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Send me some love, just in time for the holidays

The holiday season is right around the corner (as well as my birthday at the end of January) and I know you have all been thinking about me. In addition, knowing that it takes sometimes a couple months for care packages to arrive to my little village I thought this might be a good time to post this. Some of you may even be worried because you have seen pictures of me recently and think I have gotten excessively thin. Rest assured, I am doing fine and eating plenty but I will never refuse goodies from my homeland or other parts of the world for that matter. Give it your best shot if you want to try fattening me up. With that being said, I have written this blog post just in case. See below for an important message from yours truly:

From the Desk of Mr. Anthony, U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Mizan Teferi (Aman) SNNPR, Ethiopia

“I live in the jungle, on a mountain – in Ethiopia.”

***

To whom it may concern:

I have recently checked my food pantry ‘basket in the corner/pile around said basket’ for supplies from homeland America and goods are running low. The following are urgently needed to keep me from going crazy (too late?!):

•Canned Chicken (if you fill half of your box with canned chicken you will be forever loved; 5-6 oz. cans work better than the bulk cans do since I usually only cook for myself)

•Cheese (The cheese that does exist here is ‘past its prime.’ (Grated parmesan and blocks of Velveeta hold up well enough to ship; feel free to send others that you know will last a while without refrigeration. Muggles (in this context, non-Peace Corps folk; (sorry I am currently re-reading the Harry Potter series audio addition) simply cannot understand the happiness that cheese brings to my life here.

•Peanut M&Ms, Reese’s, Kit Kats and Hershey’s with Almonds (a bad day can be turned instantly great by being able to come home and get a frozen piece of chocolate out of my mini-fridge)

• Anything that tastes like pumpkin and the holidays (first things that came to mind was Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte singles or mini holiday snack pack with summer sausage, cheese and crackers)

•Scented candles (my house sometimes smells too much like ‘man’. When I notice I know it is time for my weekly shower; and the candles here just seem to melt away in the blink of an eye and with all the power outages lately extras could come in handy)

Read on for instructions and other items with which you can fill in any extra space!

***

Many folks asked me while I was home in the states on vacation and others more recently about sending care packages my way.  Quoting a fellow PCV, “There is absolutely no excuse for me to further delay mass shipments of vacuum sealed burritos, Doritos (Nacho Cheese, Cool Ranch, etc.), Peanut M&Ms, Kit Kats and cheese (grated parmesan, blocks of  Velveeta, Kraft singles, anything processed, etc.).” With that mouthwatering sentence typed, I will not make you wait any longer: here’s my mailing address, along with some suggested care package items and very important packing/shipping tips compiled with the help of some fellow PCVs. Please read everything before putting a package together, and absolutely do not hesitate to contact me (or my mother who has sent various packages; others too of course) if you have any questions or issues along the way.

OK. Where do I send all the vacuum-sealed Chipotle burritos and pizza?

Father Anthony E. Navarrete

P.O. Box 516

Mizan Teferi, Ethiopia

What is the best shipping method?

United States Postal Service Flat Rate is generally the best way to go. The only exception to this would be if you wanted to send me anything that would not fit into a flat rate box, such as a year’s supply of Oreos. The absolute best bang-for-your buck is the largest available size. The costs just jumped from $60 to $78, but the happiness you will add to my life has no price tag, right? The medium flat rate box is now $60. The weight allowance for each is 20 pounds. If you just want to send a few things, you could go with anything from a large envelope (for, say, a few books) to one of the smaller flat rate boxes (five or six bags of peanut M&Ms, perhaps), but at $24 with a 4 pound limit, the value is much less than the medium flat rate box. Whatever the rate, USPS is far better than, say, UPS, where you would cough up a slim $640 to send a 20 lb. box. If you want to check on updated shipping rates of various sizes and varieties offered by USPS, go here and enter Ethiopia.

So what should I send you?

So glad you asked!  I am going to break this down into two parts. Part I will be items that can/should be included in any and all care packages, with absolutely no concern about quantity. I can never have enough of these items. Part II will be “optional” items that are always welcome, usually a good idea, etc. Sending any or all of these items will earn you lots of extra brownie points.

Part I (a.k.a. “the staples”)

Peanut M&Ms, Reese’s, Kit Kats, Hershey’s bars (Yo queiro CHOCOLATE!!!)

Cheese (It doesn’t exist here.  Grated parmesan and Velveeta block hold up well enough to ship; feel free to send others that you know will last a while through the long shipping process. You will make my body tingle with joy when I see cheese from America the Beautiful.

Canned chicken (This is amazing because otherwise I would have to go barter for a chicken and come home and slaughter it myself which even after a year and a half in Ethiopia is just not my thing)

Mac & Cheese (LOVE Velveeta, but there is nothing like the good ole powdered variety)

Cereal bars (I usually don’t eat breakfast but would if I had these; haven’t had them in a while but a variety would be nice; anything you personally find delicious)

Cookies (Chewy Chips Ahoy or Oreos; anything home-made would rock)

Trail Mix, Dried Fruits (especially apples or oranges or maybe even a mixed tropical selection)

Tasty spices (black pepper grinders, etc. I’m open to whatever, but quality garlic-based spices go good in everything I cook and are hard to find/really expensive here.)

Sausage and/or bacon (if you can find the varieties of these that do not require refrigeration/will not go bad on a trip to Africa.)

Drink Singles (the kind you can put in a 16 oz bottle and just add water, any and all are welcome; also great space fillers; if you can find an iced tea version that would be fantastic)

Hand sanitizer (Large bottles are good. I have a small one I refill regularly. Like cheese, it doesn’t exist here, and I shake lots and lots of dirty kids’ dirty hands)

Any kind of yummy snack food that you can think of that will probably make the trip (mostly) intact. I am open to more than what is listed here, and certainly don’t want to limit your imagination.

Wet Cleansing Towelettes (Come in handy between my sporadic showers)

Part II

Buttermilk Pancake Mix (only add water)

Hamburger/Chicken/Tuna Helpers (opening the boxes & putting the contents in a zip locked bag is a handy way to save room; I can buy meat from the local butcher, canned chicken if I have them and tuna can be found at local souks; again the ones you find most delicious will probably appeal to me)

Sloppy Joe/Chili/Fajita/Taco Seasonings

Flour Tortillas (can make from scratch but it is nice every once in a while to have some good ones)

Chewing Gum

Just add water muffin/cookie mixes (I can get my hand on eggs and can make milk out of powder if necessary;  I have recently made a Dutch oven and would love to make something more extravagant)

Incent sticks (I have the holder; can be bought locally but quality stinks)

Something candle like or that I can sit around my home for mosquitos, flies and other random bugs

Scented candles (specifically the short, fat ones)

SPAM (Great for Fried Rice)

Dry black beans (they’re hard to find here, and they are yummy)

Crossword puzzle and/or word find books

Toothpaste (I fancy the kind that has baking powder and peroxide in it for teeth whitening purposes)

Quality AA batteries (Duracell/Energizer; I have a couple items that run on AA that I would hate to have to go without)

Bic lighters (lighters don’t exist over here, and the matches suck. A good lighter every now and then would be helpful; do not declare on any customs forms, mention to the post office peeps and hide in something)

Bouillon cubes (Veggie or Beef flavored)

Flavored Mashed Potato Packets

School Items: Crayola Washable Markers, Stickers/Stamps for Kids

Can I send things you did not mention?

Absolutely! I am open to your love in any form you choose fit (Doritos and burritos, pretty please with sugar on top!)

Any other advice?

YES! Please read each of these points and mind them closely when preparing/sending your packages.

–          Don’t Waste Space – One of the greatest frustrations I have heard expressed by seasoned PCVs is when there is unused space or unnecessary packing fluff, such as packing peanuts or bubble wrap. Pack the box wall-to-wall and nothing will move around. Remove excess/unnecessary packaging from materials entering the care package and open packaging to release air; when possible on both accounts, of course.  If you find yourself with “extra” space (really, there is no such thing…), please refer to Part I or Part II of what should I send you?, above.

–          Airmail! – Be sure to write “Air Mail / Par Avion” on anything you send, and see to it that the post office adds the official stamp indicating such elevated status.

–          Cover the Box in Religious (Christian) Symbols, References, Quotes, etc. – I know this sounds silly, but it really works, hence the “Father Anthony Navarrete” in the shipping address (not kidding).

–          Write “Educational Materials,” “Used Goods,” “Household Items,” etc. on Outside of Box – Writing things like this should help the package clear customs.

–          Minimize Value of Customs Declarations – Try to be as vague as possible and avoid declaring anything of real value on the customs slip. You may have to put up a bit of a fight at the post office, but it’s worth minimizing the chance of a package being pillaged en route.

–          Avoid Sending Items of High Value, Cash, etc. – Electronics, cash, airplane tickets, etc. are generally discouraged for mailings. PCVs regularly visit the States, so it’s much easier to try and make arrangements to exchange materials at such a time.

–          Ziploc Liquids (or other items with easy open seals that may come open en route) – Liquids are technically not allowed/frowned upon, but usually tend to make it through. In either case, it’s a good idea to contain any and all liquids in a good, sturdy Ziploc bag. That way it won’t ruin everything else in the box, and all the other cute little care packages it will be traveling with, if it breaks.

–          Let Me Know it’s on the Way – Surprises are nice and all, but it’s actually much more fun to know something is coming. It’s also good to let me know something is on the way so I know when to stop by the post office, since it’s not something I do every day.

What about letters? Postcards? Pictures?

All of these are most welcome, and go a long way in boosting my morale. Letters should follow the same course of religious symbols and red ink. It’s a good idea to number the letters (i.e. Letter #1), in case something gets lost en route. Postcards should travel in an envelope; otherwise, they are likely to end up on the wall of some random post office. Pictures are best sent in a well-sealed small manila envelope.

What do I get in return?

My unconditional love and gratitude.  In addition, hand-written thank you notes which may also include random trinkets from my daily adventures and lots of really cool stamps on the envelope.

###

This blog post is a compilation of personal needs/wants as well as ideas from my colleagues that are also serving here in Peace Corps Ethiopia. Always keep us in your thoughts and prayers and definitely over the coming holiday season. It is always a rough period for PCVs that are far from home. God Bless!

 

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Back from America & Year 2

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Dubai skyline from the plane on my flight back to Addis on Sept. 1

It’s been over three months now since my last post and a lot has happened. I’ve been back in Ethiopia for about three weeks now since my vacation back home to the good old USofA. I spent most of August back home in Missouri with family and friends. On August 9th, my second night home for vacation I went with my mom to the Missouri State Fair to see Starship and Foreigner in concert. All I can say is – amazing. Also while I was at the state fair I chowed down on some delicious deep fried Oreos. Again, amazing. Apart from the Foreigner concert, I had a BBQ with my friends from high school, took the GRE, took a road trip to Indianapolis to see friends and to take a quick trip to DePauw. Visiting DePauw was nice but made me feel very nostalgic. A pit-stop at Marvins was deemed necessary. I had been craving a GCB (Marvs’ famous garlic cheeseburger) for some time. I had tons of great food, saw a lot of friends and family and really just got to relax and take in everything beautiful about America that I had missed during my first year in the Peace Corps. 

DePauw Friends in Indy!!

DePauw Friends in Indy!!

On September 1st, I got back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to begin my Mid-service conference (MSC) with my fellow G7 PCVs (the group I came into country with, June ’12). It was great to reconnect and experience share with my fellow G7ers as some of them live on the complete other side of the country and I barely get to see them. After a week in Addis for MSC I headed back to Aman to enjoy the Ethiopian New Year with my friends back at site. Ethiopian New Years ended up being a little strange since the holiday fell on one of the traditional Ethiopian Christian fasting days where no one eats meat. For that reason I missed the main feast with doro wat (chicken wat) and the works that I guess took place on the Tuesday before the Ethiopian New Year that coincidentally enough falls on September, 11 almost every year. Nonetheless, I did get to visit with friends and I ate some really good food and drank plenty of coffee.

Over the past couple of weeks since being back in Aman I’ve had time to reflect on my first year and my trip back home to the states. Going back home really helped put things into perspective. Living in Ethiopia and life as a Peace Corps volunteer in general can be challenging. There are days that you just feel like you are going crazy or you feel like nothing is going right. There are days that cravings for good ole American food are so strong that every time you see someone talk about or post a picture of what they are eating on Facebook or Twitter makes you just want to never talk to that person every again in your life. Then there are the days that being called ‘you, you, ferenji, ferenji’ or even ‘China, china’ will make you want to choke someone. However, there are these little moments that are hard to explain that just make the whole experience worth it and going back to the US for vacation really helped me realize how lucky I was to be having this experience. Yes some days are hard and I have to admit there were some days over the past year that I just wanted to give up and come home. However, I powered through and now I’m excited about year two. I know how things work for the most part or at least what to expect. I have about 10 months to go and a lot of great ideas for activities to do at my school for the 2006 (Ethiopian calendar) academic year. I just have to think back to what I told my recruiter in Chicago when I had my interview for the Peace Corps. “Even if all my projects fail, if I can just put a smile on someone’s face and inspire them in some way that will make me happy and feel like I’ve been successful.” Ethiopia is a beautiful country and I’ve been lucky to see a lot of it over the past year. I hope to see more of it in my final 10 months. I’ve learned a lot from my Ethiopian friends and colleagues and I can truly say I’ve grown as a person. So here is to year two!!

Kids on the Aman airstrip 9/19/13

Kids on the Aman airstrip 9/19/13

Now I’m at a hotel in Mizan Teferi and I’m headed to Addis tomorrow (IN A PRIVATE CAR!!!! YAY!!). On Monday, I have my mid-service medical check-ups. How exciting!! Not. I’m lucky enough to be getting a free ride with an organization that one of our superstar 3rd year extender PCVs works with that just happens to be in Mizan. WooT! Once I get back from Addis for my medical check-ups school will hopefully start soon after. If I remember correctly from last year normal classes didn’t really start until mid to late October when all the teachers and administrators got back from summer university programs. So we will see what happens. Well, that’s it! Will try to write again soon! Best wishes from Ethiopia!

 

Approaching the 1 year mark!

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Today I arrived back to Aman after being out of site for a little over two weeks. Taking a quick look at my calendar I reminded myself again that G7 (the number given to my group of fellow PCVs that arrived last June) is getting ready to pass the one year mark in Ethiopia. It is hard to believe that it has almost been a year since I arrived on June 6, 2012 in Addis Ababa. Some days seem like they drag on forever but then I travel or something and get back to my site and realize time is flying. I was reading a couple of my fellow G7 PCV’s blogs and they were trying to reflect on our first year in country. An important similarity is that we all kind of feel like we’ve done nothing. We’ve worked effortlessly to get trainings for our teachers put together, get English clubs up and running at our schools and although not all has failed, this first year was more of a test run for year 2. Getting teachers to absorb and actually use information you give them or getting them to even show up for a training is sometimes beyond frustrating. Students on the other hand (although they usually come in flocks of 100) are more open to learning and being around the ferenji teacher that speaks weird English. All in all, looking back over this past year I’ve had a lot of ups and downs and Peace Corps staff warned us about this from the beginning. You don’t know how true this is until you are stuck in a remote village staring at your ceiling hours on end trying to figure out how to make a difference or some sort of impact on your community. I guess what I’ve learned is to take every challenge like a grain of salt. Some projects I do just aren’t going to work out, some more than others. Something else I’ve realized is that this experience is not just about having successful projects in my host community, it is about me growing as a person. PCVs have a lot of free time and a new challenge to myself for my second year in Ethiopia is to learn more about myself and to have more self-reflection time. My Peace Corps service should be as much of a teaching experience as it is a learning experience. Instead of worrying about what lies ahead so much I must slow down and try to live in the moment and really appreciate the little things. If I can do this I think there are many things I can learn about myself and about the world from my host community and from the Ethiopian people as a whole.

Now, looking back on the past weeks and new projects for year two. As I mentioned I just returned to my site after being away for a couple of weeks. I was able to travel to beautiful Hawassa, the regional capital of the Southern Nation’s region to help out with a half-marathon that was held on May 12th. Getting there was a hassle. On the way into Jimma on day one of the three day journey to Hawassa I was with my fellow G7 PCV that lives up the road in Mizan and our bus broke down – completely. We were forced to walk to the next village a couple kilometers down the road where we had to wait for a couple hours for a minibus to arrive to take us on to Jimma. Well, it actually took three minibuses but we finally made it to Jimma, then on to Addis the next day and then to Hawassa. After spending two nights in Hawassa hanging out with fellow PCVs who had also traveled long distances to participate in the race, I made my way back to Addis.

On May 14 I woke up really early to catch a Selam Bus to start a long journey to Bahir Dar, another beautiful city in the northwest of Ethiopia. Lucky me, I guess I brought bad luck to the group of PCVs I was traveling with along with our counterparts because our bus broke down about 40 minutes outside of Addis. We waited for four hours until a new public bus arrived. We weren’t to happy about this because we knew we had to travel through the big gourge located on the road between Bahir Dar and Addis. We made it safely through the gourge but then the issue was that our bus driver decided it was smart to go 105 kph instead of the posted 80 kph. The driver finally got a speeding ticket but that didn’t stop him. We continued up the road and hit a bump cracking the windshield of our bus into many different directions. After watching the bus attendants hold the window in place as we barreled along for quite a while we finally came to a stop. This time in a small town called Finote Selam. We were all told to get out and to find another minibus to make it the rest of the way to Bahir Dar. We were rushed into a minibus by our counterparts and finally made it to Bahir Dar late in the evening. Nonetheless, the rest of the week was a great success and I think for the most part we all tried to put the horrible bus ride from hell at the back of our minds. In Bahir Dar, a group of 20 PCVs and their counterparts participated in a training of coaches for the Grassroots Soccer “Peace Corps Skillz” program to teach kids about HIV/AIDs. Our two training facilitators that flew in from Cape Town, South Africa were awesome and really got us pumped for Grassroots Soccer and its new partnership with Peace Corps Ethiopia. I’m really excited about Grassroots Soccer and I plan to start the program in Aman at the start of the next school year in September. After the training was over it was time to head back to Addis. For all the trouble we had to go through on the way up Peace Corps thought it would be nice to fly us back to Addis. It was quite pleasant and instead of a 17 hour journey it took us about 50 minutes to get back to Addis. Before leaving Bahir Dar I did go for a swim and took in the beautiful views of Lake Tana, the source of the Nile River.

Kuriftu Resort in Bahir Dar on the shores of Lake Tana

Kuriftu Resort in Bahir Dar on the shores of Lake Tana

I spent this last week in Addis visiting the Peace Corps’ doctors and taking care of some stomach issues as well as a bad sun burn. Anyways, I’m back in Aman and the school year is wrapping up. Headed to school tomorrow with the main task of getting campers selected for our Jimma Camp G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World) that will take place in mid-July. Camp in Jimma will be the last big project before I come home for vacation to the US. I’m beyond excited!! I will fly into Kansas City on August 8th and depart August 30th to head to DC for a day before making my journey back to Ethiopia to participate in G7’s MSC (mid-service conference) in Addis the first week of September. Well, that’s it for now. Remember to breathe and live life in the moment!

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Africa, Education, Ethiopia, Peace Corps

 

Happy Easter weekend!!

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Peace Corps/Ethiopia Volunteers & Senior Staff, All-Volunteer Conf., March ’13

Greetings from East Africa! It’s that time of year and I almost forgot. It is Good Friday and Sunday is Easter, well my Easter. Ethiopian Easter aka Fasika is actually at the end of next month. Those belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox church are on a long fast of no meat leading up to Fasika next month. For me, that means very limited meat intake for a while. Oh how time flies when you are having fun. Anyways, I wish all my family and friends a very Happy Easter! I only got a couple cards but they were from someone very special. You know who you are. Thanks.

I’ve been back in Aman about a week now following Peace Corps Ethiopia’s 1st All-Volunteer Conference in Addis. The conference was a lot of fun and it was great getting to visit with old friends and other volunteers I hadn’t met from the Peace Corps Ethiopia team. This week has been quite a success. As I may have mentioned in my previous post I finally got my own classroom. Upon my return from Addis things moved very fast and I got my room cleaned, furniture moved in for the most part and I’ve started decorating what will soon be the Aman Primary School English Language Improvement Center (E.L.I.C.). The E.L.I.C. will be one of my main projects for my remaining time here in Ethiopia so I’ll have plenty of time to hopefully reach a lot of students as well as teachers and help them practice their English and encourage them to do their best and study hard. The E.L.I.C. will be stocked with donated children books and other language games as I collect resources or make them. Once I get the center up and running I’ll post some pictures. The center will potentially have regular hours where students can come in and read, play language games and more. I’ll also use the center to facilitate my teacher trainings, student and teacher English clubs, model teaching, etc.

As for this weekend I’m headed to the Bebeka Coffee Plantation right down the road from Aman. I’m going with my friends Diana and her housemates Uday and Munjela as well as the Filipino professors John, Res and Jun all whom live in close proximity to me in Aman and all work at the local Mizan-Tepi University in between Aman and Mizan. We plan to have quite the feast including lamb and chicken. Expect pictures sometime next week with a recap of my adventures to Bebeka. Happy Easter and God Bless!

 

As 1st Semester comes to an End…

English Teacher Training - "Making Changes" Group Activity

English Teacher Training – “Making Changes” Group Activity

1st semester is quickly coming to an end for the 2005 (Ethiopian calendar) school year. Next week final exams start and around the beginning of February the semester will be over. What does this mean? That means for the next couple of weeks I will get slowly less busy. With exams both teachers and students only think about one thing – exams. “Extracurricular” activities such as mine will be put to the side and deemed inappropriate for the time being. Then after exams are over there is a two week break. I will actually get a 3 week break because I have to head to Jimma 6-9 hours up the road for a week-long training.

Anyways, even though the semester is coming to an end I have just finished rolling out a couple new projects. I had my first teacher training for the English teachers in my main school in Aman and its three satellite schools this past Saturday. Attendance was lower than what I had wished with only 8 teachers showing up but for the first training session I think it went very well. I led the 8 teachers in group experience sharing about their English teaching and then we made a list of different things they wanted to change or improve about their teaching. We went over the old as well as the new teaching methodologies that the Ethiopian Ministry of Education would like all to teachers in Ethiopia to start using. Finally, we ended by talking about pair and group work and we had a couple of model activities the teachers could take with them and use in their classroom. At least that is my hope. After my next training session I’ll be observing their classrooms to see if they’ve made any changes.

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1st Teacher’s English Club Meeting!!!

Today, I began another one of my activities – the Teacher’s English Club. I’ve been struggling trying to talk teachers into coming but finding a time to make everyone happy and available has been a nightmare. Also, I’ve been told the teachers for the younger grades are afraid of the big white ferenji man (me). So with that and a general lack of interest because they don’t get paid extra to stay at school after class or to come beforehand I only had four show up this morning. Meaning none of the teachers from the earlier grades. Nonetheless, the 4 that showed were very enthusiastic and even better none of them were English teachers. Well, good in terms of showing this club is for all teachers not just English teachers like everyone at my school thinks. I had them play a “speaking game” today. I thought it was going to be easy but the most difficult part was explaining the concept of how to roll the dice and how a board game worked. These are things that they’ve never really been exposed to and know nothing about.

With the first semester coming to an end and still trying to figure out exactly on what day it does end I’m being very flexible and open-minded about my upcoming programs. Flexibility and a sense of humor in this job is crucial otherwise you will go bat sh!t (excuse my language) crazy! Anyways things are moving slowly but that is the nature of this job and part of the culture I’m working in. It is all a learning experience, frustrating at times but an opportunity to learn so much about yourself that you never knew was possible.

Other good news:

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“Remodeled” Kitchen space

Last Friday as I was sitting up the library at my school for my teacher training on Saturday morning I finally talked my school director into letting me borrow one of the desks to use at my house for my kitchen. He said yes and although I said I’d be happy to carry it home by myself he quickly sent the vice director with me to find the exact desk I wanted and then found a pair of students that lived near my home and were headed that way to carry it home for me. Quite nice of them! Now, I have counter space and no longer have to peel and cut my vegetables in my lap and I even have room for a mini fridge that I’m hoping to buy with the next couple of weeks. 🙂 Thanks for reading, please like this post or leave a comment below.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Africa, Culture, Education, Ethiopia, Peace Corps

 
 
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