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Archive for the ‘Preparing for change’ Category

“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.

coffee mugs

·         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

xmas self portrait

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!

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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

kat on deck

 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…

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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.

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“Oh” said Shelagh “I think he is holding that air filter hostage!” We were enjoying a return visit to Woldia and Lailibela and the usual bizarre and at times hilarious adventures along the way reminded me of our ten months sharing a volunteer life at Woldia College of Teacher Education in 2010-2011.

steve and shelagh at selam busSteve and Shelagh ready to board the Selam Bus at 5:30 AM to go to Dessie. They had come from Nottingham for a visit and I joined them for the Woldia-Lalibela part of their trip since it was my last chance to see the folks I know in Woldia and Lalibela before I leave in July

My companion at the window seat turned out to be an interesting fellow. A Protestant, he explained his work as a religious educator and I got some insights into his world view that helped me better understand the rising trend toward Protestantism in Ethiopia. I also felt refreshingly able to share my own perspectives with this obviously intelligent and committed man. We talked about the work they are doing to help the poorest members of their congregation and those infected with HIV, using the government 1:5 model that also is used in workplaces. In this model people are organized into small groups of 5 with one being the leader. In his context he felt this  model helped them not only teach religion but also identify those in need. He seemed appreciative of my suggestions on how to infuse some critical thinking into their work..quite an stimulating 6-8 AM conversation indeed!

debre sina vendorsDebre Sina! When Shelagh and I were en route back and forth we usually texted each other when we reached this half way point to Dessie, that is the usual 30 minute stop. Persistent sellers offer a wide range of specialties including kollo (roasted barley with a few peanuts), dried oregano, sugar cane, fruits in season – this time small plums, oranges and mangoes.

We had our traditional makeeato and looked forward to the second leg of the journey, thinking we were making such good time we might get to Woldia by 4 and could certainly make it to Dessie with having to visit the infamous Debre Sina toilets. But we were in for a surprise…

collecting luggae from selam busThe bus had broken down and they started unloading luggage off the disabled beast – and we had paid extra for this relatively luxurious and safer vehicle!

Amidst the chaos we eventually got onto a minibus arranged by the bus company but our tickets were taken from us and not returned and, as is the tradition, no one explained anything. Certainly no chance of a refund. Taking a bus in Ethiopia is never simple.

camel and manHowever we headed down the mountain into the lowlands, passing plenty of camels

donkey road hazardDrivers must watch out for donkeys and lorries – all part of the journey

road cattleMore typical road hazards

shop along the road near kombolchaDropping off a Peace Corps couple near Kombolcha I snapped this colourful vignette

winding road to DessieThen we headed up the long winding road to Dessie

dessie bus stationAt last we reached the Dessie bus station, stopping at a cafe first to use the “almost as awful as Debre Sina” loo…

arab and weyela on minibusNegotiating our final minibus ride of the day

Me “Is this driver going to chew khat”

Man  “Of course not, he is fine”

Me : “Are you telling me the truth?”

Man “Yes of course, I am taking this bus myself'”

crowded bus in gashenaLets see how many we can squish in…

dessie main streetOn the way out of Dessie – the main street

khat stopFirst stop out of Dessie near Hyak the same passenger who had assured me about the khat insisted we stop and proceeded to purchase a large bouquet of khat which I later watched him sharing with the driver

My experience is that it is not possible to travel from Dessie to Woldia without going in a minibus driven by a driver who is chewing khat, despite the fact it is illegal for drivers to chew. Like so many things here, the law has been written but the enforcement steps have yet to be taken…though there are a lot of traffic police checking for overcrowding these days…

sunrise at lalibela from top 12 I foolishly chose the worst seat and spent the next 2.5 hours bracing myself so I would not be tossed out as we careened up the mountain curves, while several of my fellow passenger proceeded to discreetly vomit into plastic bags and toss them out the windows. As Lonely Planet accurately states travel on Ethiopian buses can be “Butt-clenching”!

past dessie up highBest to focus in the scenery and visualize a safe arrival – in times like these it IS the destination, not the journey that keeps me going!

a small river..The final hurdle – a small river to charge through where the road had washed out

animals heading home at duskAnimals heading home at dusk, a lovely pastoral scene

freshly ploughed fieldsWoldia at last! Total time from 4 AM wake up to arrival = 15 hours to travel 520 km!

shekla tibsWe met the Woldia volunteers and headed out for beer and skekla tibs with injera, about all that’s on the menu right now with all other items being “not available” as usual. Luckily no vegetarians in the group or they would have been out of luck

cow outside aisling's bedroomAisling the new volunteer had kindly invited me to stay with her. We awoke to discover a cow had arrived overnight and settled in under the bedroom window.Well these things happen…it’s owner recovered it 24 hours later

chocho in woldiaThat morning I headed into town in a bajaj for breakfast and there he was – ChoCho the one horned pet Afar goat lives! Though he did seem pretty old and frail I was pleased I got to see him one last timecute bajajOne thing I really love about Woldia is the easy way you can get a bajaj anywhere for about 10 cents

special ful at wawNaturally I had to have Special  Ful for breakfast at the Waw Cafe balcony and enjoy the passing parade

chechebsa at wawAnother tasty breakfast option is chechebsa – small chunks of fried bread soaked in a honey-spiced butter-berbere mixture

cinema advertising vanOh yes, I had forgotten how these buses troll the streets with really loud speakers blaring out the cinema on offer at the municipal  hall

woldia view from wawConstruction continues to boom with skeletal scaffolds above already open ground floors

beer with zelalemThat afternoon we met up with Zelalem, who had been in my class, for a beer and to catch up on all the gossip. Aisling on the right is the new young Irish volunteer working with the Woldia University Higher Diploma Program

zerefa and her sisterLate afternoon we met Zerefa and her sister dressed for the Mels of their nephew Tamrat. We were honoured to be invited to attend this event that coincided with our trip to Woldia and Zerefa was thrilled that her match making had worked out!

aisling jim and tekluWe were all graciously included – Aisling is joined by Jim, another Irish volunteer who was passing though town on a Ministry of Education road trip with his colleague Teklu on the right

wedding welcomeExcitement mounted as candles were lit and a sheep was herded into the center of a jubilant circle of people clapping, drumming and singing

wedding sheep and drumI wondered if it was to be slaughtered on the spot but then I saw the buffet so I think it was given a reprieve…

bridesmaidsBridesmaids!

grrom and brideGroom Tamrat helps his bride Feven out of the car

wedding scene with briede and grrom and basketsA Mels happens after the wedding and is where the family of the bride welcomes the family of the groom or vise versa. The groom Tamrat is from Canada and his bride is from Dessie

buffetThe wedding party enjoys an impressive buffet

I was an honour to be included in their celebration and I wish Tamrat and Feven many blessings as they begin their married life together.

Next day I visited the new Woldia University

woldia university tea houseWoldia University is up and running in two years with 6 faculties and first and second year students, an impressive accomplishment. This round tea room is gorgeous!

woldia universityIt is astounding how fast this university went up. Two years ago it was only a plan. Last year they started using a temporary facility nearby and now they have enrolled 2nd years students amid the construction on campus – a work in progress!

sharing a laugh with balianeshIt was fun to meet old friends from our time in Woldia CTE who have moved on to work at the university. Balainesh is now secretary to our former college dean, Ato Bihonegn

friend from woldia CTE now at universityBalianesh, Tesfaw works in Finance and Ato Bigonegn is Vice President – Administration

countryside n=and jeery cans near universityWomen  with jerry cans of water near the university campus, a reminder that 85% of the population still exists on subsistence farming alongside this rapid expansion of tertiary educational facilities and that only about a quarter of adult females are literate and half of males…

Later I visited my old workplace, and was amazed at the transformation

Woldia CTE buildingsThe new Woldia College of Teacher Education is almost complete. Next step will be the landscaping

I enjoyed some brief reunions with many of the instructors who had been in my HDP class though about a third have transferred to other institutions, as is common here. Still it was lovely to sit and catch up with several in their new offices and share a thirst quenching laslasa (soft drink) in the hot sun with others. The next day I spoke to several on the phone that I had missed seeing, including Nejashi who said, “Please don’t forget us”. “I promise you”, I replied, choking up a little, “I will never forget you” How could I?

goofing around in the old HDP ELIC roomAt the College we enjoyed some silliness with masks in our old classroom, scheduled to be demolished in a month since the new buildings are all  but complete

with grads and yokosoIt was a delightful surprise to see a group of 3rd year students about to graduate – when we were there they were beginners! And the boy called  Yokoso in front with the drawings turned up too – he used to draw me a lot of lions on scrap paper I provided and he is still at it!

woldia VSOs past and presentTea time with the soon to graduate students – here you see all the volunteers in Woldia past and present lined up. Alain and David replaced Shelagh and me and have now almost completed their two years. Aisling arrived two months ago to teach HDP at the new university

Marian serke and shelaghAnd Serke has a new Shy Bet (tea house) near the primary School so we had another reunion

future teachersFuture teachers brimming with confidence!

passin scne shopI enjoyed a visit to the Adago area and said hi to a few shop owners I knew

makeato fancy cup with sayingPaused for a makeato at the Hamar Cafe – it came is a most surprising cup!

The message on the saucer read: “In the taste you may do as much as you like to enjoy an elegance and leisure. Even if there is a leisure time for awhile you still can expel sadness and oppression.” Indeed!

All too soon it was time to say a final farewell to Woldia and tackle a day of bus travel to Lalibela to visit our friend Susan at her Ben Abeba restaurant, the one Shelagh and I had seen two years earlier when it was still under construction. Stay tuned for part two, including the fate of that air filter…and a visit to a movie set…

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In-between time

Have had a “blog pause” for the summer in Vancouver, fully enjoying the delights of home with friends and family. I am now in the final throes of packing for my return on September 15th and will begin my new job in Addis soon after I arrive. I plan to begin a new chapter of blogs on my life/work in Addis Ababa.

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This summer I dropped by the CUSO-VSO office and had a chance to learn something about podcasts. I hope they will work with the slower internet in Ethiopia. Meanwhile if you want to hear what I had to say about my past year’s experience and what I am now anticipating you can listen to my first podcast.

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Stopping over in London en route to Addis, I got an enhanced history lesson, courtesy of the British Museum. The collection of Ethiopian items was small but rich in juicy details to bring alive the history I’ve been studying. (Click on images to enlarge them.) Here’s a fascinating painting, artist unknown, of the 1930 crowning of Haile Salassie as emperor, depicting him as a lion. Yes, a lion king! It seems this is an example of the secular tradition in Ethiopian painting which began in the 1920’s and grew out of a very ancient tradition in religious painting in the Ethiopian orthodox Christian Church.

Next I came upon the Battle of Adwa, where the Ethiopians defeated the Italians in 1896 and became continental heroes.

From the accompanying British Museum text: “The battle of Adwa, 1896, artist unknown, depicts Emperor Menelik II and the Imperial Ethiopian Army defeating a large Italian colonial force. The faces of the Italians and their allies are shown in profile while the Ethiopians are painted in full face. This was an Ethiopian convention showing the forces of good and evil.The triumphant victory at Adwa brought Ethiopia to the world’s attention, strengthening the country’s image as a defender of African independence. Ethiopia became an inspiration for the African continent and for Africans around the world.” Here is a battle detail:

There were also some beautiful textiles that will show up on this blog later, but for now, I need to go out for a final feast of mushy peas and get ready for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow I fly to Addis Ababa and step off the plane into a whole new life. September 11th is New Years in Ethiopia and this year with the Eid festivities at the end of Ramadan, I imagine it will be a pretty festive time to arrive.

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I had told the salesclerk I was going to work in Africa and asked for help finding a conservative but professional looking skirt. Now CUSO-VSO not being a high end organization, I found it pretty laughable when she said, when queried about wrinkling, “well dear you’ll just need to tell your houseboy not to put it in the dryer”.  Hmm. As far as I know there may not even be hot water, the electricity may be sporadic and certainly there will be no washer-dryer in my humble abode. Same planet, different worlds indeed.

Baggage preoccupies me during this final week of preparations for my new life. Initially daunting, the 25 kg baggage limit has been re-framed as a challenge. The rationale that we are not meant to come laden with material goods when our overarching goal is the elimination of poverty makes sense. Still, its hard to fit a wardrobe that looks professional (and conservative to show respect for cultural norms) and takes into account rainy season (remember the “wellies” all those already there keep warning me to bring?), warm days and cold nights/mornings. An Ethiopian woman I met last week warned me charmingly to take warm clothes; “It can be very crispy in the mornings”. Woldiya is in the Northeast Highlands, 2200 metres above sea level.

Imagine my delight when an amazing gift, thanks to email, came to me this week in the form of Judy, a sister volunteer who has been happily living in Ethiopia for the past 3 years, doing the same job I’ll be doing in a different town. She was in Vancouver this past week for a nephew’s wedding so I practically inhaled her expert advice on what to pack and peppered her with questions about the living conditions and the work I will be doing. Very reassuring.

Packing to keep healthy and fit and to entertain myself, I’ll carry along my yoga mat and inflatable fit-ball. My laptop is loaded with music CDs and Tai Chi instructions. Memories will travel along of this past month being feted at BBQs, garden parties and dinner parties and more tete a tetes with individuals and groupings of friends and family than an MP on summer recess. Photos will brighten my screen saver with wonderful reminders of all the love and support back home.

Brothers Ken and Eric, me and sister Kat who hosted our family dinner

Creativity nurtures my spirit so, with the help of my expert quilter friend Carol, I embroidered a small Chartres labyrinth “finger quilt” to carry along to remind me of home and use as a meditation tool. I enjoyed making it so much that a kit for another in a different colour scheme is going into the bag. Click on the picture to see a close-up of 3 months worth of French knots!

Baggage can weigh a person down so de-cluttering my home and giving away a lot of my possessions has been most liberating.To give myself encouragement I reviewed The Story of Stuff, an amazing little video about over consumption.I had my own private car-free festival yesterday when brother Ken drove off with my (now his) old car! I look forward to a much simpler life. Woldiya, I have read, relies mainly on donkey carts for local transport. So I guess the gas will be free!

What of the other baggage that I carry though, the cultural norms, habits, my worldview? Years ago a fellow named Daniel Kealey did his PhD thesis on what makes Canadians effective overseas. The results were surprising in that many who saw themselves as very effective were in fact not seen that way by their host country counterparts. To help remedy this dis-connect a training tool was developed  by the the Canadian Foreign Affairs Center for Intercultural Learning called the  Profile of the Interculturally Effective Person . Part of our July CUSO-VSO orientation involved simulations based on “competencies’ for intercultural effectiveness that I expect will serve me well when I inevitably face communication challenges. Experiential learning tends to stick. The phrase “pause your impatience” was a lesson I learned back in 1992 with the Project Overseas team in Sierra Leone. Since then, whenever my type A drive begins to get the upper hand, I visualize pressing an imaginary “pause button” while taking a deep breath. A good teaching to carry from my West African experience to this new adventure in the Horn of Africa.

Certainly, the things I carry go beyond the baggage I will check in at the Vancouver airport on September 7th. Preparing for take-off as best I can mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically I’ve built a scaffold for what comes next. I bring excitement and optimism to this new life. Education is my life journey and I imagine it as a mobius strip of teaching- learning -reflecting-teaching-learning-reflecting . Ultimately that’s what I expect will sustain me. Now I just can’t wait to get going!

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