Laura Harrington ('05)
How would you describe Bonga?
Bonga is a small city set in a jungle. There are banana trees and coffee trees everywhere and it's very green and stunningly beautiful with a permanently moderate temperature. I see rural women carrying half a forest on their back and walking barefoot daily. None of the streets are paved or cobblestoned, so public transportation is very limited. This is only problematic during the three-month rainy season when we walk ankle-deep in mud. Bonga was just added to UNESCO's Biosphere Reserve to preserve the cloud forest, which is bringing a lot of environmental conservation focus to our beautiful jungle.
How is the Ethiopian culture different than ours?
In the Ethiopian culture, it would be impolite to not stop to greet and shake hands with someone you know, or at the very least yell a greeting at them from afar. The culture here is very social, and stopping to drink coffee or, as it's called in Amharic, "buna," with friends is a frequent occurrence every day whether you are busy with meetings and work or not.
Does anything in Ethiopia remind you of Texas?
In the future, ecotourism in Bonga will have a trail-riding component. I'm helping train tour guides who will need to know how to take care of horses and most importantly how to interact with tourists and have them ride horses safely. As a stereotypical Texan, I grew up as a member of 4-H and competed in barrel racing, reining, working cow horse and cutting horse events. So, I am able to share my horse experience with the tour guides and promote ecotourism.
What are some of the challenges you face?
I am very recognizable since there are few foreigners who come to town and stay for longer than a few months, so living in a "fishbowl" environment can be difficult. And illnesses are common for volunteers. We all tell each other medical stories and laugh as we try to "one up" each other.
Why did you choose to study art?
Painting is the only thing I ever considered doing as a major. I always knew that's where my passion was and decided that would be my best major. I selected anthropology as a minor because I'm interested in people, different cultures, learning about others and being open-minded.
What were some of your most memorable experiences at UNT?
I liked to listen to all my music major friends sing karaoke, listen to music on Fry Street, and drink a lot of coffee and talk about art. I also loved to play billiards and won a few competitions.
What do you see yourself doing after the Peace Corps?
My next step is to finish getting my alternative teaching certificate to teach middle school or high school art.