A Pale Pilgrim

I stand facing myself in the mirror and carefully envelop my head and shoulders in a large white scarf, a natala. I watch as the other females in my house do the same, and in this single action we have become united in a vision of modesty and piety. Just as the burkas mark out the Muslim women in Gerba, out natalas tell the village that we are heading to Orthodox Church this evening.

Suddenly, I become a little less ferenjii. I am wearing a skirt to the floor, and my arms are completely hidden, save for my hands. The increased whiteness of my appearance is now artificial, and somehow it cancels out how naturally pale I am. People don’t seem to notice that a white person is waiting for a bajaj; all they see now is another Orthodox Christian, standing in the evening air with her family.

When we reach Sabian, we melt into a stream of white-covered heads flowing into Gabriel Church. It seems to me like a harbour, into which floods a multitude of these pale pilgrims who know they are safe inside its walls. We take our seat on the ground near the door, as the Church garden is overflowing with the faithful. Some have come from Addis and beyond for this celebration of St Gabriel.

Floating on the white ocean that envelops me are thousands of glowing boats, given off by lit tapers. The overall impression of white starred with gold and orange is beautiful, and it is difficult to resist the feelings of calm and peacefulness that begin to descend.

The service itself is given in Amharic, which I have not mastered beyond 105 words, and these are insufficient for me to understand what is happening. I rely on surges of thunderous applause and ululations from the assembled mass to tell me that the priest is performing his duty appropriately.

I reflect that perhaps I am not really here for appropriate reasons. I have come because I know that for the next two hours, I am allowed to exist peacefully inside my own thoughts. I muse that in a past life, I would have made a good Quaker. I arrange jumbled thoughts into neat packages. I forgive the people who made me angry or upset during the week. And I surprise myself my asking whatever force there is in the universe, be it fate or divine spirit, to continue looking after me and the people I care about until we are together again.

A sudden movement and rustling followed by searching for discarded flip flops tells me that it is time for our little family to go. We slip out unnoticed; the most faithful were here long before us and will remain long after we leave.

My host mother distributes bread she spent the afternoon making to the poor, the elderly and the disabled, who have gathered along the church walls. They rely on this charity to receive some food, and I am glad that I can be part of that.

The rain begins, and we run to find a bajaj. It transpires that a natala is insufficient protection from the elements, however effective it is at deflecting  unwanted stares. We return home soaked to the bone, but refreshed.

I will always be grateful for the opportunity to join in my host family’s spiritual life. Although I do not claim to have found something I was looking for, or to have become devoutly religious, I have appreciated the time for quiet contemplation. I intend to continue having 2 or 3 hours of peaceful time when I get back to Scotland, because I genuinely believe it’s improved my emotional wellbeing. And every time I close my eyes, I will remember those golden boats bobbing on a still white sea inside the walls of Gabriel Church.

 

Goat.

Dehna Meehhhhhhhhhhhhh?

(Goat pun – clever).

Finally, here we have the long awaited blog post about Stanley.

Some of you already know Stanley’s true identity: he’s a goat. Or, to be grammatically correct, he was a goat. On Saturday, we ate Stanley, and he is now frolicking in the big goat garden in the sky, with all the other little headless beasts.

Let the following act as his biography as well as his obituary.

Three weekends ago, there was a knock at our compound door; it was very early for visitors (around 7am). When we opened the door, my host grandpa Mekonnen was standing in front of a contract bajaj. Inside the bajaj was a goat. The goat was handed over to my dad, Dawit, and Mekonnen returned to his own home. I later learned that Stanley originally entered the bajaj with one other goat, which we ate for lunch at my grandparent’s that very day.

I knew from the beginning that Stanley was only going to be a temporary guest in our home. I tried not to get attached to him. I tried to avoid mentally naming him. I promise. But I come from a culture where we anthropomorphise animals, give them personalities and voices, and I’m afraid that the ferenjii part of my brain won over the habesha part, and before you knew it, we had an athsmatic goat called Stanley.

Athsmatic?

That one came from the hacking cough that I would hear occasionally while eating lunch or drinking coffee. He was either athsmatic or smoking 40 a day – either way, the cough became part of his character.

I lived in morbid fascination of this goat and when he was going to die for the rest of the week. The atmosphere (in my head, at least), was electric. Every night I came home expecting to find him dead. This, however, did not come to pass for a long time.

Stanley survived Weekend 1: we ate his travelling partner instead.

Stanley survived Weekend 2: Dawit had business affairs to attend to, and wasn’t around long enough to help with the preparation.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be third time lucky.

At 6.45 on Saturday morning, my host mum, Mesai, burst into my bedroom and woke me with:

“Laaaaauuuurraaa! Come on outside! We are going to kill the goat!”

It’s not often that I get that kind of thing shouted at me.

Having never been to an execution before, I was unsure exactly what the protocol was in terms of dress. Everybody else was in their pyjamas. I decided to follow suit. However, it was incredibly important to me that before I went outside I should brush my teeth. I wanted to send Stanley off with fresh breath.

When I walked out of the house into the compound, Mesai’s brother, Kennedy, and Dawit were erecting gallows against one wall. Stanley was tied under a tree, having spent his last night as a free goat in the comfort and luxury of the dog house. I took my seat on a step opposite the noose and tried to be brave.

Dawit and Kennedy took Stanley from under the tree and laid him on his side. I saw Kennedy pick up the knife (I’d been listening to him sharpening it while brushing my teeth), and that’s when I turned away. I heard a gurgling scream, and then there was silence. When I looked around, the legs were kicking, but the lights were out.

Amazingly, Temar, my 4 year old sister, had managed to sleep through all of this noise and commotion. I say ‘amazingly’ because she had been very excited about killing the goat, and I was surprised that she missed it. The step I was sitting on belonged to the room that Temar was sleeping in, and at that moment, she was face-down starfished on a mattress, completely oblivious to what was going on outside.

Back to the scene of the crime: Kennedy had begun to very carefully remove the skin. It was mesmerising to watch him carefully peel it all off in one piece, without ever breaking the skin or puncturing the flesh. He then hung Stanley’s body upside down from the gallows and removed the entire hide, along with the head, which he wrapped in the skin and put to one side while he began working on the butchery.

This is when Temar woke up.

Still sitting on my step outside her bedroom, I was suddenly aware of a warm thing leaning on my back. I moved the warm thing onto my knee, and it put its arms around my neck and rested its cheek on mine.

‘Good morning dimbet.’

‘GmmmngLaura.’

Dimbet, or ‘child of mouse’ is what we call Temar when she is in the state of all dreamers upon waking; somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, and reality and imagination. She was warm and soft and sleepy, and needed a hug to wake up properly.

Meanwhile, Kennedy was disembowling the goat. It was a contradiction of Roald Dahl proportions.

Out came the stomach. The liver. The kidneys. The intestines. All of them were thoroughly cleaned and put into a bowl to wait for their preparation in the kitchen. Kennedy removed the four legs, the ribs and the spine, and put these into a separate container. And it was done quietly, respectfully and without fuss. It was a noble end for an athsmatic goat.

Temar, meanwhile, had found the heart in the bowl of offal, and was running around the compound shrieking with glee and showing it to everyone. In about 10 minutes, she’d gone from a sleepy dimbet back to her usual self, and was enjoying being covered in goat blood and terrorising me with the heart of Stanley.

By 9.30, we were eating Stanley for breakfast. We made part of him into tibs, which are very small pieces of meat fried with onion, garlic and chillies and eaten with either bread or injera. I hate to admit it, but Stanley was a damn tasty goat.

Almost as soon as breakfast was over, we started preparing for lunch. We were serving Stanley Three Ways: roasted with onion, tomato and leeks; the offal cooked together with lemon and chilli; and for the Ethiopians only, the sirloin of the goat eaten raw with spices. I’ve never had stomach (a.k.a. tripe) before now, but cooked together with kidney and liver, it was actually really delicious. Mesai says the secret is to boil it with salt and lemon first, and cook it chopped into tiny pieces so it doesn’t go chewy.

Lunch came and went, and again, I felt guilty about how good the goat tasted.

It’s ridiculous that I feel bad about eating a goat, but I really do. And every time I open the fridge to get some water, there are the mortal remains of Stanley looking back at me. They are almost holy relics. This is what happens when you take someone who has never seen anyone kill an animal and drop them in a DIY culture. In some respects, the experience was far less shocking than I thought it would be. I had hyped the event up so much in my head that I was expecting Quentin Tarantino levels of blood, awful smells, and lots of tears. In reality, there was a swift death, controlled bleeding and hygienic disposal of unpleasantries. And although I am sad that Stanley had to die, I am glad to know that the end was so respectful. I’ve seen where my food comes from – literally – and it’s made me value it so much more. I’m going to stick to my moral-high-ground guns when I get home, and continue to support farmers who rear their animals well, and kill them humanely.

I’ve discovered that you can taste respect in food – and it’s delicious.

The next post will be my final entry from African soil. This week is my final one at placement, and next week is time for goodbyes, celebrations and lots of emotions. Thank you so much for following this little endeavour so far; all the comments and the readership stats (people are reading this in The Philippines and Malta?!) have encouraged me to keep plugging away at this project. I don’t claim that any of this is a great work of art (pfft – did you read this entry?), but I’m proud of how much I’ve learned, and that sometimes I am able to explain what I’m feeling in a way that contents me.

To close:

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Stanley the goat. You are forever in our hearts, while your heart is temporarily in my stomach.

This Is Not Another Charity Appeal

Hey!

You!

Hey!

Youyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyou!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Who? Me?

 

I promised a more appropriate greeting, so there we have it. You’d be amazed how many times I’ve been met by a chorus of the above when I get out of my morning bajaj at Siedo (while I’m trying to pick my way through the donkeys, camels and charcoal sellers to get to the main road).

Last week I said we would discuss Stanley. Well, the Stanley storyline is now definitely running on Ethiopia time, so I’m afraid we’ll have to extend that cliffhanger for another week. And maybe another week after that.

This time

, I thought we’d discuss one of the issues that has obsessed all of us since we arrived in Dire Dawa – HIV. And I apologise. It’s another monster of an entry.

Like the development and sustainability posts, I’ve been thinking about this one for a long time, and whether it’s even my place to comment on it. My view is that since I’ve set out to record all of my observations (and please remember that these are only my observations, not judgements, criticisms or complaints), I also should be recording anything that I spend time thinking about. And by that, I mean topics I chew over when work is a little slow; things I wish I understood better; issues that keep me awake a little longer than normal at night time, or any problem that there is no magical fix for. My two main topics of pondering are development and sustainability, but in the last few weeks, I’ve added HIV to my list of problems-that-one-Laura-alone-cannot-solve.

Before I launch into this, I’d just like to make an upfront confession, which I’m not proud of, but which a lot of people back home will probably identify with. Sitting their British living room, watching TV, the average person will be bombarded with numerous adverts from Christian Aid, Oxfam, Save the Children and co., asking the viewer to make a donation to their charity, working in developing countries. The subject matter is usually a child who is starving, dying of malaria, covered in flies, and only has one living relative – these adverts are designed to provoke an emotional knee-jerk reaction. But, like your average person in the UK, my reaction is usually to roll my eyes. If there are a group of people watching TV together and an appeal comes on, one of these sentences is almost guaranteed to be said:

–          I feel bad for these children in the advert – why is nobody else helping them?

–          I give to so many charities already – I really can’t afford to donate to another one.

–          There are thousands of children in the UK who need help and support, but we never hear about them.

–          Why is the government of Country X not looking after its own citizens?

Even my 91 year old granny has commented on these adverts:

“We’ve been giving money to save the African weans since I was a wee lassie, and it’s still not solved the problem.”

(Scottish dictionary: weans – children; wee – little; lassie – girl)

The woman’s got a good point. And it’s the main reason why these charity advertisements annoy so many people at home. We give so much money to developing countries, both personally from our own salaries, and collectively from national taxes, but the problem is still on-going. Why do we continue to send money overseas (some would say pointlessly), particularly in a recession?

(I’ve already discussed the giving-people-money thing. I’m not going into it again here. If you missed it, just follow the link.)

So what is going through my mind on a deeper level when one of these adverts comes on? Well, probably one of the following:

–          Is it really my responsibility, as a resident of the UK, to hand over my hard-earned wages to a nameless, faceless child in a country I’ve never even heard of, via a charity that is probably going to siphon off a percentage for itself? Flip the situation round the other way: have you ever heard of an African foundation that provides support to vulnerable children in the UK? (And readers in the developing world, there are plenty of OVCs in the UK, please believe me.)

–          Will my money even get to the kids who need it, or are a stream of corrupt bureaucrats going to take a cut for their own pockets first?

–          This advert is a guilt trip, pure and simple. It’s targeting me because I’m sitting in relative luxury, watching this one-armed Mongolian orphan (who needs surgery to remove a tail) starve on TV. And the charity knows that I’m from a capitalist culture, where you can make a problem or undesirable situation ‘disappear’ by throwing money at it. And the charity also knows that donating money will make me feel good, so I’m likely to do it again and again. I won’t be donating because it’s the morally correct thing to do. I’d be donating because of the self-gratification. (But that doesn’t matter because the charity makes its money.)

At this stage, I need to take a break and make something clear in case you are a resident of a developing country reading this and becoming offended. The situation in the UK regarding charities who advertise like this is entirely different to the situation in (from my own experience) Dire Dawa. In Dire Dawa, that charity/NGO is visible. It’s a brick and mortar building in the community, and its representatives are working for the benefit of the people. But in the UK, we only ever see the fundraising side of that charity. So while I drive past the Save the Children offices in Dire Dawa, where their employees implement projects, the Save the Children offices in the UK basically exist to fund their overseas interventions. They aren’t actively working in the UK – just collecting money. To all intents and purposes, we are throwing our money into a big hole; we never actually see the improvements our money makes. We just keep getting asked for more.

In my opinion, British people are suffering from charity fatigue. We see so many awareness campaigns, so many pleas to save orphans, so many TV programmes about poor water quality, that it’s become counterproductive. We’re numb to it (just as I’m now becoming numb to the beggars I walk past every day en route to work – I see them so much that it doesn’t shock me as it once did.) We are overwhelmed by cries for help from charities in the developing world, and because the majority are on TV, we simply switch it off. If I can’t see it, it’s not my problem. (See the point I made about how we hide homeless people, ill people and orphans in the development post.)

I’ve gone off on this tangent for two purposes.

  1. UK readers: I want you to react to this differently than you would react to an HIV charity appeal. I know you hear about it all the time. I know you have an image of Africa (fed to you by the media) of a place where everyone has AIDS. I also know I promised you a post about Stanley, but you haven’t got it yet – you got the serious post a week in advance (sorry). Keep reading. I promise I won’t make you feel guilty.  And I’m not going to ask you for any money.
  2. Dire Dawa/Ethiopia readers: You probably don’t want me to talk about the HIV issue in your country, because then people in the UK might get the wrong idea about Ethiopia. Please rest assured – my blog posts celebrate Ethiopia. I’ve told people what a wonderful place this is, and how amazing the people are (and that they should come and visit because I genuinely think Ethiopia is good for the soul). The thing is that there are a lot of people in the UK who want to know about HIV in Ethiopia – they want to know if the problem is being resolved, who is working to support you, and how they can help your country. The people of Great Britain care. A lot of people in my country have invested a lot of money in charities that work your country, and it’s only fair to give them the straight up, honest picture of what I’ve seen, rather than the sensationalised one we get in the media. Believe me when I say I’ll be clearing up a lot of misconceptions in the course of this blog post.

So how am I going to get the apathetic British readers to engage with HIV? Well…

I’m in the very fortunate position of working in an NGO that receives a huge amount of its HIV/AIDS funding from the UK, from charities like Ethiopia Aid and Comic Relief (yes, the one with the big BBC TV night every other year. The one with the red noses. The one you go to school in your pyjamas to raise money for. That Comic Relief.) I can therefore speak honestly about where your donations go, about the people that they help, and the amazing things that the money has accomplished. JeCCDO works with OVCs (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) who are affected by HIV. Some of the stories break my heart. Some of them give me hope for the future. All of them are true. And being here and speaking to the HIV positive people makes it so much more real, and makes me care so much more than one thousand Oxfam campaigns ever could.

I’ll be using three recent JeCCDO ‘case stories’ to give you a broad idea of how HIV impacts the lives of people here, and how they use the funding they receive. I’ve changed all the names to European names to protect privacy, as HIV is a massive stigma here, and people keep their positive status to themselves. I should also mention that the VSO volunteers working at JeCCDO have met all of the people I’m about to talk about. You can’t switch off a TV if the person is standing in front of. And you don’t even begin to understand HIV and its effect on people until you look into the eyes of an HIV positive child and see nothing but shame.

I hope these little stories begin to paint a picture of where some of those Red Nose Day donations go, and the work that your £1 or £2 does.

Ben is 16 years old, and is an orphan. Both of his parents died after suffering from AIDS, and left him and his sister as orphans. His elder sister is also HIV positive, but she is entirely dependent on extended family, and cannot look after Ben. Sometimes, the owner of a shop takes Ben in to offer him food and somewhere to sleep, but this is not guaranteed, and Ben often has to sleep on the street and starve. JeCCDO has been supporting Ben for a number of years, covering the costs of his Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART), which is the medicine he takes to control the HIV. However, Ben became very depressed, and essentially lost the will to live. He stopped taking his ART, and his organs went into shock as a result. He ended up in hospital with 50% paralysis to his body, and required physiotherapy and counselling. JeCCDO also covered all of the costs associated with Ben’s hospitalisation, and sent visitors from the organisation to keep his spirits up. Last week, we heard that Ben was able to stand for the first time, and was going to be discharged from hospital very soon.  This is amazing news, and shows just how important supporting HIV positive patients is – without the visits, counselling and emotional healing that JeCCDO worked on with Ben, I seriously doubt if he’d ever have taken those first steps. But of course, we don’t know what is going to happen once he leaves hospital. He still has nowhere safe to go every night. He will still be separated from his sister most of the time, and he misses her very much. And he will still struggle every day to come to terms with the illness that is part of his life.

Daniel is also 16 years old, HIV positive and an AIDS orphan. He lives with his older sister in a small house. Unlike Ben’s sister, Daniel’s sister does not have HIV, and she’s able to provide all the basic necessities for him. When Daniel grows up, his dream is to become an engineer, but he’s worried that his status as HIV positive might mean that some opportunities are closed to him. We visited Daniel and his sister in their home, and got the chance to speak to him about his dreams for the future. When we arrived, he was very quiet, very withdrawn and was embarrassed that we knew about his condition. But as soon as all the volunteers gave him a massive hug and a huge smile, his face lit up, and he was a changed boy. Because there is so much stigma surrounding HIV here (nobody at Daniel’s school knows about his HIV, and only a very few people outside his family do), there is an assumption that people will judge him. Our visit with JeCCDO to Daniel’s was a chance for him to see that not everybody is close-minded, that we know that we can’t get HIV just through hugging him, and that we believe he can achieve anything he sets his mind to. Alongside regular visits to Daniel, such as the one described here, JeCCDO pay for his ART, and financially support his sister to ensure that the little family can stay together.

The final little story from placement is a bit less positive, but it’s important that we talk about it, because it shows how HIV and AIDS can cripple an entire family.

JeCCDO carry out a programme of housing renovation, where people who live in dilapidated houses are given the opportunity to have their living standards vastly improved – holes in walls and ceilings are repaired, new staircases installed, ceiling heights raised and interior and exterior wall coverings refreshed. Malcolm, 71, lived in incredibly poor quality accommodation (little more than a pile of rubble with sheeting over the top) with 6 of his family members. JeCCDO began work on Malcolm’s house when he was quite unwell (due to AIDS), and unfortunately Malcolm passed away before the renovation was finished. He left behind a family who are ridden with HIV. One daughter had previously died as a result of the condition and left a son of 2, George. George is also HIV positive. He is cared for by his 21 year old aunt, Becky, who also suffers from the condition. The family is currently in a period of formal mourning for Malcolm, and so are not allowed to work during this time. Their main means of generating money – picking up wood and sticks to sell as firewood – is not at all profitable, and they are very poor. JeCCDO is not the only organisation working with the family. Their church, the community at large, and a number of educational and HIV-focussed NGOs are also supporting them, to ensure that they have enough food, water and basic supplies to be able to survive. Where the government would intervene with Benefits in the UK, in Dire Dawa, the strong community takes the slack and looks after its own, and I find that incredibly inspiring and very moving. What Malcolm’s children and grandchild lack in material possessions, they own in terms of love, and how much they are valued in the community.

JeCCDO is also intervening in the community in other ways. It sets up HIV Awareness clubs in its partner schools, organises and facilitates community learning meetings for young people (who are most at risk of catching HIV), and invests huge amounts of time and effort into training volunteer community development officers, who have the job of visiting the children that the organisation supports.

Thanks to ART, HIV is no longer life reducing illness it once was, and the majority of HIV positive people can go on to lead a relatively normal existence. But put yourself in the shoes of children like Ben and Daniel, who have already watched both parents go through the agonies of final-stage AIDS. They have seen the people they love the most in the world become slowly weaker and weaker until they simply waste away, and they know that the same disease waits for them in the future. The ART simply buys them more time. It does not cure them. As a 16 year old, having HIV must feel like a death sentence. The best that we can do for these children and young people is give them all the support, confidence and hope that we can until a cure can be found. If a child with HIV wants to go to university and be an engineer, nothing should stop them. They have every right to participate and every right to succeed. NGOs like JeCCDO use the money we send from the UK to give kids a second chance at life, and surely that’s worth buying a couple of red noses for.

Your Comic Relief money is genuinely changing the lives of children here – from all of us, thank you so much.

A Lot of Learning

Yo homies!

 

I’m running out of Amharic greetings. I promise the next post will begin more appropriately.

This isn’t the post I planned to upload for this week, but the subject matter of the post I wanted to write is still to draw to a conclusion, so I need to wait for that to happen first. I promise that you’ll enjoy the next one immensely.

This entry is a little bit reflective, and I suppose, marks the beginning of the end. This is Week 9. We finish placements at the end of Week 11. And we leave the community in Week 12. I want to make sure that the last three weeks aren’t a complete tear-fest, so we’ll have one soppy post this week, a funny one next week, and hopefully something interesting the week after that, before the inevitable mental breakdown that will happen in the last week.

I’ve been taking stock of a lot of things recently, and something that finally occurred to me is just how much I’ve learned here. I started thinking about the academic/intellectual learning in the post on sustainability, but here I’ll be discussing the emotional and internal learning that I’ve been doing. And first, I’d like to thank the Ethiopians, who have taught me the following big things.

–          Be proud of your country. Ethiopians are extremely patriotic, and they have every right to be. Ethiopia is the cradle of civilisation, gets name-dropped in the Bible, has its own language, culture and alphabet, and there are 13 months of sunshine. It’s a very convincing argument for the title of ‘best country in the world’. Us Brits are less passionate about our country. Our economy is gubbed, Scotland and Wales keep trying to make a break for it, our politicians are pompous twits and the weather is terrible. But there are awesome things about the UK too. BBQs where it rains but you keep cooking because ‘we’re British’. Street parties. Bunting. Our rolling hills and brooding moors. The literary heritage. Knights and castles. Our love of animals. Stiff upper lips. The twisted sense of humour. Long nights in summer. The Glaswegian ‘taps aff’ thermometer.

–          Make time for family and friends, and you’ll feel richer than if you spent the time working instead. Truer words were never spoken. The only thing that saddens me is the knowledge that I am heading back to a culture where this does not apply. In the UK, we schedule family time as if it were a meeting at work. We kill ourselves working long hours with the excuse that ‘I can retire early and spend time with the family’. It’s never going to be worth it. Step back, look at how you want your life to be, and change it for the better.

–          Cultural dress isn’t just for special occasions. Less to do with clothing choices, and more to do with celebrating your culture. Everyone celebrates being Ethiopian – my counterpart, Mehret, has a set of rings in the colour of the Ethiopian flag that she wears every day with matching bracelets. Brits: pay attention! Wear your kilt more often. Embrace your inner Morris dancer. Venerate the leek. Celebrate the shamrock.

–          Relax. Try it. Accept what you cannot change, take a deep breath, and move on. It’s good for you.

–          Mean what you say. Here, if someone asks ‘how are you?’, they genuinely mean it. It’s lovely. And people will remember every conversation you have had together long after you have forgotten. Tedi the bajaj driver saw me for the first time in a long time recently, and he said ‘it’s been one month and 2 days since I last drove you in my bajaj’. People care. That thing that the British are really good at doing, the putting on a veneer of politeness-when-you-are-dying-on-the-inside does not work here. If you say yes just ‘to be polite’, people will genuinely think you mean ‘yes’. Because if you meant ‘no’, you’d just have come right out and said it. Simple.

–          Every day can be a pyjama day. Sheetees are the single greatest invention known to man. I get told off if I don’t put mine on when I get home. You only have to get dressed if you are leaving the house, otherwise be comfortable. Makes a lot of sense.

Profound learning, I think. And many things that have highlighted how unhealthy my lifestyle in Scotland is. I genuinely believe that the quality of life here is much better – people keep their family and friends close, have time for reflection, eat well, support one another in the community, and focus on living a good life. It’s being the best person you can be because you have to enjoy the time you have. I’ve come to realise a lot of things by myself too. Here are some of them.

–          UK culture is unfortunately ingrained in my psyche, and I can’t get rid of it. I have to be on time. I hate waiting with no explanation. I like timetabled transport. I expect work to be stressful (it doesn’t have to be).

–          I will never make a good teacher. For the record, children in classroom situations stress me out.

–          I should care more about the people who matter and less about the people who don’t. This experience has sharpened the importance of family and friends, while also highlighting how personally I take everything. If someone is being a tool, they aren’t worth they time it’s taken you to think about them.

–          My own space is very important. People, people, people all the time stress me out. I’m a complete introvert. I need to be able to close the door, experience silence, and recharge my batteries alone.

–          The importance of a complete picture. Ethiopians are very positive. Brits are very negative. Either one in isolation is completely unproductive. You need to be realistic. No situation is ever completely perfect. No situation is ever completely hopeless.

–          International development is a good place for a Laura to be. I’ve never been more challenged in my life than I have been here, but I love it.

–          My education is not for me. It is for other people. What is the point in a sustainable development degree if you’re not going to use it for the right reasons? I’ve got the basic tools I need for the future, and I’ll add to them in the coming year. And then I’m going to build something lasting with those tools. I placed too much emphasis on getting the piece of paper and not enough on how to use the knowledge it took to get it.

–          I’ve detoxed my life. I refuse to go back to being a doormat when I touchdown on Scottish soil. If something upsets me, I’ll deal with it. If someone treats me without common courtesy, I’ll want to know why. After being here, I feel like a much more straightforward person, and I want to keep surrounding myself with what-you-see-is-what-you-get people (one of the many reasons why I love Ethiopians). I don’t have time for on-off, hot-cold, I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on stuff or people. I’ve detoxed my life. And I want to keep it that way.

–          I’m far more trusting than I ever thought I could be. You’ll be living with strangers. OK. You won’t know anyone. No problem. What if you have to go home in a powercut? I’ll be fine. The ‘panic face’ that has dominated the last few years of my life hasn’t surfaced once since I’ve been here. I feel content. I can look after myself. I’ve opened up to the possibility of accepting strangers as my family, just as they’ve accepted me, and I’m so much happier for it. I think I was quite cold and closed before I came here – I’m starting to thaw out.

–          I’m a stronger person than I ever realised. I’ve barely recognised myself in the last 6 months. I chucked my job, travelled all over the UK, had numerous injections without batting an eyelid, raised over £2000 in a month, flown thousands of miles away to live in a new place with strangers, and signed up for a law degree. A year ago, I was sleeping til 10 and complaining about having to get a bus to go to Tesco for shopping. From who knows where, I’ve had the kick up the rear that I needed, and I still date it to that early morning yoghurt incident in Marks and Spencer. Sometimes you have to face the thing you fear the most to get to where you want to be. For me, that was graduating and feeling like I’d failed – no job, no money, no direction. Knowing I’d let myself down drove me to take the action I did. I don’t know exactly what the future holds post-VSO, but I know that I’ll reach out and grab all the opportunities I get from now on.

Beka.

Before I wrap this one up, here’s some of the things that made me smile this week.

–          Blossom Hotel has the most INCREDIBLE mis-types in its menu. My favourites are:

  • Pasta mina lazy (pasta Milanese)
  • Chicken with suited vegetable (sauted vegetables)
  • Farmer wife steak (is the steak from a cow? Or is it from the farmer’s wife?)
  • Gordon Blue (chicken cordon bleu)

–          Suddenly realising that instead of wearing helmets to ride motorcycles, everyone uses construction hard hats. Tres safe.

–          I finally went to African Village hotel, and it was so nice, like an oasis in the middle of Gende Kore. I’ll take some pictures when I’m next back and add them to the online gallery when I get back to the UK. The owners are quite strict Protestants, so there’s no alcohol on the menu – just lots of different teas, coffees (peanut macchiato, anyone?) and soft drinks I’ve still to see anywhere else. It’s heaven for a teetotaller like me!

Finally, your inspiration for this week comes in the form of a 4 year old entrepreneur who is set to take Dire Dawa by storm in the future. He came into the office with his mum to see our boss, who is the head of the Access to Basic Service programme. His mother has been attending Income Generating Activity workshops that JeCCDO run, and she’s been taking her son along with her. The little boy has started signing the register independently of his mum, because ‘I want to make money too’. His mum has a small shop that sells sweets, water, sugar, tissues etc, and the 4 year old has appointed himself ‘executive director of biscuits’. So he’s in charge of selling all the biscuits, and saves 2 birr from his takings every week. The reason he got his mum to bring him in was to tell JeCCDO that he’s now saved 100 birr, and he’s going to buy his own school uniform. He even put on a smart jacket to come in because ‘I am businessman’. It was hilarious. But in a country that has no culture of saving (this is one of the biggest challenges the NGOs are trying to overcome), it was a good sign that the next generation are learning even faster than their parents are about the importance of thinking for the future.

By the time you all read this (could be anywhere between today and 5 days from now, depending on the internet), I should have received confirmation of my flight details back home. This is really exciting – I miss everyone and I want to see you! – but also starts to make going home feel a bit too real. I’m still not ready to leave my life here. I feel settled, and I’m starting to have fewer and fewer fish out of water moments. This blog post is a fairly accurate reflection of where I’m at just now emotionally – up and down, happy and sad, reflective and looking to the future all at the same time.

Speaking of looking to the future, next time we’ll be discussing my friend Stanley. Or what’s left of him.

 

 

Ode To Bajaj

Ode to Bajaj

Bajaj, Bajaj, I love thee so,
With your painted sides of blue
I do not joke; I cannot lie,
My love is deep and true.

Your windows: decked with tassles
Your ceiling: lined with fur.
And if Tedi Afro’s music’s on,
It’s worth those two whole birr.

Please do not make me argue
Over how much I should pay.
I’ve been here two whole months now.
I’ll walk – I know the way.

The many rear view mirrors
Are only there to look the part.
Steering without using them
Is the Bajaj drivers’ art.

Every time we hit a goat
A small part of me cries.
But they should look before they cross –
Bajaj don’t stop: goats die.

As we go crashing over road bumps
And careering through packed streets,
I am often left to wonder
Why I’d choose to use my feet.

So if you want to travel
Round D.D. with a view,
Just seek out those three sturdy wheels
And sides of gleaming blue.

What VSO Didn’t Tell Me

Dehna ameshatchu?

I have high hopes of posting this one ahead of time. I can feel it’s going to happen. If everything has gone according to plan, I’ll be sitting in Samrat on Thursday evening, eating a chicken club sandwich and watching this upload. If things have not gone to plan, it’s probably the following Tuesday and I’m sitting in the internet café that never has internet, willing it to post.

As promised in the previous post (Harar, but no hyenas), I’ve put together something useful for volunteers who are going to be coming out to Dire Dawa in the next cycle of ICS (if it goes ahead). Some of the information is Dire Dawa-specific, like what to bring, but the majority of it is probably applicable to any placement in Ethiopia. I hope this is helpful if you’re in the October cycle J

Supplies

Seems like a fundamental thing to tell volunteers, but VSO were about as useful as a mesh canoe when we asked what to pack. Because we are the first ICS placement in Dire Dawa, there was no experience whatsoever to fall back on, and our supervisors hadn’t ever been here either. My placement has run from the end of May-beginning of August, which is the hot, dry period heading into the ‘rainy’ season. You really don’t need as much as you think you do (why did I bring a silk sleeping bag liner?), and I hope this list will give you a good idea of the basics.

–          2 long skirts

–          3 or 4 long dresses

–          Long (knee length) shorts

–          2 pairs lightweight trousers – NOT JEANS

–          3 pairs leggings (long or calf-length, as you choose)

–          Tunics to layer with leggings

–          3 light scarves

–          1 light ‘pac-a-mac’ style raincoat

–          2 light jumpers (1 slightly warmer than the other)

–          Enough vests/cami/cover-up combinations to last 8 days or so if there’s no water

–          Shoes: 1 pair sandals, 1 pair ballet flats or canvas shoes, 1 pair trainers, 1 pair sturdy shoes or very light walking boots (for when the rain comes – it’s heavy – or if you are going activities like tree planting or community visits). Shoes get really dusty, so bring a change. Your shoes won’t rot (I was worried about that) – it’s dry heat, and not humid.

–          Head torch – the power goes out all the time, and it’s good to keep your hands free

–          Hand sanitiser – the water goes off for days at a time too, so no soap

–          Nail brush

–          Travel washing liquid for clothes (for washing underwear in the shower, etc)

–          Battery-operated insect repeller – I got mine from Boots and it was about £14. It’s a unit with a cartridge in it that I put on at night next to my bed to make sure the room is mosquito free. I also sleep under the net VSO provided.

–          Bring more DEET than sunscreen. I made the mistake of thinking I’d fry, and brought about 4 bottles of factor 50. Actually, I’m in the office all day, and running out of DEET. One bottle of sunscreen would have been enough.

–          Sunglasses

–          Hat – until you adapt to the sun, a hat is so useful. It’s the direct sun that tires you out and dehydrates you, but a hat will beat that.

–          Talcum powder. You don’t need to worry about humidity here. Talc will be fine for everything (don’t bring athlete’s foot powder and anti-fungal stuff. Just dry yourself properly.)

–          Shampoo bars (around £7 from Lush). Sound expensive, but it cuts down on weight and space. I’m on my second one just now, and I reckon it will almost last me until the end. They double up as soap too. You can always buy more shampoo out here if you need to.

–          Small umbrella. For the sun – all the locals carry one, so you won’t look like a total spoon.

–          Books. I loaded ebooks onto my laptop and regret it. If there’s no power and I have no battery, I can’t read. Bring your 2 favourite paperbacks and love their presence. I’ve still not seen any ‘real’ books for sale here, so if you think you might want to read, pack accordingly (but no more than two: you probably won’t get the peace to read).

–          I advise bringing a netbook or laptop. VSO will probably tell you ‘oh, it’s at your own risk, our insurance doesn’t cover it…blah blah blah’, but my little netbook has been invaluable at work, as there aren’t enough desktops. As long as you aren’t flashing it about, you should be fine.

–          Girls: think carefully about how you’ll deal with the monthly issues. The weather and heat may affect things, and tampons are completely unavailable here. Sanitary towels are very easy to come by in Dire Dawa, so don’t worry about running out of those. Disposal isn’t always easy though (can’t guarantee a bin; flushing anything at all is out of the question), so again, it’s worth taking time to think about what you’re going to do.

–          Sweets and chocolate. The good people of Dire Dawa aren’t big into sweets, and probably haven’t got a clue how you eat Fruitella or Mentos (is it chewing gum? Is it chocolate? Questions that are hard to answer in Amharic). If you’re going to crave Dairy Milk and Percy Pigs, bring them with you.

Onto the next topic of business: Things VSO didn’t tell me, or, Things I wish they made clearer. Reading lots of blogs before you go is probably more useful than the contradicting information you’ll get at the training weekend. But please note: every programme and every experience is different. The information I give you here is applicable to this cycle of the Ethiopia programme in Dire Dawa, so please don’t take it as gospel.

–          Counterparts. You will be paired with a national volunteer, and you will work together at the same placement, on the same things. Some people will also live in a host home with one of the national volunteers, so they will have a host home counterpart too. You will not live and work with the same person – you’d kill each other. I am living in an external host home, which means that I am not living with a national volunteer. VSO choose the homes very carefully, especially the external homes, and everyone in Dire is very happy in their living arrangements. Particularly me J

–          You won’t find out anything until the last possible moment. Counterparts, placements and host homes are all decided at the in-country orientation, the day before you leave for your host community. Don’t expect advanced warning of anything. You won’t get it. We’ve got 4 and a bit weeks until we go back to the UK, and we still don’t know about our travel back to our homes after Heathrow, or indeed, when we even leave Dire Dawa for Addis. Acht, whatever.

–          The conservative, modest dress code that they scare you about (no shoulders, no low cut tops, nothing above the knee) isn’t strictly true. The UK girls are dressing far more conservatively than their Ethiopian opposites. I don’t mean that the Dire girls dress provocatively, but skinny jeans and strappy tops are most definitely acceptable – they are extremely fashionable people.

–          Ethiopians are exceptionally elegant and extremely beautiful. Even if you make a really big effort, you’ll always be outdone. Despite wearing the most flattering thing you own, you’ll look like a sack of potatoes that tried to get dressed in the dark next to an Ethiopian girl. It’s just one of those things. Accept it and move on.

–          Dirt will always find a way to get under your nails. There’s nothing you can do about it.

–          Losing weight in Ethiopia is completely impossible: food is love. If your host family love you, they will attempt to stuff you full of food. Annoyingly, Ethiopians can eat as much of whatever they like without ever being fat, having bad skin or feeling full. As a ferenji, you will struggle to finish a half portion and it’ll go straight to your thighs. Citizens of the world: there is no more famine in Ethiopia.

–          People never EVER get tired of yelling FERENJII!, even if they see you every single day. It’s like foreigner bingo to them. They’re just making sure you remember that you’re white (because sometimes I forget, you know?) If it sounds aggressive, just keep walking. The majority of the time it’s really friendly, and a big smile and a ‘Selam no!’ usually makes a ferenjii-spotter’s day.

–          Bajaj 20 Questions: the bajaj passengers and drivers all want to know your life story, and why you’re going to the arse end of nowhere (aka Gerba). It’s meant in a friendly way, lets the community put a face to a name (bajaj friends have helped me out a lot when I’m trying to get home in a powercut), and you’ll get the best laugh out of repeating your European name over and over again, and hearing the most amazing variations being parroted back. Laura. Naura. Laura. Looha. Laura. Lola. Laura. Leelee. Laura. Lala. (The Teletubbies have reached Ethiopia, and it’s clearly a major frame of reference).

–          Apparently Shaun the Sheep is a global phenomenon. MBC3 plays 4-6 episodes back to back every night. I always watch it, and I appreciate how British it is.

–          Learn the local language before you leave the UK. Please. Do not assume that everyone speaks English (although to be fair, not everyone in Dire Dawa even speaks Amharic, so sometimes the phrasebook ain’t that useful). Pigeon words here and there will be really appreciated by the locals, and learning the things you will use without thinking (see the word list below) will make you so much more comfortable.

–          Miscommunication is inevitable. With your host family, your counterpart, your placement and even your fellow Brits. Large periods of time will pass with you feeling extremely confused and trying to work out what the hell is going on. I promise that the day will come when you reach the Shangri-La of ‘it is what it is’. Just relax and deal with the issues as they come up.

–          Nothing will ever go to plan. Ever. Forces more powerful than VSO (Sod’s Law) will be conspiring against you from the beginning.

–          The concepts of personal space, alone time and silence haven’t really taken off in Ethiopia. It’s a very very communal culture, and makes you realise the emphasis that the British place on the individual and solitary reflection. If you are sitting quietly, people will assume that there is a problem. If you are relaxing alone in a separate room to everyone else, expect to be moved to sit with the family and make conversation. Sleeping is when you get your alone time.

–          You are going to be extremely visible as foreigners. People will be watching where you go, what you do and who you are with. My host family regularly update me on the whereabouts of my fellow volunteers – they know more about their habits than I do. Dire Dawa is a small city with a very tight network of people, and everybody knows everybody else. It’s part celebrity, part Big Brother.

–          The religion question. People are going to ask about your religion in the same breath as your name, age and country. Like most things in Ethiopia, religion is a public, not private practice. My advice: even if you don’t hold religious beliefs, make the effort to join your host family at church. They’ll really appreciate the gesture, and you will get an insight into a central part of the culture. You may even enjoy it. I love going to Orthodox Church with my family – it’s so peaceful, and so different to anything I’ve experienced before. If you are religious, or have any faith at all, people will assume that you are extremely devout and follow it to the letter.

–          You will become expert in mime to communicate through language barriers. Remember: sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Some of the best and most interesting conversations I’ve had have been with Sara, our housemaid. I speak about 15 Amharic words. She speaks about 8 English words. And yet I know all about her life, her family and what she likes and doesn’t like, and we get on famously. You’ll surprise yourself when you find that a shared language isn’t always the basis for a friendship.

Speaking of language barriers, last post I also promised you a list of My Favourite Words that myself and other people use here in D.D. Some are Amharic. Some are English, but used in a completely different (and often hilarious) context. The language has been such a big part of my experience here, and I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

–          Gobbez (well done). Used when someone does something really good, or when you want to really patronise somebody. ‘Oh, you survived a whole day of 23 degrees celcius in the UK? Gobbez.’

–          Konjo (beautiful). Best word ever because you can use it to describe everything. People, clothes, food, views, goats – whatever you like. I use it a lot.

–          Ishee (OK). It’s the way it’s said that I love. Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-shee. Like a sigh, even if it’s about something really good.

–          Beka (enough). When your stomach is telling you that accepting a second helping of wat is a really bad idea.

–          Tinish (little/small). It’s your fallback if ‘beka’ doesn’t work. Used when you know you can’t avoid the second portion, but you want to do damage limitation.

–          Ferenji – foreigner

–          Habesha – Ethiopian/native of a country

–          Amasegenalow (thank you). I love saying it and people love hearing it. Manners make the world go round.

–          Chigeraylom (no problem). A substitute for ‘you’re welcome’, or a good way to compromise/show there are no hard feelings. An alternative is ‘minim aydelem’.

–          N-dehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh??????? I don’t really have a direct translation for this one. People say it when they receive unexpected information. Your voice should start low and increase in pitch towards the end of the word. It’s most effective if you say it with extra-surprised eyebrows and eyes like saucers. Example:

‘I saw a camel in a dress yesterday’.

‘N-dehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh?????????!!!!!!!!’

‘Yeah, I know!’

–          Facilitate. Not in terms of running a meeting, but in terms of organising something.

  • Let me go and facilitate a car
  • I need to facilitate dropping off these documents
  • I am going to Samrat to facilitate an extremely overpriced Fanta

–          Compliment. Let me help you.

  • You have a lot of washing to do? I can compliment.

–          Appointment. Meeting friends.

  • Tonight I have a dinner appointment.

–          Programme. An activity involving more than one person doing something unrelated to work.

  • Lunch programme – friends over for food
  • Programme at Papa – going in a group to swim and eat pizza
  • You have a programme? – are you going to be socialising in an organised manner today?

–          Play. Come and talk to us/dance, monkey. Is related to:

–          Why silent? You don’t appear to be working or sleeping, so why aren’t you communicating with me?

–          Swell up like a bombolino. My host mum’s mission in life is to fatten me up to the point where I require two seats on the plane. A bombolino is a type of unsugared donut that is part of the Italian food legacy (along with pizza, pasta, minestrone and rotisserie chicken). If I don’t look like a pastry-based confection in a month’s time, I fear drastic measures.

(Please accept my apologies for the length of this post. It’s a bit of a monster.)

I’d also like to wish my Granny a very happy birthday today (11th July). I hope you have a lovely day, and I’ll see you very soon J

Next post: an ode to that stalwart of Dire Dawa Transport, the Bajaj.

Harar, but no hyenas

Dehna whatever-is-appropriate-for-the-time-you-read-this,

 

As I predicted using my amazing powers of telepathy, the last entry was not posted on time.

It was finally posted 2 days after we came back from Harar, but I didn’t want to edit out my hyena excitement. I wanted you all to be as pro-hyena as I was. Alas, fate conspired against us, and Harar was a hyena-free trip.

Here’s what happened.

We planned to go to Harar for two days as part of our Mid-Phase Review (MPR). The MPR marks the halfway point in the programme, and the volunteers finally get the chance to leave the host community, have a weekend away, and reflect on their journey so far.

The observant amongst you will have noticed two absolute clangers in the above sentence:

  1. It’s well over halfway through the programme. The technical difficulties that have been limiting our internet access have also impacted our programme timetable, and meant that we are running behind in some cases, or being forced to entirely cancel events. A discussion for when I get back to Britannia.
  2. We didn’t have a weekend away; we had a day. This is because Haramaya University (which is absolutely massive) has a 3 week-long graduation ceremony happening just now, and there was no room at the inn. Or anywhere. And this is why there was no hyena bonding session. They only come out at night, and we couldn’t stay late enough to see them. We spent our night away at Freedom Hotel in Dire Dawa (10 minutes from home), which looked mega dodgy from the outside, but was clean, had a shower and a real toilet and had a fan made by Bajaj. If you don’t take into account that we had no power or water all weekend, it was a good choice.

The last point is actually a really important one. At the time of writing this, we’re on Day 4 of no running water. So bucket showers (I really do love bucket showers); no lunchtime showers (I don’t like that); having to travel across the city to buy jerry cans full of water multiple times; and very dirty nails. We had a 3 day powercut as well. And it’s not just a small part of the city – it’s everywhere. The problem is that all the services – water, internet, mobile network and electricity – are linked, so if one is out, the others probably are too. So no phonecalls. No internet. No water. No power. For 3 days. Think about all the things that impacts:

–          Unable to use computers at work and our job is entirely computer-based

–          Unable to charge electrical devices

–          Cooking outside on charcoal

–          Fridge has no power

–          No television

–          No fan on at night time, and it’s about 30 degrees celcius inside the house

–          No lights in the house or the street, and it gets dark at 6.30pm every night

–          Few bajaj because they are unable to refuel

–          Can’t flush the toilet

–          No water from any taps

–          No shower

–          Internet is down across the entire city

–          Mobile network is down across the entire city

If it happened in the UK, people would think the apocalypse was coming.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. I think I’ve been here long enough to develop the ‘c’est la vie’ attitude of Dire Dawa’s residents. So there’s not anywhere to shower. So I’ll smell. Whatever.

 

Anyway. Back to the main discussion: MPR.

Our day in Harar was short, but excellent. We started the trip with a tour of the Harar Beer factory, which was really interesting (even if, like me, the thought of alcohol brings you out in hives). I particularly enjoyed watching the bottling conveyor belt – the empty bottles arrived, got filled, capped, washed and packed. I could have watched it all day.

From there, we moved onto doing the rounds of Harar’s museums. The cultural museum was inside a traditional Harari house, with an enormous stepped sofa inside. Traditionally, there are separate levels for the owner of the house, the educated and guests. The plebs sit on the floor, looking up at the educated (like the Two Ronnies’ class system sketch), and the women sit in the corner out of the way. The examples of Harari woven pots and baskets displayed all over the walls were beautiful, as were the books from the 15th century that were just lying around. Something that I really liked was the traditional shoes that they had on display. They are made of wood (for inside) or leather (for outside), and the soles of the leather shoes make a non-directional footprint. The sole has no obvious front or back, so that in times of war, enemies could not track the movement of the people through the sand, because their footprints did not indicate a direction. Clever!

After that, we visited two more museums, my favourite of which was the Rimbaud museum. Rimbaud was a 19th century French poet who came to Harar to live for 11 years, after being inspired by its beauty, culture and peace. His house is wooden, and absolutely beautiful. It’s a bit of an Orientalist fantasy, but stunning nonetheless.

We had a huge lunch together, and I ran into that rare Ethiopian pizza topping: hard-boiled egg. I guess that’s what they mean when they talk about ‘special pizza’. I was hungry, I ate it and it was delicious. I shall be demanding boiled egg on all future pizzas.

No visit to Harar would be complete without a visit inside the old city walls. Harar dates back to the mediaeval period, and there is still a market on the original site, enclosed within a giant stone compound. It’s busy, frantic, confusing and beautiful. Everyone is trying to sell you mangos, spices and little woven trinkets, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

*I would show you photos, but I don’t trust my laptop. It munched them the last time I tried to move them from the camera to the computer, so I’m saving them for when I get home. I’ll post a link to a Flickr gallery or similar in due course*

When we returned to Freedom Hotel in Dire Dawa, we had dinner together and some drinks before heading to bed. The day was much needed, but not long enough. And there were no hyenas. Hyenas would have made it perfect.

The formal part of the MPR programme was held the next day. We evaluated EVERYTHING we’ve done so far: counterparts, host homes, placements, the community, programme supervisors and our own learning. Although there were some sore heads and some sleepy eyes, it was a valuable day, and it was good to have the time to gain perspective on our journey so far.

 

Before I finish (the last entry was a bit epic, so I’m keeping this one brief), let’s have some wise words from the good people of Dire Dawa. First, my favourite Amharic proverbs:

–          If a man says to you: ‘You are a donkey’, pay no heed. If two speak thus, purchase a saddle.

–          There’s a cow in the sky but I’ve seen no milk.

 

And to wrap things up, a good observation from one of the drivers at my placement organisation:

“The educated Europeans come to Africa to solve the community’s problems. The educated Africans go to Europe and clean toilets.”

Think on that.

 

Next time: What VSO didn’t tell me, my favourite words and – I’m sure – some more reflecting. It’s a hell of a journey, this volunteering business.