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Finally! The blog becomes a book. Why did I do it? Initially I simply wanted to print my blog from start to finish in hard copy, to be able to reflect on to my experiences as recorded over three significant years of my life. What started out as a straightforward idea grew into a book project. I intended to make a few copies for family and friends, but with the cost of making more copies lowering the average price per book, my sister Kat urged me to go big.  “Print a lot, have a book launch and see what happens!”

Good things happened…

 

Book titleIt was a challenge to get it done so quickly, but when Cuso International Ethiopia invited me back in January 2016 to assist in the orientation of their first group of Assosa volunteers, I asked graphic designer extraordinaire Terry if he thought it was possible to get the book finished in time for me to take copies with me for Ethiopian friends. Over the past year and a half we had been working on it at a leisurely pace with no firm end date in mind. Suddenly with a deadline looming in two weeks, we worked at a frenzied pace to finalize the design and finish the edits. Thanks to the excellent support of Bond Printers, 150 copies of Spider Webs Unite – My Volunteer Experience in Ethiopia were delivered three days before take off!

With my two bag allowance to Addis Ababa via London, I managed to squeeze in 17 copies of the 1.25 kg book. And despite a few typos that slipped through, I am delighted with the result. Most gratifying is the response of my Ethiopian friends and colleagues. “You did not forget us” they said as they pored over the 1710 colour photos in the 246 page book. Over the next 6 weeks I was able to enjoy many reunions and gift them their book. It made all the time, energy and cost worth while.IMG_1395

Here Henok receives the first copy of the book in Addis Ababa in the gardens of the Ghion Hotel on a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon in February.

IMG_1410Zerefa was thrilled to get her copy and also able to take 3 to Woldia – one for Asrebab our landlady and one each for the Teachers’ College where I had worked for the year and one to the new Woldia University where many of the instructors I had in my HDP class are now teaching.

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Yasabu from the Ministry of Education where I worked for two years accepted a copy and was pleased to see the photos of his family included.

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Ruth from VSO Ethiopia accepted a copy for the office

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Wendwossen from the new Cuso Ethiopia office flips through the book

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When I called my friend Hiwot to tell her I was back and had a surprise for her she said “Well I too have a surprise – I have a baby girl!”

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What a delight to meet the miracle baby and share coffee at her home!

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I met artist Abiy Eshete for juice and he spent an hour poring over every page, thrilled his two paintings are featured at the beginning and end of the book . He was impressed with the graphic design. Terry had suggested we put a colour screen behind the photos on each page based on the cherubs from the famous Debre Birhan Selassie Church in Gondor along with the Queen of Sheba design.

yellow background

For fun we chose to code the years from 2010-2013 with the colours of the Ethiopian flag – yellow, green, red and blue. Yes a lot of TLC went into this production.

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I couldn’t wait to visit my old compound to share the book with my Addis family – Kifle, Almaz and the kids growing up so fast – Sami about the complete grade 12 and younger siblings Meron and Eyob…

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Returning home to Vancouver my official Canadian book launch was April 10th, complete with a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony thanks to my friends Alganesh and Akeberet. They used the fresh green coffee I brought back from Assosa to scent the air, enabling many friends to experience their first real Ethiopian coffee ceremony and to sample Ethiopian food.

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Akeberet performs the coffee ceremony.

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Alganesh was a great support, roasting coffee, assisting in the ceremony and  with the food.

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At the Book Launch with my sister Kat, the one who encouraged me to publish the book!IMG_5085

Friends got creative with Ethiopian finger food…

This May the book came along to England and Ireland when I visited family and reconnected with former VSO volunteer friends. Just this week I got a lovely message from someone who had read it in Ethiopia at Wini’s Gourmet Corner cafe near the Mulmul Bakery in Addis Abeba and earlier I had heard from fellow volunteers who had seen it at Susan’s Ben Abeba restaurant in Lalibela. Next week I’m giving a book talk at the Gibson’s library on the Sunshine Coast. I only have a few books left and most are spoken for but am looking into other options to make it available. Meanwhile if you are interested in what I had to say in the my Afterword read it on page 11 in the recently published  BCTF Social Justice Newsletter.

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A lot is changing in the political landscape of Ethiopia as I write this post. All I can do from afar is light a candle for peace and stability to all the good people I care about in that world so far away. I continue to feel blessed to have had the opportunity to spend 3 years of my life living and learning in Ethiopia and hope the intelligence, strength and resilience of the people I got to know will see them through their current challenges.

How could I resist the call for a self-starter who is self sufficient, self motivated and looking for an exciting opportunity? A year ago I would not have envisioned myself packing my suitcase for Ethiopia once again but now, after 17 months away from the Horn of Africa, I am pretty much set to leave (Cuso paperwork, medical, vaccination and police checks all in order, sub-let arranged) on January 10th for 10 weeks of sunshine (a second summer, why not?) and new challenges (and why not yet again?). Yes I am indeed excited to be going back to the place I called home for 3 years!

IMG_2362A recent trip to India made me realize how much I love riding in “Autos” or “Bajaj” as they are called in Ethiopia…and I am looking forward to the thrill of the ride again soon!

Based in Addis Ababa but venturing to two southern regions of Oromia and Benishangul-Gumz, I will be one of two  Cuso International program development advisors supporting the new Cuso International office that is being established in Ethiopia in their development of a 5-year Ethiopia RMNCH (reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health) program in conjunction with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. I will be involved in SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities), gender auditing, establishing baseline indicators and identifying placement and partnership opportunities. Of course as always I have been alerted to the possibility that “These may be subject to change” once I am on the ground; that goes without saying in this type of development work. It is indeed exciting to be in on the start of what could be a significant contribution from Cuso International and future Canadian volunteers to improve the health status of Ethiopian women and children in these regions. My work will be done partly in conjunction with the Ethiopian Mid-Wives Association, a group I worked with briefly in spring 2013 and I am looking forward to re-connecting with these able professionals. Ethiopia has a very high maternal and infant mortality rate and this program will offer some much needed support to the Ethiopian health care workers who continue to work diligently to improve women and children’s health, despite very challenging conditions.

While I am unlikely to have time to blog about my experiences in ten short weeks, I hope to provide an update on my efforts and the program development once I get home. In the meantime I have a request for your help. Cuso International is  Canadian NGO that relies on fund raising to support its volunteer programs and while funds come from several sources, including government and private donors, volunteers are also expected to do their part to raise funds when embarking on a project. In the past friends and family have been generous in helping me toward my fundraising goal and I am hoping that some of you will consider a donation at this time.

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It would mean a great deal to me to know you are behind me! As a thank you, I plan to buy everyone who donates, whatever the amount, a beautiful Ethiopian scarf from an Ethiopian NGO that assists women fuelwood carriers to supplement their meagre income by weaving scarves.There are an estimated 20,000 women who scour the hillsides of Addis, gathering fuelwood to sell to support their families, carrying very heavy loads and risking harassment in the forests from men and dangerous animals such as hyenas.

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Here are my two scarves. I often receive compliments on them. You can let me know if you want solid or striped and the colour (s) you prefer and I’ll pick one out and send it to you.

IMG_1292A sampling of some other colourful options!

IMG_1291To me its a triple crown opportunity – you support Cuso International and a local Ethiopian NGO (through my purchase of their scarves) and you give me a boost of encouragement to do this work. Oh and you also get a scarf and yes, a Canadian income tax receipt for 2014 if you donate by December 31st or a 2015 receipt if you donate in the new year. Why that amounts to a win-win-win-win-win -WOW!IMG_1207

I hope you’ll be behind me as I head off to a new year and a new adventure in 2015. Thanks for reading!

 

Please note: Opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author and not Cuso International

“In Ethiopia, if we needed to get the waiter’s attention, we simply clapped our hands loudly”

“I don’t think that would go over well in the Hotel Vancouver lounge” said my friend Anne. “Besides didn’t you say you had learned patience in Ethiopia?

“Yes, but I am home now! But don’t worry I will sit on my hands and wait him out!”

We shared a good laugh! But truly I did learn a lot, including more patience. After 5 months at home, time and distance allow me to notice shifts in who I am now as a result of my three years as a volunteer in Ethiopia. This experience really is a “gift that will keep on giving”. I have no doubt that it will be seeping through my spirit, heart and mind for the rest of my life. But the immediate part has come to an end and this is my final blog for Spider Webs Unite. As a person who needs closure I feel its time to wrap this up and tie it with a bow. Approaching the ferenji New Year of 2014, I find myself wanting to appreciate and give a “gift of thanks” to all those who enabled me to have this amazing experience.

IMG_7205A Canadian “white Christmas” snowfall delighted me a couple of weeks back

In November I attended a returned volunteers “re-integration weekend” in Ottawa designed to help the 24 of us who attended adjust to life back home. One activity toward the end of the two days was to write brief impressions on flip charts of what we had heard from others who had been to the other 7 countries represented in the group. The notes on the flip chart labeled “Ethiopia” showed me that I had presented a pretty balanced and positive impression of my experiences. This excellent activity was an experiential reminder that what we say is powerful in creating an image of the people we have met and places we have been. To me, this reinforced our responsibility to represent our experiences fairly and honestly. With this blog I have tried to do just that, selecting stories to tell and experiences and photographs to share that I hope have presented a glimpse into my life as a volunteer in Ethiopia, images of the rich diversity of the Ethiopian people I met, the fascinating history and culture and the stunning landscapes. The feedback from you, my blog readers has been invaluable. Your comments made my day, knowing others were interested and cared for me. Since I have come home, others have shared that, while they never commented, they did enjoy being on this journey with me. I thank you all!IMG_7132Thank you to all my readers from all over the world! WordPress tells me that this blog has been read in over 130 countries

  Who I am and how I am all began with my parents and I would be remiss if I did not thank them for giving me life and for setting me on a path that led me to have a sense of adventure (thanks Mom!) and to value lifelong learning and creativity (thanks Dad!). If they were still alive I know they would have been avid blog readers…

family pictures

·          The support of my siblings and their loving welcome home has meant a lot to me. Thanks especially to my sister Katherine who hosted an amazing “full turkey feast” for family and friends Christmas this year. Thanks to her, I have had a many “return to cheeses” moments since July!

persian restaurant group pictureChantal and my brother Ken, sister Kat and Zahed surround me at a holiday Persian feast! Brother Eric, his daughter Amanda and her son Keane also took part in our celebrations over the holidays…but in the excitement of the moment we did not get a good picture!

kat serves her turkeyKatherine announces the Christmas turkey!

scarlet empressWith reliable water and electricity and a great stove, baking has become a pleasure again  – this is my “Scarlett Empress” Christmas dessert!

·          I must thank Cuso International for selecting and sending me on this rewarding journey and for the excellent preparation, ongoing support and welcome home messages and re-integration weekend. The Cuso staff were professional and personally supportive from start to finish and I highly recommend Cuso for anyone considering a volunteer placement in a developing country. For those who donated to Cuso on my behalf I sincerely thank you. Each donation made me feel supported and appreciated. For others who may not have had the opportunity, please consider a donation – I set a goal of $5000.00 and am only $890.00 shy of that amount. If you are able to, please consider a donation now . Every bit helps, small or large and if you do it online TODAY your Canadian tax receipt will be immediate and it will multiply tenfold with matching funds!

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·         Thank you to VSO Ethiopia, the organization that took good care of me in Ethiopia, especially the support staff who arranged accommodation and the program managers who visited and offered support and guidance. The “volunteer family” of VSOE, both staff and fellow volunteers from all over the world made my time precious and memorable.

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·         I am thankful I discovered the UBC Certificate in International Development that became an online lifeline for me this past year and a half. The combination of working three years on the ground in development and simultaneously learning and discussions online with people from all over the world means I now feel I have earned a degree in development that is rich and full. This combination has given me limitless opportunities to refract my learning through multiple lenses.

·         Finally and most importantly I must thank the Ethiopian people I met and worked with in Woldia and Addis Ababa. You gave me your trust, kindness, caring, honesty and willingly shared your culture with me – this is a gift beyond measure and I will cherish it forever. Betam amaseganalo – thank you very much!

my "harar" wallMy “Harar inspired wall” contains baskets and pottery to remind me of Ethiopia’s rich heritage

journal writing spotSitting on my sofa today sipping an Ethiopian coffee and writing in my journal, I look up and see the morning crows gathering on the treetops, having a rest on their way west for the day

crowsThese crows journey back and forth, my daily reminder that, even in a big city, the cycles of life continue

journals for EthiopiaMy journals will remain a place to dip back in to this experience. My daily writing practice of half an hour each morning has resulted in almost 50 “exercise books” full of my notes and impressions and personal ups and downs, a deeper and more intimate documentation of the full experience that will enable me to carry my learning forward.

abiy's paintings in vancouverArtist Abiy Eshete collaborated with me to create these fabulous paintings, using my photographs – Woldia images are on the left and Addis Ababa on the right – they now hang in my dining room as a visual reminder of my Ethiopian years

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Thank you again for following me along on this journey.

May we all continue to learn, flourish and strive toward peace on earth in the new year!

Trudging through soggy maple leaves in my Vancouver neighbourhod today I had to face the fact – winter is approaching and it is my first one in three years! How will I cope? Fortunately, near perfect weather since my return has smoothed my “re-integration process” as it is called.

leaves on sidewalkTruly magnificent colours this year!

lions with snowBut just this week I saw snow on the “lions” – yes our very own mountain lions, sculpted by nature

I would call my re-entry into my “culture” idyllic so far. Many people have been asking “ Do you have culture shock after living 3 years in Ethiopia?”

trut lake view with red reflections

Trout Lake is about a kilometer walk from my place and yes, I am “shocked” by the beauty of the natural environment here, even in the big city!

No, I say, so far I am just very happy to be enjoying life back home in my beautiful city in what, by all accounts, has been the best summer and autumn in many years. And yes, I was ready to come home, was looking forward to my return and planning ahead for it. Having a knee ligament problem without proper medical interventions was a challenge this past year and I knew I needed to see a medical expert and put a physiotherapy and exercise plan in place. Thankfully I am now on the mend.

Of course, there have been some jarring juxtapositions and tugs at my heartstrings but overall these past three months have truly been a delightful “honeymoon period”.

 What was most “jarring”?

  • At first I was hyper sensitive to different smells and sounds – walking along the street inhaling aromas of Indian, Chinese, Mexican,Thai, Indonesian, Japanese and other foods, not to mention the heavenly scent of bacon. The sounds were so different; musicians jamming in the park across my street, the roar of motorcycles and swoosh of cars, noisy crows and gulls contrasted with what I had become accustomed to – a soundscape of barking dogs, donkey he-haws, the occasional hyena at night, coffee being pounded in a giant wooden mortar and pestle, twitterings of finches and cooing pigeons, the unique calls of hawkers passing in the Addis lanes, being immersed in Amharic speaking crowds
  • Food frenzy: This year’s super food is kale. Food TV is worse than ever with a focus on gluttony and competition. I have always loved to cook and entertain but this competitive cooking and search for exotic ingredients seems crazy to me. And the food demonizing has gone beyond silly – the current evil food is gluten. Is that meringue you made gluten-free? someone whispered to me at a party – well yes it is, I said. Good thing the hyperglycemia fad is over or it would have been deemed toxic! Read a blog that summed it up – these “rich white people’s diseases”. Inviting people over these days involves negotiating a minefield of allergies, restrictions, special diets and obsessions. And I wonder – are they any happier or healthier?
  • Technological advances leave me breathless in this “fast forward culture”. Everyone is pretty much connected to a personal device at all times and I am not immune – it is a double edged sword and I wonder if I could give up my iPhone or computer for a even a day… Socialize with people and inevitably someone will look things up online to get an answer or tidbit of information, or be reading their emails or texting. Being a pedestrian is much more hazardous due to “distracted driving” by people using such devices, causing more accidents. Homes are bursting with bigger, better, faster – the latest everything. I almost shrieked with surprise when a shiny giant refrigerator spit out ice cubes and cold water from one of its doors. A bit different from my water filtering and boiling process in Ethiopia! Shopping for new appliances is exhausting and disheartening; a salesman admitted to me that the old stoves are simpler and last longer. Will this planned obsolescence and the resulting pollution ever end?
  • Choices: Wisely I avoided big box stores for the first couple of months, though I did venture into a medium sized store to buy a toothbrush early on and was overwhelmed by the selection. Really, do we need all these options? I still prefer to shop at small neighbourhood stores within walking distance of my home. Being a consumer in this culture is hard work, not to mention very expensive. On the other hand, I appreciate more choice in newspapers, CBC radio, uncensored Internet independent media and the chance to speak freely about politics without fear.

What do you miss about Ethiopia?

 My Addis home and “family”

·         Recently I got an email from my VSO friend Judy reporting that Titi had 7 puppies and that made me homesick for the Addis compound…but I expect pictures will be sent to me once they come out of protective hiding. I imagine Sami, Meron and Eyob watching the pups in their basket and feeding them their first injera mush!

dogs jumping upYes I do miss them, but not their barking!

Animals on the streets and lanes

bull statueNo bulls (or sheep, chickens, donkeys or goats for that matter) wandering around Vancouver – just bronze facsimilies

Being famous

  • I no longer stand out in a crowd and people on buses or walking by on the street don’t strike up conversations with “Hello ferenji” and kids aren’t shouting “You, you, you” when I walk by, though some advertising campaign with “You! You! You! ” on the sides of some buses (sadly, didn’t get a picture) made me laugh out loud in August

My tips for easing into life after volunteering

  • Leave in bad weather and travel home in the best season – I returned to the most beautiful August in years. With every day a sunny day, the cold rainy season I had left in Addis quickly faded from memory

3 graces at sunsetThe sunset view from my condominium. What I call my “three graces” trees are still dancing gracefully in the park!

  • Have a sister who plans a warm welcome

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 Kat took excellent care of me as I got over my jet lag

welcome home cakeA welcome home cake concludes the feasting at Kat’s place

cake for breakfast at katsCake for breakfast on the deck with fruits I had not tasted in a year – why not?

  • Have a happy family reunion at a fairy tale wedding on a lake in the BC interior

canoe6Arrival of the bride by canoe – how Canadian is that?

windy sceneThe Kootenay Lake wedding of my niece Lea to Ryan was a three day fairy tale extravaganza

siblings2And a chance for all four siblings (Father of the bride Ken, Me, Eric and Kat) to spend time together!

I remembered how to driveAfter three years without driving I rented a car and drove (slowly) through the Fraser Valley and Okanagan to the Kootenays, pleased my driving skills came back to me within a few kilometers

Similkameen River at Forbidden FruitMarveling at the beauty of my Canada

Kat at Copper EagleKat fuels up for the road at Greenwood BC

  • Avoid all large manifestations of consumer culture until acclimatized
  • Walk in nature

ethiopian flag coloursTaking a walk to enjoy the leaves, I realized that the green, yellow and red trees echoed the Ethiopian flog colours of my scarf; in Ethiopia I had been collecting examples of flag colours for a blog which never got written, everything from flag underwear elastic to flip flops to sides of building in the patriotic colours, and here, back home, they appeared again!

  • Get a pass to the Vancouver International Film Festival and binge on films for two weeks, taking a baggage free world tour to put things in the global context
  • Attend events at the Writers’ festival, including hearing how Amanda Lindhout, who was kidnapped in Somalia for 460 days has re-framed her life’s purpose in helping Somali women and children get an education – and thank my lucky stars I escaped such trauma
  • Spend long lunches, dinners and coffee times with friends, getting updated on their lives and sharing thoughts on the state of the world
  • Stock my bedside table with library books! Re-join my 2 book clubs and start catching up on a lot of great reads
  • Savour the flavours of foods I have missed, knowing I don’t need to go overboard as they will still be there for the forseeable future
  • Continue online courses for my UBC Certificate in International Development. The timing was superb these past 6 weeks as Monitoring and Evaluation in Development helped me to put my volunteer work in perspective, appreciate how much I had learned from my various experiences and imagine ways I could move forward with what I now understand
  • Continue daily writing in my journal to track my thoughts and feelings and reflect on what I continue to learn in life
  • Drink Ethiopian coffee and keep connected with Ethiopian friends and volunteers

Issyas and zerefa fundraiserAt the end of September I attended a fundraiser for Zerefa’s NGO and got a chance to wear one of my outfits – here I am with Zerefa and her husband Issayas. This week she returned to Ethiopia to continue her work to support orphans in Woldia

  • Help my sister with book sales – I am very pleased to announce that Kat has a book out – Picturing Transformation, with sumptuous photographs by Nancy Bleck. Written in collaboration with Nancy and Chief Bill Williams, this book documents the ten year long “Utsam/Witness project” involving camping weekends attended by ten thousand people that saw indigenous people from the Squamish Nation, artists, environmentalists and a spectrum of BC citizens unite to peacefully protect the land at Sims Creek in the Upper Elaho Valley of BC from logging. It is an example of how welcoming people to the land in a traditional witness ceremony, and having them experience its spiritual and physical wealth transforms thinking and mobilizes people to protect the land for future generations. Its a testament to the power of collaboration and an inspiring lesson in the possibilities for resolving conflict peacefully.
  • Sign up for a Returned Volunteer Weekend – Cuso International offers a “re-integration” weekend for volunteers and I look forward to this opportunity on November 22-24th in Ottawa to meet other returned volunteers, share insights and experiences and talk more about development, especially as I see international development at a major crossroad right now. By the time I get to Ottawa, the snow may have reached the ground. Yikes! Stay tuned for an update when I return…

In Ethiopia a favourite phrase at work was “we need to change this into the Ethiopian context”. And yes indeed, we did! To ease my re-entry to life in Canada and decrease the jet lag, I decided to spend 8 days “in the English context” catching up with some VSO friends and seeing my cousin. It was great decision.

Arriving at 7:30 AM I found my hotel room was not yet available so when it was suggested I upgrade to deluxe what could I do but say yes! After a breakfast buffet binge, deep soak in the bathtub (had not seen one of these since September 2012) and a short nap, I indulged in a massage, room service, Food Network TV and an early deep long sleep on a king sized bed with an awesome mattress.

Yes, one does appreciate what one once took for granted after a period of basic living! Thanks to a suggestion from my friend Judy, I spent the next day exploring Kew gardens, a perfect antidote to the culture shock of London’s Heathrow hustle and bustle.

IMG_6737Glass greenhouses and mythical beasts

IMG_6750View from the tropical glass house

IMG_6752Climbed to the top for a bird’s eye look

IMG_6740Unusual and intriguing flowers

IMG_6736Pretty prancing peacocks

IMG_6772Water Lily pool

IMG_6778Never seen a red center before on a lotus blossom

IMG_6757Marine gardens too!

IMG_6768Edible plants and flowers display

IMG_6796My day at Kew Gardens was a total delight and I kept marveling at how fortunate I was to have this opportunity to walk in such beauty. What a wonderful world it is!

Two days of pampered decadence was sufficient though and on Sunday, I headed off to meet up with friends I knew in Ethiopia and who are now officially classified as “RVs”. No, they are not recreational vehicles, but “returned volunteers”, a label I now will also carry for the rest of my days. I left my two heavy bags at the hotel, packed a small one and took the tube in to London proper to meet Terry for a sunny afternoon and a classic pub lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Sunday roast with Terry

Terry has been home for several months but plans to return to Ethiopia for a final 6 months in September to complete her work with an NGO in Asosa. It was good to talk about our experiences, how to adjust to life back home and share thoughts on development and where things are heading in the world.

Later that afternoon, I caught a coach to Nottingham to spend a few days with Shelgah and Steve. Shelagh and I had shared the Woldia house and classroom in 2010-2011 and had lots to catch up on.

oldest inn in englandOver the next three days, Shelagh showed me the sights of her city, including the oldest Inn in England called “Trip to Jerusalem” where the crusaders were said to have set off from…

well dressingShelagh introduced me to the ancient tradition of “well dressing” that is a church art special to this region

misty catI met the famous princess cat Misty, the one I had heard so much about in Woldia… and she truly is magnificent!

berries for summer puddingHelped pick berries in the garden for a traditional English summer pudding, something we could only fantasize about in Woldia

Bestwood laodge hotelToured some lovely old buildings…

ES mansionVisited the grounds and exquisite gardens of Hardwick Hall

me and robin hoodAnd of course I had to say hello to Robin Hood!

lunch with peter and shleaghShelagh kindly offered to deliver me to Peter and Brenda’s place and Peter greeted us with a summery lunch in their garden served on an Ethiopian styled tablecloth from the NGO Bazaar in Addis

clotted creamBrenda came home late afternoon and after a walk about their village to see the highlights (wind mills, very contented large fat sheep and an ancient mud wall) we enjoyed a delicious dinner topped off by meringues with berries and clotted cream!

It is helpful to talk to others who have been home for awhile to hear how they have adjusted to the home culture and to “debrief” together what we learned from Ethiopia and from volunteering. I find it interesting how many people imagine themselves volunteering again, despite the many ups and downs we have all experienced. The kind of people who are selected to volunteer possess an admirable resilience I think, and an ability to re-frame things positively. For me though, three years is enough and I do not see myself heading off any time soon, at least for a long term assignment!

Eileen me and bethanBrenda kindly delivered me to a small nearby village to visit my cousin

Later that day Eileen and I took a bus into Leicester to have a reunion with her daughter Bethan. I had not seen them since 1999 so this was a great chance to catch up and see what a lovely young woman Bethan has become…and she said I had inspired her to travel!

bulls head pubAfter staying overnight with Eileen, we enjoyed a farewell lunch of the British classic at her neighbourhood pub in the small village of Stoney Stanton

fish chips and mushy peasMushy peas, fish and chips!

I spent my final night at the hotel near the airport and headed off early to Heathrow Airport to catch my 9-hour Air Canada flight back to Vancouver, happy that I had had this small interlude to ease back in to my next life!

That night my sister and I sat on her Vancouver balcony enjoying a glass of wine and I was re-assured by the art installation on the roof of a nearby building…yes indeed it will be good to adjust back to my home city of Vancouver, Canada!

rennie neon

Now it’s time to get myself back into the “Canadian context” as I spend time with friends and family and reflect on what I have learned over the past three years!

Three years ago  when I was new to Ethiopia I hesitated, somewhat fearful of the options before me – a line of blue and white taxis heading up the hill on Togo Street from the Haya Hulet (22) intersection on one side and a line of donkeys in tandem as I made my way to the VSO office. Should I risk getting kicked (I had read that donkeys can kick really hard) or brushed aside by a moving vehicle? In truth, there was nothing to worry about. Over the past two years I have come to enjoy these neighbourhood donkeys as they peacefully and stoically go about their work of carrying heavy loads – they are for hire and people order x number of “donkeys” of sand, wood, etc. When they have free time they lounge about, frolic in the open spaces or peacefully graze along the ditches.

donkeys in laneAfrican proverb: “If a donkey kicks you and you kick it back, you are both donkeys!”

My Addis Ababa neighbourhood has transformed drastically since I moved here two years ago; currently it has become a massive construction site along the main road and intersection due to construction of a light rail system for Addis. A reminder that nothing stays the same. Still, Haya Hulet has retained a sense of community for me as my small daily/weekly routines reassuringly continue. As I bid farewell to my volunteer life in Ethiopia, I want to appreciate the ways I have been nurtured by my neighbourhood in Haya Hulet (22) over the past two years by providing some glimpses of my routines and the people who enriched my life.

Amasha bread bakeryThis bakery sells tasty pita-like breads called ambesha, that toast up nicely for breakfast or sandwiches

flower shopBread and roses! This year I decided I would treat myself to fresh Ethiopia grown roses all the time – why not when they cost 10 cents each and are so fresh they can last for up to ten days?

black and white hair studioThe Black and White Hair Salon near St Gabriel’s Hospital of Djibouti Street where Dereije took good care of my hair

hairdressersBlack and White is a hive of activity on a Saturday afternoon!

breakfast with AnkeThe Mesti Cafe is a good quiet spot for breakfast in the sunny courtyard

Here I enjoy scrambled eggs in tomato sauce with a new friend Anke, who came to visit from Mombassa during the recent Kenyan election. She opened a nursery school there but lives most of the time in Vancouver so the next time we meet will be back home for a buna on Commercial Drive I expect! Anke and I met online in a discussion group last September while taking a UBC course on Culture, Communication and Development that is part of the International Development Certificate we are both completing.

construction at getfamThe Getfam Supermarket, my “go to” place for whole wheat pasta and other products not available in the smaller shops, is having a massive new building attached to the side

getfam constructionEucalyptus scaffolding is a common sight with so many buildings under construction 

The main drag near my place at the Haya Hulet intersection is Haile Gebre Selassie Street (after the Olympic runner). Over the past few months all the shops have had to move back about 10 meters to make way for the road construction. It is amazing how quickly they de-construct and re-establish themselves in a couple of weeks. All this moving makes walking even more hazardous, and really, really mucky now that the rainy season has arrived!

ditch at 22 It began a few months ago with roads being dug up and new pipes laid; some people say that also accounted for power and water cuts and internet cable problems…

Fruit and veg shopUp Togo Street and along the “middle road” closer to my place things are a bit more tame. This small shop has become my favourite shop for  fruits and vegetables – the sunny smiles of the helpful friendly staff  could brighten even the most overcast rainy season day. They will tell you not to buy the papaya if they are “not good” and are expert at selecting the best pineapple or avocado

inside fruit and veg shopThere is a lot packed inside this tiny shop!

fruit shopColourful produce brightens up many corners of the neighbourhood

golugul tower and donkeysThis building, the Gollugul Tower, was unwrapped about a year or so ago – when I first arrived  it was swathed in blue plastic and we used it as a landmark to find the VSO office, which has since re-located about a 20 minute walk away, down off the Getfam RoadBasket weaving manBy the park along Togo Street is this man who weaves baskets – I got my laundry basket and tiny side table from him and he has never given up trying to sell me more

veronica hotelThe Veronica Hotel is another landmark on the way up the hill to my place, right next door to the Pride Bar that was a gathering place before the VSO office moved out of the neighbourhood. Togo Street has become even more crowded and hazardous since the construction began

hole in the wall sewing centerLiterally operating a “hole in the wall” shop, this guy magically appears and then puts the fence back up when he closes;no one would guess he has his sewing machine inside!

haya hulet intersectionThis is what Haya Hulet intersection looked like a few months ago before the start of construction…on the right are the contract taxis that make Haya Hulet their base

daniel taxi driver and daughterHere is Daniel, an excellent taxi driver based at the intersection, taking his daughter to school!

The past few months I have gotten very expert at negotiating reasonable taxi fares due to my painful knee ligament flare-ups. I am hoping that my knee will heal up nicely once I am home on solid and even pavement.

new years day at haya huletAll these shops had to move back about 10 meters and many disappeared altogether – this is what it looked like in January

haya hulet from gollugulAnd now, in the midst of the construction, people dodge heavy equipment and shield their eyes from the dust

haya hulet under constructionThis is what Haya Hulet looked like this week!

haya hulet juztapositionA sign showing more construction to come as the vendors “carry on regardless” amidst the construction dust and noise   mitiku phone card manAto Mitiku is always cheerful, efficient and fun to visit – his shop is where I always bought my phone cards to top up the phone and the laptop

When the shop disappeared a couple of months back we were worried but my nearby neighbour and sister volunteer Judy found out from the guy selling newspapers on the sidewalk that Mitiku had relocated kitty corner and down a bit under the Chicago Pizza place. We were delighted to find him again and to learn that his 3 Birr discount on a hundred Birr card was still in effect!

judy and Lamaz at Ato Negash shopAcross from the Mesti Cafe is Ato Negash’s shop where we go for local gin or wine, Ambo mineral water and sometimes candles, eggs and laundry soap.

Here Judy is trading in some bottles and Ato Negash’s grand-daughter Almaz is in charge. Ato Negash has a perplexing system of noting down the bottles you have taken in a large notebook and then leafing though pages and pages to locate your name to see if you owe him or he owes you. He scolds me because he cannot find my name for the gin bottle because it was two  months ago – why not drink faster, he suggests!

mpo and brrom guyI will miss the distinctive and loud cry of the mop and broom guy who plies the laneways and never gives up trying to sell me his wares

mrs and Mr Hope electricThis has to be the nicest couple in the world

We call them “Mr and Mrs Hope Electric” with their side-by-side shops. She sells pajamas and clothes while his electric shop is jam packed with everything you need – and he can fix anything! Often they give you a cup of traditional coffee when you come by. He rigged up a creative three piece extension cord system so I could have a bedside lamp;for this I am eternally grateful. Then when the front of my iron fell off, he screwed it back together – no charge. Same thing when the dial fell off!

Nahuta MarketNahuta Market became a favourite soon after it opened this past year – it’s where I go for candles, olives, soft (toilet paper), coffee and imported wine, local cheese, eggs, yoghurt and butter- they also sell party hats!

outsdie NahutaAnd gas canisters

ditch at 22Walking around the neighbourhood has become more challenging each day, especially with daily rains that create thick, goopy mud

snesible shoes (not!)So when I saw these platform shoes for sale on Djibouti Street I had to laugh out loud. Imagine wearing them in the muck!

wini in cafeHere is Wini at her Gourmet Cafe about a block from my house

This amazingly popular place, open now for eight years, serves very tasty high quality “ferenji” food. Wini’s friend Mimi creates fabulous cakes, including carrot cake, and her strawberry tart is the best ever! Wini also has build a school near her home town and over a bowl of her chicken soup yesterday she told me she plans to be back in the US soon to raise funds to support it.

me and wini at gourmet cafeThe cafe patio is a great place to meet friends on a sunny day

Yesterday Wini inherited the remains of my truffle oil and vanilla beans since she is the only person I know who would actually appreciate and use them! A few months back she came over to my place to learn how I make biscotti.

marian and henok last ful mealHenok and I met for a final lunch at Tedy’s Snack off Djibouti Street near the Awaris Hotel- one final bowl of Ful. Amazing how different the Ful is in every cafe!

road runner jamboThe Road Runner Cafe, scene of my last jambo (draft beer) last night with this gang of volunteers, come to bid me adieau.

I was happy to hand over my leopard housecoat to Brian and the non-stick frying pan with glass lid to Sun and Howie. It has been a busy few weeks of giving away most of the worldly goods I’ve accumulated over the past three years.

Immediately after, I had a final feast of Almaz’s famous tibs (she knows they are my favourite and surprised me with some – how sweet). Soon after, we had a round of tearful hugs, I scratched Titi and Rocky behind the ears but Pico was uncharacteristically elusive and refused to say good-bye; I think he was punishing me for leaving. Earlier in the day he snuck into my packing madness and peed on the floor! Ato Kifle and Sami took me to the airport and after hours of check-in, two security checks and immigration fingerprinting I finally flew off about 1:30 am on one of Ethiopian Airlines other (not grounded) Dreamliners to London – I must say that despite the troubles Boeing is having with these planes, they are lovely, spacious aircraft.

Almaz and coffeeAlmaz served one last cup of traditional Ethiopian coffee just before I left for the airport

I hope to be back in a few years for a visit. Shelagh and I have talked of coming to see Henok graduate from medical school and I will want to see how Sami, Meron and Eyob have grown up as well as  connect with old friends from Woldia and in Addis. It would be fun to see the transformation of this city; by then there should be a functioning light rail system to ease the traffic problems and many more completed buildings. In the meantime, thanks to email and Facebook we can stay connected, as they like to say here, “from time to time”!

rocky and pico sleeping in sunSon and father sleeping in the sun – yes, I will be missing these guys!

But for now it is ciao to Ethiopia and my good neighbourhood as I head home with a pit stop in London to see VSO friends and relatives before the big wedding in Nelson, BC of my niece Lea and a chance to reunite with the whole family at a joyous celebration at the August long weekend.

Thank you Ethiopia – you have taught me a lot! Over the next few months, as I transition to  life back in Vancouver, I’ll be reflecting on how I have been changed by this experience before I close this blog following the Cuso International RV (returned volunteer) weekend in Ottawa next November.

The Ethiopian Airlines flight landed smoothly and on time and as we stepped out into the sweltering heat of Dire Dawa a man with a sign saying “Welcome Marian and Howard” immediately packed us into his minibus and drove us up into the much cooler mountains lush with crops and intricate stone terracing. I was pleased that “Howard” aka “Howie” decided to join me on this expedition – he is a Canadian volunteer who’s been here for about 3 months now. He has lived in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean so it was fun to share this experience with a seasoned traveler who also happens to be a “foodie” like me! He and his housemate Mingfei Sun, a young IT volunteer from China, will be inheriting a lot of my kitchen stuff later on this week when I leave Ethiopia and I have no doubt this will advance their culinary adventures…mountain road  to hararMaize, coffee, khat are the major income generators in this area

hillside terraces en rout to hararHarar is located in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, about 525 km from Addis Ababa and 43 km from the lowland and very hot city of Dire Dawa. It take less than an hour to fly and 8-10 hours by road

lake along road to hararCloser to Harar we sped past a lake that is apparently great for bird life

narrow streetBiniyam, our terrific guide, met us at the gate to the old city of Harar, know as Jagul and led us down the narrow labyrinth of streets  to Rewda Guest House to drop off our backpacks

rewda's basket wallI had seen pictures of this traditional Harari house from other volunteers, but you really have to see it to believe it!

There are about 100 of these family houses still in operation in Jagul and each one has the same configuration with platforms at different levels for various household members to sit ( we won’t dwell on the male superiority embedded in this…). The walls hold the treasured baskets of the family, made by the women, some of the largest taking months to complete. A girl needed to make a certain number of various types, including” Mother-in-Law” baskets prior to marriage. A more recent addition is the colourful enamel ware from Asia that seems to blend in perfectly.

orignal harari carpet weavingThe carpets are imports from the middle east but Biniyam flipped one up to show us an original woven carpet underneath

pot "banks"The four large black containers on the shelf are the family “bank” originally containing coins, jewelry, incense and seeds

fine basket workWe flipped a coin and I got the upper room in the main house and Howie got one in the courtyard next to the shared bathroom

Rewda’s Guest House has about 3-4 rooms for rent within the family compound. Normally she serves a delicious breakfast but because it is now Ramadan we paid a bit less and ate out in the new town. Harar is considered the spiritual heart of Ethiopia’s large Islamic community and the fourth holiest city of Islam. Almost the entire population of Jagul is Muslim, although there is one Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church and one Catholic church in the city. We were treated to late night chanting (with a bit of excessive drumming in my opinion) but it did add to the authenticity of experience!

late afternoon lightEvery one of the hundreds of narrow streets offers fascinating views – it felt like going back in time (if one blanked out the electric wires and satelite dishes!)

making tibs at hirutTime for lunch at the atmospheric Hirut Restaurant where the chef puts on a good show in the open kitchen

special tibs at Hirut restairantVoila – Special Tibs, made with goat meat served with awaze paste and a basket of bread.injera to scoop it up

wall from aboveAfter lunch we took a tuk-tuk above the old town to get a birds eye view of the wall built in the 1560’s

big mosqueBiniyam estimates about 40,000 people currently live in Jagul

meskel flower close upOn the hillside I was pleased to get close up to some meskel daisies; these are sold for the September 27th Orthodox Christian Meskel celebrations all over Ethiopia but I had never before seen them growing in the wild

gateThen we proceeded down to the Buda Gate, one of the 5 main gates of the old city

downhill from gate marketHarari women dress very colourfully so every view is a visual feast

biniyam and berebere at marketShiro and berbere among the many tasty blends available by the kilo – when I asked for a small handful of Danakil salt and a bit of tikur azmut (black cumin) to bring home, they didn’t charge me because they consider these amounts too small!

bird on grain sackFire finches enjoy free samples too!

oily beans goolow for greasing injera makerBiniyam squeezed some beans (goolow) to show us how these oily beans are used for their greasing the traditional clay injera griddles. I was able to finally understand what Dirib had tied to explain to me in Woldia when she showed me how to make injera; at the time I had been confused when  she indicated that the grease she had in an old tin was from a bean!

woil containersThis market is huge – here a whole section is dedicated to re-cycling the ubiquitous yellow oil containers

man sleeping in marketWhen you are fasting from sun up to sun down an afternoon nap can be very tempting!

women carying woodWomen carrying heavy loads of wood

women walking past green buildingI saw many more women carrying things on their heads here than anywhere else I had been in Ethiopia

woman with large plastic bag loadHow heavy is this?

wall coloursLovely colourful walls presented themselves at almost every turn

blue mosqueHarar has 90+ tiny mosques as well as several large ones and is said to have the largest concentration of such shrines in the world

turqoise top mosqueEach one unique

upper level indian influenceThe Indian influence is seen on a number of houses with interesting balconies and roof finials

rimbuad museumThe Rimbaud Museum in a building restored with funds form France to celebrate the 12 years French poet Arthur Rimbaud spent in Harar in the late 1800’s

rimbaud museum stairsRimbaud poetry on the walls!

rimbuad top floor ceilingFrescoes on the ceilings

rimbaud artSketching journals

old photoAn interesting collection of old photos

view from rimbaud houseGreat views of the old city

bird of preyIncluding for the massive kites that circle overhead!

blacksmith shopThis is the Blacksmith area closed now for Ramadan

wall buildersAn old wall being restored in traditional fashion

Harar is a UNESCO World Heritage site and awarded a Peace Prize in 2002-2003 for being a role model of different cultures and religions living in harmony

UNESCO cities for peace prize

main  gateThe main Harar gate with the UNESCO and Peace Prize plaques

stiars and mosqueAncient stone steps lead to a mosque

coffee raoterIsn’t it time for some coffee?

roasted coffee spinningDivine aroma!

coffee packingGrinding and packing the buna  by the kilo – yes there is some coming home to Vancouver with me!

nure coffeeNure Roasted Harar Coffee – famous all over Ethiopia!

mosque detailTraditional basket replica outside a mosque

hyena guyAs night falls the hyenas come out. This has been a tourist attraction of Harar since the 50’s or 60’s

howie "kissing " hyenaHowie is kissed by a hyena!

howie with hyena on his backHowie and hungry hyena with meat in his mouth

feeding hyena with stickI decide its not that scary but ask for a longer stick

me feeding hyenaThen get braver and make him do tricks

hyena on my backBut realize that hyenas are really heavy (males weight 80-85 kg and females 85-90) and I don’t want it pressing on my back so say “Get this thing off me – beka (enough) and woraj (stop)” Hey but I DID it! His name was Willie I think – all these hyenas have names!

hyena place by dayIn daylight we see the site of the hyena feeding – a shine to a Muslim saint – these often are build with sycamore trees planted on top that eventually merge with the shrine as this one has…

harar fulNext morning Biniyam picks us up to go to eat ful at his favourite spot and I down a double makeeto in anticipation of another big day of sight seeing

khat buildingsWe hop a line taxi to Aweday about 5 km away and the site of Ethiopia’s largest khat market – that’s a typical khat bundle being carried on her head. The khat is wrapped in wet leaves to keep it moist…I decide the architect of the building on the left must have been chewing!

khat market entrance womenEntering the khat market into another world!

khat bouquet on headKhat must be consumed within 48 hours and this place bustles 24-7 with trucks speeding off to Djibouti and Somaliland with top quality khat. The fresh green leaf is a mild stimulant that is legal in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen and Somalia

girl who wanted her photo takenWe climbed up the stairs for a better view of the massive scene and this girl asked me to take her photo

men in room sorting khatRoom after room is full of chat being sorted and bundled by men

biniyam and top quality khatBiniyam displays a bundle of the best, costing about 1000 Birr ($60 CDN)

scene from above khat sortingWe were told that khat is a big income generator for Ethiopia and because it grows faster than coffee and is worth more it is taking over coffee production in the region. And no, I did not try any – my metabolism is already speedy enough!

rooftopBack in Jagul we continued to tour. This is a house that future Emperor Haile Selassie is said to have lived in until age 18

selaasie home detail rooftopNow being transformed into a museum to preserve/display the history of Harar

small mosqueFor lunch we met a couple of fellow volunteers, Helen and Mark Anthony, from nearby Haromaya University for a leisurely lunch at a local ferenji spot called Fresh Touch in the new town, then meandered back to Rewda’s to relax a bit in the courtyard and watch the kids playing.  When we got there a goat had just been slaughtered at the gate so we had to wait for the blood to be hosed away before we could get in…!

future hyena tamerA future hyena tamer practices on the cat with the freshly slaughtered goat meat!

Later on we wandered back to Hirut for dinner and conversation with Biniyam – since he knows every detail of his city and the history of Ethiopia and has become very well aware of many parts of the world from his interactions with tourists from all over, he is a great conversationalist. At 25 he has a bright future ahead of him I am sure. Every aspect of our visit was a delight; he seemed to know exactly what tell us and what to show us, tailoring the walks to suit our interests and ensuring we did not miss any highlights that if we were simply wandering about on our own we would surely have missed.

flour millLike a peek inside a flour mill

making fetireOr where to find the expert who makes fetira in this giant griddle

howie and breakfast fetire and chechebsaSunday morning we set off for another cafe to sample fetira with egg and honey and spicy chechebsa, both very tasty!

donkey basket with mangoesThen took a walk through the peaceful early morning streets to the mango market – it is mango season and donkeys are the main transporters using these attractive leather saddles

mango marketMangos galore

braying donleyThis donkey had a loud opinion!

wall sceneBack inside the old city past another one of the gates near the mango market

colourful houseInside a well known Harari  family compound attached to a mosque

tomb wall creatorFinally we arrive at the tomb of the man who built the Harar wall – Ibn Nur al Mujahadeen

Domes can tell you if the person was a warrior, politician, scholar or spiritual protector. They have 99 protrusions to indicate the 99 names of Allah and also for practical reasons to maintain the structure by allowing climbing for upkeep and painting.

tomb of wall creatorI had a scarf to cover my head and took off my shoes to see inside – this tomb is surrounded by other graves

boy inside tombThis little guy came in with me!

Late morning we hustled back to collect our bags for the drive back to the Dire Dawa airport and the flight home to Addis after a great weekend in Harar.

ras mekkonen on horseStatue of Ras Mekonnen, father of Emperor Haile Selassie and the man appointed by Emperor Menelik to rule Harar after defeating Emir Abdullah at the Battle of Chelenko in 1887

Final photo of us on HararFinal photo as we head back to the airport – thanks Biniyam for an absolutely perfect Harar tour!

NOTE: Anyone wanting to contact tourist guide Biniyam can email him at feresmegala@gmail.com or call 0911 076 059