Posts Tagged ‘Life in Ethiopia’

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.





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.


Ruth from VSO Ethiopia accepted a copy for the office


Wendwossen from the new Cuso Ethiopia office flips through the book


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!”


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


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.

blue background

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…



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.


Akeberet performs the coffee ceremony.


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


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.


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.

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“We are keeping the big one,” said Sami a week ago. And so we have added a third dog to our clan on the Kifle compound! “You can name him”, he said. I actually felt the heaviness of this responsibility after I tried out Teddy and discovered that Ethiopians don’t usually give people names to dogs. So I withdrew that option. Knowing people here enjoy nicknames that end in “e” I next suggested maybe we could call him Zebie, short for Zebegna which means guard, a good name for what he will grow up to be once he is mentored to bark loudly by his parents, Pico and Titi. But no one seemed keen on that name. Almaz suggested “puppy” but I pointed out he will grow up and not be a puppy after a few months so we settled on Papie for our new baby dog. At least I thought we had…

still wating for my name!Today we decided that Papie did not really suit him. So we are back to square one…

our compundEntrance to our compound – my bathroom and kitchen windows are on the right. A fine balance of companionship and privacy exists within these walls…

With only three months left of my three years in Ethiopia, I am starting to transition in my mind back home to Vancouver. I find myself preoccupied with questions. What will I miss? What do I most look forward to back in Canada? Who/what do I want to make sure I see and do before I leave?  It has become a hectic time already. At work the predictable situation of suddenly becoming busy after months of treading water is playing itself out. I have already seen many volunteers go through this, so it was no surprise when the assignments started to pile up. “What, you are leaving?” “Why not add another year?” 

When I think of what I will miss, top of mind is my sweet tiny cocoon of a house on the Kifle compound and the people (and dogs) who surround me. Living in Ethiopia has reinforced for me the value of community. Inside our peaceful compound there are three small houses rented for volunteers, a small spare bedroom/bathroom that was rented until recently to a man setting up a sugar factory, and the Kifle household, made up of two parents, 3 kids, a housemaid named Amazon and two, now three, loveable but barky dogs.

kids and dogs 2011When I arrived in Addis in September 2011 I took this “family portait” of Meron,  Eyob and Sami. Sami is holding Pico and Titi is in front

baby picoPico was only a few months old when I arrived

Titi and Pico enjoy freesias!I always look forward to coming home from work, greeted with enthusiastic pirouettes from Pico, who remains a puppy at heart, and by Titi sweetly accompanying me to my door, politely looking for a treat.

sorting dried chilisAmazon and Almaz and sometimes Etenu can often be found preparing food outside the kitchen near my door. The amount of  drying, sifting, sorting and chopping that goes into Ethiopian food preparation is both astounding and fascinating and we often have a little chat about what’s cooking.

etam cleaning chilis for berbereEvery second Saturday Etenu does my washing in a big basin in the back, hanging it on the lines to sun dry.

Once in a while Almaz and the kids squeeze into my kitchen too for a lesson on ferenji baking. Cakes, scones, biscotti and lasagna have all proven successful.  Life is simple, peaceful and kind.

pumpkin carvingOur Halloween pumpkin carving…

On weekends more family members visit; it has been fun to watch Natan growing – he was born last August and, as is the custom, he and his mother stayed here for a couple of months so that she would have extended family support with her firstborn.

natan and momA much loved new baby

family portrait with nathanWeekly  family visits allows me to see Natan growing…

sami goofing around

I was pleased to be invited to an art opening a few weeks back by a young cousin who visits often; I enjoyed meeting two of his friends who had just completed art school. Another frequent visitor is Kifle’s younger sister Adanech, a nurse at the Korean Hospital who has been really helpful when my visiting friend and some volunteers have ended up there, needing some support. It feels great to be included and supported by this extended Ethiopian family.

Several volunteers have come and gone in the two other small houses. These days, I often enjoy a nice after work cup of tea with Peter, an IT volunteer from Scotland who has previously volunteered in Kenya. Over our sips we have covered a lot of territory from peace activism to development theory while sharing the joys and frustrations of volunteering.

kifle and endashaw at repair wallOne Sunday a few months back at around 5 PM we were stunned by a huge explosion with a cloud of white dust in the middle of the compound! Peter’s wall had broken off – his is the original building from 30 years ago and the rainy season had done in the outer cement layer…here Ato Kifle and Endashaw watch the repairs

Endashaw, recently married to Selam, is an Ethiopian-Canadian volunteer who can often be heard talking on his mobile as he comes and goes, dropping by now and then for tea and to treat me to some food one of his many sisters has made for him. With a large extended family in Addis, he spends lots of time with relatives. Soon he will return home to job hunt and start the paperwork so Selam can come to join him to build their new life together in Canada.

birthday daboLast June we had a big compound party and Amazon and Almaz presented me with a giant bread that is traditional for birthdays. We still speak fondly of that party and are planning to have another this June before I go, sheep included!

kifle and almazKifle and Almaz all dressed up for a wedding

eyob and me with scrabbleOn weekends I sometimes play Scrabble with the kids. Why does Eyob look so happy?

eyob celebrates his win!He is  celebrating his win, with Meron a close second!

all set up for a dinner partyI enjoy inviting guests over for dinner now and again though the space is too cramped for more that four people to fit in comfortably

addis nestEthiopian art from an old airlines calendar brightens the wall

Christmas morning coffeeMy morning ritual always involves a good cup of Ethiopian coffee

the whole familyLast summer while I was back in Vancouver Titi and Pico’s first litter was born. I met the five pups when they were about 4 weeks  old, having heard about them on Facebook from Sami!

the whole gang of puppiesLooking back at photos, I see how alike the second litter, born 2 months ago, resembles this first group of five!

drinking milk 6Litter number two, trying milk from a dish for the first time!

family portraitHere is Sami with the last 3 from the second litter

asnakech gets her "wond"

Asnakech from my office came to collect her puppy a few weeks ago – she had gotten a female from the first batch and placed her order for a male. She is thrilled to have her new little guy!

titi and babyNow our new guy is big enough to join his parents at my door mat and is being taught to sneak into my kitchen when I am not looking!

This afternoon we played another round of Scrabble and, as Eyob and Meron were leaving the suggestion came ,“Let’s call him Fuzzy”. I’ll let you know if it sticks!

Whatever his name is, I know that when I finally say goodbye this July, I will miss him and the other two dogs as well as the easy companionship of the people I enjoy living alongside in this Addis compound .

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