We've been in Ethiopia for only a few weeks so far and we feel that it's hard to put all the experiences and stories into the proper words.
At the evening of Anouk's birthday, we went out for dinner to the Agoro Lodge in Adigrat together with Desta. Even though we were together with Ethiopians only for nearly one week, it appeared to be rather strange for us to meet other tourists there, especially as some of them were Germans. In Africa, when you're somewhere with children, it's never a problem, you can just let them run free and everybody is happy with that. As soon as (Northern) Europeans come into the game, we feel responsible for our children not to be too loud et cetera. This actually, made us a bit uncomfortable in their presence.
The next following night, Anouk was really travel-sick and Sóley soon followed her sister's example. We had predicted this, because travel sickness is part of traveling and it's actually not terrifying. What really was making the situation worse was the fact that going along with the children's sickness, there suddenly was no water in the complete district. Also, electricity came and went every now and then. But, we're in Africa, so there are always solutions for almost everything! Water was brought in 20 litre cans and cooking can also be done over a charcoal-fire as we discovered some days later, when in the middle of the cooking process in pitch dark Africa, suddenly electricity broke down again and Juliane had to go to the guard who asked a boy to help her lighting the coal stove so that we could finish with the cooking. The water from the tap was completely gone for 3,5 days!
Because of the sickness of the two girls, we unfortunately had to cancel the trip to Desta's parents village.
The Saturday we spent at the empty kindergarten and slowly the children recovered.
A trip to Hawzen
On Sunday, we went to Hawzen together with Desta. Before we could start, we needed some fuel for the car. In Europe this would not have been a problem at all, but the only gas station in Adigrat was "run dry" - at least that was what the people working there told us. After some negotiation, we discovered that there was some fuel left (originally reserved for the people working at the gas station) and that we would get some if we take one of their friends to Hawzen. We agreed to do so, of course, and on we went. On the way to Hawzen, we passed the remains of the oldest synagogue in East Africa, maybe in whole Africa, being at least 2,500 years old (photos will follow). It seems that there are many historical sites in Ethiopia that have not been excavated so far. A dream for any historian and archaeologist!
As almost anywhere in Africa, whenever there were roadworks going on, there were Chinese head workers sitting in the shade of a truck and Ethiopian workers doing the road construction work in the scorching sun. According to Desta, more or less all roads in Ethiopia with a tar surface are built by the Chinese. Actually, the Chinese government gives the Ethiopian government money disguised as foreign aid but oncondition that the Ethiopian government builds roads with this money (roads, of course, providing infrastructure to places that are of some interest to the Chinese, i.e. to mining towns et cetera) and gives the job to Chinese companies. So, all the money goes back to China! Apparently, it seems that a lot of foreign aid is like that. Why always transfer money that can easily end up in the pockets of politicians? Why not transfer knowledge instead that makes African countries and Africans really independent? Why not train doctors, farmers, engineers in Europe so that they can go back to their countries and use their knowledge and all the resources that are there. I am sure that Africa will be one, if not "the one", important markets of the future! The Chinese do know that!!
We had a drink at a wonderful Gheralta Lodge - only that it was abit too silent and clean for Africa, it was almost sanitaty. There simply were no local people around to put life into the premises. Also, the lodge is owned by Italians, so again the majority of the money does not go to Africa but somewhere else.
From there we went to the city centre of Hawzen, an important market town for the region. We had dinner at a small roadside restaurant and had our fifth version of Injera so far. Again, it was delicious! For the children we ordered "French Fries", which turned out to be "French Toast". Still it was really good! After lunch, we went to a local pub and had draught beer, local St Georges Beer, at an unbelievably cheap price: 40 cent for 0.4 litres!
As always, the local children were really excited to see children with a fair complexion and looked over the wall into the pub's beer garden. Anouk reacted wonderfully, went onto the street and played with them. It's really great that life here is so relaxed that we as parents can let Anouk simply run off and play with the children.
From Hawzen we went on a round trip to the local mountains. On the way we gave a lift to some locals. One of them was a musician playing the most important local musical instrument, the "Masinko", the Ethiopian version of a fiddle. Grateful for us giving him a lift, he broke into a welcoming song for us (simultaneously translated for us by Desta).
Near a mountain-village (with a small rock-hewn church that we were not able to visit, because we would have to climb quite a bit to get up there and the children were still recovering from their travel sickness), we met with a beautiful young woman who traditionally carried her child on her back.
We talked about life and children and discovered that she has three children so far and wants to have at least six. Wondering about her age, she told us that she was 28, was married at 14 and had her first child when she was 16. The average child per family in Germany is somewhere about 1.6, here in Ethiopia the average (!) is 6 children. We are not here to judge, but Ethiopians being so poor, there seems to be great need for the education of mothers concerning family planning.
We returned from our trip late in the evening and fell into our beds. During the night, the girl's travel sickness suddenly showed up again, whether it was due to the egg on the "French Fries" or due to the Ethiopian lemonade, we do not know. This, actually, took us the complete Monday and part of Tuesday for the cleaning and recovering process.
The coffee ceremony on the following Monday was special in many ways. As usual for most days, all the people working at the kindergarten had their coffee ceremony in the kindergarten's kitchen. As it was St. Mary's day, not only coffee was consumed, but also "Suwa", a typical beer made of fermented corn and barley was also drunk. Suwa tastes sour-fruity with a light yeasty touch to it. Later we heard that there exists a light and a strong version of it (the strong one being so very strong that especially "Ferenji" who are not used to it, get so enormously drunk after only four cups that they start giving away all their belongings). The conversation went from a beautiful earring the supplier of the "Suwa" wore (apparently very traditional for the region) to the traditional hairstyle worn by the Tigrinyan women. Well, even though our "Suwa" was not of the strong kind, the effect of this coffee ceremony was that Juliane had to sit down in front of Mihret, the kindergarten's accountant, who would make Juliane such a hairdo. For Juliane, this procedure was a bit between heaven and hell, as for being beautiful, the Tigriniyan woman has to suffer a natural "facelifting" because the hair is really tightly woven.
We had a great laugh and the atmosphere was really wonderful. After discovering that the European New Year would be celebrated the following days, the Ethiopian ladies suggested that, now, that Juliane looked (nearly) like one of them, she would also have to learn how to do the complete coffee ceremony and would have to do so on the first day of the new year. It seems that this situation was some kind of initiation, and after this coffee ceremony, almost all shyness had melted away.
This week, Mischa started his free English lessons for the students of grades five and six of the surrounding schools. First, thirty students attended and the next following day, the number rose to 52 children. All of them were attending voluntarily and whenever there was somebody disturbing the lessons by being too loud, the other students would make them be quiet again. I had never expected lessons of 60 minutes with so many students being effective in any way, but from one lesson to the other, I could really discover students improving. One difference certainly is that Ethiopian students want to learn because they simply know that this might be their chance to start a different life. I also discovered that Ethiopian teachers seem to use a repetitive way of teaching, rather than my more communicative approach. Maybe, that's why so many students came to my classes. English can be fun! (Tell that to German students!)
Julianes experiences with her first few lessons in the kindergarten were dominated by an impressive discipline the students have, even though the classes are about 30 pupils strong. Still, we discovered that in smaller groups of five children without their "normal" teachers, this discipline lessens and the children behave cheaky like children of that age simply do. This is also due to the fact that we do not want to use as strict methods as Ethiopian teachers use! Thus, working in small groups was not as effective as we had expected. Juliane worked with the complete group again and used funny methods transmitting interesting and funny content, such as learning the English words for body parts by singing and dancing. The plan for the next lessons will be to work with the oldest pupils and work on a conversation, writing and singing plan.
We have learned here in Ethiopia so far that many things which are "normal" in Europe are actually luxury and not to be taken for granted, such as water from the tap, electricity, fuel. Life here definitely makes one humble. Life and living conditions can be so very different! Still, it seems that most Ethiopians we have met so far have quite fulfilling lives even though they have less material things. So far, I have seen nobody complaining and everybody is relaxed, witty, warm-hearted and full of life!