Sunday, December 23, 2007

It seems harder and harder to keep this blog up to date, partly because of the great difficulty of uploading to it, but also because I guess the novelty of life in Ethiopia is fading. Life is just life, most of the time.

I’ve been very busy lately. The cluster unit is running very smoothly this year but we have a packed schedule with at least two workshops, usually at rural schools, every week. We leave at 6 in the morning and are back by about 7 in the evening, and between the bumpy road and the workshopping, I’m usually pretty wiped out. Fortunately, my cluster colleagues, Meressa (same as last year) and Berhana who is a new addition to the cluster unit – and it’s good to have a woman on the cluster unit!- are starting to take on more and more responsibility. At first Meressa was just translating for me, but now both he and Berhana are leading many sessions themselves, and a couple of times have led the whole workshop. We’ve all been learning so much from working together, and it really does look like the cluster unit is becoming more and more self-sustaining.

My mom came for a much anticipated visit in October and November, bringing with her a much-needed taste of home (literally as well as figuratively, as her bags were packed with chocolate, nuts and brown rice, mmmm!). We spent some time in Addis Abeba and then traveled through the tourist areas of Bahir Dar, Gondar and Lalibela (perhaps the most famous place in Ethiopia, where I got so sick I didn’t see any of the underground churches). The hardest part of the trip was perhaps the begging, especially for my mom, who isn’t used to this kind of poverty – in the tourist centers, it’s hard to walk down the street without being overwhelmed by beggars, some of them desperately poor and others looking for a ferenji to take advantage of.

A highlight was our visit to the village of Awramba, where the traditional Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity has given way to a secular society that believes in hard work and equality. I don’t know if it would work on a large scale, but on the village level, it meant a simple clean village with a school and a library and a home where the elderly are taken care of. All members of the community work as weavers, producing beautiful fabrics and blankets that they sell to visitors. Hunger and begging are unknown.

After our travels, my mom stayed in Adwa for about three weeks, where she had a chance to get to know my colleagues and friends here, see what work I do here, enjoy numerous invitations for lunch and coffee ceremony, and especially help out in the Kindergarten where I think she got to know some of the children and the teachers quite well.

The Inclusive Kindergarten is bouncing along fairly well. I try to squeeze in time to visit and work with the teachers as often as I can between workshops, meetings and school visits. But on a day to day basis, the teachers are managing excellently. Would that I could be so comfortable and confident and yet so ready to learn and improve! The children are making great progress, underlining the importance, especially for children with special needs, of coming to school. Recently, I went to Adwa hospital (2 part-time doctors in a hospital serving an area with a population of at least 80 000!) with a group of Kindergarten children for a check-up, and while we were waiting, I watched some children play with Samuel, who is Deaf and has very limited vision, by bouncing their hands on his arm and waving their hands in the little area where they knew he could see. Samuel was laughing and smiling to no end. Of course, for most young children, inclusion is natural, but I think the Kindergarten has helped the children learn how to play with Samuel in ways that are meaningful to him, and therefore to keep up their interest in connecting with him. Samuel has become so much more responsive and interested in interacting with others.

There are two new volunteers in Axum and one in Adwa, so I’m no longer the only English-speaking ferenji in Adwa. It's a nice change to have someone who’s missing the same things I am, and to have company once in a while.

I will be coming back to Toronto after two years here. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do with myself when I get back, but it does look like I’ll make it through to the end of the two years.

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