Lizzie Pelz, an LGBTQ+ volunteer, served in Ethiopia from 2012 to 2014. While her experience is not the same as all LGBTQ+ PCVs, we talk about going back into the closet, finding support, and the difficulties faced while serving in the Peace Corps.
On this Episode:
- Working as a health volunteer to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission
- Serving as an LGBTQ volunteer
- The view of homosexuality in Ethiopia
Photos from Lizzie’s Story
Lizzie’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served as a Community Health/HIV volunteer in Maychew in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. My projects had an HIV/AIDS and/or reproductive health focus since my town had a higher burden compared to other parts of the country and unintended pregnancy was one of the highest in the region. I was awarded a PEPFAR grant to improve the Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission programs at one of two health centers in town and it resulted in a significant increase in the number of women who gave birth at the health center rather than at home. I also facilitated bi-weekly HIV and safe sex education sessions at two local schools in collaboration with the health centers and participated in two summer camps and two collaborative Peace Corps Ethiopia HIV/AIDS projects called TigrayTrek282 and TigrayTrek242.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
Celebrating Timket (The Epiphany), an Ethiopian Orthodox holiday, in my town. Both years were amazing. The first year two other volunteers visited me and we hiked one of the mountains on the edge of my town and then watched the parade through the streets the next day on the roof of one of the cafes. The next year, I partied in the streets with the oldest daughter in my compound and we followed the procession to the side of a mountain where men were doing Raya wrestling, so named because I lived in the Raya area of Tigray and learned the Raya dialect. My town was known in Tigray for having an especially beautiful Timket.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
When a teenage boy slapped me in the face. A group of people had to separate the two of us because I was fuming.
What do you miss about the Peace Corps?
I miss the beautiful Ethiopian landscape, especially the mountains around my town and bonding with people over the best homemade coffee in the world. Few things are as heavenly as Ethiopian coffee-boiled in a jebena (spherical clay pitcher)- not the already roasted stuff that is imported and shelved at Starbucks.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
I learned that as I take space, I need to make space. To try my best to create enabling environments in which others can voice their opinions, concerns and needs. We all go into many situations with a savior complex thinking we know what’s best for others, but meeting others where they are at, learning from them where they want and discussing ways to get there is much more effective.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?
አይዞኺ (ayzohi) meaning “Stay strong” when speaking to a female. I was told this phrase often and it would get frustrating at times, but it’s perfect for those particularly difficult moments when there is nothing else good to say.
More from Lizzie’s Story:
- Her new podcast, Sex Intersectional: https://soundcloud.com/sexintersectional
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Returned Peace Corps Volunteers