Volunteering in Addis, 6/1 – 6/15

Um… What am I writing about again? It’s hard to remember the last two weeks of volunteering as now I’m sitting with Elizabeth on the beach. I think the last post we created was about Harar so I’ll just start from there.

We were on a plane heading to Addis Ababa and hoping that our airport pick-up would be there when we land. It wasn’t, so we had to walk out of the airport to find Internet and check our email and make a call. Once our ride showed up we were introduced to the man, Getinet, we would be working with for the next two weeks at his organization, called Strong Hearts. We talked about our skills and were excited to dive into the work. Elizabeth signed onto the Hospice program and I would be fixing old computers and working on the website. We arrived in Kore, one of the poorest suburbs of Addis Ababa, which also happens to be where the trash dump is located south of the city. We where introduced to the other volunteers, staff, and cockroaches we would be spending the next two weeks with. It felt cool to be thrown into the same boat with other people who had planned special trips from all over the world (Japan, NYC, Florida, Canada, Vermont, Ireland, DC and Greece) to spend their time and money helping others. That was by far the most wonderful and rewarding part of the weeks to come.

The first day of volunteering we had the most enthusiasm, which was quickly squashed as we fell into Habasha time (Ethiopian time), a running joke that Ethiopians are NEVER on time and things get done veeeeeeeerrrrrrrrryyyy slowly. Since we were only there two weeks, it was going to be difficult to accomplish much. In that time, I was able to fix three computers and set up a small computer lab, continue developing a website that a previous volunteer had created, go on a few Hospice visits, and spent a bit of time with the kids in the school. Elizabeth was able visit the Hospice patients who were in various stages of HIV/AIDS, cancer, and tuberculosis. She was also able to rewrite all of the content on the website as a native English speaker/grammar grinch, and teach verb tenses to children in the after school program. I was a student and learned with the rest of the kids:) I hope that the work we did was helpful, especially since two weeks does not feel like enough time to make a real difference.

Outside of volunteering, we loved getting out to see more of Addis Ababa in our free time. We had seen a shoe company featured on the BBC called Sole Rebels, which is focused on fair trade for women workers creating shoes. We knew they were big time when we learned they had been on Oprah! We headed out to the mall to buy a pair. We got one for Elizabeth, and we picked up some new friends in the process…Michael and his 10-month-old son, who was really enjoying pulling all the shoes on the rack!

We ended up going to a “fundraiser” for the ICS, the school were Michael and his wife Devon had been teaching for the past two years. When we saw how nice the school was (especially compared to everything else we had been seeing in Addis!), we weren’t really sure why they needed to “fundraise,” but we were sold on the promise of tacos! The theme was Salsa Night, so we loaded up on tacos, salsa and guacamole…the few things we have been craving since there is definitely no such thing as a Mexican restaurant in Africa (well, at least that we have found!) Devon taught me how to salsa dance (well, kind of…you can imagine my success if you have watched the video of me shoulder dancing), and it was so fun to rock out to 90s grunge with Elizabeth.

Michael turned out to be a great ambassador for the expat community living in Addis, inviting us over to brunch the next weekend with his fellow teachers and friends he has made (Peace Corp volunteers, short-term volunteers, people working in the area, etc)…complete with real bacon, pancakes, quiche and blueberry muffins compliments of a special commissary that delivers imported goods from the US to a privileged few (did I mention we were ready for a break from our volunteer guesthouse food after a week of rice and pasta dishes? A taste of home was a godsend!) I tried salsa dancing again with Devon at the Jah Lude concert, which turned put to be be great (not my dancing but the concert!)

One of the coolest things we did was visit the Hamlin Fistula Hospital with Yuri, a badass lady from Japan who was volunteering with us (I hope I still feel up to traveling like we are when I am her age!) Elizabeth had read about it in this book Katie Olsen knew she would she love called “Half the Sky.” (She was right!) It was amazing to see the work they were doing for women from nearby villages, saving their lives. Oprah was on to them too, because she donated enough money to have a whole wing named after her! Elizabeth was able buy a really cool piece of embroidery with sunflowers on it right from one of the patients as she was making it (the women make and sell crafts, keeping 100% of profits for money when they return to their village after they leave the hospital). All in all, it was one of the best experiences we have had here!

The other highlight of our time here was hanging out with our friend Asnko’s 23 year old sister Genet, who was going to Pharmacy school in Addis. We had promised him we would take her out since he had been so generous to us in Lalibela to take us into his family home and feed us dinner. We met her outside of a well-known mall on what felt a little like a blind date at first, but it didn’t take us long to start having fun! We told her to let us take her to her favorite restaurant, which she did…except that she admitted later that she had never actually been there because it was too expensive ($20 was for a HUGE dish enough for all 3 of us!) but had always wanted to try it! She was definitely a pro at the shoulder dance, and she made it impossible to say no to getting up on stage with her and making fools of ourselves…again! It was an awesomely fun night, and it was great to have made such a great friend in Genet. We were just happy we could take her out and do something to show how grateful we were to Asnko and his family for being so nice to us!

Our friends at the volunteer house gave us a great send-off, so we were sad to leave everyone we had been spending so much time with over the past few weeks…but we were definitely looking forward to the beach in Zanzibar, an island famed for its clear blue waters and white sands off the coast of Tanzania! Addis was getting ready for its rainy season, so we were ready to trade the “cold” (by Africa standards!) and dreariness for the sun and sand! Sad and weird to leave Ethiopia for an entirely new country after 43 days here, but excited to start a new chapter of our trip!

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