You may say that I’m a dreamer

Hey Everybody,

So our time here in Ethiopia has come to an end. I will try to do some justice to the experience but I don’t think there will ever be any way to explain the profound experiences we’ve had here. One of the biggest things that we’ve often thought about is exactly that, that this Peace Corps experience is too large, too complex, too emotional to possible describe. To get a clear understanding of what we experienced you would have to move to some rural town in Ethiopia and live there for two years. That’s the only way and even then all of us have had different experiences and sometimes I don’t even know what just happened. When you’re crammed into a bus filled to double the capacity, sweat dripping down your back and a drunk guy in your face a common thought is “What the fuck is happening? How am I possibly in this situation right now?” Oh yeah, I joined Peace Corps.  The old slogan of Peace Corps was “The toughest job you’ll ever love” and I think that perfectly describes it. We spent many a day day –dreaming of America, the comforts of life there, family and friends, gas station hot dogs. It will all be nice but when we leave we will never experience this lifestyle again, a lifestyle that the vast majority of the world lives in permanently. It’s been an incredible experience to be so integrated into this society and in many ways it’s better.  Many of the friends we’ve made here want to go to America, where jobs are plentiful and everyone is rich (so they think) but we try to emphasis the great things here: the simple lifestyles, time with family and friends, community involvement. I think those are the things we’ve enjoyed the most in our time here. In many ways, Peace Corps is the perfect life, maybe 20 hours of real work a week (simple lifestyle), making such great friendships with people who  we can’t even communicate with in some cases but somehow still make deep connection with (friends) and using our energy to help people and make their lives better (community involvement.) I’ve never done anything so fulfilling even though all of that good stuff is mixed in with a lot of annoying situations at least and dangerous situations at worst. But, as we’ve learned from our previous adventures, the difficulties fade with time and the happy memories and good feelings are what’s left. I think that we both are satisfied with our service, proud of what we accomplished and ready to come home, like an elderly person on their deathbed after a long and happy life. I am reminded of my 2014(?, I forget) Boston Marathon. I put in a lot of hard work and ran a really great race. Coming down the final stretch on Boylston street, where a year before 3 people were killed in the bombings, I knew I had put everything into it that I could have. I was tired, ready to be finished but smiling and waving to the crowds as I crossed the finish line. Maybe that’s a better analogy then being on a deathbed. Well, I could ramble on like Kerouac for pages but it would probably get kind of repetitive.

We both did a lot of work our last month at site. I think they assumed we would just hang out but there were things we wanted to do. Jane did a small girl’s empowerment camp with about 30 girls from our town. She also painted some cool murals in our neighbors house and some billboards along the road for a pottery cooperative. I brought more fish fingerlings (babies) down from Jimma one last time for the farmers who made more fish ponds. And I did a small training for the farmers who are interested in modern bee keeping. After two years of learning how to get things done in Ethiopia, everything went smoothly and was easy to organize. In the first year of service it would have been so daunting to organize a training and actually get people to show up but I pretty much just passed the word around to all my friends and farmers that we could talk in a few days and it went really well. Now we are in Addis, about to do the ceremonial “gonging out.” Then we are going with a friend to Egypt for a few days before making our way home. More adventures wait but we have to see what works out before we make any announcements. Stay tuned!

clockwise from me: Me and my bees, Jane getting her hair braided, Jane and girls eating candy canes, cow butchering, goats.

As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate the opportunity to share our experiences with you and your interest in what we have done here. The third goal of Peace Corps is to share what we’ve learned here with Americans back home. The world is such an amazing and diverse place and as Peace Corps volunteers we have had an opportunity to discover one small corner of it but there are thousands of us all over the world, learning and sharing about some incredible places. In Trump’s America I think we need Peace Corps more than ever. Friendships, diplomacy, tolerance, caring and support, these are what make a country great. I never realized before I came here how important the U.S.’s leadership in the world is but people really consider what we say, follow our example and look to us for guidance. The cutting of foreign aid to pay for a military increase is beyond words to me. There haven’t been this many refugees in the world today since World War II and yet we are doing little and cutting even that to help them. I just would encourage everyone to action: supporting Non-government and non-profit agencies who can step in to fill the gap, being civically active to let our leaders know how we feel. One of the worst things is that a small minority is now making decisions that the majority disagree with. When talking about Trump with people here I always have to explain that it’s not how the majority of Americans feel. Anyway, Thanks!

 

Trevor Johannsen

I found this quote in The Voyage of the Beagle and I’ve been saving it for a while now.

“There are several other sources of enjoyment in a long voyage. The world ceases to be blank; it becomes a picture full of the most varied and animated figures. I have too deeply enjoyed the voyage not to recommend any naturalist to take all chances and to start on travels by land if possible, if otherwise on a long voyage. He may feel assured he will meet no difficulties or dangers excepting in rare instances, nearly so bad as he beforehand anticipates.”- Charles Darwin

Don’t let your dreams be dreams

Hello World,

Happy New Years to you. All’s well here in Ethiopia. We have our Closing of Service Conference this week which means some meetings about post Peace Corps life, a language test to see how much or in my case how little we learned, then some rest and relaxation at a nice resort here. Like all volunteers, I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. We’ve come so far in the time that we’ve been here. I remember looking out the hotel window the first day we arrived in country too intimated to go out on the street. The days at site with nothing to do because nothing had started to come together yet, reading until I got too bored so I’d switch to Sudoku until I got too bored of that. But those times are long gone. Last week, our friends Andy and Virginia came down to visit us. It’s nice that our site is really cool because lots of people come down to see it. We hiked around the jungle and down to the wetland nearby, showed off some of our work, and mostly just relaxed. I was kind of busy. I had a friend of mine make a bunch of bee hives and we gave them to some farmers so that they can use them. I should have taken some pictures. Maybe next time. But they are more efficient than the traditional ones they use so we helped them transfer their bee colonies from the traditional to the more modern hives. That’s always fun and exciting. One hive was really full of bees and honey. They said it had been in the tree for two years.  My poor friend Andy who didn’t have a bee suite because he was supposed to be a spectator got stung a bunch. You never really know what you are gonna get when you open the traditional hives which is another reason for switching to the newer ones. I think I’ve said before but eating honey straight out of the comb with bees flying all around you is one of my favorite things to do here. The night before we transferred a hive but there wasn’t any bees so my friend Admasu said we should eat the larvae because it’s “good for energy.” I had done it before but Andy wasn’t so sure. He thought my friend was playing a joke on us. But when they started to do it he realized they weren’t joking. We tried some. It’s not too bad but definitely not as good as honey.

Anyway, what I want to do for you this time is tell you a little bit about our great host family that have been our neighbors and friends for almost two years now. We go over to their house almost every morning for coffee and they are always there to help us out and look out for us. We took this picture and printed it out for them on the Ethiopian holiday called “The finding of the True Cross.” It took us a long time to figure out all the relations and we still might not have some things right. A lot of times they say “he’s my brother” but really he’s a distant cousin or just a close friend.

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Starting bottom row on the left with the girl in the white shirt, this is Meete (Mee-tay). She is one of our favorite kids in town. She’s a lot of fun and goofy. Like of few of these kids, she’s not related with the family but since they are well off they host them and provide a more reliable situation for them. It’s fun now that Meete and the other kids have opened up with us they come over whenever just to hang out. Next to here is Abule. She is really nice and friendly. She runs the only what you could call a restaurant in town. They only serve one thing called a bayanet which means “every kind” cause it’s kind of a sample dish of vegetables. I got in trouble recently because I said Abule’s bayanets are better than Janes which of course isn’t true because why would an Ethiopian be better at making  Ethiopian food than someone who’s been experimenting with Ethiopian food for a couple of years. Anyway, next is Mihiret. She’s a good girl. Our family’s youngest and kind of a chosen child. For some reason she gets out of a lot of work that the other kids have to do. Next is Abusho in the plaid. He’s also a good kid too. I guess I don’t really need to say that every time, they are all good kids. Anyway, he is Abule’s and Teddy’s brother. He’s really thrifty. He made a stereo system for his bicycle that plays from of his cell phone and lots of cool little things. Next is Filsleta but I just call her “girly.” She’s really shy but will come over and hang out with us and if you try to talk to her she just covers her face so I’m not sure why she comes. Helen is in the colorful dress. Her and Abule are about the same age and cousins and since they are the eldest girls they manage all the house work. Helen runs the tej or honey wine bar. I don’t know how she puts up with drunk guys drinking tej all the time but she does it with a smile on her face. Kifle in the white and Alamayo above him make a hilarious pair. Kifle gave me money to buy him a cell phone while I’m in the capital cause like most teenagers they like playing on phones. They both aren’t related to the family but are a lot of fun. Alamayo was the one how was kicked by a horse and almost died. I’m glad he didn’t because they make us laugh every day.  To Alamayo’s left in green is Tedirous or Teddy . He’s one of my best friends at site and an all-around good guy. Even though he’s only twenty something he is really mature and is like a father figure for his younger brother because his dad isn’t around. Next is Tesfynesh. She is Mesfin’s, our landlord’s, sister. We don’t see her too much because I think she lives in another town. In the nice suit is our landlord and Ethiopia father, Mesfin. The patriarch of this clan, he’s really nice and a really hard worker, always doing something. He’s one of the most successful and influential guy in town. I always feel safe because if anyone messed with us or stole anything from us, Mesfin would take care of it. Next to him is …I guess I don’t know her name, we always call her Grandma. She is Lomi and Meseret’s mom. She is really funny, like a lot of grandma’s. She is really religious and always jabbering about something. Every day at coffee, she comes in and everyone stands up because that’s what you do for elders and she tells everyone to sit down but they don’t until she sits down and the whole way shuffling to her seat she is saying “sit down, sit down” and we do this every day. Her only children that I know of are Meseret in the purple and Lomi in green but now that I think about it they can’t be her only children but maybe her only surviving children. Meseret’s children are Teddy, Abule and Abusho. Meseret and Jane always like to goof around making silly jokes about things. Lomi, in green, is a boss, probably the most influential woman in town, she takes care of business. Jonas (Yonas) is her and mesfin’s oldest son. I’ve heard that Mesfin is going to buy a bus and Jonas is going to be the driver for people going on the road we are on between the two bigger cities on either side of us. Above Jonas is his younger brother Seyum. He’s a good kid too. He goes to high school in the neighboring town because we don’t have one. And Meron, their sister in the red, is really studious and dedicated. She comes over a lot for help on her homework. So that is our extended Ethiopian family. They are all amazing and great people. I wish you guys could all meet them. We are already getting sad, thinking about when we have to leave them. Even if we get to come back and visit someday the kids will probably be all grown up. But one volunteer put it nicely when he said it was good that we will miss them because that means they are important to us.

But that’s about it I guess. Hopefully I’ll put up at least a couple more post before we leave and I have a suspicion that the Adventures will continue even after that.

Thanks for reading,

Trevor Johannsen

“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.”  -Captain James Cook

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Hey Everybody,
How is everything going back home? Everything is good here. There was a tense political situation here that I can’t really talk about but we had to go to Addis (the capital) to see how things worked out. Luckily things settled down and we were able to return back to our site. There never were any problems near us, just the road we have to take, so Peace Corps flew us from Jimma. What usually takes 10 hours by bus we did in 45 minutes. It was amazing. We were worried we were being sent home for good. Some volunteers from other regions of the country had to go home and when we were leaving it felt like we might not come back. Everyone was really happy when we did. It kind of feels like a Peace Corps near death experience to me. You know when people almost die they have a new outlook on life. That’s how I feel about our service now. I was just wasting time reading and playing video games. Now I realize we only have four months left here and I better get on it if I want to get more things done. Being in Addis does have its perks though and I wasn’t quite ready to come back. Hot showers, good food, lots of friends, swimming pools, fun things to do, good internet; these are all things I don’t have at site. Even though sometimes we miss home we still love our service here. I think I wrote during our pre-service training that even though it was boring I was still so excited to be in Peace Corps and I still feel the same way. There are a lot of difficulties but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now. Of course this is coming from a guy who enjoys hiking thousands of miles at a time and running sometimes 20 or 30 miles non-stop so my definition of comfort and enjoyable may be different than most people. Sometimes I think my Plan D or E will just be to do Peace Corps again somewhere else. We could go to Fiji or Mongolia or Rwanda or Peru or the Philippines or Senegal or lots of places. I heard they re-opened Columbia. That would be cool. But that’s plan D. Jane says she is done volunteering and is ready to be a big girl. Me too, I guess. Plan A is to go to grad school then get a good job. Plan B is to get any job with the government then work my way up. If that doesn’t work Plan C is to maybe work for a private environmental company. Plan D is, like I said, Peace Corps again. Plan E is just being full time travelers/Adventurers. Did you know there is a guy walking from Ethiopia to Patagonia right now to retrace the steps of humans. It’s going to take 10 years. That would be cool. He’s sponsored by National Geographic. How do you do that? Plan F would maybe be being a hermit, homesteading in the mountains or a Pacific Island. I don’t know. But as you can see, we have lots of options for when we get back.
I guess it’s about time for new paragraph. What I’ve really come to talk to you about today is the crucial election that is this week. I’ve been lucky to be out of the country for its entirety, getting only the amount of coverage that I choose to look up, not having it thrown at me like mud in a mud fight. (Is that a thing?) But being out of the country has given me a perspective that I never had before. I’ve been surprised by how much the whole world follows our politics and I never realized how much it affects them. I was talking to a nice Muslim guy the other day and he was telling me how much he wants to come to the US on a Diversity Visa. I had never even heard of this before coming to Ethiopia but everyone here applies for the “DV” every year. It’s a lottery system for a five year visa and a lot of people see it as their only chance to get out of poverty even though I’ve heard only 1% of applicants get it. I didn’t say anything but thought to myself how sad it is that this man’s and many more like him dream of going to America to make a better life for himself and his family would almost certainly be lost if Donald Trump were to become President. I’ve never understood xenophobia in a country founded by immigrants. Not only do we get thousands of hard working laborers, we take the best and brightest students, doctors and entrepreneurs from all over the world. I’ve read that Germany has taken almost 100,000 refugees from Syria and we have taken less than 2,000. That’s pretty shameful to me. Another thing I’ve realized since serving in Peace Corps is the importance of diplomacy. It’s basically the reason we are here. Both Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama had brothers who served in the Peace Corps. President Obama did a lot of work to restore relationships with countries around the world. When he came to Ethiopia, it really sent a message to this whole region that America cares and is here to help. I am afraid that Donald Trump’s isolationist and America first attitude would hurt our image across the world. Without friends we are alone and alone is not what we want to be in the age of globalization. Finally, during my time here I’ve seen how importance good governance is for a country. I often think that the first time I get pulled over in the states, I’ll thank the police man for his honest service. I can’t believe some of the shit I’ve seen here from all levels. I know some people in the states don’t like “big government” but the fact is that government controls most of the things in our lives, directly or indirectly and it’s important that that government is at least competent and works for the people. Even though Hillary Clinton may not be the most transparent politician I think her record shows a lifetime of working for the average American not her multinational corporation. And I guess the most important thing is to just vote. The ruling party here “won” with 99% of the vote in the last elections. Even though Donald Trump claims our election is “rigged” even before he’s lost, I can tell you, it’s not. So go vote and enjoy that right we get as Americans because there’s nowhere in the world like “the land of the free and home of the brave.”
Sorry for the politics. If you disagree please don’t think less of me. “That’s…like… your own opinion…man.” – The Big Lebowski. I talked to my mom last week and I said that I didn’t really have anything to say that’s why I haven’t posted a blog in a while. She said maybe I did and didn’t realize it. I guess she was right.
Thanks for reading,
Trevor
“To work was the only thing that always made you feel good and in the mean time it was my own damn life and I would lead it where and how I pleased. And where I had led it now pleased me very much.” – Ernest Hemingway Green Hills of Africa

Maisha ni safari – Life is a journey

Hey Everybody!

We just got back to Addis from an awesome trip to Tanzania. It was a lot of fun. We first went on a two day safari to Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro National Parks where we got to see tons of wildlife. It was so amazing to see all those animals living in natural environment instead of a zoo. Ngorongoro N.P. is a huge extinct volcano with all the animals protected inside. It’s the last place in Tanzania that has rhinoceros but unfortunately we did’t get to see them. We saw just about all the other large mammals of Africa though. If I die and get to go to heaven that’s probably where I’ll be. In one view over a wetland you could see hippos, elephants, zebras, water buffalo, wildebeest and tons of birds like a photo-shopped picture. It cools to see the wildlife but I always get sad thinking about how a few hundred years ago almost the whole country was like that. I think the same thing driving through Kansas thinking of herds of bison numbering in the millions or driving through a jungle in Ethiopia then coming out into clear cut farm land. Studies have found that at the current rate of poaching there will be no more elephants in the wild in ten or twenty years. My children will not get to see what we just saw. DSC04196

 

After the safari, we started the Kilimanjaro climb. We had a fun group of volunteers plus a friend of a friend who joined us from the states. The climbing was really slow and easy for the first few days. “Pole Pole” (pronounced polay polay) means “slowly, slowly” in Swahili and our guides never let us go faster than a snails pace. As we got higher we started to feel the altitude more and more and we appreciated the advice to save our energy. The guides were a lot of fun and it was cool to get to know them. Guiding apparently is a pretty good gig if you’re a young man in Tanzania and they seemed to appreciate the work. They enjoyed our enthusiasm for learning Swahili and we even taught them some Amharic. “Twende” means “let’s go” “poa poa” means “good, good” “Hakuna matata” which you may remember from The Lion King really does mean  “No worries”in Swahili. Also from the Lion King, “Asanti Sana” means thank you. Although when Rafiki (which means “friend”) is singing “asanti sana, squashed banana” is doesn’t really make sense. Anyway, hiking was really cool. Like our Simien Mountains hike, here in Ethiopia, it was strange to have porters carrying our stuff for us. They would hike faster than us and have camp set up with tea and coffee ready for us when we got there. It wasn’t too hard until the last day. We camped at 15,000 feet and woke up at four o’clock in the morning to reach the summit, at 19 thousand something. It was super cold and I was thankful for all the clothes I’d been carrying around the heat of the savanna. The altitude made everyone short of breath and you couldn’t hike and talk or take a drink at the same time. The top was really windy and cold so we only enjoyed the views for a few minutes before we headed back down to more habitable elevations.

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The summit

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One of the last views we had of the mountain

After the hike, we took a bus to the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salam. We only stayed the night and in the morning we took the ferry out to Zanzibar. Not really having any detailed plans, we took the recommendations from our friend Tim, who went there first before the climb, to stay at a place on the west side of the island and when we got there we were blown away at the laid back, island atmosphere. It was such a cool place right on the water. It was the perfect place to recover from the hike and enjoy the last few days of our vacation, just laying on the beach and swimming. Apparently, it’s a famous kite-surfing beach and there were tons of people out. It looked like fun but we preferred watching. After a few days of this new paradise, we were ready to come back. Although Tanzania seemed just a little bit more developed, cleaner, organized and better in general, it was a little difficult because there were a lot of people trying to sell things to tourist and get them to sign up for trips. Even on the beach people would come up to you trying to sell you things. Here the harassment is a little different and less persistent. I was walking down the street this morning and some guys yelled at me “Hey!” and I was like “oh boy”  and he said “how is Ethiopia? Is it good?” and I smiled at the random question and was like “yeah, it’s good, thanks.”

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Now that we are here we are in the home stretch of our service. Between now and our closing of service conference in January, it will be our last chance to finish some of the projects we’ve been trying to get done. It has gone by so fast and there are still a lot of things we want to get done while we are here. Before our vacation I was feeling pretty ready to come home but then I had a dream it was the last week here and I was disappointed it had gone by already, so I want to appreciate it while it lasts.

I guess that’s all for now. I’ll keep in touch.

Thanks for reading,

Trevor

“From the day we arrive on the planet, and blinking, step into the sun, there’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done. There’s far too much to take in here. More to find than can ever be found, but the sun rolling high, through the sapphire sky, keeps great and small on the endless round

It’s the Circle of Life And it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love. Till we find our place on the path unwinding In the Circle. The Circle of Life”

-The Lion King   (I know it’s cheesy but we watched the Lion King when we got back and I liked the lyrics to this song.)

 

If it keeps on raining the levee’s gonna break

(I wrote this awhile ago but haven’t been able to post it due to technical difficulties.)

Hello Everybody,

I’m currently cooped up inside due to heavy rains. It’s definitely the rainy season here which is good for filling fish ponds and finishing books I’ve been meaning to finish but not much else. So, I thought I would listen to some Led Zeppelin and write a post. I think the last time I wrote was right before we went to Greece. I don’t remember but that’s what I’ll assume.

I recall saying that the time between our Mid-Service Conference and our trip was busy digging ponds and moving bee colonies and that after spending a couple of weeks with fellow volunteers I realized how I’ll never fit in here so I was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces.

All in all, it was exactly the vacation we were looking forward to.  We first spent a whole day in Dubai because we were going to layover there anyway so I figured we could moved the second flight back a day and have time to explore the city. We were blown away. It would have been a shock going there from a developed country but arriving from Ethiopia was totally mind-blowing.  Before we even left the airport we: drank from a water fountain, tried to get a ride on a metered taxi so they wouldn’t try to gouge the foreigners and they ended up not knowing where we wanted to go so they recommended we ask directions from a friendly customer service attendant. All of those things would not be possible here in Ethiopia.  The city itself is really neat and clean somehow even though there is construction everywhere. We went to some spice shops and gold stores in the old part of town. Then we went to the Dubai mall which is a typical mall but it sits beneath the Burg Kalif, currently the tallest building in the world. Then in the afternoon we hung out on the beach and went to the marina to look at all the billionaire’s yachts. The only problems we ran into were when I accidently got into the women’s train car and a nice lady asked me to go the men’s section and we originally tried to walk the mile to the beach but after about 100 meters we quickly found shelter in the shade and waited for taxi to drive by because the heat was unbearable.

The next day we flew to Greece and met my Mom and sister. It was great to get to hang with them. Luckily for us my mom is a great trip planner and had everything figured out with a bunch of fun stuff to do. Unlike us, who did a quick google search of “things to do in Dubai” and on the ride to the airport in Ethiopia couldn’t remember if we needed a visa. The first day we spent doing the Athens thing, seeing the Acropolis and other historic stuff but then quickly made it out to the islands. We first went to Milos which ended up being our favorite. It was the most relaxed, had the best cliff jumping and good snorkeling. We stayed in a little fishing village right on the water. A lot of tourist places probably claim to still be “fishing villages” but it’s like ok, where are all the fishermen? This place was really a fishing village and we were the crazy tourists the locals had to put up with because one person put their bungalow on AirBnB. The fishermen would row out to their little boats early every morning and we’d watch them come back in with their catch and seagulls flying all around while we drink our morning coffee. Then they’d just hang out all day on the dock talking about whatever it is Greek fishermen have to talk about, probably whether or not the U.K. would leave the Euro.  It seemed like a pretty nice life.

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Greece

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Digging a fish pond with my friend Admasu

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Taking a break during our Mid-service Conference

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Making a chicken tractor

I can’t remember the name of the second island we went to but we went kayaking through some sea caves and in a really clear blue lagoon. It was a lot of fun. Then we went to Santorini, which is probably the most famous Greek Island because it’s super luxurious and probably has the densest concentration of infinity pools in the world. I don’t know. I just made that up but there were a lot. Also, fun fact, it could be the origin of the story of Atlantis because it’s an active volcano that collapsed at one point a long time ago and fell under the water, drowning a lot of people. Now it’s in a moon shape with steep cliffs on the inner edge.  Wait…maybe we went to Santorini second and went kayaking after, I can’t remember. It’s all just one beachey haze now. We went to four islands total and did a lot of snorkeling, beach laying, wine drinking, just general relaxation really. We climbed Mt. Zeus which is where he was born. Mt Olympus if I remember my Greek mythology correctly is where the Gods lived and is on the mainland. Anyway, sadly our time there had to come to an end. We said goodbye to my mom and sister and came back home to Ethiopia relaxed and tanned.

The week after we got back we turned around and went back up to Addis to give a talk to the next group of volunteers. They finished their three months of training and have been at their sites for three months now. It’s a difficult time for volunteers because you’ve been here a while but things don’t really come together yet so it’s really frustrating. It takes longer than that to redefine your sense of productivity. We pretty much told them to hang in there and things come together slowly, plus some more tangible advice that may be useful.

Things are fine here though. My goat waited to give birth until we came back which I am thankful for. So now we have an energetic and obnoxious baby goat running around like an idiot. That might be a good thing. When I first bought the mom Jane was like “You are going to get attached and this thing is going to be a pet.” I insisted I wanted it for more practical reasons, mainly food, but then I did start getting attached. Now, I’m like “I want both of these pains in my butt out of here and let’s fire up the grill.” We’ll see. Other than that, I’ve been digging more ponds with farmers. If things can get organized, which is a big IF, I might go to Jimma next week to bring back more fish for my pond and for the farmers that are ready. We planted a bunch of sugar cane and pineapple at the school. That project is almost finished and they are already hounding me about what we are going to do with the left over money. That’s one bad thing about getting a grant. I have to tell myself that I came here to be used but sometimes it crosses the line into being taken advantage of. One thing I’ve learned in Peace Corps is to not be so passive. If you don’t have a strong backbone you will get taken advantage of all the time.  Other than that, not too much is new. Some mysterious creature keeps picking off my chickens and I can’t figure out what it is. I suspect a cat I see every now and then but I’ve never seen it happen. I had ten and they dwindled down to five so I bought ten more and now I’m down to nine. Just last night we were watching a movie and heard them freaking out so I ran outside and one was missing but I didn’t see anything., not even feathers.  If I ever catch whatever it is, it’s going to pay the ultimate price. All the rain is driving the rats inside and I can kill them pretty remorselessly. Since my rat trap is ineffective, a short scuffle and a quick stomp on the head usually does the trick.

Anyway, Jane is doing stuff too you know. I always talk about what I am doing but she’s been really busy. As I am typing she is teaching a group of kiddos some English. She started the summer classes she did last year but broke them up by grades so things aren’t too out of control. She wrote a little thing about a lady she’s been working with but probably won’t have time to post it because she’s organizing a girl’s summer camp in a few weeks. It takes a lot of work. I can’t imagine doing something like that. Everything I do is like “Oh, you’d rather drink honey wine this afternoon even though we had a plan to work? That’s ok, let’s try tomorrow.” But with this, if the mattress guy bails it’s going to be uncomfortable nights for us, or the cook lady doesn’t show up for who knows why, we’ll be shit out of luck, I guess. It’s a lot of weight on ol’ Jane’s shoulders. It will be great though. It’s called Camp Glow (Girls Leading Our World) which is a worldwide Peace Corps program, promoting female empowerment. Ten different volunteers are bringing students from their towns together for a five day camp. It should be a lot of fun.

Well, that’s all I have to report I guess. After Jane’s Camp Glow, we are going to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, a safari and get more beach time on Zanzibar. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for reading,

Trevor

 

“First, master your hesitation then the height will come.”- Advice from my sister and cliff jumping master, Casey Johannsen, but I think it could apply to life in general.

This Ethiopian Life

Hey Guys,

All’s well here in Ethiopia. We’ve had a few productive weeks with our work. I’ve been feeling that I haven’t been able to describe life here well enough. I don’t think there is any way to describe it fully but I had the idea that I would share some journal entries.  I’ve been trying to write in a journal since I’ve been here with marginal success but I was pretty diligent for the week before our mid-service conference. I hoped to do it for longer than that but then I realized we had MSC which probably isn’t very interesting. Maybe this will give more complete picture of what a day in the life of us is.

4-1, Friday: They don’t call it April’s Fools Day for nothing. The government agent didn’t show up for the PFM meeting we had scheduled for today. I don’t know why and half of the other people who where suppose to come went to a different meeting about the hyena man. [It’s kind of like a werewolf I think except you don’t change shapes and you don’t know you are afflicted. Someone claimed this man looked at her and put a curse on her. Children are especially susceptible and they wear a medallion to protect them] It’s been three wasted days in a row. Hopefully tomorrow is better. I will call Mesfin (from NABU) about what to do about PFM. If we don’t make any progress soon the whole thing could fall apart I think.

4-2, Saturday: Woke up early and walked to Bonga to go to Jimma to get plastic. It all worked out and I brought it back. It looks good now it just needs to rain to fill them up.

4-3, Sunday: Walked to Chiri to go to church. I’ve been telling Aba [Father] Paulos I would go but I’ve been busy so I finally had time to go. We hung out with Mulatu in the afternoon to celebrate his daughter’s baptism. We have a week before we go to MSC so I’ve got a bunch of stuff to do.

4-4, Monday: This morning we waited to be invited over for coffee but they never did so I went to school to work on the ponds for most of the day. I put grass around the edges and filled in the gutters so that the water will run towards the ponds. Found out one of our best friend here is probably going to get a divorce which is sad. They just had their second child. We’re not really sure what happened.

4-5, Tuesday: Had coffee with our neighbors then worked on the ponds again. Had an intense conversation with Belete [my counterpart] about how we shouldn’t work so much at the school and should work with the agriculture office instead. I said we will do what we want to do and if he was an easier person to deal with maybe we would work with him. Then I asked why he doesn’t support my PFM work even though he claims to care about the environment. I think he’s been bribed so screw him.

4-6, Wednesday: This morning I made an extension to my chicken house for my goat. It’s cold and rainier now and she didn’t have a good place to go. Now she’s set up nice. Added more grass around the ponds and put up the last strand of barb wire around the pond so the kids can’t come in so easily. I don’t want anyone to drown.

4-7, Thursday: Rained a lot this morning so I went to check out the ponds and the first one is almost filled up already. I went to Bonga to meet with Mesfin to talk about PFM with some of the guys I’ve been working with. He’s always helpful. He explained to them what I’ve been trying to say from the beginning just only in a way they could understand. After that, I bought more pipes to put in so when the first pond fills up it will flow to the other two. It looks good. A lot of work to do tomorrow before we head on our way to Addis.

4-8, Friday: Busy day. This morning after coffee, I macheted the yard and path to the shint bet [bathroom]. Then I painted the gutter pipes for the school and installed them. Hopefully the ponds are good to go while I’m gone. Had an impromptu meeting for PFM while drinking tej [honey wine] next door. Hopefully everything is finished cause we are going to Addis for a week for MSC then people are coming to stay with us for a little bit afterwards. Good times.

So then we went to the capital, Addis Ababa for our Mid-Service Conference. It was cool to see everyone from our group (G-12). The best things about Addis are all the good food and the hot showers. My friend and fellow runner Tim organized a beer-mile. The day before we tried to get permission to use the track but there was a soccer game going on. We kept telling them we didn’t want to watch the game we just needed to talk to the manager but they didn’t really understand and sat us in the box seats so we were like “this is cool” and we watched the game and figured we’d deal with the track situation later. The beer-mile ended up being a great success. If you don’t know, it’s a mile race but you have to drink a beer before each lap.) I’m kind of embarrassed to say that in four years of collegiate track and cross country running I had never run a beer-mile before. We also organized a talent show, after having a very successful talent show during our pre-service training. My friend Andy and I and a little girl named Rachel are very talented at eating sugarcane so we tried to eat a whole stick each. I got only about half way through mine by the end of the night but it was a lot of fun.

…So this is what I was going to post about a month ago but the internet wasn’t working. There are some protests in a region here that is oppressed and the government says it’s not blocking it but SOMEONE is blocking the internet. It’s incredibly frustrating. Anyway, we’ve been super busy since our MSC. I’ve been spending my days digging more fish ponds with farmers and my nights transferring bee colonies. Jane has been busy finishing more paintings at the school, teaching English and working with a group of women starting gardens.

I’m kind of nervous so many people want to start fish farming so quickly. My plan was to make some at the school, one at my house and maybe one to two with some friends, just to test it out, to make sure it will actually work but everyone wants one now. I brought some tilapia from Jimma, which is a bigger town where I’ve been working with a college professor who’s given me a lot of help on this project, and I think that got everyone excited. When I first started digging my pond everyone thought I was crazy, which is normal. Then I made the ones at the school and they filled with water so I was a little less crazy. Now, I have “fish ponds” with actual fish in them and everyone can see this was the plan all along. I put some in my friend Teddy’s pond too. It been really cool because these are literally the “seed fish” because once they reproduce all their offspring can be transferred to other people’s ponds and people will have fish for a long time, hopefully.

The other thing I’ve been doing is transferring bee colonies to the school hives we made. This can either be an incredible experience or just really painful. One of the most alarming things is bees in the inside of your bee suit. It reminds me of cartoons when the character gets an exclamation point over their head and they jump in the air. It feels a lot like that. The worst part of bee stings is actually the itching for the next two or three days; the sting only last for a few minutes. It’s really cool though. We are transferring hives from their traditional hives which consist of hollowed out logs they put way up in the tops up trees, to more modern hives. We use the “Kenyan top-bar” models not the boxes you’ve probably seen. We promote the top bars because 1) you don’t have to destroy the colony to take the honey 2) you can include a queen excluder so that part of the hive is only pure and therefor more valuable honey 3) they are cheaper and 4) you don’t have to climb up to the top of a tree in the jungle in the middle of the night to harvest your honey. My friend who I’ve bought the colonies from climbs up the tree and lowers the hive down with a rope then we sort through it to try to find the queen which is like finding a needle in a stack of needles. But if you can find the queen and trap her you don’t have to worry about the colony leaving because they will stay with her. The whole thing is really interesting. Bees are fascinating creatures. Being in the middle of the jungle at night, with bees swarming all around you, eating honey right out the comb, doing everything the same way it’s been done for thousands of years is really a surreal experience.

Let’s see… we got to have dinner with the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia. That was pretty cool. She invited a few of the volunteers to meet her so it was small thing but neat to talk to her one on one. Now we are in Addis, on our way to Greece to meet my mom and sister. We are going to stop for a day to see Dubai which looks interesting. Maybe go the top of the tallest building in the world. In Greece I think we’re going to do a bunch of island hoping which sounds great. After spending a couple of weeks at MSC with Americans and then going back to site I realized how different the cultures are. It will be nice to take a real vacation and get away for a while.

I guess that’s about it. I’ll let everyone know how it goes. Sorry I don’t have any pictures. I have a bunch of the ponds and other stuff we’ve been doing but their on our computer at our site. Jane wrote something to post too but it got deleted off of her flash or something so it will have to wait until next time. The title comes from “This American Life” a podcast from NPR. I got a bunch of that and “Radio Lab” which is another podcast from NPR that’s more science based. It’s super interesting and I’ve been listening to it a bunch. I learned that Ghangis Khan has something like 1.6 million offspring now where as the average person living at that time has about 600 by this point, the largest Sioux-U.S. battle that happened  in Minnesota, the Galapagos, all kinds of stuff. Anyway, enough of this rambling.

Thanks for reading,

Trevor Johannsen

“Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.” – The priest in The Boondock Saints

The weather is beautiful, wish you were here.

Hey Everybody,
It’s been a busy past few weeks here. My grant money came in so I’ve been able to get started working on that. We cleaned a spot for some sugar cane and fruit trees, a friend started building the bee hives, and we dug the ponds for the fish. This turned out to be much harder than we thought and I felt bad for my workers. First, when we were negotiating the price they were under the impression that the ponds were the same size as my example pond I dug at my house but really the schools are a bit bigger. Then when we got through the top soil it was all some type of hard clay/soft rock. They were good sports though and after four full days of digging we were all really tired but the ponds are finished and look good. Hopefully I can put some pictures up so you can see. It’s not that complicated but hard to explain and I am thankful that the school put a lot of faith in my master plan. I, in turn, am putting a lot of my credibility on the line with this so I really hope it works out. I led a meeting to explain the project and what we are going to do. Most people supported the idea and appreciated all the work we do in general but the government development agents who are also our official counter parts say it’s not going to work because it’s not the method that they promote. I explained that we will try anyway and if we don’t try then we don’t know if it will work or not. That’s why we work with the school and not so much with them but oh well. I need to get plastic to line the ponds with then we will wait for the rain. I already have a couple other people who are interested in trying to raise fish too so I will start working with them so that we can finish before the rainy season starts.
Work is really starting to pick up but I still feel a small mid-Peace Corps-life crisis. We’re exactly a year into our two year service and there are still so many things that we want to do. Everyone says that the second year is much more productive but I don’t know if it will be enough. My Participatory Forest Management project has stalled out a little bit because the government rearranged their departments and split the agriculture department so now we have to work with the Environment, Climate and Forest Protection Department. I tried to meet with the new guy we have to work with a few times. After I finally met him he didn’t speak any English and didn’t seem like the type of guy to deal with my spotty Amharic and hand signals so I said “ Uh, I’ll come back with someone else.” That’s ok. I’m confident that my determination is greater than their passivity. I have a good method of patience at first followed by a “carpet bombing”, to use the parlance of our times, of phone calls and visits that eventually wares down the enemy into submission.
Our country director visited our site which was really cool. He seemed pretty impressed with all the work we’ve been doing and liked our site. He’s a busy guy so we appreciated the fact that he bothered to come all the way down here. He was supposed to come a few weeks ago but some protests erupted in another part of the country so he thought he needed to stay in the office to keep an eye on the situation. What else is new? We got a milk restaurant in our market town. I miss a glass of cold milk so it’s nice to have one every few weeks. You can get cold, hot with sugar which is good, or “ergo” which is kind of like yogurt and I’m not really a fan. It’s kind of funny to see a bunch of people sitting in a restaurant just drinking milk but it’s good. I know the owner and am going to try to get him to make ice cream then I guess I don’t really need to come home anymore. It’s funny. I was thinking the other day that Peace Corps is almost exactly like the “simple” lifestyle that so many people back home say they want. We use public transportation, don’t watch t.v., plant gardens and read a lot, but when it really comes to it, we would choose smart phones and Sonic Reese’s Blasts any day. It’s scary to see a country going from simple to modern so quickly. The other day I went with a development agent to a nearby town to help a youth group with a cow fattening project. I actually didn’t know why I was going when I left, he just said to come and I said ok, then I found out it was for cow fattening. I didn’t know anything about cow fattening but I learned that you can buy cows raise them for a few months on corn and stuff and sell them hopefully for a profit. Anyway, we already live in a small rural town so when we hiked through the woods for an hour or so to this other town you know it is really small and really rural. These young men were building a barn like building to hold their cattle in at night and it struck me how literally “off the grid” they really are and how in this case “off the grid” for them translates to a lack of opportunities. A related story: When our country director was here I was explaining the work I was trying to do for PFM and how there is a coffee investor on the other side of the forest encroaching on their land. He explained how the U.S. government is supporting these investors to increase the country’s coffee export capacity. I’m currently reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and that pretty much describes the situation. Development is good in general because it provides jobs and opportunities but at a loss to the environment and local communities who don’t see much of the benefits. Whatchagonnado? I’ve kind of rambled on so I start fresh with a new topic.
A few weeks ago, a neighbor friend of ours, who’s a young guy like 18 or so, was kicked in the stomach by a horse. I was playing soccer and Jane came up to get me so we could try to convince them to take him to the hospital. We get frustrated a lot of times because the priests are called to help people before the health clinic staff. He was lying down with priests and a bunch of people around him but they didn’t think that he needed to go to the hospital because you couldn’t see any damage but something was clearly wrong and we we’re like “No, he should definitely go to the hospital.” There was another young man we knew who died from an infection in is foot because he refused to go to the hospital until it was too late and we weren’t going to let that happen again. Finally, they decided to go and flagged down a car on the road. Someone said that the doctor said if they had waited another hour he wouldn’t have made it. I’m not going to say we saved his life or anything but we might have saved his life. Now, good ol’ Alamyo is back to his spunky self. He’s a funny kid. We used to call him “white tooth” before we knew his name because he always has a big smile and bright white teeth that contrast against his dark skin. (There is a wide range of complexions here. They would always make us laugh because they would be like “You know, the black guy” and we’d be like “You’re ALL black!”)
That’s about all I guess. Hopefully I can write again soon but it’s another catch-22, when I have time to write I’m not doing anything and when I have interesting things to say I’m too busy. Jane painted a mural of the world map at the school and they liked it so much they want her to paint more so she’ll be painting murals for the rest of her service and it seems like I’ll be digging fish ponds.
Thanks for reading,
Trevor
“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
– Christopher McCandless