Title Explanation

When predicting the sex of an unborn baby, the Oracle of Delphi is said to have claimed that it would be a "Boy No Girl." She thus covered both outcomes, as one could interpret the statement as "Boy. No girl," if the child was born male or "Boy, no-- girl," if the child was born female. Living in Ethiopia, it's difficult to know my role. Am I a foreigner, a "ferengi," or am I a local, like the Habesha? Sometimes, I'm a little bit of both.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Peace Corps Ethiopia Literacy Projects Nationwide


That's what we're talking about today.  Books.  Why?  Because across Ethiopia, intrepid Peace Corps Volunteers have taken initiative and used their supportive friends and family back home to help provide these life-changing literacy supplies to their students.

If you follow Ferengi No Habesha, then you're probably familiar with my own Better World Books Project to help supply my Read-Aloud Program at a local school here with my director friend, Belay.  My goal is to obtain a modest amount of juicy picture books that are rich in content and can be used to model good reading practices.  I'm looking for books that I can use to help young students practice making predictions, making inferences, and make text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections.  Books that have repetition (good for predictions!), books that imply points through pictures and words (inferences!) and books that are relevant to my students lives (connections!) are what I'm primarily going for.

But I'm not the only one collecting solid picture books, and the idea is not new.  The first couple to start a book donation program was Daniel and Danielle up in Adwa back in December of last year.  They ended up with about 100 books, which they used "to jump-start a Reading Raffle once a month at three schools (like Book-It, but without the pizza)," according to Danielle.

Here's what their initial blog post says about their project:

"Adi-Mahleka, a school where I have English Club every Friday, has not a single children’s book in their library. Not in Tigrigna, not in Amharic, not in English. Zero. They’ve got textbooks galore, but what child is going to read those? Adua, another of my schools, has maybe 10 children’s books: a feat I nearly jumped and sang for.
Betterworldbooks.com is a website that works much like Toms shoes: you buy a book online (free worldwide shipping!) and they donate another to someone in need. We know firsthand that this donation process is legit; just two months ago, a handful of our volunteers received 500 boxes of books from this donation program (some of which were given to us for Adwa schools, when they had overflow). Daniel and I have created a wishlist for the schools in Adwa: which means, if you buy one book (average cost 5-7 dollars, again no shipping!), another is still being donated. That’s two books for children who have none, for the price of two Starbuck’s drinks.
In other words—pretty please?"

The idea was so simple, it was rapidly picked up by other volunteers.  Sarah and Aaron Arnold started their own book donation project in Bahir Dar in October of this year.  They mentioned the Books for Africa project that was done by the education group before us, G5.  Many of us were lucky to get some spill-over books from that project, but I found the books to be of lower quality (and therefore not as much use) as I was expecting.  Still, I'm always grateful for books, no matter what, and I've put them to good use.

According to their wish list they've received 65 books, although Sarah says it's around 70 now.

Inspired by the Arnolds, Emily S kicked off her own book drive and received "around 300".  The project really took off from there, with nine other PCVs including myself launching their own projects and appealing to the goodness of their friends and families hearts.  Here are the current book projects happening in Ethiopia and the numbers and success they have found so far, in no particular order:

Purpose of Project
Date Started
Number of Books So Far
To get books in the hands of students.

Dec 29, 2012
About 100
Bahir Dar
To expand a take-home library for primary OVCs.

Oct 4, 2013
About 70
To stock a library and foster a reading culture.

Oct 7, 2013
About 300
To help students improve their English in fun, creative ways.

Oct 23, 2013
To stock a library and foster a reading culture.

Dec 3, 2013
To stock a library and foster a reading culture.

Oct 23, 2013
To stock a library and foster a reading culture.

Nov 2, 2013
To stock a library and foster a reading culture.

Nov, 2, 2013
To supply a reading program with read-alouds and independent reading.

Nov 9, 2013
To create a reading culture and increase literacy in her community.

Dec 8, 2013
To stock a library and foster a reading culture.

Nov 12, 2013
To build a mini library and foster a reading culture.

Dec 1, 2013
To stock a library and foster a reading culture.

Apr 3, 2013
Aleta Wondo
To stock a library and foster a reading culture.

Dec 4, 2013
To supply a read-aloud program for students and teachers.

Oct 23, 2013
17 PCVs
15 Communities
9 libraries, 6 programs and literacy activities
1588 Books

For more about these projects, please click on a volunteer's name to visit their blog or document where they request books.  And because a picture's worth a thousand words, here's some photographic results of some of these projects (photos borrowed with implied consent):

From Ashley in Hawassa:

A quote celebrating reading at Adare Primary School in Hawassa

Students reading at Adare Primary School in Hawassa

From Emily in Dangila:


And After!  Look at those smiling faces!

From Lacy in Yirgalem:

The Ras Desta English Club in Yirgalem

From Jackie in Durame:

A student grins over a book in Durame

Students read in Durame

UPDATE Dec 15: A fancy map showing the locations of all these communities, and a pie chart showing each volunteer's contribution.

This post will be updated as new numbers come in and new projects start.  But I would like to thank everyone right now, volunteers and donors alike, for your hard work and generosity with all of these projects.  Together, we've managed to bring in 1,588 books and counting to this great nation.  Thanks so much, to everyone!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

World Cultures Club Days 2 and 3: Culture Maps and Folktales

The last two weeks at Culture Club, I've been trying to get students to think about their own culture.  First, they thought about their zone or town.  The next week, they thought about Ethiopia as a culture.  In order to do this, I had students create what I called a "Culture Map," or a visual representation of their culture loosely based on a bubble map.

Here was my example:

It had the added bonus of teaching students a little bit about Seattle culture and how it was more than just generic American culture.  I divided the map into four corners - Food, Famous People, Landmarks, and Symbols.  I hope it's obvious which corner is which.  I got a reaction when I mentioned that Bruce Lee claimed Seattle as his home.  He's popular here because for some reason Ethiopians love watching martial arts films.  Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain sailed over their heads, though.

The results of their own maps varied.  Many students complained that they couldn't draw.  Academic culture here, as well as Ethiopian culture in general, is not too concerned with the arts.  I told them that it didn't matter how well they could draw, but to draw something.  Still, they were hesitant, so I told them they could use words but they HAD to be English words.  Still, my wonderful counterpart did a great job of combining both.  Here's his example of Gurage culture:

My counterpart, Elfineh, divided his map into food, holidays, crops and traditional ceremonies.  And the result is, a cool little map of Gurage culture including a Meskel fire (left - with the cross) and two happy newlyweds dancing (right).  I think that's a bowl of kitfo in the upper right hand corner, but I can't be sure.  I was just happy Elfineh was participating.

The following week, I introduced students to the concept of folktales.  I explained that every culture has stories that they share with their children, even Ethiopia.  But it had been my experience that many Ethiopians didn't know their own folk tales.

That's where your Better World Books came in.

I used "The Perfect Orange" as a read aloud to model what an Ethiopian story looked like, and checked for comprehension by asking students to make predictions as I read, or to summarize what had already happened.  By the end of it, all students showed that they understood the tale.  It helped that many of the words used were Amharic words - like injera, "Ato Jib" (Mr. Hyena), and shamma.  The main character even had a common Ethiopian name - Tsahai - that students immediately recognized.  Comparing to the western stories I've read to the fifth and sixth grade students at Belay's school (Where the Wild Things Are and the Lorax), I was reminded how remarkably easy it is for students to comprehend a story when they already have the background knowledge.  As a teacher, this has only further reinforced in me the importance of building background knowledge when I share more Western stories with the students.

After the read-aloud, students were given one of two Ethiopian folktales.  One I had photocopied from "Fire on the Mountain" (thanks, Mom!) and the other I'd taken from "The Lion's Whiskers" (the collection of stories, not the illustrated version).  Students were tasked with reading the story, familiarizing themselves with it, then telling it to a partner who had not read the story.  This practiced reading comprehension as well as oral English and retelling skills, although I did say if it became too difficult to retell in English they could explain it in Amharic, because that still showed they understood the English text.  They worked so well together I had to go about and take pictures.  I was also impressed to see mixed-gender groupings.  Here are my students sharing their folktales with each other.

Hooray for teamwork!  I was happy to see my students working well together.  Next week is "Ferenge Christmas Week," so I'll be explaining how Americans (in particular) and other Westerners celebrate the holiday on December 25th.  I plan on making snowflakes and paper chains.  Any other craft project suggestions are more than welcome, as well as anything you think I should share.

In fact, if you have any Christmas traditions you have with your family, please send me a note.  I can compile them into a handout for students so they can see examples of Western holiday traditions.  Ethiopians also celebrate Christmas, or the day of Christ's birth.  They call it "Genna" and it is celebrated on January 6th every year, the same day as the Orthodox calendar.

Yet another way "Do They Know Its Christmas" got Ethiopia all wrong. ;)

Cheers and happy holidays, everyone!  Please post those Christmas traditions for me before next Monday!

Friday, November 29, 2013


This holiday, there are many things for which I'm thankful. I am thankful for good friends in Addis Ababa, who graciously invited me and two other Peace Corps Volunteers to join them and others in the mission and American expat community in Addis to celebrate Thanksgiving in style.  There were about twenty people from USAID and the international school bringing pies and side dishes and even a whole turkey.  Along with Jenny and myself, I invited my friend Kat, and two other G8 volunteers had been adopted by another USAID couple and brought to the meal.  The spread was pretty impressive, and way better than even the Hilton was last year.  Here's my plate:

On that plate you will see mashed potatoes with gravy, pureed carrots, cranberries, turkey, corn casserole, green beans, two kinds of stuffing (one that came with the bird, and a sausage one I helped to make) and burried under the corn casserole is actually some salad, too.

Before the big dinner, Jenny and I helped our hosts prepare some dishes to bring to the dinner.  The corn casserole, sausage stuffing, and cranberries were our hosts' contribution.  As mentioned, I helped with the stuffing, whereas Jenny helped with the corn casserole.  But we both helped to prepare the pies (not shown).  I brought up a pumpkin leftover from Halloween to gut and dice for pie myself.  Jenny and I prepared the pie crusts for all of the pies (two pecans and four pumpkins) and then made the filling for our special, from-scratch pumpkin pie.  We had so much extra filling that Kaaren let us use one of her pre-made crusts that she didn't want and we made a seventh pie, which we dropped a few chocolate chips into just for fun.  Here are our two pies made from a real pumpkin, depicted below:

In case it's not obvious, the one on the left was our homemade everything-from-scratch (pie crust and filling), whereas the one on the left is on the filling from scratch with a shortbread crust and chocolate chips.  They're a little green because pumpkins here are actually orange and green, and the one I made this one from was all green.  But it still tasted delicious.

After the huge dinner where I ate so much I gave myself a very happy stomach ache, we sat down and watched the Macy's Day Parade on AFN.  Here's Ronald McDonald:

I am so grateful that I was able to spend this holiday in a very American atmosphere with home-cooked American food and good friends.  But what I'm even more grateful for is the event that preceded this wonderful holiday, and that was the books I had received from the post office on Tuesday.  I got six packages of twenty-one books, two of which came with really sweet notes from Annie and Lori L.  Check out this spread:

I now have two copies of Yertle the Turtle, the Talking Eggs, and the Very Hungry Cattepiller (all seen) in addition to two copies of the Sneetches (one in English AND Mandarin, too, that was... interesting), the Z Was Zapped, the Giving Tree, and the Snail and the Whale.  And before you're all "Oh noes, she has two of the same!" it's actually a blessing, because this way I can give copies to the library, or to the college, or... I'll find uses for them, never you fear!

While I will get great use out of all of these books (I'm reading "Fish is Fish" next week), the treasures of my collection so far are A Perfect Orange (donated last time) and The Lion's Whiskers (illustrated version) because they are beautifully illustrated Ethiopian folktales that students can relate to.  Here are some of the really cool images in "The Lion's Whiskers":


How cool are those collages?  Beautiful!  I love all of these books and I know the kids will, too.  And I have some more photos from my Lorax read-aloud, which I will share with you all and take some more of fish is fish so you know that your books are being used.

Anyways, this Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for all of you and your support of my service, whether you donated books to my program, shared my program with friends on Facebook, follow my blog, comment on my blog/statuses/photos, or even just like my posts on Facebook, I am truly grateful for all of you back home and everything you do to support my work with students and teachers in Hossana.

Thank you all and happy holidays, whatever they may be.  Especially Hanukkah.  I heard Matt Lauer say that Hanukkah won't share a day with Thanksgiving for seventy-five thousand years, which I thought was weird because the first day of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving in 1888, so I was wondering why that was, but then The Huffington Post explained it pretty well.  It's a bit complicated, but it's kinda cool to know that this will more or less never happen again.

So yes, I am grateful for all of that, and the fact that my landlord installed a water heater on my shower.  That's a big one, too. ;)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

World Cultures Club Day 1: Namebows and Defining Culture

Seventeen students were registered for World Cultures Club on Monday.  Twenty-one students showed up, with more at the door thirty minutes later whom I didn't admit.  Punctuality is important to me and in my culture, I explained, and if they wanted to take part in our activities they must be on time.  It was an excellent example for everyone present and they all nodded vehemently.

I started the class with the played-out "Find Someone Who..." bingo activity.  The Ethiopian students had never done anything like it before, though, and even when the first student managed to get all twenty-five signatures, the others wanted to continue to mingle and finish their sheets.  When I had finally herded them back inside the ELIC, I debriefed the activity, asked who had signed for what.  The squares had been cultural factoids, like "Someone born outside of Hossana," "Someone who speaks three or more languages," and "Someone who is Orthodox" etc.  We discussed the definition of culture and made two flip charts (one per table) on what culture means.  To review this next session, I'm going to have each table create their own poster together of what culture is.

Afterwards, we did another fun activity I actually got off of my Pinterest Account (see?  It's not just a time-waster!) called "Namebows."

Don't judge my adjectives.  Were I in America, I would never model with the word "Nice," but in Ethiopia they're still grasping the language and I wanted to use adjectives I was sure they knew.  My two that I was taking a risk on was "Resourceful" and "Idealistic."

At first, the students understood the concept that each word had to begin with the letter in their name.  What they weren't quite grasping was the idea that it had to be adjectives.  I had all sorts of interesting words, like "Zinc" for Z (from a natural sciences major, no less) or "General," for G - that was a common one.  But with some tweaking, reiterating, and using gobez student examples, I was able to help them make their namebows.

I had hoped the students would cut their own cloud out, but they preferred not to, so many of them looked like this:

Still, they seemed happy enough with them.  And I was so proud, I took them all outside to get a photo of all of us holding our namebows to commemorate the first session of World Cultures Club.

I have one more photo with me with the students.  But my internet's not cooperating or letting me upload, so this one without me will have to do.  After all, it's about the kids anyway, not me, right?

Next time on Ferengi No Habesha?  An update on my read-aloud program!  See you then!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Poem for my Better World Books Donors!

Went to the post office and what did I see?
Seventeen books just waiting for me!
There wasn't just one or two or three -
There were SEVENTEEN books just waiting for me!

I found a note in my box, wondered "What could this be?"
It was all in Amharic, a mystery to me.
So I asked the post worker, "Does this mean there's a fee?"
And he laughed and said there was a package for me.

But not just one package, oh no siree!
There were three packages I could see!
He stacked them up and asked for the standard fee
Said, "Wait here," and vanished behind the box sea.

I fished out my ten bir, eager to see
What books I would find in these packages three.
I knew they had to be books because, well, you see,
I'd asked for donations from friends and family!

The post worker emerged from the box sea
Carrying FOUR more packages for me!
He sad, "Five times four means these cost twenty!"
So he gave me all seven and I gave him thirty.

If you're doing the math thinking "That can't be!"
"You got seven boxes each with a five bir fee!"
"You owed him thirty-five, unless-- could it be?"
Yes, you are right -- I got one light package free!

I shoved three packages in my bag and prepared to flee
Taking the other four in my arms to carry.
I couldn't wait to get home to look inside and see
What wonderful books were there waiting for me!

Safe at home, I sat under a tree
And tore them all open, as thrilled as can be
to see SEVENTEEN books from friends and family
That I'll use for read alouds to make students happy!

Thank you everyone for all the donations you've made to my Better World Books project.  Bad poetry aside, I hope you're as excited as I am to know that seventeen donated books arrived here safely.  They do come in batches from Addis you know, so I look forward to seeing the rest in the next mail call.  I will update the list right now so you can know if your donated book was one of the ones I received, but they're all visible in the photo below, too.  You all are great!  I plan on reading "Fish is Fish" after the Lorax, thanks to this shipment!  And I know my friend Belay will want to read the Fire on the Mountain and Lion's Whiskers whiskers cover to cover and share it with his students and staff as well.

Monday, November 18, 2013

PCV Profiles: Jenny in Haruta

I went to visit my fellow G7, Jenny in Haruta this September for an Ethiopian holiday called Meskel.  I talk about Meskel in my First Five Months blog post (I was really bad about blogging at the start of my service).  But to reiterate, "Meskel [is] the Orthodox Christian celebration of the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Elena.  Legend has it, she burned incense and followed the smoke to its location.  So the Orthodox Christians always have a large bonfire with a cross in the center to commemorate this miracle."

I did the whole town celebration in Hossana last year.  This year, I wanted something more intimate, so I joined my friend Jenny and celebrated with her compound family.  While I was there, I took some great video of her and how she lives with her family.  I compiled them into one fifteen-minute long video that wouldn't fit on YouTube, so I split them up into two videos instead on different aspects of my weekend visit with Jenny.  The first video I entitle "Compound Life," and depicts Jenny washing dishes and socializing with her compound family.  The second video is all about the traditional buna ceremony she prepared for her compound family.  Jenny tried to do it all herself, but found that her compound family couldn't just sit idly by and watch her do it wrong.

Let's watch, shall we?

Jenny in Haruta: Compound Life

Jenny in Haruta: Making Coffee

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Making Friends at Funeral Receptions

I had a long and productive day at the college on Wednesday, working through lunch and staying for our ELIC Clubs meeting where students learned about available clubs and signed up for the ones they wanted to take.  I spent most of my time pre-meeting developing a “unit plan” or curriculum for my culture club so I could give students a more detailed outline of what they would be learning about.

For the past two weeks, students have been coming to the ELIC (English Language Improvement Center) to sign up for English clubs.  We offer six: drama, debate, reading, creative writing, film and (as of this year, thanks to yours truly) world cultures.

I’ve taken to abbreviating the “World Cultures Club” to simply “Culture Club,” a club of my own design that uses the self-to-world approach to social studies learning by exploring first local and then international cultures.  Treating it as more of an optional class than a club, I’ve developed a curriculum in the form of a social studies unit of ten lessons, culminating in a final project where they research and present the culture of their choice (a culture different from their own).  I hope to turn this day into a sort of “International Fair,” maybe even have booths – but this may be a little too ambitious.  My counterpart does, at least, want me to have my students present their project to the whole college during English week, which may be more feasible than an all-out fair.  There are three super objectives for this club or course: the first is social studies/geography oriented, the second is English oriented, and the third is focused on research and citation skills.  Students will learn geography and cultural studies while practicing English in all four domains and building good research and citation habits.

I’ve posted fliers for the new club all over the school, which resulted in four students signing up for the club before the meeting.  During the meeting, I made it clear that I had high expectations, it would be a lot of work but a lot of fun, and at the end they’d get a nifty Hossana CTE certificate that was also *fingers crossed* signed by the Peace Corps Country Director (but I haven’t asked him yet – it might just be signed by me).  By the end of the meeting, seventeen students had signed up for the club, which officially begins on Monday with our first lesson: What is Culture?

Feeling pretty darn good about myself and my recruiting abilities (and ignoring the possibility that these students just signed up when they discovered that the ferenge was leading it), I packed up my things at 5:30 and got ready to get on the bus home.  Snug in my seat and preparing for the short walk home after my stop, I plugged in my headphones and started listening to the Stuff You Missed In History Class podcast and listened to the ladies talk about Archimedes’ Death Ray.  But then the bus turned around and I made a Scooby Doo-esque “Ruh?” sound.  The bus did a U-turn in the middle of the dirt road and started heading back to the college, then turned again down a dirt side street that led to the VSO Victoria’s old house (which now belongs to the new VSO at the hospital here).  We went down this road a bit when the bus stopped and everyone got off.  I turned off my podcast and dumbly followed like a sheep (which is what I always do when I have no idea what’s going on).

I caught up with a friendly face, a man I’d met last year named Hassen, and asked him what in the world was going on.  He explained that a colleague had just lost her mother, and it was expected “in our culture” that they go and pay their respects.

“But… Whose mother?”

He told me a name I didn’t recognize and promptly forgot.  I blinked stupidly, and wondered if this woman would even want me there, but followed the parade of colleagues up the road to her house.  When my landlord’s father died last year, he had invited me to stop by, but I felt uncomfortable about even doing that.  And I love my landlord!  I guess how we deal with grief is a cultural difference that’s difficult for me to adjust to.  In America, if an acquaintance loses someone, you might bring them a casserole, but you also don’t want to impose and you want to give them the space they need to grieve.  But your entire office coming over to your house and having you serve them tea, coffee and snacks just after you’ve lost a family member?  Well, if it were me, heaven forbid, I think that would be my worst nightmare.  The last thing I’d want to worry about is being a good hostess after losing someone close to me.

Still.  Ethiopia is a very communal culture.  They celebrate together, and they mourn together, as a community.  They call acquaintances “brother” or “sister” or if they’re older, “mother” or “father,” even though they don’t know them very well.  As Ethiopians are fond of telling me whenever I ask “Why?” about something they do, “It is just our culture.”  There is no why, it’s just how things are.

I was worried I would have to greet the grieving daughter, but I followed Hassen to a bench outside of the main house, where we sat and waited until the k’olo and chickpeas made their way over to us.  Hassen pretty much hoarded the whole plate and gobbled it down.  “You certainly like k’olo,” I said, and the other man with us must have gotten the joke because he laughed.  Hassen smiled at me, too.  “Yes,” he said with a shameless grin. “I do.”  Sarcasm, or any form of communication that relies on tone, are difficult to get across in this culture, but that one definitely landed.

We talked for a while, about all sorts of things.  I mentioned the age-old American tradition of bringing food to express condolences.  I tried to explain what a casserole was and now I think they believe it’s like lasagna.  Which, I added, people also give to mourners.  Casseroles, lasagna, and baked goods.  The staples of American cuisine.  Eventually I had to ask how long we were going to stay.  I was hoping that the bus would wait and take us all home again when we were done.  Hassen assured me it wouldn’t be longer than twenty minutes, and for once it was true.  After one cup of coffee and a few handfuls of k’olo, he told me it was time.  I never even saw the lady of the house, but I did play with the two toddlers bumbling around the compound.

I followed Hassen out of the compound and looked skeptically at the darkening sky.  Akin to Cinderella, or a reverse vampire, I am inclined to get home before sundown for fear of turning into a pumpkin, or dust, or, more accurately, running into a hyena.  Now, that seemed impossible.  This wasn’t as serious as it would be for Cinderella or vampires though.  I’ve walked home at night in the past, I could do it again, I just prefer to avoid it when I can.  And anyway, Hassen walked with me.  At first, towards the bus, but then he backtracked and told me to go the opposite direction instead.  That’s when I realized my hope of catching the bus home was dashed.  But Hassen was with me, so at least I had company.

We continued talking, about many things.  A few kids yelled some things at me as usual, and I complained about it.  He said it’s because they don’t understand, and I resisted the urge to say “Tell me something I don’t know.”  That led me to talking about my culture club, and how cultural ignorance was one reason I had created it.  Hassen was fascinated.  He’s a history teacher, that’s his specialty you see, and so he wanted to hear all about my club.  I told him about how I had opened up a book during the meeting today.  It was a book called “America 24/7” and was given to me by USAID (I think).  I got a whole bunch of them.  Nathan says that they couldn’t have given him a more useless or propaganda-filled book, but with my culture club I may have found a place for them.  I had opened up a page at random and showed them, and it just happened to be a photo of a cowboy.  I had laughed at the time, because I had been trying to show them a less stereotypical photo of American life, but that was the one I had randomly turned to.  I asked if he knew what a cowboy was, and he laughed and said he did.

“In Ethiopia,” Hassen explained, “we think there is no rural land in America.  We think it is covered in big cities only.”

“If we were just big cities,” I returned, “there’d be no room for the cowboys.”

I talked about how the majority of the US was actually rural, the same as most other countries in the world.  I talked about our spacious skies and amber waves of grain.  Not in those words, though.  I explained that was another reason I’d started this club.  I wanted to share my culture with them, but also have them share their cultures with each other.  Even within Ethiopia, there are some grave misunderstandings about people from other zones and regions.  Hassen agreed with me that culture sharing was the best way of building empathy and tolerance towards people who are different.

He invited me for coffee.  The sun was just about gone now, so I was definitely going to get home after dark now.  I agreed, and impressed him with my bunabet (coffee house) Amharic skills, asking for “t’ena adem” (Adam’s Health) in my coffee.

“You drink buna ba t’ena adem?” Hassen asked, chortling.

“It is my favorite,” I said.

T’ena adem is a plant known in the English-speaking world as “rue.”  It’s the same plant that the character of Rue in the Hunger Games was named for.  In Ethiopia, they grow it as a potted plant, then pluck off a sprig of it and add it to the coffee in the same way we might add a sprig of mint to our tea, or a cinnamon stick to our cider.  It adds a unique flavor to the coffee that I can’t describe but is so delicious that I am definitely growing my own rue plant when I get back home.

We  talked some more about American history, about which Hassen was surprisingly knowledgeable.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  He is, after all, a history teacher.  When I mentioned the thirteen original colonies, he said, “I actually have a list of them in my briefcase.  I could name them all, if you like.”  Laughing, I told him that wouldn’t be necessary.

He enthused some more about my culture club.  He asked if he could participate and I delightfully said, “Of course!” I told him that if he liked it enough, maybe he could continue the club next year in my absence, in partnership with the next Peace Corps Volunteer and he liked that thought as well.

He walked me almost all the way home, so I didn’t have to worry about hyenas.  It was a long, strange day, but it ended with me feeling optimistic about starting a brand new club.