Shopping in Ethiopia is quite different than heading out in the minivan, the pet shop boys blasting en route to filling cloth bags with expensive organic produce from Natural Grocers or the odd, “Why did I go to Target again?” mistake behind me.  I do most of my day to day shopping at any of the innumerable small shops or souks that line the streets near my house.  I can walk perhaps 20 ft outside my gate and be at one of these souks selling everything from toilet paper, incense, laundry soap to lightbulbs and sometimes even eggs and tomatoes. 



The above pictured souk is pretty substantial.  Most souks are way smaller.  Many shop owners live directly behind their storefronts.

A little further up the road is my orange and banana guy. 


Another place I always buy my avocadoes.  Milk is bought at a little shop that also serves jebena bunna (traditionally prepared coffee) and bread. 


The butcher and bakery are also within a short walking distance. 



Still, all these places take time to walk to and fro from, especially with an exceedingly slow 3 year old following behind.  There are also several larger “western” style grocery stores in town that have aisles you walk up and down and prices are clearly marked.  At the souk, you stand at a window and point or ask what you want and they tell you the price (prices vary, needless to say).  The big stores sell things like South African corn flakes and Maltese custard powder, birthday candles, cleaning products, snickers bars, frozen chickens, gouda cheese, alcohol!  I have been blown away (obviously) by the plethora of consumer products available here as compared to what was available in Jimma 8 years ago (gouda cheese, are you kidding me?).  Hawassa is very wealthy in comparison.  People have money to spend and it shows in the number of shops and grocery stores catering to the middle class.  Then there is the gebeya or market.  This is a sprawling expanse of shops selling everything from clothing to cookware to green coffee beans, vegetables, etc.  Mondays and Thursdays are the big market days in which people from the countryside come into town to sell their produce.

I’m sure many of you are hitting the grocery store in the next few days stocking up for your respective Thanksgiving feasts.  We are planning on cooking the hell out of an Ethiopian chicken in the form of soup in the hope that it will tenderize an otherwise notoriously tough bird.   Maltese custard powder for dessert perhaps?  I’ll have to let you know how it turns out.   



Me, getting comfortable, cooking dinner.  

Creep Suzette


Its Saturday night in Hawassa.   Ethiopia’s national soccer team is playing Nigeria  tonight in a final effort to secure a place in the World Cup.  Every person in Ethiopia is glued to a television watching the game right now, except me. Though I can hear the game on my neighbor’s t.v.  More on that later.  Children were running through the streets blowing on improvised noisemakers and virtually every person under 30 had the red, yellow and green colors of the flag painted on their cheeks. 

But in tonight’s blog post I wanted to talk about the culture shock aspect of living in Ethiopia.  Of course, having lived here before, nothing is totally new for me.  But especially for Americans I think, issues surrounding privacy, personal space and daily interactions with people on the street are some of the biggest challenges of living here. Living as a ferenji (foreigner) in Ethiopia is like having a spotlight shining on you at all times.  Walking down the street you feel the gaze of every pair of eyes around.  Often, you will also be greeted or shouted at, most often in a friendly/benign sort of way but also in more aggressive/unfriendly sorts of ways, especially if you happen to be a woman walking alone.  If you enjoy anonymity, Ethiopia is not for you. 

Ethiopians attach special significance to greetings.  A typical salutation can vary anywhere between a simple handshake and a few “How are you?  Is there peace?  How’s is going’s?” to full-on shoulder bumps or repeated cheek kisses and lots of “thanks to God I am wells”.  Children are lavished with attention and love in Ethiopia and are often picked up, kissed on both cheeks and hugged warmly, even by relative strangers. 

Personal space doesn’t really exist in Ethiopia.  Nor do orderly queues.  I still remember very clearly the day I went to mail a postcard at the Post office in Jimma.  As I was buying my stamps, a guy came up and stood right next to me, basically touching me, picked up my postcard, looked at the photo closely then turned it over and began reading it!  Checking out at the grocery store is akin to boxing out for the rebound.  If you aren’t aggressive, you will never leave.  And then there is compound life.  The majority of urban Ethiopians lived in shared compounds.  In our compound there are 10 other adults and 3 children (besides our family) living within these walls.  We hear each other’s music, television preferences, fights, laughter, tantrums, etc.  It definitely takes some getting used to and sometimes I feel as if I am living in a fish bowl. My son has had the hardest time adjusting.  I can’t tell you how many times during a walk someone will call out, “Baby!” and reach to shake his hand.  He seethes because, as he once told me, “I am NOT a baby!” and completely wigs out if a stranger wants to shake his hand.  The boy likes his space.  Needless to say, this had made leaving the house challenging at times!  In the beginning he wanted to be carried everywhere.  He’s adjusted somewhat, its getting easier and I am teaching him to say, “I’m a big kid” in Amharic.

And I have a new band name.  Its “Creep Suzette” after an awesomely misspelled dessert item at the Lewi Resort.  Ah Ethiopia, you continue to confound and amuse. 

Oh and Ethiopia lost the game.  Its dead quiet in the compound tonight and that explains why.

A hot shower, homeschooling and heavy cuteness


2 months have flown by.  It has definitely been a rougher transition than when I lived here 8 years ago, young and unfettered by small children.  It didn’t seem to matter so much that we didn’t have hot running water or a fridge back then.  These basic comforts seem so much more important now and I’m a little obsessed with getting them and comparing our living situation to the other ferenjis (foreigners) in town.  Dude, even the peace corps volunteer here has a fridge! So, on that note, I am happy to report the arrival of “Ducha Lorenzetti” to the family!  This little guy fits over the head of our shower and heats the water as it comes out (no water heater tank).  Ok, ok sometimes you get a little shock when you turn it on and it is connected via live wires to the overhead lightbulb in this very scary I-might-be-electrocuted-to-death-at-any-moment MacGyver kind of way. The water temperature achieved could best be described as “warmish” but I’m still very happy to wash my hair in relative comfort and have given up threats of chopping it all off in protest of tepid bucket bathing.  But, enough bitching about the house already!  Time to move on.  Seriously, this blog is becoming a major pity party and that was not really my intention here.   


Meet Ducha Lorenzetti!!!!

Let’s talk about homeschooling!

I am staying home full-time with the kids and that has also meant a major transition for me as I work and they attend daycare/preschool essentially full-time back home in Oklahoma.  I must say, my son loves being home.  He is completely content playing for hours in a shipping container filled with scarves or scribbling on a piece of paper and telling himself stories about his drawings.  Not that spending all day every day with a 3 year old is all a bed of roses.  I sometimes refer to my son as “The Littlest Dictator.”  My daughter basically lives in the mango tree in our front yard.  Her best friend also lives in our compound, is 10 years old (so she speaks fairly decent English) and attends school only in the morning (schools are half day here), so they play pretty much all afternoon.  We do our homeschooling in the morning using a combination of a Waldorf first grade curriculum (Oak Meadow), the book “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” (which is super fantastic and I highly recommend by the way), memorizing poems, playing mancala (African stone counting game), adding/subtracting tangibles (buttons) and discussing the finer points of math gnomes and doing crafts involving felt.  Iris is also learning to knit and playing the recorder (full disclosure:  haven’t started recorder lessons yet. I’m trying to figure it out myself first).  We’ve memorized 3 poems so far (even Gus!) and chart the cycles of the moon and make observations about the changes in season on our calendar.  I will start Amharic lessons with a private tutor next week and I’m hoping to get the kids interested in learning more of the language we are surrounded by (they know a few words: banana, orange, milk, thank you…you know, the essentials).  I am even trying to learn Fidel (the Amharic alphabet) this time around.  Yeah, wish me luck on that.  There are three different symbols for “Ha” (let alone “Hu” “He” “Hi” “Ho” “H”).

And did I mention the three kittens?  Yes, they were a “gift” from our “guard” (quotes denote too long a story for the constraints of this format).  We were upset of course, explaining to him that we will leave Ethiopia after 9 short months and what about the kittens then?  Well, they will likely be absorbed into the compound I suppose…if they make it.  I try not to think about that too much.  Two of them were born without a hind leg so they limp around pitifully on just three.  The Littlest Tripods.  In the short month they’ve been around we’ve completely softened our anti-kitten stance and I now dutifully cook them eggs in the morning and they sleep (and vomit and defecate) on our ferash (floor mat).  Ah, the joy


of pets.  Still, scenes like this are pretty hard to resist.