EthiOHHHHHHHpia – the sigh of relief you will make when you discover what I will be doing, where I will be going, and why I will be doing it, come June

A simple enough concept, actually.  You’ve got a question; I’ve got some answers.  Here are some VIQs (Very Important Questions) I’ve fielded recently regarding my Ethiopian adventure!  Some of them might seem basic, but no shame, dude!

Where is Ethiopia?

Ethiopia is a country about twice the size of Texas located in Eastern Africa.  It has no access to any coastline (a major factor in the country’s economy, access to trade, etc).

What is the Peace Corps?

The Peace Corps is a government program inspired by John F. Kennedy’s exhortation to young Americans to serve in places of high need around the world.  Created in 1961, the Peace Corps is not a religious organization, nor is it related to the US military.  Rather, the Peace Corps is an organization of US volunteers that encourages mutual understanding between other countries and the US while also increasing capacities for countries who opt to partner with the Peace Corps.

Will you get paid in the Peace Corps?

I will get paid the amount a modest Ethiopian professional would get paid.  Is that a lot?  Probs not compared to the average American salary most of my college friends will receive with their first job, but one of the Peace Corps’ major goals is allow volunteers to live holistically within their communities.  It would not be right, according to Peace Corps philosophy, for volunteers to receive a higher standard of living than the average family in-country.  Nonetheless, the Peace Corps ensures that certain standards of living are met for volunteers.  By that, I mean those people are going to fight for me to have a hut with concrete floors–Justice!  I will also receive health insurance, travel to and from the country, extensive language and professional training, a 1 year non-competitive status should I apply for jobs within the US government,  access to the many partnerships for graduate and professional study associated with the Peace Corps, and a transitional stipend upon completion of my service.

What are you going to be doing? 

I am working as an education volunteer.  I will be using English language skills to provide support to Ethiopian English teachers or possibly even leading a classroom of my own!  Verdict’s not completely out yet as to what I’ll be doing, but I could serve either as a primary English teacher or a teacher trainer.  I will find out what specifically I will be doing, and where specifically I will be doing it, when I arrive to Pre-Service Training in Ethiopia in June.

When do you leave?

I am leaving June 4 for staging in a major US city, then I will fly with a cohort of education volunteers to Ethiopia on June 6, where we will spend three months in pre-service training, studying the language (most likely Amharic), culture, and professional skills needed to thrive in our communities.  I will officially begin my term of service as a Peace Corps volunteer in August 2012 and finish in August 2014.

Will you come home?

Yes.  I will most likely come home at least once while I’m gone to see my fam.  They are funding me, so if you are planning any important life event you would like for me to attend (wedding, bar mitzvah, funeral–kind of kidding here, but kind of not), holla at me so we can coordinate dates.  I could try to skype in to a wedding, but that would probably be weird…

Can we visit you?

YES!  You can visit me.  You can stay with me in my (imagined) hut!  It is going to be soo cute.  You can meet my friends and help me develop perspective and wisdom.  You can also just have fun with me–bonus points if you bring Scrabble!  But seriously, my family is planning on visiting at least once, and several friends are also considering trips to Ethio, so…game’s on!  I would also love to meet you somewhere in/around the country if you are abroad, though I won’t be able to travel until December due to Peace Corps rules.

Are you going to get raped/die?

I don’t know.  I have a pretty good track record so far and am able to give sketchy people a scary look, but nothing is certain.  Ethiopia is generally a safe country to travel to, although some Somalian/Sudanese borders may be more questionable.

Do you know anyone else going?

I coincidentally know a fellow education volunteer headed to Ethiopia.  My friend/sheesha partner/colleague/fellow Neville hall resident Lacy and I are both headed to Africa with the Peace Corps!  Together, we have finished paperwork, gotten Yellow Fever shots, and mentally prepared ourselves for the journey that awaits.

What are you going to pack?

I plan to include a detailed packing list on my blog before I leave, but so far I am bringing several pairs of sturdy shoes , a few long maxi dresses, cardigans, khaki pants, 1 pair of jeans, yoga pants, a pink rain jacket, my computer, ipod, kindle, a good towel, socks, and some other stuff.  Holla @ me if you have suggestions!

Why are you going?

I could give you the “politically correct” answer: I’m serving as Peace Corps because of my deep interests in international development, education for women, and global contexts of poverty/need.  But honestly, I’m going because I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t go.  Is serving as a volunteer for 27 months in a country I’ve never been to (and know little about) scary?  Yes.  But I have to go.  I have to go.  I know can not save anyone or make any major changes within a community by myself.  My term of service is going to be really hard.  I am going to be dirty and tired and misunderstood.  But to not go, for me, would be unjust.  It would be choosing safety and security and comfort and the opinion of others over my own calling.  And I am just unwilling to make that compromise right now.

Can we contact you while you’re gone?

Yes!  I will have a cell phone in-country that you can call if you have an international plan/are willing to splurge a bit to chat.  Additional contact information, including my skype ID, email address, and temporary address (between June-August 2012) is available on the “About Me” section of my blog.  I will have internet, though I won’t know the quality and or frequency of access to it until I’m in Ethiopia.  You are more than willing to send care packages as well ;)!!!!!

How are you going to connect with your community?

I am going to drink a lot of coffee with my friends!! I am going to ask for a lot of help.  I am going to offer to babysit.  I am going to ask my neighbors to go on walks with me.  I am going to plan book clubs for my students outside of class.  I am going to worship at an Ethiopian church.  I am going to make guacamole for my fellow Peace Corps volunteers.

Are you going to blog?

Yes.  I am going to blog.  A lot.  I am going to read.  A lot.  I am going to write.  A lot.  I am going to paint my hut.  A lot.  Ok…you get it.  So please read my blog, and share with me in this humbling, beautiful encounter with a place that is brimming with stories to tell!  And please suggest books/movies (good ones) for me to devour and think about as I listen to the drip-drop of rain during monsoon season.


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