30 December 2007

As I write this, I am sitting on the shore of beautiful Tana Lake in Bahir Dar. A flock of around 60 large white pelicans floats in the shallows just beyond the reach of the tall shore grasses, which wave gently in the late afternoon breeze. The water laps soothingly against the concrete seating patio – though the effect is somewhat dampened by the jangling Amharic pop music blaring from the bar area behind me.

KB and I hopped a car to Bahir Dar to meet eight fellow volunteers for a Christmas/New Year's celebration. It has been a wonderful weekend, full of beautiful scenery, good meals, and the company of friends. As I have walked through the tourist town, I have sometimes forgotten that I am here in Ethiopia and not continuing a relaxing post-graduation summer at home, the palm tree-lined streets reminiscent of Florida and the expansive lake leading my thoughts back to m Tennessee home. The change of scenery has been refreshing, as has been the opportunity to spend time debriefing the past two weeks with friends who have achieved similar triumphs and survived similar challenges. We shared a delicious holiday dinner together, created from items bought at the farenji-catering supermarkets and American treasures sent from home (a big thanks to all PCV family and friends out there). We were able to celebrate the holidays with a spread that included appetizers of hummus and rolls and Lay's ranch potato chips, Stove Top stuffing, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Idaho cheddar mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce, red and white wines, no-bake chocolate oat cookies, Little Debbie Christmas tree cakes, popcorn, ("Premium") canned ham fried in chicken fat, and two chickens – which we purchased from the Saturday market chicken man, slaughtered, plucked, skinned, cleaned, gutted, cut, breaded, pan-fried over the kerosene burner, and ate with inordinate satisfaction. Afterward, stuffed and happy, we shared stories from our respective work sites and laughed harder than we had since we were together in Welliso two weeks ago.

With all that said, though, the weekend was not without its stressors. While Bahir Dar is a beautiful place to visit, the constant flow of tourists would make it difficult to establish a permanent identity within the community and shed the rich farenji label assigned automatically to white people. It was a tiring ordeal to face every day the kind of negative attention we have worked so hard to avert in Debremarkos, and on a much larger scale here. Being able to speak Amharic certainly helps, but even so, it is hard to distinguish yourself from the tourist masses. I am not sure I could live here (though I will definitely appreciate the chance to stay with friends here every once in a while!).

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