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Posts Tagged ‘re-integration’

“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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