It’s been nearly three weeks since I’ve touched down in Ethiopia and I am still am trying to find the words to start my first blog entry…
“Hello from beautiful Ethiopia!”
“What have I done?”
“Two words – culture shock.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint an emotion to describe my experience – there are days when I open my eyes at 6 in the morning and immediately close them, imagining I’m in the comfort of my own bed in the states with another hour before a hot shower. On the other hand there are days when I look out the “bus” window at the brown, dry mountains to my right and the lush, green valley to my left and think of how lucky I am to be in Africa… I am in Africa, another thought that’s difficult to comprehend.
My first impressions of Ethiopia were far off from what I was expecting. I touched down in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, with 60+ other Peace Corps volunteers. Walking through the airport doors into the night I was overwhelmed by the smell of home – yes, the Addis airport air smells of trees and coffee (sadly, I can’t say that for the rest of the city). Driving to the hotel was an experience in itself… I’m not entirely sure Ethiopia has any traffic laws. Vehicles drive in any lane they please and don’t stop for pedestrians already halfway across the street.
Addis is unlike any other Ethiopian town. It’s fast moving and so are the people. It felt as if everyone was looking out for only themselves. We couldn’t walk more than a block without someone telling (not asking) us to give them money, trying to pick our pockets, or calling out “ferenji, ferenji!” (foreigner, foreigner). Not all people in the capital held this mentality but it’s still a shame so many do because the people of Ethiopia are generally very friendly and generous. Just in my three weeks here I have spent time in a few cities, finding the locals to be warm and refreshing. Hospitality does not fall short in Ethiopia. Like anywhere, you just have to take the bad with the good.
Peace Corps does a good job of keeping us on our toes. Our schedules are planned minute by minute, from sunrise to sunset. We have just three months of training to insure we’re ready to live and work for two years on our own. My days are filled with intense lessons on the language (Amharic), Peace Corps policies, development strategies, culture immersion, and health and agriculture topics. I often find my brain moving faster than the rest of my body. It’s a good thing Peace Corps works so hard to ensure we’re mentally and physically well. The medical team has done an excellent job of staying on top of any needs we may have.
It’d be an understatement to say I experienced culture shock. Coming into this experience I considered myself pretty knowledgeable of other cultures. After just a few days I felt extremely foolish that I thought I knew something about a culture I had never experienced. What has especially been difficult is how much culture differs between Ethiopian regions. What is common in the north may be rare in the south, much like America.
I am excited to embrace the challenges and rewards Peace Corps and Ethiopia will throw at me. If I have learned anything so far it has been to “expected the unexpected.” This experience has been far from what I imagined it would be. Things I thought I would dread I find rewarding. I constantly surprise myself with what I am capable of.being here has brought out a whole new set of traits I didn’t know I had in me. I can’t even imagine what this adventure has in store for me.
Here’s to the next 27 months of challenges, rewards, and self discovery.