Bureaucracy at an Ethiopian Hospital

Sometimes people say that the Italians brought bureaucracy to Ethiopia and that the Ethiopians took it and ran with it. Sometimes it can be a nightmare. Today I had an appointment at the dermatologist at the hospital. There’s been a bump on my wrist for about a year and I needed to get it removed.

My appointment was originally yesterday, Wednesday afternoon, because that was the only time they did that kind of procedure. I found out yesterday morning that my appointment had been moved until this morning, for reasons unbeknownst to me. The Peace Corps Medical Assistant told me to be at the hospital at 7:30am for my 8am appointment. I got there at 7:15. I went tot he receptionist and she sent me to the nurses stand.

The nurse told me to sit down and wait for thirty minutes. At 7:50 I went back and waited as the nurse avoided eye contact and helped everyone in line behind me. I’m assuming she was afraid of having to speak English. Eventually she gives me a card to fill out with my name, weighs me, hands be a bit of cardboard from an old box of medicine with “Dr. F 5” written on the back. She motions for me to go to the corner to what appears to be a broom closet.

Inside the broom closet is a man and a ticket machine. He asks me which doctor i’m seeing and then taps Dermatology on the ticket machine’s screen. The machine prints out a ticket with my call number: 0013. He tells me to sit down and wait. Thirty minutes later my number is called and I can finally go to the receptionist. The receptionist  writes my name on a folder, gives me a card with my name and clinical number, and then sends me to the cashier to sign. The cashier then has be go back to sit down again. About 45 minutes later, a young woman in scrubs comes out, collects about 10 patients, and leads us back into a smaller waiting room outside Dr. F’s office. He’s currently with patient number 3. I sit down two seats away from the door next to patient 4.

When it’s my turn I show Dr. F the bump on my wrist and tell him that it needs to be removed. He asks, “why?” Why?! Because it shouldn’t be there and it hurts. That’s why.

He measures it, tells me it’s 6mm, and that I have to make an appointment for next Wednesday afternoon because they only do those procedures on Wednesday afternoons. After three hours of waiting I see the doctor for 5 minutes and he tells me to make another appointment. I call my Peace Corps doctor and make Dr. F talk to him. Dr. F agrees to do the procedure on his lunch break when he finishes with all of his out patients. We schedule it for 12:15. Only a couple more hours of waiting.

Dr. F tells me to go back to the receptionist to sign a paper to get a ticket so that I would be permitted into the procedure waiting area.

After much more confusion and bizarre bureaucracy at the receptionist, I get a new ticket with chicken scratch saying something about Dr. F and a procedure. The young woman in scrubs takes away my ticket and leads me back to the same waiting area outside Dr. F’s office. She is confused when the procedure room is empty. I explain that the procedure will be at 12:15. She tells me to come back then and takes my ticket away.

Now I’m waiting a the hospital cafe for a few hours. My phone has 9% battery left and my charger is at home. I’m hoping I’ll still be able to call my taxi to come get me if I’m ever finished here.

I’m supposed to be at an important meeting all day today. Instead I get to have this less than lovely cross-cultural experience at one of the nicest hospitals in the country. This place is so ridiculous.

Last night I was worried that the doctor might slip while slicing this bump off and slit my veins open. Now I’m just worried that I’ll be waiting in this hospital forever.



Update: Procedure went fine. I have to go back in 10 days to get the stitches removed. Hopefully next time it will be smoother since I know which lines to wait in.



Mysteries Solved

Last week I made a post about Ethiopian Mysteries, things I still didn’t understand about Ethiopia. Two days after I posted it, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa shared it on their Facebook page. It got a lot of views, and I got a lot of answers to my questions.

1. Why do bees like shiro powder?
“It is common for honey bees to gather any powder that they perceive as being pollen, the protein source of the food they feed their brood,” explained an American volunteer who once trained bee keepers in Bonga.

2. Why are the sheet metal fences painted green and yellow?
The Ethiopian flag’s colors are red, yellow, and green. When I asked this question I had already figured that the yellow and green were some how related to the flag, but I didn’t know why they left out the red. A Facebook user commented that red is the color of blood, “But since red is usually associated with blood, even its meaning in the Ethiopian flag, to mean that we have paid our blood to protect our country, ….only green & yellow became the favorites for such things.” Another commenter claimed that the fences are due to some sort of city planning ordinance.

3. Why are plastic shoes called congos?

Ethiopian soldiers were sent on a peace keeping mission to Congo in the 1960’s. They came back with these plastic shoes, and ever since they have been called congos.

4. Why do the color orange and the fruit orange have the same name in Amharic even though oranges in Ethiopia are mostly green?

Some people said that the oranges used to be orange, and that only recently have the green variety been introduced.
5. Who is Donna Bailey?
No one knows. A lot of people said to contact the Ministry of Education. I do happen to have a meeting with them on Tuesday with Peace Corps, so maybe I can ask them then.

6. Why is there the male name Anteneh, meaning “you are”, but no female equivalent, Anchinesh?

THE NAME ANCHINESH EXISTS! I was so happy to learn this. It’s a much rarer name. I had asked many Ethiopians this question before, and no one ever mentioned knowing an Anchinesh, but lots of commenters told me that they know someone named Anchinesh.

7. What language is asham?
Still no consensus on this. Some people say it means “stay strong” just as I interpreted it. Some other people said it means peace, others still say it means welcome. Some people say it’s Oromic, some say Kembatic, some say Wolaitic. Other’s say Sidamo or Agnuak. I need to find a linguist who specializes in the etymology of languages of southern Ethiopia.

8. Why do all the mini buses have “Jesus Life Injera” written on the back windows?
This is kind of a bible quote. Something like “Jesus is the bread of life”. It’s a very Christian country, so a lot of the minibuses are decorated with biblical quotes.

9. Why are there stickers on bajajes that say Black Person?
As I said in my previous blog post, Teddy Afro has an album and song titled Tikur Sew, but Tikur Sew is much more than that. What I didn’t know was that Tikur Sew is a tribute to Emperor Menelik II. Referring to him as Tikur Sew, black person, is a matter of black African pride after his army heroically defeated the Italians in the Battle of Adwa, saving his country from colonization.  The opening lines of the song Tikur Sew say, “come to Adwa, let’s fight, the black king is there.” The music video for it is really intense and does a good job at telling the story, even if you can’t understand the lyrics.

10. What is the cut-off age for being called  Meeta?
There doesn’t seem to be one. Some people said 10, some said teenage years, others said they know women who are married with children of their own who still go by Meeta. I noticed that one of the Meetas on my old compound started to go by her real name once she started school. One person said that his cousin actually requested that people stop calling her Meeta.

Ethiopian Mysteries

Ten things I still don’t understand about Ethiopia after 2.5 years of living here

1. Why do bees like shiro powder?
 Shiro powder, a flour made from yellow split peas, is the main ingredient in the staple dish, shiro wat. At market, bees swarm around the sacks of shiro powder. Bees do not swarm around the sacks of unground split peas. Why do bees like shiro powder so much?

2. Why are the sheet metal fences painted green and yellow?
 Addis is full of sheet metal fences, mostly surrounding construction sites. All of the fences are painted green and yellow in thick, vertical stripes. There are plenty of other paint colors. Why green and yellow? Why paint them at all?

3. Why are plastic shoes called congos?
 Jelly-like sandals and flats are common footwear. In Ethiopia they call them congo. Why? Is it because of the rubber in Congo?

4. Why do the color orange and the fruit orange have the same name in Amharic even though oranges in Ethiopia are mostly green?
 I understand it in English, an orange is orange, so it makes sense that they would be the same word. But when oranges are green, why would they be called “orange”? One possible explanation that I have heard is that the word for orange, birtukan, was taken from Arabic, and in the Arab world, oranges are orange.
5. Who is Donna Bailey?
 Donna Bailey is listed as the author for the English for Ethiopia high school level textbooks. Who is she? Is she American? British? What is her connection to Ethiopia? How did she get this job? I’ve googled her a lot, but I can’t find anyone who seems like the right Donna Bailey.

6. Why is there the male name Anteneh, meaning “you are”, but no female equivalent, Anchinesh?
 Anteneh is a pretty common man’s name literally meaning, “you are”. The second person is gendered in Amharic. There is a different word for “you” depending on if you’re talking to a man or a woman. There is no female equivalent to Anteneh. There is no Anchinesh. One explanation that I’ve heard is that Anteneh refers to God, who apparently is male.

7. What language is asham?
Asham means something like “keep it up” or “stay strong”. You usually say it to someone who is carrying something heavy. It is said all over southern Ethiopia. Southern Ethiopia is the most diverse. Depending on who you ask, asham could be Amharic, Afan Oromo, or Guraginya. My Peace Corps language teacher claims it’s debubinya, a southern language, not one language in particular. If I got a tattoo, I would want it to say asham, but I would want it written in Amharic, but not everyone agrees that this is an Amharic word. What language is it? Where did it come from?

8. Why do all the mini buses have “Jesus Life Injera” written on the back windows?
 Many, not all, mini buses have stickers decorating the back window. Often, these stickers read Yesus, Hiwot, Injera. Jesus. Life. Injera. Why?

9. Why are there stickers on bajajes that say Black Person?
 This is one I actually did find the answer to eventually. It was a shock to me when I was first trying to read and I realized that the sticker I was reading said “black person”. I eventually learned that Tikur Sew is the title of an album by popular singer, Teddy Afro.

10. What is the cut-off age for being called  Meeta?
 All little girls can be called Meeta, especially by strangers who do not know their names. Many little girls are called Meeta by their families. I’ve also met many teenage girls who are still called Meeta. Eventually a girl will be too old to be called Meeta. What is the cut off age?

Blogging Abroad: My Why

I decided to participate in a Peace Corps blogging challenge called Blogging Abroad. I’m only about 3 weeks late so far, so I have a lot of catching up to do. The blogging challenge has PCV bloggers write 2 blogs a week, mostly focusing on cross-cultural topics.

Blog Challenge #1’s topic is called Your Why. It says to explain why I went abroad, but I’m going to tweak it a little and explain more why I stayed abroad for a 3rd year. But first, a quick recap of how I got here with a timeline.

Nominated means when I found out which country I was going to

I’m currently working at the main Peace Corps office in the capital, Addis Ababa. I work as one of the two Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders (PCVL, of course there’s an acronym) for the Education Team. The Education Team consists of 4 brilliant people, a manager and 3 assistants.

Since my Pre-Service Training (PST), I have admired the Education PCVL position. Our first technical training session, where they introduced TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) theory, was incredibly impressive to me. Because I am a Masters International student studying TESOL, I was already a major TEFL nerd. A month before coming to Ethiopia, I finished a class on the theories of second language acquisition (SLA). Every week we read a few of the foundational research articles on each of the major theories, and then conducted our own mini-research projects for our final projects. It was a lot of hard work, and I loved every minute of it.

The Education PCVLs used to be in charge of all of the technical trainings for PST. The first session they led introduced us to all of the theories and ideas of my graduate level course in less than an hour. It was simple and genius. They had everyone stand up, they would read a statement like, “To learn a language, it is only necessary to read a lot in that language.” We, the trainees, would go to one side of the room or the other if we agreed or disagreed with the statement, and then discuss our thoughts on it. For each statement I listed out in my head what theory it was and which researcher was famous for it. Input theory, Krashen. Output theory, Swain and Lapkin. Sociocultural theory, Vygotsky. Behaviorism, Skinner. They covered all of it. They taught SLA theory to 57 people with little to no previous TEFL training in less than an hour without making them read any articles or books on theory. It was a brilliant training. After that first training, I wanted to be an Educational PCVL even though I knew I couldn’t because I had to return to grad school in 2 years, or my leave of absence would lapse.

A year and a half into my service, I emailed the professor in charge of Masters International students and asked him what would happen if I stayed in Peace Corps for a third year. He said worst case scenario, I would have to reapply to the program and pay the application fee of $50 again. I could handle that. A couple months later, I applied to the PCVL position.

Peace Corps changes constantly, so the position has changed significantly since my PST. Peace Corps Ethiopia now hires technical trainers to lead and design technical trainings, so the Education PCVL is more of a peer mentorship role now. I still got to give some input and design a training or two, but nothing near the kind of work past PCVLs did. I’m still loving it though. The Ed Team is fantastic and it’s a treat to work with them.


Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Coming Home: Initial Shocks

I’m back home for the holidays. This is my first time out of Ethiopia in 2 years and 4 months. I knew certain things were going to be shocking. I’ve been mentally preparing myself for weeks, and living in a large city has helped as well. One time I was walking through a ferenj supermarket in Addis and I saw kiwis. I had completely forgotten about kiwis. After that I tried to think of things that might be surprising to me upon return.

And these were my first thoughts upon stepping into the Frankfurt Airport for my first layover to today, after being home for 4 days.

Walking through the Duty-Free in Frankfurt: Wow, so many things. Look at all of the things. Shiny. Spray on glitter. Awesome.

There’s a giant rubber duck! Do I need a giant rubber duck? Yes. I think I’ll buy the giant rubber duck (I didn’t end up buying it).

Huh, Arizona tea. I forgot about that.

A guy just bumped into me and said sorry. He didn’t even bump in to me, really. His bag brushed against my bag. And he apologized for it.

I asked the people next to me (Americans) if they could hear the announcement the airport guy made. They seemed annoyed with me.

Ugh. TSA. “No, I’m not carrying anything for anyone else.” (a lie)

Look there’s a little bit of snow outside. SNOW!

Those bananas are giant! Those apples are giant!

I wonder if there’s wifi. I wonder if the wifi works. Hey! The wifi actually works.

So much cute luggage. Matching purses with carry-ons. No one is traveling with a plastic bag or an old cardboard box (except me). Why does everyone have such a giant carry-on? Like everyone has a suitcase that is exactly the maximum carry-on size.

In the plane bathroom: Where’s the trash can? I need to throw away the toilet paper. Oh wait, I can flush it. Can I flush it? It’s a plane. Surely there’s limited water and flushing abilities. I’ll try flushing it. Wow. It flushed.

Oooh! Look, Diet Coke. In a can!

Landing in Washinton DC: America!!!!

Wow, the customs agent actually seems nice. She’s giving me clear instructions and not mumbling, giving subtle gestures and then yelling at me when I don’t understand. Wow, look at all this efficiency.

It smells like cheese. Deep fried cheese. There are so many smells. Cheesy smells. Fatty smells.

I wonder if the wifi here works too. Wow, it does! Wifi works everywhere!

Look! A Starbucks! OMG, those mugs are giant. That’s ridiculous.

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Everywhere seems empty except for the bars. There’s no where to sit at any of the bars.

American beer is so strong. I should eat something. There’s salad! With spinach and goat cheese! Goat cheese breath is so much more pleasant than kibe (rancid butter) breath.

Goat Cheese and Spinach Salad

My flight is delayed. They apologized, gave me an exact time when it would be arriving and offered to pay for my meals in the mean time. That’s so nice.

Arriving in Sacramento: Hey, a drinking fountain! And vending machines! Fancy.

Coming home: There’s so much stuff in my room. Wow, I have so much stuff. I forgot how much stuff I have. I forgot I had a collection of weird lamps. Why did I bring any clothes back with me. I have so many clothes.

IMG_0149 (1).JPG

Look how many toys my parent’s dogs have. They have so many toys. They’re dogs. Why do they have so many toys?

This toilet paper is giant! WTF? Has toilet paper always been that giant?

Giant toilet paper roll, with my face for sizing.

Why is there so much stuff in the fridge? I know tomorrow is Thanksgiving but still. Surely half of that will go bad (and 3 days later my mom called and asked if I needed anything from the grocery store…).

My mom bought me new pillow cases because she didn’t have enough that would match my sheets. Only the ones that went with my duvet. And the duvet pillow sheets aren’t real pillow sheets. Also there are 4 pillows on my bed. One of which is giant.

Shopping at Goodwill on Black Friday: Something smells like weed. It’s probably just someone burning their trash. Oh wait, I’m inside a Goodwill. It’s that lady behind me. She smells like weed.

Hey! People are speaking Spanish. I forgot about people speaking Spanish. And there are people speaking Russian! I forgot about that too.

Later, at the river: Geese! I forgot about geese.

Some things are really big, and some are really small



In conclusion, there are a lot of things. And they’re all really big. That’s the main take away.

Things I Never Thought Would Disturb my Sleep

Before I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Ethiopia I had no idea what my life would be like. I thought I’d be living in a thatched mud hut in the middle of a serene village or something. Instead I live around noise, and lots of it. Here’s a list of things I never imagined could have disturbed my slumber.

  1. Orthodox Churches

It’s not just the Orthodox churches. The Protestants churches and the mosques are pretty bad too, but the Orthodox church in my neighborhood is the worst. All places of worship in Ethiopia have loud speakers, and many of them have generators so they can still use the loud speakers when the power is out. They blast chanting at all hours of nights and day. The mosques are slightly more melodic, the protestant churches are more scream-y, and the Orthodox churches are chant-y. Last night the church in my neighborhood started its chanting at 1 am. 1 am. As in, one hour after midnight. They continued until 7 am. And it wasn’t even a holiday. They chant in Ge’ez, the language of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, which is otherwise a dead language. Meaning that no one can even understand the 6 hours of inane chanting that lasts all night long.

Bisrate Gebriel Church. Note the speaker.

2. Trucks with musical horns

In Bonga, my house was pretty close to the main road. It was definitely not a serene little village. Trucks drive down the main road all night long, and they honk at any livestock in the road, or before driving around blind turns. What’s worse is that they install musical horns. It’s not just a beep beep, it’s a doolooloodololelula doolooloodololelula. At 3 am, or whenever they decide to drive by.

3. Justin Beiber music

This isn’t an issue anymore, but it was one of the first things I noticed when I moved to Bonga. A lot of my neighbors had large stereo speakers and they liked to use them early in the morning. One of my first days in Bonga I was rudely awakened at 6 am by BABY, BABY, BABY, OOOOH.

4. The water pipes in the walls

This was also just something I noticed when I first moved to Bonga and it was only an issue a few times. The indoor plumbing in my house was actually functioning for the first few days and it was loud enough that I could hear the water running in the pipes in the walls. Loud enough that I had a hard time falling asleep because of it. Occasionally during my time in Bonga I could wake up and hear the water, and on those occasions it was hard to fall back asleep because I could only think about what other receptacles I could store all of the water in if all of my buckets and jerrycans were full.

5. 200 people crying in front of my house

My last blog post was about the death of my landlord. His lekso bet, cry house, was the biggest I have ever seen. He was a very old and extremely well respected and loved man. For approximately 2 weeks there were tents set up in the driveway and lawn of the compound and visitors would come from 7am-10pm to pay their respects. After 10pm a dozen visiting family members would help to clean up and prepare food for the next day’s guests. One evening I came home, very tired, hoping to take a nap. There were at least 200 people there. So many people that they were lined up on either side of the street and down the block. It was utterly overwhelming. I ended up going to a friend’s house to take a nap.

Why I love serving in the Peace Corps

Here’s a post I found inspiring from another PCV. It was posted on the Peace Corps website. I’ve been traveling around Ethiopia giving introduction meetings for new volunteers. One of the topics we cover is volunteer diversity (not all Americans are white!) and why people volunteer. I think this blog post is particularly relevant.