Debbie goes to Ethiopia! A VSO volunteer in Assosa. Here is my blog.

Leaving Resolutions December 16, 2014

Filed under: culture — debzif @ 17:51

I had a few ideas for leaving blog posts.  In one I was going to list everything I would miss.  But in this stage of leaving nostalgia, it would have been absolutely everything.  In another idea, I was going to write down the emotions I was feeling at leaving.   But that would have been me naming pretty much every emotion I know the name of.  Not such great blog posts….

A more productive idea, I hope, is this one.  This is a list of things that I’ve learned, experienced and appreciated a lot while being here, and I hope to continue these in my current and future life.  By writing this down, maybe that’ll spur me into action!  I realise some might be culturally relevant, (i.e. speaking to strangers on the tube might get me locked up….) but we’ll see how it goes!

Helping each other out – the amount of times people have completely gone out of their way to help me is ridiculous.  In many cases it was a complete burden on them, but I have no idea what I would have done otherwise.  Being all independent and self-sufficient is fine and all, but sometimes people need help!

Sharing – The people here are so generous, with their time as well as their possessions, no matter how limited they are.  Sharing really is caring.  At first I felt guilty at receiving things I’d never asked for, but one sure-fire way of dispelling that guilt was by reciprocating.  It’s a great way of showing people you care for them.  As well as often making things much more enjoyable and fun!

Greeting and smiling at strangers – strangers are still people!  Perhaps they want to chat, perhaps not.  Perhaps they desperately need help, and need to find someone to ask.  People noticing my confused/helpless/upset expression and looking out for me has helped me in many a case, or at least cheered me up or given me confidence.  A smile and a hello really do go a long way.

Listening to people’s stories – People are so interesting.  And people showing an interest in me and my life is really something.  I think everyone has got something to say if asked and given the time, and there are many hidden stories and battles out there.  I’ve learned so much about people and life just by listening.  I hope to learn and listen some more J

Noticing things – I’ve constantly had my eyes and ears open while being here, and while travelling around.  I’ve found a whole range of things fascinating, and there’s always something new to notice.  Why don’t I do this wandering around my home town?!  I’m sure there’s lots I haven’t  noticed yet!

Doing nothing – haha, perhaps not one for my CV.  But actually, I’ve learned quite well, and now very much enjoy, just sitting, looking, watching and thinking about life, perhaps on my own, perhaps in people’s company.  It’s wonderful!

Being happy – Perhaps easier said than done, but I’ve at least come to realise that there is no correlation really between what you have, and how happy you can be.  I’ve been amazed by the happiness and contentment people can have when from our UK point of view they have very little.  I want to focus less on stuff and things, and more on smiles and laughter.

The belief it’ll all be ok – Ethiopia has this magic power of situations that look impossible, somehow working themselves out right at the last minute.  I’m hoping this magic exists elsewhere in the world too, I’m sure it does.  Just be patient, and don’t despair!


Hyperbole Magazine – Winter 2014 December 10, 2014

Filed under: culture,development,Out and about,work — debzif @ 10:50
Tags: ,

**Hyperbole Winter 2014**

Above is the link for the latest VSO Ethiopia Magazine.  Some of the articles include:

  • International Volunteer Day
  • A visit from the Irish President
  • A day in the life of a Volunteer Obs Gynae Doctor
  • Setting up a dairy farm business
  • Addis Ababa from the perspective of a newbie
  • Bolivia and Ethiopia – similarities and differences
  • Plus much much more……..!!!!!!

This was my last edition as one of the editors, sad times!  I’ve really enjoyed working on it, good luck for the future, team!


Nations Nationalities Day December 9, 2014

Filed under: culture,People — debzif @ 18:39

Yesterday is probably going to be one of the most memorable days of my entire life.

What do you think of when you think of your nationality?  Being “Ethiopian” is somewhat vague.  Within the country, there are people from around 80 different “nationalities”, with different languages, beliefs, clothes and ways of living.  Every year, representatives from each ethnicity come together in one place for a celebration and demonstration of the varying cultures across Ethiopia.

I’m not gonna lie, a significant proportion of the event seemed fairly focussed on government propaganda.  Businesses were told to close, to be able to give full attention to the arriving dignitaries.  The main event was held in the new but not quite yet completed stadium in Assosa.  The most spectacular thing that happened seemed to be a helicopter arriving, delivering a trophy, and then flying out again.  That’s pretty impressive any where, let alone Assosa.  We were late arriving and were not able to gain access into the stadium itself, but that turned out to be a good thing.  Firstly because we didn’t have to sit through all of the speeches, but mainly because where we ended up wandering to, was where all the ethnic groups were waiting, lined up, to go in.

Lined up on the side of the road were hundreds of people packed in, watching, photographing and enjoying seeing the brightly clothed people.  I’ve never been overly comfortable with taking photos of people, and human tourism in general, so I originally stayed on the sidelines, crushed around the others, all cramming to get a good view.  However, as a group of four, one of my friends bravely stepped out of the crowd and into the road, and started snapping away.  Another friend, an expert linguist, saw some people who she had previously worked with on their language, so went and had a chat.  I plucked up the courage and relied of the power of my smile, (and of course my ferenji skin) and followed the others out of the crowd and into the queuing ethnic groups.  I feel a bit bad that I got away this this because I’m a ferenji, but I’m also incredibly grateful.

It was amazing.  The atmosphere was incredible, with everyone lively, positive and in a good mood.  They were dancing, playing their instruments, and this was before they were to “go on stage”.  The general vibe was that they were proud of their culture, and wanted to share it with whoever was interested.  They eagerly posed for photos, getting our attention where possible, and more often than not, grabbing the ferenji to pose with them, snapping away on phones and cameras of their own.

I could go on writing about it, but I’m pretty sure the pictures will do a Ethiopia Ethnic Groupway better job than my words.  I’m going to start with my favourite photo – sometimes I’m guilty of seeing people so different in appearance from what I’m used to, and a part of me forgets that they are just people too.  I’m not denying that their lives might be somewhat different to my own, but they’ll still work, have friends, family, and in many cases, need to arrange where to meet their friends using their mobile phones, no matter whether they have a ginormous spear or not!

It’s amazing just how varied being an “Ethiopian” is.  It was such a privilege to be part of the celebration.


Wine! December 6, 2014

Filed under: culture — debzif @ 18:30

Up until recently, there were four main Ethiopian wine choices.  For the reds, you could have Gouder or Axumite.  For the whites, Crystal or Kemila.  I think the Kemila is sweeter than Crystal, but my knowledge of the whites isn’t overly extensive.  On the red side though, I have to say I’m a little more experienced.  Axumite is a little more expensive than Gouder, and much sweeter.  Gouder, as my visiting friend described, is everything wine shouldn’t be.  Locals mix it with coke, that could give you an idea…..But after a few months here, well, it’ll start to taste great!

The big news is that the range of wines available has now widened extensively.  A new vineyard has opened in Ethiopia, by the French company Castel.  There seem to be two brandings – Acacia, which is slightly cheaper than the Rift Valley, with a variety of reds and white in both.

These wines, well, they taste like actual wine!  And that’s not just the tainted view of a VSO volunteer – visiting ferenjis, fresh from the developed, wine drinking world, agree that it’s very much drinkable!

The wine is literally disappearing off of the shelves; people in Addis are frantically hunting down the disappearing stocks, particularly the white.  The price is great –  although about double the price of the local Goudar and Axumite, they’re still about half the price of imported wines (where they are available).  Makes it perfect for us volunteers.  I’m not sure about the popularity of the wine with locals, especially in Assosa, as I’ve still seen stocks in some cafes here (shall I resell them to the vols in Addis?!).  It could be because the taste is new and unusual, or because the cost is too high for the average Assosian (although bottles of black label get consumed, at least by the very rich…).

The one downside of this lovely new wine, are the bottles.  For all beer, wine and spirits in Ethiopia, there is glass recycling in the process.  You have to take an empty bottle back to get a new, full one.  Although sometimes a hassle, it means that there is no wastage or rubbish lying around.  There are no other glass recycling processes set up as it’s not necessary.  These new wines, however, don’t follow this rule, so you’re left over with the empty bottles just lying around.  There are only so many candle holders one needs, after all!  Perhaps it’s a good thing – when you run out of space for empty bottles, perhaps it’s time to stop drinking….

More info on the Castel Wines:


New and Shiny November 24, 2014

Filed under: culture,development — debzif @ 18:47

I went to the shop, and I bought………..apples, grapes, red and green peppers, green beans, courgette, and watermelon.

Nope this isn’t a vocab memory game.  Yes, I actually did buy those things.  In actual Assosa.  I have never seen any of these items in Assosa ever ever before! And suddenly there they all were, all together, shining happily in the shop, ready for me to buy them.

For those of that are reading this in the UK, this might not be of great interest to you, especially if your Tesco home delivery has just arrived.  But I think anyone in Ethiopia, (outside of Addis), understands how exciting this is.  I presented the items one by one to my housemate, who started to scream and jump up and down at the first item, increasing in energy and pitch until both of us were on the brink of delirium.  That’s just how exciting vegetables are!

But actually, it’s the whole of Assosa that’s going under refurbishment and renewal, with new and shiny things popping up all over the place.  The reason is, in 2 weeks’ time, there is a massive celebration called Nations Nationalities Day.  Ethiopia has more than 80 different “nationalities”, and once a year, representatives of all get together in one place, and celebrate their individual cultures.  This year it is being held in Assosa.  Which is very exciting!  But Assosa also has to be ready for it.

A massive new stadium is being built.  Every wall and fence is being given a new coat of paint.  The roads are being resurfaced.  There are flags adorning the roundabouts.  There are lines being painted on the roads, including zebra crossings, and police blow a whistle at you if you don’t cross in the right place.  Rubbish is being burned everywhere.  Weeds and gardens are being tidied.  The central reservations have been given a proper barrier, with painted concrete barriers and trees and even lanterns in the middle.  At night, there are moving fairy lights that look like falling rain.  Massive four storey hotels are being built and painted in record time, and stand proud , dressed up and ready to go, above the skyline.

It’s all very exciting – off the charts of my excitements post, and I should definitely have waited to photograph the walls, they’re so much better now!  Nobody quite knows whether the renovations will stay and be upkept  after the celebrations.  It’s fascinating seeing the changes.   Easing me back into how life will be in UK in a few weeks? Or making the reasons to leave fewer…


Parent Post – Reflections November 14, 2014

Filed under: culture,Out and about — debzif @ 08:38
Well, it has been over a week since we returned from our adventure in Ethiopia and we are back in the ‘real world’. Although life and work go on as before, we still have flashes of memory to some of the kaleidoscope of images and feelings we experienced – most notably as we scroll through and sort out the many hundreds of photographs we took.
It was a totally different type of holiday for us – well out of our comfort zone. We had many concerns before we headed out. However, the majority of these proved to be less of an issue than we imagined (we always fear the worst!). We are very pleased to have made the effort on this once-in-a-lifetime trip and to have enjoyed a range of experiences that will stay with us. 
Some wonderful memories and experiences.
The joy of spending time with Debbie.
The pleasure of meeting her friends and discovering her home for the last two years.
The friendliness of virtually all Ethiopian people.
Being amazed how green the country is.
The spectacular Blue Nile falls.
The breath-taking scenery of the Simien Mountains.
The delicious food.
The abundance of great fruit and vegetables.
Some more mixed feelings.
The roads – some superb, others with moonlike cratered surfaces.
The ever-present Bajaj.
People walking by the side of all roads, even miles from anywhere.
Being pestered by children trying to sell us goods at most of the touristy places.
One thing is absolutely certain – it has radically changed our appreciation and understanding of Ethiopia and its peoples for the better. Did we enjoy it? Yes, the vast majority of the holiday was good. Would we go there again (assuming Debs is not there) – probably not as there are so many other places in the world to visit.
Thank you Debs. Thank you Ethiopia.

Famous and Fascinating October 13, 2014

Filed under: culture,Out and about — debzif @ 13:21

Yep, of course that’s me!

Firstly, I stand out like a sore thumb.  There’s no way of walking down the street, without people seeing me.  And saying hello.

Secondly, everything I do is interesting.  I realised this soon after I arrived here.  One morning I decided to go for a run.  I left at about 6 for about half an hour.  The route was fairly rural and off road, through countryside, and I hardly saw any other people.  Anyway, I got to work later that morning, and my colleague asked me how my run was.  I was surprised – oh, did you see me?   No, he says, I didn’t see you, but my friend saw you, and rang me to tell me about the ferenji running.

Assosa isn’t even a small town, and there are also other ferenjis around and about.  But here are some examples of me being famous and fascinating.

– Girls giggle if I walk past and smile at them

– People stop and stare

– Kids dare each other to say hello, or shake my hand

– People want to take my photo.  Without shame, with them posing in also, and also surreptitiously.  (Once, I was on a bus, and I sat next to what I thought was a stranger.  He was delighted to show me all the photos he had on his phone of me, that he had taken while I was out and about.  Ummmmm……)

– Videos also!  I was once stood at a big celebration for Meskel, and everyone was filming the celebrations on their phone.  Except the people around me, who’s phones strangely kept pointing in my direction….

– “Strangers” just know about me.  You’re the one that works in the education bureau!  You’re the one with the bicycle!  You’re the one that runs!  Makes introductions kind of irrelevant.

– Walking in the market, I was with a friend who could understand Amharic.  She overheard the children gossiping, and it was actually her that was being discuessed – “she’s so lucky to be able to walk with the ferenji!”

– On a bus, and old woman on bus, kept peering at me over the chair.  She was beside herself with glee when I smiled and nodded at her, really just acknowledging her presence.  Unfortunately the man in front of her thought I was looking at him, and started blowing me kisses.

Unfortunately, now I’ve been here for a while, I’ve become equally obsessed with other ferenjis in the town, and I find it imperative that if I see anyone I’ve not seen before, I must find out who they are, what they’re doing here, how long for, why, etc etc.  I’m now a ferenji hunter…..!  But they’re just so interesting…..!