Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I'm sorry I haven't been keeping this blog up to date the past few weeks.  Some of the time I've been away from easy internet access, the cluster team has spent several days away visiting rural schools, and last week I was in Addis and Sodere for VSO's Annual Volunteer Conference.  But apart from that, I'm afraid I've been experiencing some writer's block, so tonight I'm exercising a little discipline and settling down to write a short update before I go to bed.

The trouble is that my workdays are really very routine, and although I like and get along well with my colleagues, it's not really the done thing for women to go out much at night. Not being one to do what's not done, I spend most of my evenings alone at home with very little social life (which isn't that much of a change).

The other trouble is that those things that might be of interest to you, and which weigh most heavily on me, I haven't quite figured out how to write about in a way that accurately reflects the reality.

Corporal punishment (if you can even call it that, as the term implies to me a greater degree of organization and forethought than that which often seems to exist in the treatment I'm observing) is very common in Ethiopia, at home and school. I find it difficult sometimes to interact with people in a friendly way after seeing them treat their children in a way that would certainly have merited a call to CAS at home. It's difficult to always give advice about alternative methods of discipline, especially as a childless person from Canada, the country where all children are well-fed, well-dressed and infinitely well-behaved.

A sick little girl I didn't know how to help. The constant waste of money and time. Sexual exploitation of women. These are the things that are touching me right now, and that I haven't quite figured out how to write about, let alone deal with.

The situation with Somalia seems relatively stable at the moment, at least from where I am in northern Ethiopia. The changes for me are that instead of being alone in the computer room at the college, it's full of people checking the latest news on the internet, and the conversation of my colleagues in the car to Werieleke this morning was atypically political.

Christmas in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is not for another two weeks. I celebrated ferenji (foreign) Christmas on Monday by inviting some of my colleagues over to my house for lunch cooked by me and mostly my maid (I have a maid who comes three mornings a week mostly to do laundry, but it was very convenient to have her help cooking Christmas dinner). It was vegetarian Ethiopian food. Of course I'm vegetarian but also it is the tradition of many Orthodox Christians here to "fast" for the thirty five days leading up to Christmas, and the fifty days leading up to Easter, and every Wednesday and Friday as well. "Fasting" generally means eating a vegan diet - no meat or animal products, although some people also don't eat in the mornings. Anyway, it was very nice, the food was good and I managed to download some Christmas music from the internet. As Ethiopia is home to a particular species of evergreen tree, I was able to decorate my home in a surprisingly homey, seasonal way.

I also had the help of my wonderful colleagues Abebe and Meresa who spent hours making Christmas decorations for my house.

The cluster team has decided to dedicate one to three days a week to visiting schools (in part because this is simply good practice, and in part because with our recent funding squeeze our trainings are postponed and we need to work with the teachers in some way). So we went to Werieleke today, and I'm tired but actually quite uplifted as most of the teachers we saw were the best we've seen so far, extremely motivated and hardworking, and effectively using many strategies to encourage active learning and real group work. They've taken things they've learned
from the workshop and added them to their existing skills. It was quite exciting to see, and a great start as we now have good teachers to videotape and send other teachers to observe.

I'll end on that happy note. Tomorrow night I'll try to battle the writer's block and fight the urge to play Freecell or curl up with Jane Austen's Emma (which I picked up from VSO's library after a lengthy deprivation of anything literary) and instead write some more, as there is more to write.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I wrote some time ago that there are no students at the College, but that fortunately this does not affect me as I am working with the inservice teachers in the school cluster programme. Unfortunately, it seems I spoke too soon. The absence of students has turned out to be a symptom of a greater reorganization at the Regional Education Bureau of Tigray – that institution which decides not only where grade ten finishers will go for teacher training, but also what each institute of higher education will teach. At present, although we are several months into what should be the current school year, it seems that the REB is trying to decide whether Adwa CTE should continue to be a teacher training college, and if so whether it should be First or Second Cycle, or whether we should instead become a campus under the new Axum University, due to open in January, or whether we should become a tourism and hospitality industry college.

Institutional disorganization is one of the most frustrating things about working in Ethiopia. Even before this problem became clear, I was beginning to dread running into Feseha (the dean), knowing that he would tell me that the BESO budget or TDP budget (aid agencies) for the cluster programme had changed and we had to do this, or couldn’t do that, or needed to plan for something new. Now, the bulk of our budget is frozen, as apparently the REB has not released any of the money that I think we were counting on, and won’t release it until they decide what to do with Adwa CTE. So when next weekend’s Model Classroom training is finished, our activities will be on hold – no more training. I don’t know what will happen if we become a tourism college; I don’t relish the thought of our beautiful model classroom being turned into a model hotel room. I am a bit worried that my one year or two debate may have become moot (indeed, I am a bit worried that it may not even be one year in Adwa, but I will wait and see what decisions the REB makes over the next few weeks before I panic).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

You know you’re out your depth when… At the end of the workshop on how to set up a model classroom, I ask the teachers to sketch their plans for their classrooms. When we came to this point in this weekend’s workshop with the teachers of Lalay Maychew and Tahay Maychew woredas (districts), about a third of the teachers had a slight problem - they have no classrooms. They’re teaching in what’s called a dass - under a tarp or a roof of sticks and leaves. I knew that such schools existed, but I was a little surprised by how many of them there are, and how many students and teachers are involved. And as I sat there talking to these young teachers, with as many as 62 grade ones and no walls or desks or books, trying to figure out if there’s anything they can do to improve their classrooms, I felt incredibly powerless.

I do think the training is effectively geared towards teaching with very limited materials and locally available resources, but it does carry the assumption that teachers will have a wall on which to post an alphabet and hang the paper pocket chart we give them, and perhaps the comfort of not being open to the wind all day.

I feel a little bit guilty that it’s been two months and I still haven’t seen any of these schools without buildings. I don’t think my colleagues have been too keen on visiting them - given how difficult it is to get to the rural schools that do have buildings, I’m not looking forward to the trip to these more isolated schools. Anyway, it has now been moved to the top of the list.

Even though their teaching situations are difficult, I found this group of teachers quite keen, like the Ahferom group. Last week’s workshop was for Adwa town and Geter Adwa teachers, and those teachers were much older and seemed to be much more resistant to change. The last Model Classroom workshop is next weekend, and then I will have met all of the teachers in our cluster programme.

In recent years, the government has made an effort to make education more accessible, which means building more schools in the rural areas so that children don’t have as far to go. In most cases now, children in rural areas have up to a 4 km walk to school, whereas in the past it would have been 8 to 10 km or more to the nearest school, and this would have been prohibitive for most children, especially those in the younger grades. But it seems that the budget only goes so far. Thus there are many new schools that don’t have proper buildings yet.

I went to Mekelle on Tuesday to Thursday for VSO’s workshop on Mainstreaming HIV/AIDS. It was nice to see the other Tigray Region volunteers and get away to the big city. The hotel was ridiculously expensive (by Ethiopian standards) and not cockroach free, but it was still nice to eat out and have ferenji food and coffee for a change. Two College staff were invited so we took one of the college cars. The college has three cars (and three drivers) and unfortunately the best two were in use, so we had to take the oldest car and driver. Wehab, the vice administrative dean, in describing why we were so late arriving in Mekelle, said “The car is old, and the driver is old too.” It probably doesn’t sound funny to you, but when it’s 7:30 at night, and you should have arrived by 6:00; there’s no light; you’re on a rocky, curvy mountain road; the car is lurching along doubtfully; and it’s just made contact with a cow; the calm understatedness of this explanation is rather overwhelming.

Anyway, although I didn’t think I complained too much (granted, I did make a noise of some surprise when, just after dark, the driver maintained speed and didn’t honk his horn as we drove into a herd of cows, who managed to meander out of the way in time for one to be merely grazed by the car; and perhaps once we arrived in Mekelle and limped along at about 5kph I wondered aloud whether this old car would be able to get back to Adwa), Wehab decided that our car was not suitable for a ferenji for the trip back. So he generously arranged for me to go back as far as Abi Adi in their college car. (Abi Adi is halfway between Adwa and Mekelle.) There are four VSOs in Abi Adi and three of them had come to the Mainstreaming workshop, plus several of their college staff. So in the Abi Adi car, we were ten: three in the front, four ferenjis in the middle, and three more staff and our bags in the little back seat. It was just a little tight. Anyway, the idea was nice, and it would have worked well had we left when we said we would at 7:00 in the morning. Unfortunately, we didn’t take into account the Abi Adi sense of time, and although they picked us up at the hotel just after 7:00, by the time we had picked up 100kg of teff, purchased many new car parts, experienced and repaired a blown tire (okay, that couldn’t have been predicted) and done a number of other mysterious tasks, it was 10:00. We arrived in Abi Adi at noon to find that the Adwa people had been waiting for me for two and a half hours.

I’ve been to Mekelle twice now, once by car and once by bus, and both times I’ve been sick after getting home. I don’t know if it’s breathing the fumes or the dust or if it’s some kind of low grade whiplash from the constant bouncing around. The view is nice, at least for the most part, but otherwise it is not a pleasant trip, and the experience does not add to my enthusiasm about visiting the rural schools.

So what about this HIV/AIDS conference? Well, it’s basically to encourage the college and the volunteer to mainstream HIV/AIDS within the college’s activities. The most useful, although most frustrating, part of the conference was just finding out from Wehab and Gibretensail, the HIV/AIDS focal person, what the state of HIV/AIDS programming is at the college. I and my co-VSOs were a bit shocked to hear about the Virgin Award. Apparently, last year the college awarded a prize to the 200 female students who were virgins. Out of 500 female students, 210 agreed to be examined at the hospital, and of these, 200 passed, and received a prize. Of course, although the students “consented” to the examination, it’s a forced consent, because it’s implicit that those who do not agree are not virgins. Secondly, the perpetuation of exams of this kind has been found to lead many girls to choose anal sex in order to preserve their hymens, which is problematic for many reasons, including greater risk of HIV transmission. Thirdly, rape and sexual assault are relatively common, especially when girls are on isolated rural practicums; so not only are the girls assaulted but then they are blamed for not being a virgin. And it promotes gender roles that women are expected to be virgins, but men are allowed to get away with anything, and I’m sorry to say that from my line of sight, it’s the behaviour of men that is behind most of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Anyway, if we ever get students (yes, we still have no students), the plan is to conduct this award process again. And I need to find a nice way to say that I think that this is counterproductive if the goal is to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission.

The state of the HIV/AIDS situation in Adwa is not completely clear to me. One of the first things that we will do under HIV/AIDS mainstreaming is survey the staff to find out their knowledge and attitudes about HIV/AIDS. I don’t believe it’s an overwhelming problem here, but I do know that it exists. Every once in a while, a relative of someone at the college has died, and when I’ve asked what they died of, the answer has been very mysterious, usually just that they were sick for a long time. I don’t know if this always means AIDS but I do think it often does. A few days ago I met a cousin of Furwaini’s who works as a nurse in the ART (anti-retroviral therapy) clinic at Adwa Hospital. It’s only a couple of months old and it’s relatively small as many people from the Adwa area are continuing to go to Mekelle and Addis for treatment in order to maintain their privacy. He seems to think, as I’m beginning to conclude on my own, that the big problem is unfaithful husbands, which means that there’s a double burden on a woman who is diagnosed with HIV. According to his sources, the HIV infection rate is around 6% in Adwa and the surrounding areas.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

One year or two? The decision doesn’t have to be made till around February but it is a constant question. Here are my pros and cons.

For staying:

Training weekends

School visits

I want to really know Ethiopia, and Adwa, and I’ll need more time to do this, and to adjust more fully

Coffee ceremony invitations, which always seem to include lunch

Children I barely know coming up to hold my hand

Mountain scenery

For going:

Being alone every night

A diet of white bread and shiro

Having to have a translator for all my workshops

Children I don’t know yelling “Money, money” at me

Not seeing Nicholas (my nephew) growing up

Training weekends / 7 day workweeks

Ethiopian English

Cockroaches and fleas (while my populations are more or less under control, there’s the constant fear of a resurgence)

Last weekend I was certain I would stay for two years, and this week I’ve been pulled towards one year. Nothing bad has happened; I just seem to be struck by a rather strong feeling of homesickness and tiredness. I know I’ll continue to bounce the decision round right up until it has to be made… Onto other news… macchiato and goiter.

The College has purchased two large espresso/macchiato machines, one for the Staff Lounge and one for the Student Lounge (we still have no students). Much of the College budget comes from aid programmes (USAID and TDP-Teacher Development Programme- from several EU countries), so I find it quite difficult not to question this purchase, especially when we can’t afford decent books for the cluster schools and we’ve just been told to scale down our English training for teachers. Maybe this isn’t fair, but I think an aid budget is different from a gift: it needs to have strings and responsibilities attached. Of course, I say this from the comfort of my shiny indoor bathroom home, rent paid by the College. Anyway, my conscience has yet to be tested on the macchiato issue, as nobody knows how to work the machine or read the instructions, so we’re still enjoying traditional coffee.

At the Ahferom workshop, I noticed that most of the women have a goiter. Apparently, soil erosion is contributing to iodine deficiency. The problem mostly affects rural people, and more so even in the south of Ethiopia than in Tigray. Goiter itself is essentially a cosmetic problem, but I understand that iodine deficiency is the number one cause of preventable mental retardation in children. There is iodized salt available in Adwa but in the rural areas it’s not usually accessible and people often don’t know the connection.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I had my first real training session on the weekend. It took place at Enticho Elementary School in the village of Enticho, for all the key teachers in the woreda of Ahferom. Many of the schools are very rural and very hard to get to. I realized what a skewed perspective I’ve gotten from the Adwa Town schools and even the more accessible rural schools that we’ve visited so far. In Enticho School, the walls of the classrooms are practically bare, although both key teachers do have charts of the Tigrigna alphabet which is good; the more rural schools have far less. The problem in Adwa Town is almost the opposite: they have received so much inappropriate material, and misdirected training, that the walls of some of the classrooms are covered in useless, confusing and misspelled charts.

The official class size limit for grades 1-4 is 50 children, and so far in Adwa Town I haven’t seen any class above 50 (at least not in grade 1 or 2, at which training is focused). So I was a bit surprised to find that at Enticho there are 70 children in grade 2 (51 in grade 1). As they were planning and sketching their classes I asked one of the teachers from one of the rural schools how many desks he had, and the answer was none. Apparently, some of the schools that don’t have desks have built raised benches out of clay right on the floor (like at the library at Bete Yohanis School, but in the classrooms), but not at this particular school… in some ways, it does make it a lot easier to set up your classroom when you have no furniture.

In Adwa Town, the problem is more that the teachers think they are doing active learning when they’re not, and they have all their tables in groups but some of the groups have 12 or 13 children in them, and they don’t do any group work anyway. In the rural areas, the teachers are fresh (as my Ethiopian colleagues would say), and although they seemed to struggle with some concepts, I think they enjoyed the training and are interested in trying out active learning strategies. The training we’re doing is called Model Classroom and it’s a topic that most Cluster programmes cover as standard; it’s basically about how to set up your classroom with materials that promote active learning. After visiting the Adwa Town schools I realized that we would have to focus on active learning strategies rather than materials, so that the teachers would really understand, and then hopefully be able to make informed decisions about what materials they need. This is especially important for the rural areas where there are very few materials provided at the schools. Teachers also need to recognize the simple materials around them and let students use these materials. While some teachers use bottle tops in their classes as counters, they’re only for the teacher to hold up to demonstrate. So one of the key points of the training is that in model classrooms you need simple locally available materials such as bottle tops and stones for students to use. The need for active learning, or some kind of improvement to mathematics teaching and understanding is obvious: although basic multiplication is on the grade 2 curriculum (children are 8 in grade 2), many teachers had a lot of trouble with the multiplication lesson I demonstrated. They may know their multiplication facts (although many don’t), but they don’t know what it means: one example of many is that several teachers at the Ahferom workshop, one of my training colleagues, and a Grade 8 Physics teacher have all used bottle tops to demonstrate multiplication as if it’s addition, eg.: 2 x 5 as (the asterisks represent bottle tops) ** x ***** .

Although teachers of grade 1 to 4 are expected to teach English (which is a very questionable expectation), most of the teachers at this training had extremely limited English (some probably about as much English as I have Tigrigna). Again, my expectations were based on the Adwa Town teachers, but after about the first five minutes it became very clear that I’d have to have one of my colleagues to translate everything I said. This certainly makes things a bit bumpier, but it was manageable.

There are a lot of complaints among administrators and college staff about the unmotivated teachers who won’t come to trainings unless you pay them a perdiem. And I was quite frustrated about this at first. However, what I’ve found at both the Pedagogical Centre Training and the Model Classroom Training is that there is perfect attendance (this is for 2 or 3 day workshops away from home!) – whether this is because of the perdiem or fear of consequences if you don’t attend or genuine interest I don’t know – the teachers are always enthusiastic and hard working, asking questions and spending their breaks visiting our model classroom and writing down ideas. Many of the teachers are quite young (probably all the men are very young, because they tend to climb the ranks as they get older; there are some older women, but the majority are probably under 25 and even under 20). The starting salary for a Grade 1 to 4 teacher is 400 Birr/month, and I think the maximum is about 900 Birr (compare this to my “volunteer” salary of 1200 Birr plus accommodation with no one to support other than myself).

We’re reducing the perdiem by providing most of the trainings for teachers at four different sites, like Enticho, instead of at the College, so that the teachers don’t have as far to come. This was the first Model Classroom Training so there are three more to go. I quite enjoyed it, and am looking forward to the one next weekend. It will be for Adwa Town and Geter Adwa teachers, so I think the level of experience and English will be a bit different than Ahferom, and than the last two training groups, so that will be interesting.

Probably the most frustrating part of the training was working with my two colleagues who are supposed to be Cluster trainers. Although I did most of the workshop, they did a couple of sessions and it was very obvious, not that I was surprised, that they had a lot of difficulty understanding active learning and how to plan a lesson that would help the teachers understand active learning. My problem is I had been tending to forget that part of my job is to train these colleagues, and I was becoming quite frustrated that they weren’t doing it properly. And my fear was that they would not be open to feedback. But today we spent most of the day together revising and replanning their parts of next week’s workshop, and although I’m not expecting perfection (I certainly can’t expect it from myself), I do think it was time well spent, and I think we all felt happier afterwards. (Unfortunately I have so much paper work and training manuals that I’m expected to write that spending a whole day away from my computer was a little unsettling, especially as I got so little work done last week because we had visitors from Abi Adi: both Jenny, VSO volunteer, and her habesha (Ethiopian) colleague were here to “experience share” about the Cluster Programme, which was actually extremely useful and it was nice to have a houseguest, but no Continuous Assessment Manual, or any other concrete product, was produced.)

Books and Money for Ethiopia!

The question has been asked, I think after I posted a picture of one of the school libraries, about whether you should send books. As the Christmas season is coming, and many people like to share their wealth at this time, I thought I would answer this question, and as usual, it’s in my complicated way.

If you’re interested in making a very large donation, it’s better not to send books because of the high cost of shipping. There are some organizations that will accept donations of money and will then buy books internally or in bulk for Ethiopia, including books in Amharic and other local languages, and I encourage you to explore such organizations.

If you would like to make a donation more generally, I continue to believe (perhaps it’s just that I read Stephen Lewis every night before I go to bed) that UNICEF is the organization most poised to make significant structural and systemic change for children in Africa. Finally, although I think I have pretty much reached the $2000 mark, you are certainly still welcome and encouraged to make donations to VSO, which I do believe is supporting good work in Ethiopia and the other countries in which volunteers work.

Finally, however, I came here with only three children’s books (Eric Carle) and I would like to have more books to share both with the children on my street and with my colleagues as samples of the kinds of materials we should seek out and promote. So if you’d like to send two or three books to Ethiopia, I will happily put them to use. In Adwa Town, we already have stacks of books - many of them never opened - about snowmen and other materials that are completely inappropriate and inaccessible for Ethiopian primary school children, so I’ve been trying to think of books I know that are likely to be interesting and relevant to young children in Adwa. Here are a few. You can probably think of more.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman

Planting a Rainbow and Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert

Aesop’s Fables

Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.

The Lorax and other books by Dr. Seuss

Counting books and math themed books

Children’s picture dictionary or word books

Children’s atlas

Nonfiction (there are some good books by Claire Llewellyn, especially those with an environmental theme)

Postscript: I’m sending this on Tuesday afternoon. We’ve just received some money to buy books for the satellite schools, and although it was surprisingly easy to convince my colleagues that we need to buy story books and information books rather than grammar books, our problem is that we can’t find any place that sells such books (in English or Tigrigna), and our funds are rather limited. I’ve just spent the whole afternoon visiting Adwa’s single bookstore and (slowly) scouring the internet, with limited success.

Monday, November 13, 2006

I’m writing this at lunch time and I have to rush to get back to work (I do get a 2 hour lunch break, which balances out my 7 day work week). I thought my laptop wasn’t working because the battery wouldn’t charge, but I think it was a problem with insufficient electrical current rather than the computer, as it’s okay now. I had to write Friday’s entry by hand and then type it in. The problem was that my stabilizer started to smoke last week and so I’m understandably afraid to use it. It happened as I was ironing my sheets. Ironing your sheets, you ask? Yes, since coming to this house, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing battle with fleas. I’ve been trying to outdo them through ironing (sheets, underwear, my mattress, my clothes ..... ) and very frequent laundry washing. However, shortly after the smoking stabilizer incident, I finally gave in and used bug spray. I’m not happy about it, but I believe I have had a few flea free nights since then, and it’s very nice (it’s hard to say for sure though, because flea bites seem to last for quite a while, not to mention the new bites that I get whenever I’m outside in the evening, or in my office, or Furwaini’s cat rubbing up against me ..... Anyway, if anyone has any insight into environmentally friendly solutions to the flea problem, I’d be happy to hear them, because although the battle may be won, I think this will be an ongoing problem.

We had the Pedagogical Centre Workers training on the weekend for teachers who also work in the pedagogical centre – making teaching aids and instructional materials for the school as there is no catalogue from which to order such things. Again, it was very frustrating to see that a lot of teachers had a lot of trouble recognizing what’s useful for active learning. Part of this is Abebe and Meresa’s problem too. What is the point of spending two hours carving fruit out of Styrofoam (granted, you’re reusing materials) to make a chart of healthy food when you could just draw them or have students bring in fruit and vegetables? So, this is my challenge.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I spent most of the week working on setting up the model classroom (a room at the College that’s supposed to look like a Primary classroom, more or less, where we do most of the teacher training). I enjoy this, and I do think it’s a very important training tool. Yet I feel a bit like it’s part of an imaginary model world that doesn’t have a lot of bearing on real people’s lives ..... I go to buy mats for the model classroom and we drive past a little boy who looks like he can hardly stay upright, pushing a cartload of something, and I do nothing. Was there anything I could do? I don’t know.

Most of the rural schools have shut down till early next week as all the children are helping their parents bring in the teff crop before it rains.

Anyway, the model classroom is now up and running. Even for the College instructors I think it will be useful in terms of building understanding of active learning, a term that’s much used but little understood. Working with Abebe and Meresa this week has been nice but frustrating. I don’t know how much they’re understanding when I say instructional materials need to be produced that can be used by students and for multiple purposes. They seem quite keen, but then the manual for the Pedagogical Centre Workers Training contains more of the same. So much material, time, money and learning opportunities have been wasted by Pedagogical Centre workers making useless materials, or things that the students could be making themselves.

In one of my brief forays onto the internet, I was reading on All Africa News that Ethiopia is expected to be one of the African countries hard hit by climate change – in fact it already is. You can’t escape climate change and environmental degradation anywhere you go. Even before I read the article I was thinking about it – the unseasonable rains that are wreaking havoc with farmers, the floods in the south of the country that have killed thousands, the soil erosion that even I can see on the drive to Mekelle. And as Western technologies and values and materials become more common here, the lack of infrastructure to support them is evident – there are batteries but no safe disposal system (although Abebe and Meresa tell me that they will take them apart and use the carbon (?) inside to make blackboard paint), same problem with the aerosol cans, and of course there’s no recycling of any kind for paper or other materials, although most people are a little more innovative about reusing them than we are in the west ( and pop is only sold in refillable glass bottles). There’s no system of composting so for those who live in cities and towns all those great vegetable scraps end up in the garbage.

It is very worrying that Ethiopia is building up many of the same practices that in the west have already led to global climate change and overuse of resources. And yet in the model classroom and in so much of teacher training, although the focus is on using locally available materials, it’s still on using materials: using more, having more paper, more things in your classroom. It’s only fair that children in developing countries should have as much access to teaching aids (and quality teaching) as elsewhere, and yet ..... there needs to be attention to the environment and to resources at the same time ..... probably in western schools as much or more than here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Allen, one of the VSOs from Abi Adi is visiting Adwa TTC this week to provide some training in writing newsletters on the computer. Abi Adi, Adwa and Mekelle are the three places in Tigray Region where there are currently VSO volunteers. Although Abi Adi is only a little more than half the size of Adwa, there are 3 (soon to be 4, then 3 again, then 2) VSOs at the Teachers’ College there. (I’m the only one in Adwa, although the TTC has submitted a request for an IT volunteer, who is desperately needed.) I haven’t visited Abi Adi yet. Allen says that there is no electricity until 5:00 in the afternoon. Again, I feel like I’m living a life of luxury here in Adwa.

It’s not that there’s not poverty, there is. But increasingly there are improvements to basic infrastructure like electricity. But relatedly, and most importantly, if you have enough money, which even as a volunteer I do, there’s decent housing to be had, and the food, although somewhat limited in variety, is nutritious and delicious (so much so that I’m becoming very worried that I’ll gain more weight in Ethiopia rather than lose it). The problem of course is that the majority of people in Adwa and especially in the rural areas don’t have the security of a decent, stable income. Some NGOs, especially the Catholic missions, as well as government programmes, provide food aid to people in and around Adwa, like both my maid and my guard. I don’t know whether people in the isolated rural areas receive food aid. Lately, there have been some heavy rains that were unexpected as the rainy season ended over a month ago and it’s now the time of harvesting teff. Almost everyone has been saying that this is very bad for the farmers as their harvested crops are likely to be ruined.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Whenever I introduce myself as being from Canada, invariably someone will tell me that they have a brother or sister there, usually in Ottawa or Toronto. In the case of Furwaini’s sisters, and I think in many cases, they have lived in Canada for a long time and are Canadian citizens, having left Ethiopia as refugees during the time of the Derg.

I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies in this brief summary of recent Ethiopian history. The Derg was the communist government that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 and held power until 1991. I believe the same Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, has been in power ever since then.

In general the Derg regime was not a pleasant time. In Tigray Region and Eritrea (which was then part of Ethiopia) there was unrest and agitation for independence, which the government responded to with military repression and, during the droughts of the early 1980s, with the withholding of food aid. The effect was the infamous Ethiopian famines of 1984.

The current government is relatively and generally stable (except for the 100 000 soldiers killed in the war with Eritrea, ongoing conflict in Beneshangul Gumuz and Gambella Regions, repression of Somalis in Somali Region and last year’s protests over election irregularities; still all these issues have remained isolated and contained and Ethiopia as a whole is enjoying relatively stability, compared to its history and compared to many African countries). However, it has taken people some time to adjust to the stability and freedom: for example, during the Derg Regime, people could not travel within the country, and it’s only in recent years that people are starting to feel comfortable enough to travel and visit historical sites within Ethiopia.

In Canada, U.S., Australia, England, and many Arab countries, there are significant populations of Ethiopians who left as refugees during the Derg Regime, and because Tigray was one of the areas most badly treated by the Derg, many of them are from the Tigray region. The positive (I think) effect that’s been felt in the past few years is that now that things are stable in Ethiopia, some of these people are returning to places like Adwa and Mekelle to invest their money and build high-end homes.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Today I was invited to my colleague Tigistu’s house for lunch and coffee ceremony. I’m starting to get used to it, but it is still awkward and a bit unsettling: at least every time I’ve been invited to someone’s house so far, the wife serves the food and then prepares coffee while the husband and the guests eat, and she doesn’t eat until the guests have left. Men and women are always saying, as if it’s some kind of religious exhortation, that only women can prepare food.

People recognize that girls don’t do as well at school because they have so many responsibilities at home, and yet, even among those who recognize this, it doesn’t seem as if much is done to change it even within their own homes.

Our first training took place yesterday for school directors (principals) and woreda supervisors. Again, on the subject of gender, there were seven women out of about 80 directors and supervisors. Although low, this was more than I had expected based on my school visits; it seems that the women directors are all in the rural areas. Tomorrow we will meet to evaluate how the training went, which should be interesting as I am recognizing that my definition of active learning and the definition that Tigistu is following are quite different.

I’m finding that it’s a constant struggle between expressing my opinion and holding back in the recognition that this isn’t my country or my culture, I don’t understand everything and millions of successes have been achieved before me. This morning, I participated in a workshop on setting standards for primary teachers, and I was constantly struggling with this. I tried to just watch and let my group do their thing, but somehow my mouth just kept opening.

I’m afraid that sometimes people think I’m right and they’re wrong simply because I’m ferenji from a developed country, which I think does more harm than anything else, but sometimes I do feel like I’m right. In fact, the worst thing is that sometimes I think I’m right and they’re wrong.

Other times, I think people just pretend to agree with me to be polite to the ferenji, but then they go ahead and do what they want to do anyway.

There were two other workshops at the college yesterday in addition to the supervision training. This was the busiest the college has been since I’ve been here, and from the smell of things, it was a bit of a strain on the latrines. The college has not been too busy so far, because there are no students. What? you say. Yes, students are assigned to colleges centrally by the Regional Education Office in Mekelle, and for some reason, although the school year should have started about a month ago, students have not yet been assigned. At other colleges, the second and third year students have already started, but because Adwa TTC used to be a one-year certificate institution for First Cycle teachers it doesn’t have any second and third years. If the new students ever arrive, which I keep hearing will be “next week”, Adwa will be changing over to a three-year diploma programme for Second Cycle teachers. Fortunately for me, my job involves in-service teachers so I am not really affected by any of this.

Anyway I know this blog/journal has been a little bit scattered and rambly. So I will take it as a sign and put myself to bed.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yesterday we visited Tsion Elementary School. I walked into the classroom and wondered if I had landed in the wrong country. There was a carpet on the floor and children were sitting on it. This was the first class I had seen with such a thing. We stayed to observe the lesson. With each student-centred moment, I was in a constant state of anxiety – would the teacher suddenly break into a lecture? But the entire lesson, albeit a rather simple Tigrinya alphabet identification and printing lesson, was student-centred active learning. (Words which I’ve heard more times here than ever at home, but this was the first time I’d seen them truly put into practice.) There was teacher modeling, group work, whole class practice, individual practice and ongoing assessment and correction. The teacher was patient and thorough, the children were engaged and talkative. And for us who complain about class sizes, it seems you can use a student-centred approach in a class of 45 grade ones!

The principal of this school had visited the town of Dessie last year, and brought back these great ideas and has begun to put them into practice. The cluster training programme at Dessie is about 6 years old, and it has been extremely successful, acting as a centre of excellence for primary education in Ethiopia. Would that we can be as successful here!

Many of you have asked about how the actual teacher training is going, and the disappointing answer is that it has not really started yet. … My actual title is Cluster Coordinator (not Trainer as I was told before I arrived), and while some training did take place last year, there were some difficulties with the organization and implementation. So myself and my co-coordinator, Tigistu, have been spending a fair bit of time visiting schools and conducting needs assessments and preparing and revising the annual plan. The first training, for school directors (principals) and woreda supervisors (woredas are like districts) will be this weekend, but Tigistu will be leading most of this training and my role is relatively minor. I will be doing Model Classroom trainings for teachers in a few weeks – how to set up your classroom for active learning, followed by trainings on Planning and Assessing and various subject-specific trainings. I will also be doing ELIP (English Language Improvement Programme) for teachers from Adwa Town schools every week starting in a couple of weeks. Right now, I’m keeping busy preparing for these things, and also providing ELIP for the academic staff at the TTC. It really seems like it takes a lot of time to do every little thing, and it’s also taken Tigistu and me a long time to get on the same page, which has been a bit trying for both of us.

In Ethiopia, the class size for First Cycle (grades 1 to 4) is meant to be under 50, and in most cases, especially in the urban/semi-urban places like Adwa, this seems to be respected. In rural areas, it’s a little bit more difficult. First Cycle teachers have had a Grade 10 education plus one year of teacher training. For Second Cycle (grades 5 to 8) teachers have Grade 10 plus 3 years and for secondary school, teachers have Grade 12 plus additional training. There is some flexibility here because there’s a shortage of teachers, so, for example, a teacher only trained for First Cycle may end up teaching Second Cycle. Teachers are generally not well-respected and of course, the First Cycle teachers are at the bottom of the barrel; most of them are teachers because they did not do well enough in the Grade 10 exams to go on to Grade 11; the best ones are trying to upgrade so they can move up and out of the First Cycle. When I tell people that I teach Grade One at home, I always feel like I have to add that primary school teachers are respected in Canada and that all teachers have a university degree.

One of the curious things about the education system here is that despite having a serious lack of respect for teachers, the expectations for them are, sometimes, unreasonably high. First Cycle teachers are expected to teach all the subjects, including Tigrinya (or the local language for the region), Amharic and English. This means that while many teachers can hardly speak English themselves, they are expected to teach it… well enough that by Grade 9 students are supposed to be so proficient in English that all subjects are taught in it. As if this wasn’t unreasonable enough (I’ve talked to Adwa teenagers and adults in English…it’s unreasonable!), the high schools have now been taken over by plasma.

What is plasma? Plasma underlines the fact that poverty in Ethiopia, and Africa in general, has far less to do with lack of money than with the way it is spent. In the past couple of years, millions of dollars have been spent equipping every high school classroom with a giant television screen (they call this plasma) and preparing video lessons for every single day of every class. Except for the screen the classrooms are practically bare. In theory, plasma might sound promising, high-tech, multi-media. In actual fact, teachers leave the classroom while the plasma is on, don’t use the teacher’s guide, don’t have the teacher’s guide, play three lessons at once, and provide no feedback or support for students.

And again, while in some ways the expectations are high for teachers, they’re so unreasonable that I think there is no real expectation that teachers will actually achieve them. A big example of this is that although all teachers are paid to teach a full day, they teach in shifts and only actually stay at school for their shift. It is very difficult to get teachers to work in any capacity or even engage in training outside of their shift, even though they are paid to be at work for the whole day. Granted, their working conditions are difficult and their pay is low, but it seems strange to have institutionalized a system where teachers are not doing what they are paid to do.

This is one of the difficulties that the cluster programme faces in providing training. Many teachers are resistant to coming to trainings unless they are paid a per diem, even if there are no real expenses for the per diem to cover, or if the training is taking place during their free shift, when they should be working. In Dessie, they have managed to overcome this but it has taken several years to create a culture where learning is recognized as a purpose in itself. In addition, for the rural schools, it is necessary to conduct trainings on the weekends as it is impossible for teachers to get to a training centre school and back to their school within a day because the schools are so isolated and far apart, and most teachers are traveling several hours by foot.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I’m in a perpetual time and date fog, and it’s a very good thing the computer knows the date. The Ethiopian calendar is not the same as the calendar used in much of the western world. In the Ethiopian calendar it’s the 14th of Timkut, 1999. The system of telling time is also unique with 6:00 am being 12:00 in the morning, noon being 6:00, and the system starting again in the evening with 6:00 pm being 12:00 and 7:00 pm being 1:00. It’s relatively easy to get used to adding or subtracting 6 to tell the time. The trouble is in remembering to check whether it is Ethiopian time or European time, as some people, especially those who spend a lot of time with westerners like me, tend to switch between the two. It’s very easy to be invited for a meal at 6:00 and then wonder if you’re supposed to show up at lunchtime or dinnertime.

I went to Mekelle over the weekend. It was a holiday on Monday for Eid. It was strange to me that everyone took the day off even though hardly anyone here is Muslim; although the country as a whole is at least 30% Muslim. Ethiopians pride themselves of recognizing and honouring each others’ religious practices.

The bus ride to Mekelle takes about 7 hours, which is all about the condition of the roads and of the buses, as you could probably do it in less than four hours. I stayed with Jane and Geoff, a British VSO couple a bit younger than my parents. Mekelle is the regional capital of Tigray and it’s a very different place than Adwa. After beginning to think that Adwa is reasonably advanced, it was a shock to compare it to Mekelle. With only about double the population, it has all the amenities that Adwa doesn’t have: paved roads, bakeries, an incredible number of stores selling everything you’ll need – kitchen supplies, electronics, jewelry, that cheese wrapped in tinfoil – elegant hotels, cultural restaurants, sidewalks, and a bit of a European flavour; also a university (with 60 international professors), a hospital, and a school for the blind (apparently NOT a pleasant place).

There are 7 VSOs in Mekelle, as well as several volunteers through other organizations. We met an American family with four children. The husband is teaching Veterinary Science at the university and the wife is home-schooling the children, aged 5 to 11, one of whom is an Ethiopian boy they adopted. There’s a relatively large handful of expats that I’ve run into or heard about who have children with them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

One of the many difficulties in accessing the internet
in Ethiopia is that dial-up here is way too slow for
the Blog programme I had planned to use, and for many
reasons it's taken me a long time to sort something
else out. At last, I'm halfway there! To see my
pictures, please go to

I'll try to send or upload my blogs in the next few
If you've emailed me and I haven't gotten back to you
yet, I'm sorry. I will try to do so soon. It's just
that it can take up to half an hour to access and
reply to one email, and that's when the internet is
working at all. But I'd still love to hear from you.

Thanks for your patience,

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I don't know if it's accurate to say I'm adapting to life in Adwa. I think that really adapting takes a long time. But I am beginning to feel like this is my life, that my old life has been replaced at least for now, by this one. In very many ways, it's a nice life, not too different from the one back home. It underlines the fact that if you have money, Ethiopia is a nice place to live. And in Adwa Town, a town of about 60 000 people, there are most basic amenities - electricity (granted, it's out today, so this letter will end when my laptop battery runs out), running water, fairly modern buildings, supermarkets (okay, you would need about 40 "supermarkets" to fill one Loblaws, but my basic needs are met). My home, provided by the Teacher Training College is very nice and ridiculously big. I have running water, a hot water heater for the shower, a gas stove, a mini fridge, nice curtains, etc. My office at the TTC is similarly well-appointed, and I was thinking the other day that it would be easy to forget where I am.

Adwa is in Tigray Region, and is the home town of Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The President and many other government members also come from Tigray Region. So, it's probably not surprising that Tigray has received considerable amounts of government aid in recent years, leading to greater investment, construction projects, road-building, new schools, etc. I haven't been anywhere other than Addis yet, but from what I've heard, the standard of living here is likely a little higher than it is elsewhere.

This is not to say that life is easy in Adwa. It's easy for me, and for the little middle class. But there's still a large proportion of the population even in Adwa Town who are struggling. I would guess that most children's growth is stunted to some degree. There is HIV/AIDS. Some of the schools are in very bad shape construction wise. Most people walk everywhere they go.

The majority of the population of Ethiopia (85%) lives in the rural areas. I got a taste of this last week when we visited two of the over 50 schools that we are meant to service that are in rural areas. Even in Tigray, rural means poor. The schools in the rural areas are very hard to reach. The roads are not roads. Most children need to walk several hours to get to school, and often don't go to school because they're needed to help on the farm. The children are often small, although when I visited a Grade 3 class I was surprised by how big the children were, until I realized that most of them were well into the double digits, as a result of starting school late, and repeated failures.

My computer's beeping and wants to be recharged.

I went for a walk and came back to find that the power was back on. It's very hard, with my easy life, to get enough exercise. I live less than five minutes walk from the College, so I don't get exercise walking to work. I'm not sure if I'll ever feel comfortable going running here, with the dogs and everyone staring at me anyway. And of course, there's no gym or anything of the sort. So I'm trying to go for a walk everyday. Sometimes it's hard to make myself go out, knowing that I'm going to be faced with calls of "Ferenji", "Money, Money" and considerable broken English. But at least on my own street, this seems to be getting a bit better as the people get used to seeing me.

What I had wanted to say is that there are a lot of very good things about Ethiopia, some of which are unique and others of which are common to many developing countries. Fresh, unprocessed food; a slower pace of life; an active life; friendliness and neighbourliness and the security they bring so that it's safe for children to play in the street; children being considered responsible contributing members of the family; coffee ceremony; clean air; low traffic; pink mountains; fields of teff; religious harmony among Muslims and Orthodox Christians; almost no TV; everyday exercise; fasting days when everything is vegetarian.

How do you raise the standard of living and at the same time preserve the good qualities of Ethiopian life? I've been thinking, for example, of the roads to the rural areas. If they were improved and the rural areas opened up, which I know would take years, what will be the impact on traffic, air quality, farming, HIV/AIDS transmission rates, the slow pace of life? Would the faults of our Western lifestyle be replicated here? Or what is the ultimate impact of improvements to the education system, or of increasing access to electricity and communication technologies?

But more than 15% of children die before they reach their fifth birthday. Do the costs of poverty outweigh any costs of development? Can development happen without all its negative consequences?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Still writing at home.

I am working for the Adwa Teacher Training College as In-Service Cluster Coordinator. The Cluster programme is being established throughout Ethiopia and is basically a cascade model where schools are geographically grouped into clusters; training is provided to Key Teachers at these schools, and these teachers are meant to share their what they've learned with their colleagues. Adwa TTC is responsible for training First Cycle teachers (Primary - Grades 1 to 4) for 9 schools in the town of Adwa and over 50 schools in the surrounding rural areas.

Over the past few days, I've been meeting with my training colleagues/counterparts at the College to try and sort out our plans for training for this year. It has been a bit of a frustrating process for all of us, but I think finally we're converging towards a common understanding. Patience and willingness to change have been exercised on both sides.

Yesterday we visited two schools in and around Adwa. Cluster training started last year, and the results were quite impressive. In almost all the classes we visited, it was obvious that the teachers were trying to put the students into groups instead of rows, the walls were decorated with charts, and there was a hint of active learning. Ademalekah School in Adwa Town was particularly nice; Bete Yohanis School on the outskirts was admittedly quite rundown and the classrooms were very dark and small, but even so the teachers and students appeared keen, and all the classrooms we visited were striving to be model classrooms. (Model classroom is the name given to classrooms that are set up and decorated in a way that's meant to support active learning. I'll write more on this soon, but I'm beginning to suspect that many classes are adopting the trappings of model classrooms but are finding it harder to adopt the actual principles of active or student-centred learning.)

Today we decided to combine a visit to Axum, the historical centre of the Aksum/Axum Empire, with a visit to two rural schools that were meant to be on the way. Up until now, if I've been surprised it's been more because the level of development was greater than I expected. Today, that changed. I'm beginning to get a sense of what rural means, and the huge difference between life in rural and urban or even semi-urban communities. The two schools we visited today are not the most isolated and yet, after leaving the main road, it took us close to an hour to get to each school, navigating narrow, rocky trails through bush, mountain and even over a stream. We only made it because we had a four-wheel drive, and because our driver is amazing. The roads are probably easier to travel by foot than by car, and I'm not sure we could drive it at all during the rainy season. My head is still jiggling from the drive through those mountain roads. Now that I've had a glimpse of rural roads, I'm feeling a bit of dread about all those schools we have to reach.

At one school (I can’t remember the name right now), the teachers have to walk from Axum, at least a one and a half hour walk each way. At Maiwoney School, there's a teacher's residence on the school site which is good especially because many of the teachers are very young and are often not from the local area; and if they lived in Axum it would take hours to walk to school. I took a picture of the home shared by two of the male teachers. It's a single room the size of a small bedroom, with two stone beds built into the wall, and it serves as storage, dining room and bedroom for two. I don't think there was electricity in the rooms, at any rate it was very dim. Even by the standards of my Ethiopian colleagues, this home was quite small; I'm not sure if the picture I took accurately reflects its size and misery. The teachers were friendly and kind anyway.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Friday evening, I'm writing on my offline laptop at home, in the hope that someday, somehow, I will be able to make an internet connection that is fast enough to set up my blog. This internet situation, along with the phone situation (I don't have one) is more frustrating than I had expected. Adwa has had internet access for about two months (it's very slow dial-up - there are only a handful of places in the country that have anything other than dial-up). If I haven't responded to your emails yet, it's because it takes about 10 minutes to get into my email, another ten to open one message, another ten to get the reply screen and another ten to send the reply. This may sound like an exaggeration, but in fact, it's more likely an underestimate. But please do keep the emails coming. I am quite desperate to stay connected to the rest of the world, and will manage it somehow.

I arrived in Adwa on Wednesday and was picked up at the airport by Fiseha, the dean of Adwa Teacher Training College (TTC). The drive through the mountainous countryside from Axum to Adwa was very beautiful, and I can't wait to do it again soon. My landlady greeted us with the traditional coffee ceremony. This was a celebratory ceremony with flowers strewn on the floor, but the regular coffee ceremony with incense and often popcorn is a part of the day for most people. Over about ten minutes, the raw coffee beans are roasted and then ground and filtered. At coffee shops you can have coffee with milk, which is heaven, but at coffee ceremony it's just a tiny cup of very strong coffee with lots of sugar, which is starting to grow on me. Ethiopia is the place where coffee originated, and it really is the best coffee and I've been sucked in - from being a very irregular coffee drinker to one or two (tiny but strong) cups a day.

My accommodations are very nice. My landlady has provided housing for many of the international volunteers (VSO and other) at the college. It's less than a five minute walk to the TTC. Extremely large, the top two floors of a three floor building, my landlady, her son and her cousin living on the first floor, it's typical African meets Western (spacious, sparse and secure). It's quite luxurious with a shower with electric water heater, a full gas cooker (of which I have a rather irrational fear), and typical lacy flowery bed covers, and, so I'm not lonely, cockroaches - a small cockroach population is to my mind unavoidable and more a sign of life than of dirt, and fortunately due to the slight altitude, they're the medium-sized variety. It's very noisy with dogs barking and mysterious doors shutting all night; probably not worse than the streetcars on Kingston Road, I just need to get used to it. My landlady, Furwaini, is very nice and has been very helpful. Her brothers and sisters are all Canadian citizens living in Ottawa. Her English is pretty good, which doesn't help my Tigrinya but probably does help my sanity. She's helped me hire a maid, which is kind of expected, and also rather necessary for things like laundry which is of course more time-consuming than throwing it in the machine. I also have a guard, more for employment-generating than security purposes, as the broken glass-topped stone fence and gate are quite effective, and Adwa really is a safe place.

In contrast to Addis, where the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict almost seemed like a non-issue, here there are signs of it everywhere. Furwaini's husband is Eritrean and he was taken away by force about six years ago, I think before her son was born, and she hasn't heard from him since. (Her siblings in Canada contacted his family in Eritrea and they haven't heard from him either. No one knows if he is in prison or what). One of the College drivers was living in Eritrea until the war and then was forcibly repatriated along with his Eritrean wife. Last night we went to dinner at the Holiday Hotel and met men from the UNMEE (UN Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea) whose task it is to demine the border areas. They were working on Mount Soleda, the small mountain that overlooks Adwa, for the past couple of days. They travel around the border areas on both sides, spending a few days demining in each place. They were saying that conditions in Eritrea are not good, worse than here. The roads in Eritrea are worse than here (!) and so there are still a lot of landmines left over from the war. Here, most of the old landmines have been collected, but for some mysterious reason, new ones are still appearing, so they need to continue to revisit old places. The UNMEE men were all African, two or three white men from South Africa, one man from Mozambique and another from I'm not sure, maybe Kenya.

Adwa is a biggish town, bigger than I had expected after everyone (Ethiopians and volunteers) had warned me of how remote and isolate it is. The road from Axum is gravel, but once you get to Adwa there's one main paved road and the rest of the roads are gravel, some not very good. (I don't know if it's for job security or what but Ethiopian drivers seem to need to demonstrate that they can negotiate the most challenging, questionable feats of driving, driving through narrow alleyways, negotiating potholes, and swerving around construction sites, in order to drop a person off directly in front of their door instead of letting them walk ten extra steps.) There are not too many cars, and most are four-wheel drives belonging to institutions or businesses or the UN, rather than to individuals. Instead of cars, there are quite a few horse-drawn carts, and of course donkeys for carrying smaller loads. Most animals - cows, goats and sheep - look reasonably healthy, but the horses, at least those I've seen so far, are very miserable looking.

Like Addis, there are small huts next to great compounds like mine. There is poverty, but what I'e seen so far doesn't seem too severe. Most of the children look reasonably healthy, even if their clothing might leave something to be desired. And the children are really nice. In Addis, the children on the street, those who needed money, those who didn't, and even children who were barely old enough to walk, always had their hands out for money. Here, there was some of that in the central area yesterday, but today I met a lot of children on my way to and from work who just wanted to meet the ferenji (foreigner) and were very friendly and sweet, shaking and holding my hand and practicing their English. I haven't had time to walk around very much yet, and I really have been feeling a bit anxious about this because, as irrational as it may be, I hate being stared at and called ferenji and asked for money, but people, both children and adults have been very friendly, and I have gotten a little braver about saying Selaam (Hello) and Dehan deha/dehee (How are you?) so I'm feeling a little more comfortable, although I know the staring will always happen. Tomorrow is Market Day and Furwaini is going to go with me as it's my first time, so that will help.

It's a lot hotter here than Addis, and it can be quite tiring during the midday. Also, there are sometimes a lot of flies. Honestly, when Westerners see pictures of African children with flies crawling on them, it's true that there's severe poverty and disease, but the fact of the matter is, if you swish one fly away, another one's just going to take its place.

If you've made it this far, thanks so much for putting up with my rambling. I really do want to hear from you, especially if you have any questions, things you want to know more about, or things I've poorly explained, or if you have words of wisdom that will help me be a little more patient. Also, one thing I'm starting to discover is that what I think one minute, or one day, in a new culture and especially a developing country, will change the next minute, or the next day. With love from Ethiopia, Rebecca

Monday, October 02, 2006

I'm nearing the end of my time in Addis and I wanted to show you some pictures of Addis and write a bit more about it before I head off to Adwa. In Addis for the in-country training, I’m a bit of a tourist and I find it hard to take pictures I’m happy with. Taking pictures of people I don’t know is not always safe or respectful, especially when I’m ultimately using the picture to show how poor their country is. And also, because I don’t know them there may be a context to the picture that’s getting lost. At any rate there are a few pictures here that I hope will show you a bit about Addis; and for what it’s worth, the children gave their permission to have their pictures taken.
Last weekend we took a little hike up Mount Entoto, the small mountain peak overlooking Addis Ababa. You can see a picture that shows a part of Addis. It's a huge city of about 4 million people. Because most buildings are relatively low - not more than six or seven stories - it's very spread out. Addis is not very high - only about 2000 metres, but the altitude has still been felt by many of us, and we took the climb pretty slowly. It was a good chance to get out of the city and breathe some fresh air. Because diesel is cheap, almost all vehicles in Addis run on it, and there’s constant fumes and haze. As we’re ferenji (foreigners), a little group of boys excitedly accompanied us up the mountain; once up there another cluster of children watched us with curiosity. I took pictures of both groups, and I’m sure you can see a difference between the two - the one group hamming it up for the camera and the other group possibly not knowing what a camera was. The real extremes of poverty and luxury in Addis are actually much greater.
I'm also including pictures of the Meskel Celebration, and bonfire lighting at our hotel, on September 26. My birthday was celebrated twice, flowing into the Meskel Celebration. Meskel is one of those unique Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrations; it's supposed to honour the finding of the true cross, and that's about all I know. We went to a huge gathering at Meskel Square, and the performances were amazing.
You'll also see pictures of the view from the British Council office in the centre of Addis. I didn't get any pictures of the goats, sheep, donkeys and cows that are pastured in empty lots and highway medians and herded throughout the city, but they are numerous. You will see a picture of an aluminum crate. These are found throughout the city and are slept in by one or two people or even whole families. They are a step up from sleeping under a tarp.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I wanted to show you some pictures of Addis and write a bit more about it before I head off to Adwa. In Addis for the in-country training, I'm a bit of a tourist and I find it hard to take pictures I'm happy with. I don't like taking pictures of people I don't know; especially when I'm ultimately using the picture to show how poor their country is. And also, because I don't know them there may be a context to the picture that's getting lost. At any rate there are a few pictures here that I hope will show you a bit about Addis; and for what it's worth, the children gave their permission to have their pictures taken.

We took a little hike up Mount Entoto, the small mountain peak overlooking Addis Ababa. Addis is not very high - only about 2000 metres, but the altitude has still been felt by many of us, and we took it pretty slowly. It was a good chance to get out of the city and breathe some fresh air. Because diesel is cheap, almost all vehicles in Addis run on it, and there's constant fumes and haze. As we're ferenji (foreigners), a little group of boys excitedly accompanied us up the mountain; once up there another cluster of children watched us with curiosity. I took pictures of both groups, and I'm sure you can see a difference in the income level between the two, and the real extremes are actually much greater.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Well, I'm finally here in Ethiopia, as a volunteer
teacher trainer with VSO. I'll be here in Addis Ababa
for in-country training till about the 3rd or 4th of
October before going off to Adwa, Tigray region which
will be home for the next year.

The internet at the VSO office in Addis is quite
terrible, so I haven't sorted out my big blog yet but
I'm hoping that I'll be able to do this in the next
few weeks, and then you'll be able to enjoy some
pictures and more news from Ethiopia.

Addis is definitely a
city of contradictions. There are highways and some
nice buildings, including the very modern NGO building
where VSO holds the in-country training (it doesn't
belong to VSO; they're not quite so liberal with their
spending). There are Lexuses and high-end restaurants,
and the British Embassy is ridiculously posh. Then,
there are shacks the size of a small bathroom, beside
ordinary looking houses, beside more shacks, and
ramshackle shops. There are pack mules carrying goods
along main streets, and herds of goats and sheep
grazing in the city. There are people dressed in rags,
and people dressed in the most current fashions. There
are hungry people begging - mostly mothers and small
elderly and disabled people. It’s hard and strange to
walk past mothers begging for food and not give them
anything. (I do sometimes, but not all the time.)

It's the end of the rainy season, and because of the
altitude in Addis, it's actually quite cold. You do
see the sun every day though, even if only for a short
time. Today, it started out quite warm and nice, and
then around noon, the heaviest, loudest rain I've ever
seen started pouring down, along with intense thunder,
and now it's clear again.

I'm looking forward to going up to Adwa and getting
settled there. I will be the only VSO volunteer in
Adwa but I've met all the volunteers who will be in
Mekelle, the nearest big town, and they are very nice
and it's only a couple of hours bus ride away, along
pretty decent roads. My house in Adwa is apparently
quite nice and quite large, with running water etc.
(So, if you are planning a trip to Ethiopia there will
be a room for you in Adwa!)

For those who have been following the great condo
saga, it's finally sold!

Monday, September 11, 2006

4 days to go! The anticipation, and the panic, are mounting.

This is a test-blog to make sure it works. (I've never had a blog before; it's almost as exciting as the trip itself!) I plan to update it while I'm in Addis for two weeks of in-country training. Unfortunately, I've received mixed reports about internet access in Adwa so I can't guarantee regular updates once I get there.

If you haven't yet made a donation to VSO Canada, and would like to, you can do so online by clicking on Donate to VSO Canada. Thanks!

These are the books I'm bringing with me, if I can fit them in:

The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid isn't Working by Robert Calderisi
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis
The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith