Thursday, July 17, 2014

Time Marches On

Hey all, I was online and realized I had not written in quite a while.  I wish I could say it was because I have been so busy, but that would be a gross misstatement.  That is not to say that I have been doing nothing; I am continuing with language training and have started a garden.  A normal day consists of me going to breakfast, where I get the special ful (think refried beans, but with fava beans and local spices with egg and yogurt) and a macchiato.  I am aware of the oddity of me drinking coffee, for those of you close enough to me anyway, but I’ve become quite the connoisseur.  In fact, I’m afraid I might be something of a coffee snob when I’m done here.  After breakfast, I would go to the district ag office and see if they’d prepared a desk for me yet, which, I can now say, has been accomplished,  more than two months after it was supposed to be done.  After a normally disappointing attempt to procure a desk, I would either go home or to a coffee house where I would read.  In the afternoons I meet with Dawit, my language tutor.  He is an English teacher at one of the local primary schools with whom  I’ve played soccer, gone hiking, and hung out with him quite a bit; he’s also agreed to help me with my community needs assessment, so that will be really nice.  After language, I return home and read, watch shows or movies, listen to podcasts or music, and cook dinner.  Mixed into a normal day are bunna (coffee) ceremonies and run-ins with children, both inspiring and uplifting, and annoying or upsetting.  Kids more than anyone else seem to be really interested in foreigners.  Most just want a little attention, a head nod or shake of the hand, but some of course beg for money or food, and a small minority just wants to annoy me, or at least so it seems.  I’m slowly trying to teach all the children of Maychew my name, so that instead of "ferenji, ferenji”, “you, you, you, …”, “money, money”, or “china” the kids will yell "Jake".  It has worked with some of the kids, and I must remember, as the saying goes “kas bi kas”, step by step.

Most every day is positive in its own right, but going to the office across town was getting disheartening when all I would hear was no one that can help me is here or that there is no time to give me a desk or there is not a desk to give me.  Over the last two weeks though, I have been in contact with a representative of an NGO (non-governmental organization), ACDI VOCA, based out of Vermont, who work with farmer’s co-operative unions in rural Ethiopia through USAID.  They sent a team up to Tigray from Addis Ababa to introduce me to the local co-op, or FCU, and look for ways I could help both the co-op and ACDI VOCA.  On the same trip, they visited a friend of mine an hour south of me for the same purpose.  Those meetings were very fruitful, and I believe I will probably be spending the vast majority of my time working with the FCU rather than the district office that could not find a desk for me for over two months.  It feels good to be excited about working here again, rather than just being excited about being here as I’ve maintained throughout.

Maychew remains beautiful as the hot, dry months turn into the rainy season.  It might be hard to believe, but while you all are enjoying the sweltering heat of summer, I’m buying an extra blanket.  It has cooled off a little, and it rains more days than it does not.  People tell me it will begin to rain daily, and the farmers are complaining about the late rain already, so I’m preparing myself.  It feels oddly familiar, which of course has made the transition here easier.  Maychew has a temperate climate.  The only thing I might start to struggle with is the roughly eight months without rain.  I start to get nervous if I do not see rain often enough.  I can’t decide if that’s due to where I’m from, or am I from the Willamette Valley because of this nervousness. 

Anyway, life is good here in Ethiopia.  I continue to meet amazing people and am inspired by their work, talents, and intellect.  The one worry I might have expressed a week ago seems to have vanished as new opportunities have arisen.  I could wax philosophically about my time here, Ethiopia itself, or what-have-you, but that just does not seem to be what this is about.  I mean, I got in trouble in philosophy class for bringing anthropology into the mix, so maybe philosophic prose is not my style.  Either way, I hope you enjoy reading my blog.  I appreciate it.  Take care for now!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Month In

First, I have a new mailing address, in the case that someone wants to send a letter, or package, or dry salami ;)

Elizabeth Pelz
Attn: Jake Reedy
PO Box 123
Maychew, Tigray, Ethiopia

Tonight I am sitting on the roof of an apartment building in Mekele, the regional capital, drinking a beer, hanging out with some other PCVs and a couple Frenchmen who are running a wind farm here.  Ethiopia has been good to me.  I just tried Foie Gras for the first time as an accordion accompanied a guitar, people fire danced and played with long exposure photography.  My life in this moment is insane.

Needless to say, this is about as far from the normal evening as I could dream up.  Mekele is a city of about 400k; Maychew, my site, is a town of about 27k.  In Mekele you can find foreigner foods, like fried chicken and pizza, and faster/free internet, and other amenities that do not exist at site.  Normally I'm alone, or mostly so.  On occasion I meet one of my two sitemates for a meal, or coffee, or any other excuse to get out of the house and interact with people.  Meals at site consist of injera with one single dish in the middle; redundancy is a killer. I have slowly settled into one of my rooms. The other, and the rest of settling into the first, won't be 'homey' until one of my sitemates leaves the end of July, as I am inheriting many items from him.

On the work side, it has definitely been a mixed reception thus far.  I already sent out invitations to my site installation meeting, where a couple Peace Corps officials come and introduce me to likely stakeholders.  Hopefully that meeting will spark some connections.  Other than that, the only thing I have really done is to start language tutoring here.  I meet with a local English teacher three times a week for an hour each time.  I'm sure it has already begun to help, but so far, it feels slow.  I will start a community needs assessment in the next couple of weeks.  I have to have it completed by the first of August.  That should help me to meet people and get me going.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Endings and Beginnings

The past week has been a blur of strange emotion.  It is an odd feeling to be filled with so much joy and happiness whilst also feeling stressed, nervous and sad.

In the past ten days I have taken a readiness to serve test, had one-on-one interviews with my program manager and country director, given a speech at host family appreciation day in Tigrinian, helped put on a two day camp for fifty kids in Butajira, taken a language proficiency test, sworn-in as a volunteer, celebrated, left all my friends, flew to Tigre, and started to settle into my home for the next two years in Maychew.  Needless to say it has been emotional. 

We all had complaints about Butajira, but leaving turned out to be more difficult than most of us had anticipated.  We all grew close to the families that opened their houses and hearts to complete strangers from a far off land.  they provided far more than food and shelter, and for that we will always be grateful.

Getting to Addis was exciting. It meant the end of pre-service training and the start of what we came here for. We tried not to think of what it meant to our new friendships.  We just tried to enjoy the time we had.  There was a day and a half of policy and cultural sessions.  The second half of day two was given to us to go buy things that we might not find at our sites or hub towns.  As it was international Labour Day, most shops were closed.  So after we made it to the one grocery/household items store, we relaxed and celebrated.  The following day we were shuttled to the embassy, swore an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States, were given a certificate and some food, and then set free as volunteers.

As we celebrated late into the night and had to be on the bus to the airport early in the morning, there was little time for sentimentality or emotional goodbyes.  I've made it to Maychew.  It's as nice as I remember, and the hot shower works, so that's nice.  I think I'm going to be happy here. 

I step out my door to the site of the milk cows with mountains in the background. While I certainly don't confuse it for home, it is welcoming that it doesn't feel too far removed.  This will probably change during my time here, both for the better and the worse. Living here will be a challenge, but that challenge is looking less and less daunting every day.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Well, the weekend we have had circled for weeks has finally come and gone.  We were granted some reprieve from the weekly struggle of 44 hours of class time and limited free time.  As ag/environment volunteers, we were taken to the Awash National Park.  The park, one of the oldest national parks in Ethiopia, was instated under the rule of Haile Selassi in the 1960s.  It was once home to a vast array of healthy wildlife communities.  Many of Ethiopia's rare wildlife, the Ethiopian red wolf and the oryx for example, still have small colonies at Awash.  We were lucky to see both.  Now illegal grazing of the park, poaching, and a main highway that crosses the park have all contributed to the declines in wildlife populations.  Ethiopia has started working with surrounding communities to help educate them about the benefits of the park and wildlife as well as vocational training to give the communities more park friendly sources of income.

The park was flat with lots of shrubs.  Trees lined the river and there was a spectacular horseshoe waterfall.  While there was a lodge and cabins to rent, we got to camp.  Humorously, our tents were erected for us prior to our arrival.  It was probably for the best; even though we all saw some irony in being ag/environment volunteers and being "taken care of", we did have a full schedule.  We were treated to excellent food at the lodge and listened to talks about conservation efforts in the park and Ethiopia more broadly.  The day concluded with some celebratory time.  We've been in Ethiopia two months. 

The following day we were to take a drive to backwoods hot springs, but the overnight rain made the dirt road impassable for our buses.  Instead we were taken on a wildlife tour.  At dusk we went to a spot overlooking a major hyena den.  Probably a dozen or more hyenas made there way out of the cave before we had to leave for dinner.  They are much bigger than given credit for, at least by my source: Disney's the Lion King.  At dinner, the lodge put on a culture show with local dancers/singers.  It was not overly extravagant, but still a nice addition to dinner service. 

Today we simply drove back to Butajira.  The weekend turned out to be most everything we had hoped.  Lots of fun was had, and nobody was seriously hurt ;)  The group as a whole was fun and inclusive.  In Butajira we tend to hang out in smaller groups, so it was really nice to get to know some of the people in a new light.  It seems strange that we only have a little more than two weeks left before we are split up and sent far and wide throughout Ethiopia. 

As a very important side note, I must wish my parents a very happy anniversary!  Thirty years ago today they wed and started a journey that has led me here.  I could not imagine getting here without the massive support that they have given me.  Thanks, I love you both!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Nab Maychew

Today I'm on the road to my site: Maychew, Tigre, Ethiopia.  Unfortunately it's only for a couple days visit.  We landed in Mekele at about 8.30 this morning.  After a quick brunch, we found the bus station and started on our way.  I'm joined by my friend Chris, who will only be 30 minutes south, Abigail who's site got cancelled and is joining along to get a feel for Tigre, and Chris and my community liaisons.

Community liaisons are intended to be, as I put it in one session, our social lubricant.  They're tasked with holding or hand through introductions to our professional communities, setting up bank accounts, post office boxes, etc.  More or less they are our ticket to integrating into the community, both as a professional and a general community member.  If, during this initial trip and through our first three months at site, they continue to be helpful, they will become our counterpart, who would be tasked with helping us in community assessment, identifying potential projects, and implementing those projects.  My liaison's name is Hagus.  He is roughly 32, has a young wife and five year old son.  He's an expert at the local agricultural office.  He seems enthusiastic, but also sounds busy.  That makes me worry he may not have time, after I move to site, to be very involved in my service.  Time will tell, but it sounds like having a good, understanding, and involved counterpart can really make one's service.

Tigre is much more dry than the parts of the country I have seen to date.  However, it is also mountainous.  It us absolutely beautiful.  Parts have looked like what would be considered national park back home.  We have mostly followed a river, I use that term loosely at least at this time.  Along the river, a green oasis exists.   Tigre is an interesting place.  They get significantly more annual rainfall than the Willamette Valley in Oregon, but are constantly struggling for water.  That is due to the fact that nearly all of their rainfall comes in a two to three month period.  I'm more than confident that I shall have more to say on this come the rainy season at site.

We almost just hit a camel.  A real, one-hump camel.  He walked out into the road, and stopped; looked at us, and waited for us to stop.  Luckily we did, but it was a pretty aggressive stop.  There were a few packs of camels just south of Mekele.  Interesting. 

My house is nice.  I have two rooms of decent size.  Included is a private hot shower and western toilet.  The lone downside is there may be only very limited space for a garden. 

Maychew itself is set in a beautiful valley, surrounded by high mountains.  It's mostly green, but cacti are also prevalent. Strangely, agave is widely grown, but not put to use.  I may have a good diy project on my hands! It seems like a nice town, much nicer than Addis or Butajira.  Some of the roads are paved, and others are in the process of being paved.  It's hard to believe this will be home for two years. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I'll start with contacting me:

you can send cards, letters, or packages to:

Jake Reedy
C/O Peace Corps
P.O. Box 7788 
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Phone Number:       +251 940354200

Life is settling in here.  It already seems fairly routine.  I wake, eat, and go to class.  At lunch I either eat at home or the hotel where we have non-language classes.  Then I come back at the end of the day, hang out, do homework, or go use the internet ;) depending on what I've got to get done.  I'm back before dark, we eat at 8.30 or so, then watch tv (mtv tonight), and I go to bed.  I feel so normal.  I understand practically nothing my family says, but between gestures and a few words either side of the divide, we get by and have some laughs along the way. 

I live with a family of four, but there are older children in the capital and one other living in here in town.  She speaks the best English, but it's still pretty limited.  I have my own room with a padlock.  I only use it when I'm out or if neighborhood kids are coming in and out of the compound.  The toilet and shower are on the side of the house, and both are pretty nice with cement floors and lights.  I've used one toilet that simply had waist high curtains on two sides, so for solid walls, lights, and a proper floor are luxurious :)  Also, I use the word toilet liberally, it's a hole in the ground, no seat.

There are a couple coffee bushes in the yard, along with a mango, papaya, and two avocado trees in the yard.  They also grow their own green tea, so the tea is awesome!  Unfortunately nothing else has ripe fruit currently.  The family has been loving to me thus far and I'm pretty sure the youngest, a boy of about ten, idolizes me.  He's always hanging around, trying to tell me things (often with theatrical motions and sound effects), and taking me places. 


How is the language training coming along?

Learning Tigrinian (spoken in the northern region of Tigre and also Eritrea)  has been pretty fun.  The hard part is nobody around here speaks it, so we're at a disadvantage comparted to those who are totally immeresed in the language.

What language does your family speak?

Amharic.  I do try to communicate with them with the limited Amharic I got before we moved here, but mostly its non-verbal communication that gets the point across.  

Internet at home?


Laptop useful? 

Yeah, right now i'm at the internet cafe, using it.  Before this, I'd mostly just used it to transfer stuff from other people.

What do you wish you would have brought with you that you did not?  

Food stuffs (Cholula among other things), seeds, and one world balls (one of my soccer balls already popped, and these are indestructible)

What has been worthless?

Sweaters and jackets

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bonga, not the drums, the home of coffee

After just two full days in the country -- which felt like an eternity -- my colleges and I were broken into small groups to go on 'demystification' trips to visit current volunteers at their sites.  We were accompanied by another PCV (Peace Corps Voluteer; I am considered a Peace Corps Trainee PCT until the end of training, May 2).  Erica was our guide for the trip.  My group consisted of Michael from Norfolk, Nebraska, Maggie from Eastern Kentucky, and the married couple of Evan and Kristen Craig of Wisconsin.  It was a fun group.  The trip to Bonga, which is located to the Southwest of Addis Ababa, took almost eleven hours by bus.  Luckily for us, they have been paving the road between the two cities.  Unluckily, they have not quite finished a few of the bridges.  This meant at a few points we had to deviate from the road and use a rough, one lane dirt path that had been hastily constructed over the ravene or creek.  Only a couple weeks earlier, Sally, the volunteer whom we were to visit, had been involved in a bus tipping over at one of these points.  She escaped with a significant scar on her forehead, just below her hairline.  Luckily, neither she, nor her boyfriend Adam, who was in the midst of a six week visit, were seriously injured.  The bus voyage, while long, was incredible.  The change in scenery along the way gave me a good look at a few of the various ecosystems in Ethiopia.  There were massive plains, huge canyons, and mountainous regions.

We got into Bonga later than we had planned, and were met by Sally, Adam, and the two other volunteers stationed there, Lisa and Katrina both education volunteers.  Bonga is seated in the rainforest, one of the few left in Ethiopia.  It is seated in the region of Kafa, the home of coffee.  The views were excellent, although they were apparently much more hazy than normal, as slash and burn is the main post harvest practice.  We ate dinner, and went back to the hotel for a convesation over a couple beers.  The following day, we hiked into the rainforest to a waterfall above Bonga.  It was beautiful and nice to finally get away from constant go-go-go of the first few days.  We relaxed there most of of the day and went over some of the questions we as trainees had about life as a volunteer.  That evening, we went to the home of a friend and language tutor of Sally's.  It was a quaint home, a mud hut with a tin roof, but the hospitality and food were both first class.  We had dinner and talked about the Peace Corps, life in Bonga and Ethiopia.  After, we made our way outside where we danced (I mostly watched) local traditional dance.  We were out until almost dark.  The children were entertaining, and the company was great.

On Monday, our second full day in Bonga, we got to see what a day in the life looks like.  We followed Sally to her main office with NABU (not unlike a German version of the Sierra Club) who are responsible for the two bio-reserves in the region.  Sally's main interest is in conservation and stewardship, and so she spends a majority of her time with NABU.  We also took a tour of the local prison where she was preparing to start a gardening project.  Our tour ended at the local Ministry of Agriculture office, where, sad to say, we were unable to come accrossed anyone Sally was aquainted with.  Both Sally and Erica were very knowledgeable, and answered most every question we could think of.  The few that could not be answered, focused mainly on more indepth agriculture, as Sally is more into conservation and Erica is a health volunteer.  We had dinner at Sally's and played games until after dark.

Our trip home felt much longer, but was about the same.  Towards the end, I started to feel ill, and soon after our arrival at the Kings Hotel in Addis Ababa, I really came down with it. The first five hours was horrible; after, I fell asleep, and missed the first session of the following morning.  That day, I was not myself, and ate only a quarter sandwhich at dinnertime.  Finally, on Thursday, I was back feeling more like myself. We were stuffed with more knowledge (technical, medical, saftey, and a quick crash course in Amharic, the language of government and about a third of the people).  Saturday we were bused to Butajira, about two hours South of Addis Ababa, and our homes for the next three months.

Thus far, Peace Corps has felt like an intense educational experience.  Other than the little downtime in Bonga, it has felt like there was never time to rest and relax.  Hopefully that changes some in Butajira.  I will be sure to let you know!

Friday, February 28, 2014

My Story So Far

My name is Jake Reedy.  I come from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and am currently serving in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. I have decided to write this blog to help keep in touch with friends and family back home and to help with the third goal of the Peace Corps:  to teach the people of the United States about the cultures and peoples of the world.  I have been in country for a couple weeks now.  The process to get to this point has been a lesson in patience, as I started my journey to the Peace Corps by applying in June of 2013.  Two months, an interview, and lots of paperwork later, I was invited to be a part of the mission to Ethiopia.  Since August, I have had numerous medical tests, filled out innumerable forms, and submitted even more information.  It was all fairly surreal and distant until staging on February 10, 2014.  Staging is a quick (one day) orientation to the Peace Corps.  The next day I, along with a group of 62 others, boarded a plane bound for Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia.  Even whilst on the plane to Addis, it felt as though I was only going to be gone a few weeks; perhaps even now I am not fully conscious of the true distance, in time and miles, between me and the people I care most about in the world.  Once in country, we had a couple days in the capital filled with survival classes and more shots.  It has been a whirlwind of activity, but I also feel as though I have not yet done much.  The people are great, and the atmosphere is electric.  Everyone is filled with excitement for what is to come.  I will write more later to catch everyone up, but its off to bed for now.  G'night!