Blog Entry- Week 1 (Thursday 9/11 to Sunday 9/14)
My first few days in Addis have been overwhelming but wonderful at the same time. The city is so much busier and chaotic than any place in the States but it works. When I landed at the airport, it was night and I couldn't see much of the city. Like most countries that are considered "developing" by the Western world, Addis had a different smell to it. I never know what that smell is, it's a mix of many things but it doesn't bother me and after a few minutes I didn't notice it anymore. On the ride to the volunteer house, about 1/3 of the roads were paved, 1/3 were gravel and 1/3 were mud. After the downpours I experienced my first few days here, I understand why they are mud! It rains so hard here that you can barely see a few feet in front of you. It usually lasts less than an hour, but so much water comes down that there are huge mud holes (not puddles, holes!) in 5 minutes.
The next day when I could actually see what was outside in the daylight, the city was much more green than I expected it to be. It is the end of the rainy season here but from what people had told me, I thought the city would be dirty but I was mistaken. The city itself is very hilly and from some of the higher areas, you can see green rolling hills outside the city. Almost all of the houses have plants and shrubs growing along their gates and there are trees everywhere. One of the preconceived notions I had was that the city would be dull in color and there would be no greenery anywhere, but it is everywhere! There are flowering bushes, palm trees and fruit stands around every corner. The bananas, oranges (which are actually green, not orange) and other fruit are so bright!
One thing that amazes me about Addis is that hardly any of the streets are named. Streets are named after landmarks or who built the road. One of the main streets is Ethio-China because the Chinese built the rode and paved it. On Saturday I saw 2 street signs and I think they might be the only 2 in the city! I also saw the first stoplight I had seen in Addis on Saturday- there are stop signs and yield signs but I've only seen the 1 stoplight. However, people can still get navigate and get around the city. If you know landmarks, you can describe to taxi drivers where you want to go (as long as they understand English)! The way that people drive here is also chaotic which doesn't add to the fact that there are few traffic control measures and many very bumpy roads. Based on my own observations, the rules seem to be:
1.Use any means possible to get where you want to go, including driving on the wrong side of the road.
2.Honk if you think another vehicle is moving too slowly or if you want pedestrians to get out of your way.
3.The hierarchy is car, SUV, mini-bus, bus and the top dog is the truck carrying a load. The bigger your vehicle, the more people will get out of your way.
While this might seem scary to some, it doesn't really bother me. It reminds me of almost every other country I have been to. The way that people drive in the States is so orderly and cautious in comparison- my driving abilities would probably work perfectly here!
I have gotten to take a taxi and a mini-bus while I have been here. Addis has a network of mini-buses (basically 8 passenger vans) that go all over the city. None of the stops are marked but there is someone shouting the destination so you have to know where you are going when you jump on. They are only about 2 Birr a ride (about $0.20) making them less expensive than taxis but I will have to get more used to the city to be able to use them effectively!
The volunteer house (where I am living) is very simple but very comfortable. The neighborhood is quite and with no TV, it is very relaxing. Everything is much more compact here than I am used to in the States. I tried to practice taking fast showers but I practiced in an American shower which gives you room to move around in. The base of the shower here is probably 2' X 2' and there aren't any shelves to put shampoo or conditioner on. It will just take some getting used to on my part, I haven't found the best way to use my shower time efficiently yet! Luckily, we have had electricity and water every day that I have been here. For those who know me well, not being able to take a shower in my first few days might have been a lot for me to handle! Monja is the only other volunteer here right now and she has only been here for 2 weeks but she seems acclimated to the city. It gives me hope that in 2 weeks I will have adjusted just as well!
My first full day here was Friday and I toured Layla House with my boss (Ivy). I met a lot of people the first day, whose names will take me awhile to learn! We started the tour at Wanna House which is where the babies and toddlers are at Layla. All the babies are held while they are fed and not propped in cribs with bottles (a problem at many other orphanages). The toddlers all wanted to be held and one little girl had the biggest smile I have ever seen. She latched on to me and didn't want to let go! After Wanna House, we visited the kitchen where the staff was making injera (the local bread eaten with every meal in Ethiopia). Learning how to make injera was one of my goals and I got the opportunity my first day! Injera batter is almost the consistency of pancake batter and it is poured on to a large circular griddle in a circular motion. The woman who was working the injera station hugged and kissed me and I was told I did very well for my first try!
After the tour, Monja (a pediatric surgeon) had gone to one of the local hospitals to check in on a sick child which left me to teach America Class to the 4/5 group. Ivy helped me choose a topic and with a few minutes of preparation I walked in to teach! I wrote some quotations on the board that were "life lessons" and the kids read them aloud we discussed the quotes and who said them. I started with 2 by Eleanor Roosevelt (one of my heroes). I think the class went well despite that half way through I realized I didn't know how long class was! Thankfully, some of the kids had watches and were able to keep time for me (note to self: it's important to find out how long class is before you start teaching). Once class let out it was time for lunch and I got to eat at Layla with the kids and try injera for the first time. It will take some getting used to, but it was good and the wot (an Ethiopian staple that is a stewed meat in a sauce) and vegetables that accompanied it were delicious.
Thankfully, after lunch the Monja was back and together we coordinated the 2 afternoon classes together. I don't know what I would have done without her on my first day! Once class was over there was a party where the kids sang songs- it was very loud but very fun.
I am trying to learn a few Amharic words a day so that I am able to communicate better. While almost everyone at Layla House speaks English (at varying levels), I don't want other people to conform to me. So far, I can attempt:
I am going to try and have the kids teach me how to count to 10 or 20 and how to say the alphabet. I know enough, goodbye and okay because the dogs that live at the volunteer house are named those words in Amharic! Someone was thinking when they planned that!
Friday night after work we ended up going to Dr. Rick's house. Dr. Rick is an American who has lived in Addis for many years and works at a local medial clinic. There was an eclectic group at his house that included 2 of his assistants and 1 of their friends, 2 medical students, a plethora of children ranging in ages (some were his kids, some were kids that were being treated at the clinic or whose treatment in the States was being coordinated by Dr. Rick), some family friends and of course Monja and I! It was a lot of fun and I met a local guy named Ashenafi who just graduated with a Masters degree in social work. He also got his undergraduate degree in Sociology which makes him my Ethiopian twin- except that he is a guy, tall and Ethiopian! He volunteers at Layla sometimes so hopefully I will get a chance to talk with him more about social work. It will be interesting to discuss the cross-cultural differences in the curriculum.
On Saturday, Monja and I went to a local coffee shop called Kaldi's. It's just a short walk from our house and after we ate breakfast we took a mini-bus to the Hilton Hotel so I could get money from the ATM and buy a phone card and Monja could exchange some money and buy postcards. We weren't able to get all of those tasks accomplished at the Hilton so we took the 10-minute walk to the Sheraton. One the way there, we got caught in the beginning of a downpour and had to run the last 1,000 feet or so to the entrance! The Sheraton is a beautiful hotel with extensive gardens and large pool but it is literally surrounded by people living in corrugated metal shacks on probably much less than $1 US a day. Since we needed to dry off a little, we sat down at 1 of the restaurants and ordered coffee. Sitting inside, if you wanted to, you could forget the circumstances of those living around you. It felt strange sitting inside next to a grand piano and spending money on coffee- somewhere between guilty and infuriated and helpless. I hope that the hotel chain is giving back to the community in some way and paying locals a good wage which would inject money in to the local economy. I hope… The experience of my first few days showed me part of the duality that is present in Addis and probably all over Africa- there is beauty next to tragedy and it's possible to ignore the tragedy if you want to.
To end this first entry, I have 1 administrative note. I won't be able to post pictures of kids from any of AAI's organizations on this site since it can be viewed by anyone. I will be able to post them on Facebook since only my social networking friends can see the pictures. If you don't have Facebook (or if you have MySpace) I'm sorry! All of my other pictures will be posted on this site.