Ethiopia – Our First Impressions

Adigrat - rural life

Adigrat – rural life

 

Preparing for Africa? You can’t really do so! Many things will most certainly come totally unexpected! The only way is to experience it … and it’s going to be intensive experiencing from the very first few moments there. Surprising is how things simply “happen”.

Ethiopia is…

Waiting in line with no obvious reason – but nobody really complains and just takes their time and chats with the other people waiting in the same line, laugh about misunderstandings and laugh about each other’s children – so very un-German, but way more “easy going”!

Whereever you go as a family with young children, you just wait and in most cases, you will get priority treatment.

China is taking over everything here in a nearly new-colonialist manner and Europe seems to be losing its position. Nearly everything here is “Made in China” … and everything breaks down just after a short while (e.g. the shower head fell off just because we turned on the hot water). Generally speaking, we have not been laughing as much as here for a very long time and the Chinese quality of products plays and important part in that!

Water from the tap and electricity are things not to be taken for granted, as both systems tend to break down every now and then.

Everybody shares what they have, for example, the old man at the airport opening a packet of chewing gum and passing it around to all the people nearby.

Everybody you meet (including most of the customs officers, policemen and military) is open, friendly and kind and greets you with “Salaam” and even wants to shake hands with you. It seems that the people are really happy to meet us. All this creates an unexpected feeling of security and belonging.

This is no society where everything exists in abundance: the baker prepares bread and rolls for the day, and if you’re too late, the bakery will be sold out. Everything is recycled here and ingenious craftsmen will make by no ways perfect but beautiful new everyday items from the things other people throw away. Even the charcoal used for the outdoor-cooking is recycled after the cooking has been finished by watering it. Africans are no perfectionists: they rather take a long break or two instead of being too perfectionist. But maybe, that’s healthier than Western life “on the fast lane”!? Africa is the “discovery of slowliness”: everything takes its time but still everything is possible. “Europeans have clocks and watches, Africans have time.” Actually, here in Ethiopia, they have a different system to measure the hours of the day: 0 o’clock is when the sun rises and twelve is at sunset, six is midday.

Looking back …

On Monday, after arriving at Mekele airport later than expected due to a cause unknown to us (the earlier flight we were booked into was cancelled), we were recepted by Desta, Adigrat Vision’s country representative. With him, we drove to Adigrat. The road conditions on the main roads generally are OK, but the road surface as so many other things in Africa is “Made in China” and will most certainly be not surviving the next five years! On the road from Mekele to Adigrat (a 100km ride, taking about two hours for an experienced driver) we were overwhelmed with impressions of donkeys, cows with enormous horns, and hundreds of people on the road. The people we saw were dressed in many different types of clothing, western clothes, uniforms, traditional dresses and all kinds of combinations of these. Most of them were really young and a great majority of young people/children was wearing school uniforms. Some people openly carried guns (quite uncommon for German circumstances), but we never felt incomfortable. There were totally overladen trucks, myriads of Toyota Landcruisers (I presume that if “switching them off”, suddenly, Africa would simply stop working) and cars that would never pass a roadworthy test in any European country. By the way, wearing seatbelts seems to be something that only the driver of a vehicle is supposed to do – only that most drivers don’t seem to follow that rule.

We came “home” quite late that evening (at least it felt like that on the third day of travelling and also due to the fact that here the sun sets at about six o’clock in the evening).

The entry gate of the kindergarten

 

The next morning, we woke up quite late and were recepted by the people at the kindergarten. Everybody here is open, friendly and everybody gave us a really warm welcome. We were immediately surrounded by all the children, who wanted to hug, kiss and touch us. Especially Anouk and Sóley immediately had more than 100 new friends who were actually fighting who could hold their hands.

The nursery school teachers have been open right from the beginning, maybe a bit shy sometimes. The shyness can easily be dealt with by talking, talking and talking and sincere interest. Everybody really is thankful for interest and people sharing stories and knowledge and offering support.

Coffee ceremony

Coffee ceremony at Anouk`s birthday

On our first day at the Kindergarten, we were asked to join the traditional coffee ceremony which is so very typical of Ethiopia. The coffee beans are rosted directly in front of you, crushed in a mortar and then the coffee is cooked in a clay-cettle directly over a charcoal-fire right inside on the room’s floor while all participants sit around and chat. The coffee which is served in very small cups is intense and sweet, but never bitter – even Juliane starts to drink coffee here. Ethiopia definitely is the place to be for coffee-connoisseurs!

It is really impressive how disciplined and quiet the children here sit on their chairs with or without the nursery-school teachers being present.

A bit strange for us first was the guard sitting at the kindergarten’s main entrance carrying a large gun, but he really is a nice man and there to protect the property, the children and us.

What happened during the last few days?

Laundry day - hot water

Laundry day -preparing hot water

Laundry day - drying carpets in the sun

Laundry day – drying carpets in the sun

Laundry day – washing the laundry

After familiarizing with the kindergarten on the first day, we jumped right into “real life Africa” and our children attended their first Ethiopian kindergarten classes. Anouk even got a kindergarten uniform.

Anouk wearing the kindergarten's uniform

On the second day, Mischa made a trip to Adigrat’s market together with the kindergarten’s accountant: stalls made of wood and used plastic bags in which goods of any imaginative kind are sold. There are clothes stalls, fruitsellers, spice dealers, blacksmiths, carpenters and many other trades and crafts selling their products next to dusty unpaved dirt roads; in between drive donkey carts and so called “Bajaj” (Tuk Tuks) taking passengers from A to B. Wandering across the market is really relaxed and we never had the feeling that one has to constantly watch ones belongings. Again, people want to touch us and children seem to be challenging each other who’s courageous enough to touch the “Ferenji”, fair skinned foreigners. This might sound embarassing, but it actually never is unfriendly or awkward. On the way back, the Bajaj-driver told me that he actually is a graduated lawyer, but a state-lawyer in Ethiopia only earns about 5000 Birr (approx. 200 €) and a Bajaj-driver can earn up to 12000 Birr (approx. 480€) and that’s why he chose not to work in his profession. This seems to be indicating one of the problems Ethiopa has to face: there seems to be a mass of young people with a good education not being able to get jobs in their profession which will allow them to make a living.

New Orthodox Church in Adigrat

New Orthodox Church in Adigrat

Outside the kindergarten gate

Outside the kindergarten gate

Outside the Kindergarten gate II

Outside the Kindergarten gate II

On Christmas eve, we were invited to Desta’s and his wife Elsa’s home. We spent the evening with Desta’s and Elsa’s extended family sitting around a fire under the open sky next to a Christmas tree which was decorated only for us, as Ethiopian Christmas takes place on the 7th January. We were actually all really happy when the electricity broke down so we could see the impressive starry heaven above us. This evening, we ate traditional “Indjera”, eating it with our hands while the youngest family member served us. Life here is so very informal, everybody is given the feeling that he is welcome and that he can relax and enjoy even though things are limited and some are a little “basic”. You just take out the sofa into the open air, pitch a fire and share a yarn around the fire.

Anouk's birthday morning

Anouk’s birthday morning

Anouk’s birthday-celebration yesterday was – after a small, private celebration in our room – prepared by the children and staff of the kindergarten. Both our daughters were given traditional Ethiopian clothes and a traditional coffee ceremony was performed. Again, everything was impressively welcoming and open and we really enjoyed it (even though Anouk was a bit embarassed at some times because she doesn’t like to be in the centre of attention).

Anouk`s birthday celebration

Anouk`s birthday celebration

Anouk wearing traditional Ethiopian clothes

Anouk wearing traditional Ethiopian clothes

 

What plans do we have for the next following few days?

During the last few days, we have furnished a special room (the “library” – with a shelf but no furniture) at the kindergarten which then is supposed to be used for group work with groups of four to ten children.

"Our" room

“Our” room

We put the things to order that were already there and put in all things we brought along with us (paid for by donations our student’s parents at home raised a few weeks ago as our students have four godchildren here in Adigrat). As we still had some money left from extra donations by two parents, we were able to go to a local carpenter and order the furniture for “our” room. Next week, together with the nursery school teachers and Haile, the “capacity building manager”, we will be working out how we can bring together our communal knowledge and material to improve the children’s knowledge concerning literacy, English language skills, mathematics, music, drawing and playing.

For the Community around the kindergarten, we are planning to offer free English courses for students from classes five and six after the kindergarten’s closing hours starting next week.

A private plan for the next weekend will be an overnight stay at Desta’s parents home in the village his family has been living in for centuries. As the village can only be reached by foot (an hour’s walk), we are going to walk and Sóley and Anouk will ride there on muleback (they are really looking forward to that, of course).

Desta's village is somewhere there in the mountains

Hagos’ village is somewhere there in the mountains

Juliane and myself are really looking forward to that stay as well, as we are going to meet more members of Desta’s family. In addition to that, the stay will be most interesting from the cultural and historical perspective, as Desta’s parents live in a house that has been inhabited by his family for at least 1600 years and Desta’s father actually can tell the story of the last 22 generations – one generation spanning one hundred years. This will be delving deeply into Ethiopian culture and history.

Generally, we feel immensely supported by Desta. He is a great organiser with 1000 ideas, interests and projects in his head, being extremely committed to his community and voluntarily giving all his knowledge and energy to his people. When Desta was a child, he was lucky to be the only person from his village to be given proper schooling and it seems that he is some kind of “model” for the modern Ethiopians: education, resources and the friendliness and openness of the people will most certainly be the cause for a brighter future for Ethiopia, a country “on the move” with an 11% economic growth.

We will certainly learn really a lot during our stay in Ethiopia. Hopefully, we’ll be able to give back as much as we are given here by these wonderful people!

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