9 October 2007

I woke up early this morning to hear the call to prayer. I stood out on the balcony of my eighth-story hotel room and heard the chanted prayers rise up from the city to join the other choruses of Addis Ababa: the roar of jet engines, the rumbling of trucks, and the barking of dogs. When the prayers finished, even the dogs observed a brief moment of respectful silence. The engines, however, silence themselves for no one.

Our arrival in Ethiopia two days ago was a blur of jet lag, sleep deprivation, and bombardment with unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells. Even four hours after landing – after passing through customs, checking into our hotel, and dragging eighty pounds of luggage up to my room – the reality of my finally being in Ethiopia still hadn't really made its impact. Until, that is, my roommate and I stepped out onto our balcony for the first time. We stood eight stories above the city sprawl in the mild October night, staring out at a scene so reminiscent of those nighttime cities we had observed at home and yet so distinctly and undeniably different. It was the same city through which we had driven on out way from the airport to the hotel; yet, only standing on that balcony, breathing in the cool albeit exhaust-laden air, looking out over a thousand city lights dotting a seemingly endless black canvas – only then did I truly realize the step I had taken and the place to which it had brought me. I felt a twinge of pity, just at that moment, for my friends working and studying back at home – then laughed at the irony that they will undoubtedly and often feel a very different sort of pity for me for the next two years.

Forty-two of us have come as volunteers to Ethiopia, and, if the motivational speakers can be believed, we have each been hand-selected to be a part of the Peace Corps group that will reenter the country after a ten-year hiatus. There are eight men and thirty-four women, including two married couples. There are seven Masters International volunteers (performing their Peace Corps service as the culmination to earning their masters degrees) and several others who already hold a graduate degree. There are two physical therapists, two nurses, one registered dietician, one dental hygienist, two former military servicewomen, and one aspiring Secret Service officer. There are six volunteers who are here serving their second Peace Corps tour in Africa. There are four Kristin/Kristen/Christens, two Christinas, and one Chris. We came from all across the States and draw from a diversity of backgrounds. Most are in the range of ages from twenty-four to thirty-five; three are older. Then, I am one of a handful of twenty-two-year-olds fresh out of undergraduate studies, shiny new degrees in hand, trying just to START a career, assigned to this program most likely to fill a quota for naïve, youthful optimism required by all Peace Corps projects.

Our introduction to Peace Corps training has thus far been intense. We are driven by a full-day schedule. We are exhausted from traveling, disoriented by a seven-hour time shift, and left depleted after frustrating nights of sleeplessness. We are suffering from the stresses and anxieties of cultural acclimation, compounded the neurological side effects of malaria prophylaxis. We are half a world away from family, friends, and all other usual sources of comfort.But we hold out hope that when we finally crest the hill of this initial adjustment, what we will see stretching out before us will have been well worth the arduous climb.

As for me, the greatest strain on my emotions and test of my mental toughness has come in dwelling on the immensity of TWO YEARS. Standing here at the beginning of it all with the end nowhere in sight, the slightest hardship brings insidious doubts creeping into my mind. I find it is better to fix my mind upon one day at a time, striving to gain all that is offered by the day just before me. I know that I will waste this opportunity if I live it like a countdown, rather than a brilliant daily adventure with boundless potential.

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