Shoulder Bump Like You Mean It

Salam no?


Dehna nesh?

Dehna, Exabier yemesgen! N-detna?



A little slice of those enthusiastic greetings that I’ll miss so much.

This, I promise, is the final post from Dire Dawa. I can’t believe that I’m about to press ‘Publish’ in Samrat for the last time. I’ve been thinking about this post since last week – in fact, I started writing it before Stanley’s entry, in an attempt to stop an overemotional Laura from being given full control of a blank page and a keyboard in the final stretch.

I’ve realised that this time next week, I will be looking over photographs of my Ethiopian family and having that same twang of emotion that I get when I look at photographs of my Scottish family. That’s a strange thought. Being here has become so normal, and so everyday that I have almost forgotten what it’s like to live in a place without camels. Going back to my Scottish front door, without a compound, without Mesai, Dawit, Temar, Sara, Gelila (and anyone else who happens to be around), will be horrible at first. I am going from being one of many to one of few. From having 3 sisters to 1 brother. From days with guaranteed sunshine and few worries back to noise, stress and abundant rain.

But I’m also going back to my mum, my dad, my brother and my granny. My aunts and uncles. My friends who have watched this entire thing play out. And I can’t wait to see them all again. The only thing that has made being here difficult is being away from them. And the thing that makes going back difficult is leaving everything I have here.

I’ve started to forget about the things that I complained about at home. The unemployment.The weather. Being cold. 1960s town planning decisions. Winters that seem neverending. Alec Salmond. All I think about now are how warm and light the summer evenings will be. How many plants will be in the garden. My vegetable patch. Taking my tortoises for walks. Going to the beach. Getting excited about going to university again. Walking everywhere. Eating ice cream sundaes. Cheese. Bacon. Cheese wrapped in bacon. That this mental transformation has taken place speaks volumes about how good getting away from everything can be – I’ve had my priorities sorted out, become truly optimistic for the first time in a long time, and am so motivated about going back to university.

(Missing Irvine definitely proves that absence makes the heart grow fonder.)

So what have I been doing with myself in the final week? Well, by the time you read this, I have finished working at JeCCDO, had my early send-off party from the family (to try to keep the tears for later in the week) and spent a Sunday morning trying to teach orphans how to ceilidh (for the record, they weren’t massive fans of the Military Two Step). I’ve watched more Bollywood films than I ever thought possible, courtesy of Gelila, who seems to be something of an expert on the Indian film industry. I’ve tried to explain to Temar that Laura is going home soon; this was met with ‘Laura Scotland NO. Laura bet Dire Dawa’ (Laura’s house is Dire Dawa). I appreciate that she speaks to me in pigeon Amharic-English sentences, because she’s sussed out my comprehension level.  I’ve bought my body weight in tea, coffee and spices and am fully prepared to pay for excess baggage if necessary. It’s all coming back with me. I’ve made lists, lists of lists, and lists of the lists that have been cross-checked to make sure I have everything I need.

All being well, we leave Dire Dawa on the morning of 11th August, overnight in Addis Ababa, and fly on the morning of the 12th. I should theoretically be back in Scotland by 10.15pm in the evening, after taking off in Addis at 10am the same morning. What a day that’s going to be (the thought of a chicken burger when I touch down in Glasgow is keeping me going).

When I look back over the last twelve weeks at what I’ve achieved, I’m proud. I’ve started picking up a completely new language; been happy in my job; made friends I will treasure forever;  kept up my blog project; helped an organisation that is changing lives and I have done it all by myself. The Laura of 10 months ago could never have imagined the Laura of today. It’s at moments like these that I wish I could visit my 16 year old self, and tell her that all the worrying, all the hard work and all the challenges and disappointments that she faces are worth it. They will motivate her to keep going, and when she’s 23, she’ll get the chance to show everybody that she’s more than they thought she was. And she’ll suddenly realise that her heart lies in working for the good of other people, and that’s where her future is headed. And that knowledge, that concrete goal, will give her the drive to pick herself up and do some amazing things.

(Getting a bit emotional now, so I’m going to wrap it up.)

There were a number of ways that I could have ended the African stint of the blog. In an ideal world, there would be no writing at all; only a collage of photographs. But the world is not ideal (if ICS has taught me anything, it’s taught me that), so instead, we’ve got the best compromise – situations, sayings and everyday things that have made the past 3 months the best experience of my life. It’s not going to win the Booker Prize, but it doesn’t have to.


Greeting people like long-lost siblings because you didn’t meet over the weekend, and that’s a long time. Having work friends rather than colleagues. Learning to understand a culture that dazzles you. Finding a new family an entire continent away. Laaauraaaa, Laauuuriti, Laauuuriti. Asking for the food bill 45 minutes before you want to leave, because it might actually take that long. Swimming at Papa in the freezing cold water, and not caring. Bajaj drivers who chuck out passengers so that you can get in, because it’s Tedi, and he remembers you. Samrat chicken club sandwiches. Being an Orthodox Christian for 3 months. Laughing every single day. Bofa Dance. Bofa Action. Trying to remember what ‘cold’ feels like. Realising that a whole roast chicken only costs £2.50. Seeing cultural dress on a daily basis. My life, my life. Not giving a damn about my appearance. Bajaj drivers who drop you at your house. My sheetees. Computer Dance. Being surrounded by a race of people who are impossibly beautiful. Having people smile and wave at you because they want to welcome you. GERBA! ALLIEEE! AWADAY! YOU – AYAN – GET IN! Children walking backwards to practice their English with you. Asking for Coka rather than Coke. *sigh* Samrat? Having the best counterpart I could have asked for – Mehret, betam konjo, thank you so much. People paying attention to me, even though it’s awkward. Embracing my 115 words of Amharic. If the crazy people know your name, you have to stay. Existing on carbs and carbs alone for 3 months…who needs Atkins? Holy Father coming to visit, drinking 2 St George beers and passing out on the sofa. Eating more burgers and more pizzas than I ever would in the UK. Actively searching for cheese. Practically moving into Samrat Hotel. Curing headaches with coconut oil and turbans. N-dehhhhhhhhhh???? The crazy people uniform. Elga Café’s spam chicken pizza (also spam ham pizza). Mystery meat in everything. 24 people starting out as strangers and ending as a family. Learning how to butcher a goat. 13 months of sunshine. Being classified as a ferenjii, and embracing it. Having an excuse to write something every week, and finding that I can stick to it. We’re phoning David Cameron and telling him we’re keeping Laura. Being able to say I’ve lived in Africa. Daily camels. Stoned goats. Random people knowing my name. Spontaneous waves of emotion. Discovering how good Al Jazeera News is. The Amharic Shaun the Sheep books. Beka. Beka. Bekabekabekabeka. Having sisters for the first time in my life. Realising that a language barrier does not mean a friendship barrier. The spirituality. Coffee-jabana-incense-bread-popcorn combos. Always giving up your chair for a visitor. Impossibly sweet tea. Learning that ‘special pizza’ will always involve boiled egg. Come on sit down inside. Wasting so much time by saying hello. Shoulder-bumping like you mean it. Amharic music is the happiest in the world. Coming back with a completely different image of Ethiopia, and appointing myself their tourism representative in Scotland. Being woken up by hyenas. Duleti! Abesho! Shoulder dancing (Iskista). Finding tortoises, lizards and geckos at work and being the only person who cares. Crossing a dry riverbed in a glorified motorbike to get to work every morning. Bajaj 20 questions. Temar – you crazy? No Laura – you crazy! Becoming obsessed with royal baby updates because it’s a slice of Britain a long way from home. Tigranya, Oromo, Amhar, Gurage and Walita cultural music and dancing – I’ve tried my best to learn you all. Amasegenalo Sara. Chigeraylom Laura.  Cold showers every day. Being told I’m konjo, or sweet, or Russian by people I’ve never met before. Lunchtime naps. Bollywood movies. Using ‘I need to take rest’ as an acceptable excuse for getting out of everything. Yelling daily greetings from my door to the door of Ayan Sook across the road. Stanley. Ooooooooooo-eeeeeeeeeee! Going shopping with Mesai and getting everything below habesha price. Being interesting purely because I’m a ferenjii. Butter as a hair treatment. Finally having pet dogs. I’ve written another report. Strong women. Brave children. Inspiring communities. Everybody sings and nobody is embarrassed about it. Being made to question everything I knew. Cultural pride.  Dressing up the kitten. Watching the Ethiopian soaps with my family and enjoying it, even though it’s incomprehensible. Mangoes. Hispanic soap operas dubbed in English and shown on Ethiopian TV. Sleeping under a mosquito net with the fan on high, and reaching for a blanket. Stretching my brain. Going to my Ethiopian granny’s house and it feeling just like my Scottish granny’s house. Being in a society where you are instantly welcomed, instantly loved and instantly belong. Awadeshalo.

Heck, even the smell of injera.

Last week, I re-read Jane Eyre. I found that I finally understood some of the concepts for the first time, even though I know the story inside out. Finding that fate can bring you together with people who make you happier than you’ve ever been, in a place that was once alien to you but is now home, are concepts I failed to grasp before now. I see my own experiences mirrored in Jane’s narrative, and that has been more comforting than I can ever describe.

So in honour of this discovery, I want to conclude my last entry from Mother Ethiopia with something borrowed from Miss Bronte:


“Then you and I must bid good-bye for a little while?”

“I suppose so, sir”

“And how do people perform that ceremony of parting, Jane? Teach me; I’m not quite up to it.”

“They say, Farewell, or any other form they prefer.”

“Then say it.”

“Farewell, Mr Rochester, for the present.”

“What must I say?”

“The same, if you like, sir.”

“Farewell, Miss Eyre, for the present; is that all?”


“It seems stingy, to my notions, and dry, and unfriendly. I should like something else: a little addition to the rite. If one shook hands, for instance; but no – that would not content me either. So you’ll do no more than say Farewell, Jane?”

“It is enough, sir: as much good-will may be conveyed in one hearty word as in many.”


This is not the last time I will be in Ethiopia – of this, I am certain. This experience has opened my eyes, and given me so many things I’ve never had before. I have another family here, and friends that I will never forget. This is not goodbye forever.

It is only farewell.



The experience in Dire Dawa may be over, but this is not the end. The blog will continue until I complete my entire ICS journey – the next post will discuss my reaction to coming home, and my Ethiopian Cultural Night in Scotland. The ferenjii is coming home habesha.


Counterpart, I Can Count On You

Salam natchu!


I should have learned not to make sweeping statements like ‘the next post will be the last one on African soil’. This is the second one after that entry, and I’m still in Ethiopia. I just get carried away with the drama and the emotion of a good blog conclusion. I also can’t stop myself from writing little things. So you’ve got some bonus material. Gobbez Laura.

I’ve wanted this blog entry to happen for a long time, and now it has: ladies and gentlemen, this time, we have a guest blogger! The voice I am about to hand you over to is none other than my own counterpart, the ever-beautiful Mehret. She has put together a small but perfectly formed paragraph on her experience of VSO ICS from the perspective of a national volunteer. This is important for the sake of fairness, because I’m aware that everything here has been a UK perspective and a UK voice. So here I now present a little something from Mehret:

I’m happy to be a part of VSO Ethiopia as a volunteer, because I’m working with new people that I’ve never met before – from the UK and Ethiopia. Initially, I was fearful of working with the UK volunteers because we have different lifestyles, cultures and languages, but I soon realised they are the opposite of my perception: they are sociable and adaptable in their new situation. I am especially happy with my sweet counterpart Laura. She is good and can understand everyone easily. Generally, I am happy to have made a lot of new friends from the UK and national volunteers, but now we are finishing the program and I am feeling bad because I’ll miss a lot of them. Thank you for inviting me on the blog Laura!

I told you she was lovely.

I would just like to actually take some time to talk about Mehret, and thank her for everything she’s done for me over the last 11 and a bit weeks.

When we met on the first day in Addis, we immediately clicked, and have been together ever since. I think it’s true what they say about opposites attracting –Mehret is always perfectly dressed, while I look like a complete scruffball. I remember the overwhelming feeling of relief when I found out that she would be the person looking after me in the first few unsure weeks; she’s been my other part; and my instant friend. She’s taught me so much, from the first difficult attempts at Amharic, to the less tangible things that I’ve learned: not being upset by those who wrong me, accepting what I cannot change, and continuing to do my best. She went out of her way to get me home every night for far longer than she was obliged to. She dried my eyes when I had my first week mental breakdowns. We talk about life and the universe, hopes and aspirations, and untangle problems. Being with her for 3 months has been an absolute joy, and we’ve got a lifelong bond now. And when I come back (Mehret, I promise that I am), I want her to be the first person I see.  Thank you for being my sister and my better self. I hope that some day I can repay you for everything you’ve done for me – I honestly could not have got through this without you. Amasegenalow konjo x