Posts Tagged ‘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!


·         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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The preparations began weeks ahead with the setting of the date (Saturday, June 15th) and invitations issued. This past week involved a flurry of provisioning and baking. Meron and Eyob offered to decorate and Sami appointed himself the music man. Peter kindly agreed to let us transform his larger salon into the indoor party place since the rainy season is early this year and the forecast was metfo (bad) with thunder and rain predicted.

meron and etob decoratingMeron and Eyob get into decorating mode

kifle eyob and almazCooking up chocolate cake, pumpkin pie and lentil curry in my kitchen! Even Ato Kifle came in to watch – he is the expert sheep selector!


The decorating started early and continued all afternoon, using up all the balloons, ribbons, candy wrappers and tape I had squirreled away for the occasion of my last hurrah!

eyob and meron at work on watermelonSaturday morning we get down to serious preparations. Here are Eyob and Meron – the watermelon team!

meron and I with our art!Meron and I show off our creations!

a touch of canada olives and cheddarCanadian content – olives and cheddar on flag toothpicks.

night sheepWhen I got home from having a pint at the Pride after my last (yipee!) Volunteer Committee meeting on Friday evening Sami immediately introduced me to our sheep!

very attractive sheepNext morning I thanked the sheep and assured it that it would be memorialized on the internet  for its contribution to the party

dogs wait from a distanceMeanwhile these three waited from a safe distance in hungry anticipation! I am happy to say that they behaved very well at the party, no one was nipped or even threatened – I think they were too full! Rocky the pup seems to have had a positive effect on his parents!

sheep and butcherThe butcher arrived late morning

slaughtered sheep hangingBloody business…but close to the bone;after all, if you eat meat, this is as close to the source as it gets

cutting up sheepAlem, who is staying with us now and has been working in the middle east off and on for the past 8 years, assisted with the meat cutting. She is an awesome cook and helped out a lot this week! I think she should open her own cafe..

amazon and alem with lots of meat!Amazon and Alem have plenty of chopping and cutting on their hands!

adding more meatAlmaz, Amazon and Etenu ( and Alem) all got involved in the tibs preparation

goodbye signPeter’s walls made a good backdrop for goodbye messages in both official languages

table and decorations in  peters place with me and eyobSami decided it was time for a photo when we began setting out food

sami the music manMusic by Sami. Peter decided he has a future s a DJ!

sami's pumpkin pieSami proudly shows off pumpkin pies squares he has decorated with Canadian maple syrup cream and walnuts and then says to me “I think it is time for you to change”…

me in woldia dressSo I put on my Woldia party dress!

sizzling tibsMeantime the tibs continued to simmer and scent the air wonderfully

cooking the tibsI recently found out that Almaz had a cafe before Sami was born – no wonder she is such a great chef!

sandwiched between 2 peters!Peter K was first to arrive so we decided it was time for a glass of wine with me sandwiched between the “two Peters” in Peter’s salon (he is on the left). Peter K told Sami that all British men named Peter come with beards and glasses!

peter and endashaw - my neighboursThis past year Peter Cheer and Endashaw have been my friendly compound neighbours

anjeli mike and endashawCanadian doctors Anjeli and Mike along with Endashaw, also Canadian, are all heading home soon

suzie and judySuzie and Judy share a moment!

tucking in to appetizers and conversationThe crowd grows and the skies threaten but hold off so we can enjoy the open space

food is served by almazTibs, gomen and lentil curry are served with injera!

howie abiy and samiHowie, Abiy Eshete (artist) and Sami share ideas

henok and meronHenok and his sister Meron arrive!

lovely smiles - merson and edanWonderful support staff from VSO Meron and Eden enjoy the scene. Missing Selamwit in this picture – she is a true gem and was off elsewhere enjoying the party – so glad they all could come!

Selamawit receptionHere’s a picture of Selamawit!

These three young bright talented women deserve gold stars for all the hard work they do for volunteers!

liz and biruk reunion!More arrive and greet old friends – lots of out-of-towners came too!

kate barbara helen and danKate, Barbara, Helen and “Big Dan” enjoy the  buffet

eating tibs!

howie and shvetaFriend Shveta who works at MoE as a consultant arrives to join the fun!

me and difo dabbo!I must pose with the special Difo Dabbo Almaz made for the occasion

judy with lit cakeSurprise – a birthday cake because on Sunday I turn silsa arat. Thanks to Judy!

trick candles again!Oh no  – its those same candles from last year that keep re-igniting no matter how hard you blow them!

sami and sun light fireworksYes Sami, it is finally time for the fireworks! Sun from China (where fireworks were invented)  helps him get them started

difo dabo on fire!Good show! There were small sparklers too handed around by Eyob, just for fun

dr brian meets henokCanadian Dr Brian finally gets to meet Henok who is a student at Black Lion Hospital medical school where Brian is working to set up a family medicine specialization program

edith and danielEdith and Daniel, Kenyan volunteers sharing a laugh!

eyob me kifle shveta and almazTime to pose with Eyob, Kifle, Shveta and Almaz

mary may move into my houseMary is from the Philippines and also works at MoE; she hopes to end up with my tiny cozy house when I go in a month!

meeting the artistThe rain held off till quite late and then we were indoors. Abiy had brought some of his small paintings to show people and they were much admired and some were sold!

crowd sceneThe rains ended quickly and we were again able to enjoy the compound atmosphere. Many others leave Ethiopia very soon; about 30% of all the current volunteers are finishing up so this moment was a time of farewells for many of us

eyob's tributeEyob decided to do a tribute to me -so sweet!

I feel blessed – thanks to all who came and others far away who sent good wishes.  Good memories of my time in Addis center on the sense of shared community; the VSO/Cuso volunteer community and the amazing support in our compound community of Kifle, Almaz, Sami, Meron, Eyob, Amazon, Etenu, Alem and Peter to pull this off! Not many 64 year old Canadians can say they’ve celebrated their birthday two years in a row with a sheep feast in Ethiopia but, thanks to Cuso International and VSO, I am one who can!

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After work Thursday my friend and VSO colleague Judy and I were heading up the hill from Arat Kilo to the National Museum for the opening of a photo exhibition “Future Makers” sponsored by the German GiZ.

Leaving the MoE building we decided to take the overpass, rather than risk our lives crossing through the rush hour traffic like we usually do…

Our destination – the National Museum compound

Suddenly, as we came down the overpass stairs, a young man stopped in front of me and said:

“Marianna, Marianna”.

“I am Marian”, I said

He replied “Yes I know you and I LOVE your blog. I am from Woldia and I know Henok too! Your blog is fantastic!”

The view from the top of the overpass

The scene of the meeting with Adane…

Wow, a blog fan recognized me on the streets of Addis. Turns out his name is Adane and he has commented several times on my blog posts over the past couple of years. How sweet is that? As we carried up the street, I said to Judy, “Well, that made my day!” When Henok and I met up on Saturday he confirmed that yes indeed, Adane was a few years ahead of him in school in Woldia and he thinks he is an engineering student at Addis University.

What I love about blogging is delightful surprises like this; you just never know what connections will occur. Among those I have so far virtually met:

  • An agriculturalist in Bangladesh who wanted permission to use my teff photos and asked me to take some close ups of sorgum for his cereal crops web site
  • An American photographer who wanted my help in tracking down a student she was sponsoring who had landed in jail in Woldia
  • People from Woldia who are thrilled their home town is being profiled and “put on the map”
  • Ethiopians who are proud to have their tourist sites promoted
  • Several folks who are moving to Addis and wanted some tips on what to bring
  • Homesick Ethiopians in the US and Canada who enjoy the pictures and stories
  • Folks coming to do short term work in Ethiopia who want advice
  • Former VSO and Cuso Ethiopia volunteers now in the Philippines, Canada, south of France, etc.
  • New volunteers about to arrive looking for tips on what to expect

Along with my “15 seconds of fame” in Arat Kilo last week, I have recently had several pieces published to share my volunteer experiences, with a goal of assisting Cuso International and VSO in recruitment of volunteers.

Here’s a sampling:

1. The World Matters and Teachers Care. I just had an article published in the September issue of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation Teacher Newsmagazine.Click here to see a PDF: Marian Dodds article Sept 2012.Many “baby-boomer” Canadian teachers are retiring still full of energy and backed by valuable experience that others in the developing world would appreciate sharing. In this two-way exchange, Canadians not only get to teach but also enrich their lives by learning across cultures; sometimes that old 60s idealism gets jolted awake and retirement becomes a whole new world of adventure. Think about it!

2. LACE campaign: when I was home in August I was asked to write about my friend Deborah who died of cervical cancer 9 ½ years ago. Were it not for her, I might never have gotten here. She recruited me to work with her for a number of years as a part time communications consultant with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and together we spread the message of international development in BC . Later I was able to coordinate several CIDA funded Global Classroom Initiatives for the BCTF to support educating BC students about global issues.

Kat and I enjoy a farewell lunch the day I left Vancouver for Addis this summer

LACE is an acronym for Live Aware, Create Empowerment, a good motto for life, I think! To all my readers from back home in BC, Oct 22-28 is Pap Awareness Week so please spread the word.

3. My sister Kat created the LACE campaign through her company, Hello Cool World. She specializes in campaigns using social media to promote health issues and documentaries like the Corporation and 65_RedRoses. Speaking of which…

Here’s  Henok proudly sporting his 65_RedRoses t-shirt.

Thanks to Kat,  I was able to share with Henok the 65_RedRoses DVD, the moving story of beautiful artist and actress Eva awaiting and receiving a lung transplant.  Now he is able to share it with his fellow medical students at Addis Ababa University Black Lion Hospital. Shelagh and I met Henok at Meskel in 2010 the first weekend we arrived in Woldia and he became our Amharic teacher for the year, while he completed grade 12. And the circle continues as Henok may now appear in a #4Eva blog to promote organ donations sometime soon…

4. Last fall Cuso International sent two volunteers (a journalist and a photographer) to Ethiopia and their pieces about several of us are now up on the Cuso site. With a click you can you can visit me at work and see a photo of me and Temesgen in our office at the Ethiopian Ministry of Education at Arat Kilo.

You can meet my new neighbor Endashaw, a diaspora volunteer from Alberta with a fascinating tale to tell of his journey to become a Canadian citizen after spending time in Kenya as a refugee. Now he’s back in Ethiopia to volunteer and give back to his homeland.

Endashaw at a recent party welcoming new Addis volunteers

A huge advantage for diaspora volunteers is their cultural knowledge and Amharic language skills.  Yared had a hugely successful placement at Dire Dawa University setting up computer systems. We met at the Cuso training in Ottawa in August 2010 and, even though he could only stay one year due to his job demands in Seattle, he has returned this year for a few weeks to help set up  partnerships. Speaking of IT,  do not miss Mike from Winnipeg who dedicated the past 3 years to set up a sustainable network at a Technical and Vocational Institute in the northern highlands.  Mike’s  dedication, cultural integration and success is an inspiration to all of us. I last saw him at the end of the road leading to the VSO office as I sat getting a shoe shine fellow to scrape the mud off my shoes (rainy season hazard!)

Mike stood and chatted about his imminent return home that evening, telling my his adult son Dylann had threatened to bring a film crew to the airport to record their reunion.

You can watch this stylish short (3 minutes) and moving video on YouTube – trust me you will need tissues!

I am thankful for the power of the Internet, film and blogs to tell stories and connect globally for common causes.  So if you are a fan of this blog, feel free to send me a comment. Let’s connect – I guarantee you’ll make my day!

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No problem I thought to myself; I will just whip up a selection of Ethiopian dishes, buy some injera from the restaurant down the street and invite everyone I know. How much garlic does it take to create an Ethiopian feast for fifty anyway? Well I found out last week as I shopped and chopped and simmered away for four days in preparation for the big party last Friday night in Vancouver.

The email invitation included enticing door prizes, brought from Addis and one lucky guest got to take home the newest Teddy Afro CD “Tiker Sew” that has been filling the Addis airwaves since its release last winter

Once the RSVPs started to come in, I realized the party should move to the common room in my condominium to accommodate the crowd. This was encouraging but…how much food should I prepare?

Here’s what I did to create my Ethiopian feast:

1. Buy a LOT of garlic, ginger, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, split peas and lentils, potatoes, beets, squash, greens such as kale, spinach and chard, salad greens and cooking oil and borrow some extra large pots from the neighbours

2. Make a huge batch of garlic-ginger paste to flavour many of the dishes, following recipes from a cookbook titled The Recipe of Love- an Ethiopian Cookbook, written by Toronto restaurant owner Aster Ketsela Belayneh

Mesir Wet (Lentil Stew) uses a LOT of the spice mix berbere (pronounced ber-ber-ray) which can have up to a dozen ingredients all sun dried, pounded together, dried again and then ground to a fine powder. I was fortunate that my landlady Almaz gifted me with a kilo of her home made blend just before I flew to Vancouver for the summer and it has since been distributed to numerous friends to enjoy their own taste of Ethiopia

3. Soak split peas, wash and rinse lentils and stew them up with tons of onions and garlic-ginger paste that has been sauteed in oil

The menu included 5 vegetarian “Wets” or stews made with lentils (mesir), split peas (kek), mixed greens (gomen), beets and potatoes (keyseir bedinich), pumpkin (dubba) plus a salad and beef tibs. Snack foods of spiced popcorn, and two types of kollo (one made with roasted barley and peanuts) were also served.

4. Plan the menu to include some hot and some not to satisfy varied tastes and tolerances for hot chillis

Those two large jars on the right hold my supply of berbere and and the even hotter blend called Mit’mita made  from massive amounts of red hot chillis sun dried in my own front yard in Addis Ababa. Guests got small samples to take home…

5. Make at least one dish for the really brave ones who want a new taste challenge and bragging rights!

Chillis stuffed with chopped onions marinated in lime juice

6. Introduce an easy new fusion food that people can try at home. Make labels for all the dishes so it is easy for people to know what’s what.

My VSO friend and colleague in Addis, Judy Price, invented this popcorn, using locally available ingredients. Simply add the spice to the oil before you pop the corn and it will be infused with flavour. With Mit’mita it is wise to be cautious because a little goes a very long way!

7. Enlist the support of a creative friend (thanks Jana!) to help with decorating the room and making photo displays for people to get a glimpse of what I have seen in my two years volunteering in Ethiopia. Naturally the colour scheme was red, yellow and green – the colours of the Ethiopian flag!

Don’t forget the injera!

The injera made here in Canada has about 50% teff grains, 25% oats and 25% millet I was told by the restaurant owner I bought it from. Injera forms the plate and spoon to eat with; it is highly nutritious and very filling

8. Set everything on the table and welcome the guests!

9. Give them some conversation pieces!

It was too hot to wear it, but I displayed the traditional embroidered dress I had been given by the Woldia teachers last year at the farewell dinner. Tibs were on the menu at that event…

Luna, the sweet little dog who lives down the hall, came along with her people and added to the fun!

Guests dig in to some new taste experiences

Close up of a guest’s selection.

This menu included 6 vegetarian dishes and one made with beef, called sega tibs. Unlike at my June party in Addis, I was unable to get a small sheep to slaughter in the backyard here due to Vancouver city by-laws!

I was thrilled that Zerefa, my Ethiopian-Canadian good friend and neighbour from Woldia was able to come; she is here for a few months to visit her family and friends

A simple dessert of pure fresh fruits  found in Ethiopia – papaya, watermelon and pineapple

This party was a chance to see many people I would not otherwise have been able to see while home for a few short weeks. The preparations also provided me with some new experiential learning. As I stood over the hot stove for days, I thought about how much time Ethiopian women need to sustain their traditional lifestyle. This way of cooking is very nutritious but is also incredibly labour intensive.

Often families in rural areas keep their girls from school because they are needed at home to help with the domestic work. That’s one of the challenges our Gender Directorate at the Ministry of Education is trying to address. Helping parents and community leaders see the value in education for girls. Some incremental progress has been made over the past ten years and the gender parity index (ratio of girls to boys) in lower primary school sits at about 0.97 but the gap widens rapidly going up the grades. Add in child marriage, abduction, rampant sexual harassment and the life of a female can be pretty tough in Ethiopia. I admire those who are able to thrive. I’ve been pleased over the past year, working in my volunteer position  as  a Gender Advisor at the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, to meet with a number of those staffing gender offices at colleges and universities and see how much they are doing to create safer, supportive and success-focused learning environments for female students.

At the party a good sum was raised for Cuso International and I am very very thankful to all my very generous friends, neighbours and colleagues who donated either at the event or online. Anyone who still wants to donate can do so by clicking here and following the simple directions for online or mail in donations.

I cannot tell you how much it means to feel so supported by people back home and I carry this with me in my heart as I head back in just over two weeks for my third and final year as a Cuso International volunteer in Ethiopia.

Volunteering can also be a lot of fun! Thanks to my friend Nilofer who took many of these pictures and to the crew who rolled up their sleeves and made the clean-up seem like magic!

I am thrilled that my fund raising goal has almost been achieved! Today I got an encouraging message from Tara, the Cuso fundraiser in Ottawa: “Thanks so much for helping pay-it-forward! We are able to send more volunteers thanks to your efforts.” 

Oh, and by the way, I used up one full pound of garlic with my menu!

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