I love and miss most about America. For me, hot wings are a way I can dedicate a whole blog to the things I love the most and actually be able to finish without descending into incoherent blubbering. For me, hot wings are a way to reflect on how I’ve grown into the person I am today. When it comes down to it, for me, hot wings are a simple way to say “I love you.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Time of Transition

Dehana Dikum?!?

So it’s been a slow past couple of weeks. A lot has happened to be honest, but I’ve just been lazy in trying to keep my blog up to date. I’ve been lazy with a lot of things lately. I should work on that…

At any rate, the saddest news out of Ethiopia right now was the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi a couple weeks ago. The news left us all here in shock: I don’t think a single person in this expected this to happen, Ethiopians and foreigners alike. It’s been a terribly sad time for us all here. Meles was a great leader who did a lot for his country, and we were all sad to see him go. It seems the entire country has been in mourning the past few weeks, and people are only just now beginning to recover from their loss. The good things Meles did for this country will forever be remembered by the people who loved him. Ethiopians are a great and determined people, however, and, while this was a great loss, will continue to strive to become a country of excellence even as they did under their leader. RIP Meles.

There was one more, smaller good-bye this week in the form of the VSO volunteer Mike. Michael Bobei was a VSO volunteer in this town for 3 years, and this week he finally put the finishing touches on his project and left Maychew. He’s spent the past few years building a state of the art network for the technical college he worked at, and now Maychew technical college is the first college (outside of universities) to have a campus wide network in all of Tigray. It’s a huge accomplishment, and Mike deserves major props for all the difficulties he had to go through to get it done. Very few volunteers get such a massive project done before they finish their service, and Mike will forever go in the hall of fame for his sacrifice. Maychew will miss you Mike! Come back soon!

Other than that, I’ve just been hangin out in Maychew for the most part. School will start soon, so one of my good friends Inge and I have been working hard to put together an “Environmental Club Manual” that has activities, information, and advice for running environmental clubs in Ethiopia. The manual is well underway, and we hope to have it finished in the next month or so. In addition, my good friend Getachew came back to visit!!! I missed him a lot, and it was really nice to get to see and hang out with him for a while again.

That’s about all the exciting things that have happened recently. I recently decided to rejoin twitter as well, so look me up there @nardosmalls too! I know this blog was a bit short and somber, but the next blog post will be pretty entertaining (hopefully), so stay tuned!

Friday, August 17, 2012

You Simply Can't Rhyme With Purple

Dehan doe Wiilkum?!?

I say good afternoon because that’s what time it is in the US, even though it’s almost ten o clock at night here in Ethiopia. Another day has come and gone here in the land with Thirteen Months of Sunshine, and again I look back on the day and wonder how it took so long when it’s already over… Every day seems to inch by at a snail’s pace, but every night when I look back on the day I never seem to know where the time has gone. Proof in point? I have no idea how, but I have already been here in Ethiopia for almost 11 months!

At any rate, you didn’t come to read about my lack of understanding of how time works in this country. You want to know what’s new, and for me that has been summer camp. Over the past six months or so, PCV’s all over have been working hard, preparing and setting up all different kinds of summer camps in various regions. Some of them were environmental camps, some were designed mostly for girls, and others tried to focus on HIV/AIDS and health. From July 29th through August 5th, I was lucky enough to get to help out with the Tigray summer camp, a health based camp held in Wukro, about 45 minutes north of Mekele. It was one of the best, most exhausting weeks of my life.

These summer camps are special and interesting for a number of reasons. You see, summer camps are a foreign concept in Ethiopia. No one has them here. So setting it up and recruiting campers can be tough, because Ethiopians don’t really understand what they’re signing up for. Nevertheless, 34 campers trusted in their respective volunteers and came to see what a summer camp was all about. We wanted to really give them something to take home, so every day we had a “theme” that we talked and taught them about. The topics included leadership, HIV/AIDS, the environment, gender roles, nutrition/cleanliness, and more. The sessions were informative but interactive, and the campers really seemed to learn a lot from them. I had the privilege of leading leadership day and several of the cross culture sessions, where we shared about Ethiopian and American cultures, and it was great to see how much the campers really understood and liked what they were learning.

In addition to all that, we had the opportunity to expand the horizons on another important theme: FUN. Simple games that we grew up with, like connect four and puzzles, excited them beyond belief. We couldn’t keep them off of the arts and crafts table, where they had the opportunity to express themselves creatively in ways their schools just don’t allow for. Sports like soccer and basketball they knew, but baseball they’d never even heard of! Our last day was the ultimate lesson in summer camp. We had split the campers into color groups the very first day (I got to lead the color group purple seen on the left, hence the name of the blog), and so our last full day we decided to have a field day complete with sack races, dizzy bat, eating competitions and more. The competition was fierce, but in the end everyone had a lot of fun. Later, we had an American style dinner of tacos and sloppy joes, followed by s’mores around the campfire for dessert.

It was one of the best weeks of my life, and I believe it was so for many of the campers too. On the last day there wasn’t a single bus that pulled away without crying campers. To be honest, I had a hard time not tearing up myself. The excitement of teaching all those kids so many new things… there’s nothing like it. I often felt like I was Aladdin opening up a whole new world to Jasmine, what with the way many of the campers gave me blank stares as I tried to show them what a s’more was or how to hold the baseball bat correctly. And to already hear stories of those campers going out into the community and applying what they learned at camp? Why, there’s no better feeling in the world.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

One Step at a Time...

Dehana dikum?!?

So its been forever since my last blog post and for that I apologize. There’s been a lot going on over here in Ethiopia, and I’ve finally now had a chance to catch my breath and catch up on things I’ve been neglecting.

Since my last blog post, I feel like I’ve been around the world and back again. I spent the first two weeks of June in Hawassa, Addis, and Wukro working on stuff for Peer Support Network, a committee I’m on that supports Peace Corps volunteers in country emotionally, and for the regional summer camp I’ll be participating in next week. After that, I took a brief vacation in Germany and Italy, visiting my family and best friend respectively. It was a great vacation, full of surprises (my mom and grandma had no idea I was coming), fun, and quality time with people who meant a lot to me. I got back 2 weeks ago, and since then I finished up a project I started before I left (a tree planting with two schools that planted over 600 trees!) and, of course, fought off a welcome back sickness (thanks Ethiopia).

So even though I’ve had such an amazing past month and a half, why is it that I’ve kinda been in a slump the past few days? I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I was kinda hesitant about going on the vacation, because I was worried about how it would affect my return. Unfortunately, it has bummed me out a bit. I really, really miss my family, friends, and home countries (America and Germany) a lot, and while the vacation gave me a rare chance to see them again, it really reaffirmed what I missed about them too. I tried not to get to comfortable while vacationing, but despite my best efforts I got used to it again only too readily. Coming back to Ethiopia wasn’t difficult, but knowing I’m still going to be here for another year and a half is.

You see, I’m one of those people who’ve always wanted to see and do a lot. Ever since I first discovered there was a world bigger than my backyard in Texas I’ve wanted to see it, and my to-do list only gets bigger with time. I want to see and do everything! I want to go back to Germany for several years to perfect my language skills. I want to get lost in the wilds of Alaska. I want to run with the wolves in Minnesota… spend a cold, rainy afternoon in Seattle… track the elusive jaguar in the heart of the Amazon…. Australia, Costa Rica, London, Botswana, Nepal, New York, Barcelona… The list of places I want to see and/or live in goes on for a while.

You see, traveling is one of my favorite things to do in the world, but every time I travel I simply get more and more excited for what I will do next. I’m like a kid in the candy store, who, when he finally gets those skittles he’s been waiting for all week (since he’s been a good boy), is already thinking about the snickers he will ask for next week! Normally, the skittles I’m eating at the time are so good I only think about the snickers occasionally and spend most of my time enjoying the rainbow. But alas, I am struggling to do that right now. The pace of life here in Ethiopia is so much slower with so much free time, that I spend a lot more time anticipating what I want to do in the future.

But wait, didn’t you post a blog a few months ago saying you love the slow pace of life and have learned to live in the moment? Indeed I did, and yes I do regress at times (this being one of those times). For those of you who know me, you know that I am a busybody. It doesn’t matter how well I adapt to this slower pace of life, I will always crave the hustle and bustle of a busy, crazy lifestyle. And I am realizing that there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if I do get frustrated with the pace at times here and worry that I won’t be able to do everything I want to in life, I’m still enjoying every moment of it in the end. Because every time I try to get angry at this place, it gives me something to smile about again. I’ve been working on this post over the past two days. At the start of the post I was angry and bored. Since then I’ve shared beles (a delicious cactus fruit) with friends, watched a movie with my family, and butchered my way through a Tigrena conversation with at least 5 people I didn’t even know. For all my griping and complaining and teen angst (for you Taylor, though you never read these), I will miss the crap out of this place when I leave. I love Ethiopia, so for now I enjoy the great moments, ride out the bad, and look forward with great anticipation on everything to come.