A Day of Yoga in the Garden

Photo credit: Taye Fikru

A couple of weeks ago, the Gullele Botanic Garden (GBG) hosted students from Tulsi Addis to partake in a Yoga session on the garden’s land. Over 15 people participated, including three GBG staff members who had never practiced Yoga before. There were some delays along the way,  but all in all it was a beautiful day. The site was padded with indigenous grass species, the sun pulled in and out of the clouds and a full view of the city of Addis Ababa spread beyond the meadow. A tasty and healthy vegetarian potluck lunch was shared in the shade of an Ethiopian juniper ((Juniperus procera) grove, known in Amharic as yehabesha t’id. Afterwards, Wondeye Kebeda – a staff botanist who had participated in the Yoga session – led the Tulsi students on a guided forest tour. Many traditional medicinal plants and local tree and shrub species were identified and their uses shared with the group. Hopefully, events like this one will continue at GBG, in partnership with Tulsi.

Photo credit: Taye Fikru

For more information on Gullele Botanic Garden and Tulsi Addis, please check out the links below:



Photo credit: Taye Fikru

Photo credit: Taye Fikru

Live each present moment completely,

and the future will take care of itself.

Fully enjoy the wonder and beauty of each instant.

6. GroupChildsPose

To love those that love you is easy.

To love those that love you not is not so simple.

If you want to change anyone, set a better example.

Show more kindness, more understanding, more love.

That has a sure effect.

To those who are not kind, show kindness.

To those who are mean, show bigness of heart.

Photo credit: Taye Fikru

Never forget to smile.

There is no more beautiful ornament one can wear than

a genuine smile of peace and wisdom

glowing on the face.

Photo credit: Taye Fikru

Photo credit: Taye Fikru

Photography credit: Taye Fikru

Quotes Source:  http://www.yogananda.com




A Break in the Clouds


There was a break in the clouds that

offered a chance for the laundry to dry

Rain in the bucket saved for washing her hair

The steady drops off the roof landing

on a newly planted bed that

the neighborhood boys politely jump over

 when stopping by for the chance of a chore

Payment drawn out in carrots and

the sticky sweetness of tamarind –

their seeds boiled, cooled and sipped like juice //


A flat bed passes, stopping at the turn into town

Villagers drop from the air gracefully, like some birds

Maybe there is a market today

or people you once knew

A cry in the air telling that it is time to see

what is happening between the break in the cloud


This is the middle of somewhere that holds much more

than mica-flecked dust and the whispers of lacking something

When the earth is talking, you find what you need

and all that is nestled in between:

The scent of a leaf burned for visitors

The smoke of a root that spooks the snake to go home


Her fence offers food for goats, sheep and bees,

after the children take their share,

Walk through the half hidden opening and bring her

a perfect egg found on the slope of the path that leads

to school or to market, depending on the time or day

Be gracious to your mother who can tell you a lot

At dusk, you take out your drinking gourd that

fits perfectly into the curve of your palm

like a woman protecting her swollen pregnancy

while talking to friends and strangers alike


Fellow Peace Corps Volunteer’s PCPP Grant’s Success

Please check out the link for PCV Seth Kammer’s completed school resource project in western Ethiopia. A call for donations was previously posted on my blog. Thank you for anyone who supported this project through funds or disseminating information to others!


(Above) Teacher organizing the resources donated through the grant, including a computer and up-to-date text books


A Third Year in Ethiopia

Gullele Botanic Garden worker with Cordia africana (Wanza) seedlings. This beautiful tree has many cultural uses, including the market sale of their edible yellow fruit. Children, of course, harvest and consume on their own terms!

Gullele Botanic Garden worker with Cordia africana (“Wanza” in Amharic) seedlings. This beautiful tree has many cultural uses, including the market sale of their edible yellow fruit. Children, of course, harvest and consume on their own terms!

A group of  mostly female workers from the garden have been hauling water from the river for this degraded area that now displays ornamental, aromatic and medicinal plants. They are super tough and the results are beautiful.

A group of mostly female workers from the garden have been hauling water from the river for this degraded area that now displays ornamental, aromatic and medicinal plants. They are super tough and the results are beautiful.

Wandye, a botanist at the garden, giving the daisies some appreciation. Wondeye, a botanist at the garden, giving the daisies some appreciation.

About a month ago, I flew back to Ethiopia to live and work in the capitol city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. My government office established and runs the Gullele Botanic Garden, the first botanic garden in Ethiopia. Their main agendas are conservation of biodiversity, research, education and eco-tourism. So far, it has been a great experience – my co-workers are intelligent and kind, I am learning more and more about the cultural uses of plants in Ethiopia and globally each day and I look forward to the coming months as the garden evolves and becomes a recognized attraction by locals and visitors alike.

As for living in Addis Ababa – it is very crowded and there are intense disparities of wealth. The city is in a transitional stage, with new buildings and roads under construction and neighborhoods forming at a pretty rapid pace. The older parts of the city reflect a history of governmental shifts, rural migration and the brief Italian occupation. In Piassa, for example, there were many Indians, Italians and Armenians living there about fifty years ago. The impact on architecture, food and urban planning is still there. Cream puff pastries, a jewelry row, an old theater and other clues linger on.

Living in the city is easier in some ways, but the sense of community is harder to build and the markets are not nearly as fresh and unique. My area of the city, Addisu Gabaya (“New Market”) is known for a lack of water – this means the pipes flow once or twice a week for a couple hours, good old bucket baths and washing about everything else by hand. The air pollution, heavy traffic and crazy driving are also harder to deal with. I do not prefer urban living, although I have done it many times before. It is an energy to embrace, and it differs city by city.

In Addis, one might be walking alongside a new shopping center and a small hut will reveal itself, a man playing traditional music shadowing the door and the sounds of tej (a local alcohol) beakers clinking combating the car horns. Or one might see a herd of goats being taken to the meat market on the road to Holeta, enjoying their last moments of life through those basic wants and needs.

Another positive aspect of living in Addis is being around so many women around my age that are part of the work force, independent and not as conservative in their dress and lifestyle choices. I have the luck of becoming part of a four woman rotation at my office, where we each make lunch and coffee on Friday’s at our respective homes. It is wonderful and refreshing.

On that note, the friends and family that I was able to connect with during my travels back to the States last December and January were blessings. I regained the strength and joyousness I needed to go back to Ethiopia. Thank you for being amazing, resilient and beautiful human beings.  While Ethiopia is lacking many things that we take for granted, their sense of community pride and obligation is so naturally a part of most of their lives that there is a sense of happiness despite the hardships of daily existence.  Hopefully, I share this sentiment during my next year of work here.

Emily Reflects

by Laura

Emily is nearing the end of her Peace Corps service and plans to visit family & friends in the U.S. this December.  She forwarded me the following thoughts & photos to post:

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to visit a waterfall located in Sheka. It is about an hour walk from the main town, through a small farming community that borders the forest. The day was bright and scorching, with no inkling of rain to come. It was a relief to enter the path that led to the falls and leave signs of human impact behind. At times, we had to somewhat make our own path!

As we got closer to the waterfall’s location, the sound of rushing water wove its way through the vines and trees. We carefully made our way down a steep slope and entered the cave that exists behind the falls. The air was misty and refreshing and the surface of the cave was slippery. Closer to the waterfall, ferns and impatient flowers grew, exuding a vibrant green light. As I breathed in the air and absorbed the breadth of the falls, I was reminded of how lucky I was to be here in Ethiopia.

I felt refreshed and capable to complete my last month of service in Masha with fullness and energy. I also realized how much I would miss my life here – my neighbors, co-workers and friends. My routine is calm, yet still filled with moments I can learn from. I appreciate this. The market, too, has sustained me in a healthy, balanced way for months. Memories fill my mind and sometimes it is hard to focus on the present moment. These coming weeks will be emotional but also will bring completion and joy.

I also look forward to seeing my friends and family in the United States this winter. I want to take this time to thank everyone who has shown interest in my life here and that I felt very much loved and supported during my Peace Corps service. I truly could not have done it without you all!



P.S. The photos of the little girl are of my favorite 2 year old, Hannan. She is my neighbor and we play almost every day. The Peace Corps came to pick up a couple boxes for the office in Addis from my kitchen this past week and I was out of town. Apparently, Hannan started to cry and grab the boxes, thinking I was not coming back. It was so sweet and sad at the same time – a true realization of how hard it will be to say my goodbyes.








Emily Travels to Vienna

by Laura

Emily just got back from a lovely vacation to Vienna, organized by her equally lovely friend Catt.  Thanks, Catt!

Here are some reflections Emily sent about the experience along with some photos:

Culture Shock! and Comparisons
It was my first full weekend back in Masha since traveling out of the country to Vienna, Austria and to a Peace Corps conference. I was gone for almost a month. Traveling to Vienna was quite a shock. Public transport was timed (no waiting for hours for a bus that might come). The market food was not lying on the ground on blankets and was clearly priced. The streets were paved and clean. Even the government issued housing had indoor plumbing, tiled and hardwood floors and tall ceilings!
The list could go on and on with comparisons like that.

One main thing for me was being able to walk out the door without thinking too much about what I was wearing and if it was conservative enough. It just simply did not matter. I did not realize what a stress that was for me until I did not have to do it anymore. Women in the Western world take a lot of these basic freedoms for granted. They can socialize with males and not be judged. Live in an apartment without your family. Smoke a cigarette and drink a glass of wine. Go out at night past 7 pm!

I also noticed how the children behaved differently. In Ethiopia, they carry wood and water, run small shops, go to market, do errands for their family and neighbors, handle money, cook and clean, take care of animals and make games without using any store-bought toys or materials. The children I saw were a lot more sheltered and depended on material goods to function. I missed the Ethiopian children and their capacity to be creative, hard working, bright and out-going. They will have a conversation with you and not fear that you will harm them.

I also missed how local the food was at the markets in Ethiopia in comparison to Vienna. There was a lot of local, organic food, but there were also fruits, nuts and spices from other countries. Things like giant bananas, mangoes, kiwis and avocados seemed out of place in the market stall boxes. It was also funny to see the price difference. One mango in Vienna was 22 times as much as one mango in Masha. The same was true with a lot of the spices, too. Cinnamon, chile powder, cloves, turmeric, black pepper corns and other such spices were 5 euro a bag as compared to 5 Ethiopian birr (Laura’s note – I believe the conversion puts that at about 0.22 Euros in comparison).

When it came to medicinal plants, it was amazing to see the pharmacies carried herbal teas that had the number of grams of each herb listed on the side of the box. There is a market for them there that I was happy to see. Yarrow, red clover, nettles, St. John’s wort, elderberry, chamomile and other herbs all grow there. I saw yarrow growing wild everywhere I went; sprouting out of cracks in the cement, covering a small patch of green between two roads. It was wonderful!

After many nice cheeses and fresh berries, great company, art and architecture, swimming in rivers and long days of sunshine, I was ready to return to rainy Masha. Here, at least half the people you pass will greet you or return a greeting with a big smile, despite the damp, cold air and muddy tromps to get from here to there.

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Emily Gets to Know the Forest

by Laura

Emily sent the following info about her experiences living near the Sheka Forest:

A Home Made of Forest

Two weeks ago, 238,750 hectares of the Sheka Forest were approved by UNESCO to become the third biosphere reserve in Ethiopia. Strangely, this will be the third site I have lived in here in Ethiopia that has been approved as a UNESCO site, either as a biosphere reserve or for cultural significance (Konso terracing system).

The process that led to The Sheka Forest Biosphere Reserve to becoming a reality was mainly due to the work of my host organization, MELCA. The biosphere reserve is vast in plant, animal and bird species bio-diversity, varied ecosystems and life sustaining bodies of water. The traditional knowledge of the people of Sheka is as vast as the bio-diversity. For example, the majority of farmers in the Sheka Zone are honey farmers. The traditional method of hanging hives from high tree limbs is practiced here, playing a big part in forest conservation.  The honey, I must say, is the best I have ever tasted. It is amazing to think of nature creating such sweetness without much human intervention. The trees, shrubs and weeds bloom, the bees collect and bring it back to their hives and, after some time, honey ranging from white to gold to dark brown, forms.

This is not the only use the people of Sheka have from the forest. They collect wood for construction, for household items like the mortar and pestle and for fuel. Cooking with charcoal or over an open fire is the norm. Vines and grasses for rope and basketry. Even in the town, the women (including myself) carry their woven basket to market twice a week. Semi-forest coffee groves are planted in the areas between settlement and dense growth, their berries bright red when ready for plucking. Wild cardamom is harvested in key areas by women twice or three times a year. It’s trilogy of bright, fuchsia pods sprouting from the earth lend the eyes to their location. The medicine plants also help them when they are in need. Long pepper is another useful spice found in the forest. It is traditionally pounded into a powder and mixed with milk to help with issues of the blood. There are few people who understand the value, uses and application of the medicine plants found in the forest.  

Another tradition is the kobo system, a form of land tenure managed by community elders and clan leaders. One main belief that is upheld through this system is called gudo. It pertains to the sacred sites demarcated throughout the forest. It is believed that people who harm these sacred places will have harm come to them. In this way, the sites are protected from damaged and rightfully respected. At this time, the youth are becoming more westernized and many people as a whole are turning to Western religions that are newer to Ethiopia. This lends a hand in the shift of the community’s lessened support in the kobo system and, more specifically, gudo. Now that the biosphere reserve has been approved, this cultural shift must be addressed if the core and transitional areas of the forest are to be left intact and the buffer zones are to be harvested from sustainably.

I have never looked at a forest in quite the same way – recognizing the necessity to keep it open to human impact due to the vast amount of needs that are being satisfied through forest products. In the States, most of the population has separated themselves from having a dependence on their environment. We have designated parks, reserves and sanctuaries to travel to and enjoy nature. Enjoyment, perhaps, plays a part in the time that the people spend in the forest of Sheka, but survival is more of a concern. I like to think that a spiritual connection with the land exists in both the natural areas in the States and here in the Sheka Forest, but it is more of an independent experience than the sacred sites found here. Pollution of the environment is pollution of one’s spirit, especially when destruction is not directly linked with need.

As I approach close to four months remaining in Ethiopia, I find myself hoping that people here in Sheka have the opportunity to move toward having access to necessary man-made structures like schools and health clinics, while still keeping their strong identity with the land not only intact, but flourishing. Because the forest is a classroom and honey is medicine, too.    

Small Clay Pots Hidden Beneath Skirts

Honey forms with the touch of man

because women don’t climb trees

Cloth forms with the thrust of man

because women cannot weave

They travel by foot as men with

their horses can leisurely speed


The home is their shadow hiding

stories of spices, flowers and herbs

They find themselves in savored dishes

and tucked behind tempting ears

Within the well worn mortar, waiting

for a cup of warmth


The young girls and old women are

left carrying the grasses for calves,

goats and sheep

Balancing wood for breaking daily fires

across backs forcibly made for this


The women, they have their strength

It is sometimes left hidden

In the ashes of the evenings’ fires,

like their small clay pots  

meant for washing each morning


It is sometimes left hidden

in places no man would go 

The pictures below are mostly from Sheka but a few are Supe, a town known for its potters (I believe the black & white pic is called Potter’s Children).  The photo with Emily is called “Teaching Beeswax Products”:


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