My first full week in Ethiopia has been full of amazing experiences! Two of the other interns arrived this week which has allowed us to have more people on hand to teach and corral kids at Layla. We definitely needed the extra bodies as we substituted in the KG class one morning (the equivalent of American kindergarten) and sports class two mornings. Kids here love soccer so after an initial warm up, they loved playing that for the whole sports class! The other interns and I tried to join in, but even the younger kids are much better than us and at this altitude we tired really quickly!
My supervisor has been on vacation this week so I have been getting to know the teachers and staff at Layla on my own. The work environment at Layla is much less formal than I expected. I have been able to sit in on some classes, help teach and see how the teachers interact with the kids. Initially, it was a little intimidating to approach the teachers with questions because I didn't know how I should approach them and because of the language barrier. They all speak English very well but there are some concepts that I was concerned would be difficult to explain culturally. However, everyone has been so friendly that after I got over my own reservations it has been easy to talk with the teachers and ask for help and direction. The head teacher is amazing and has great relationships with the kids at Layla (they all seem to adore him). He has been so helpful and patient with myself and the other interns while we get adjusted to the daily schedule.
Along with the other volunteers, my responsibilities at Layla are to teach activities and video class to the younger groups and America class to the older groups. The kids are divided in to six groups (KG through 5) which loosely correspond to grades kindergarten through 5 in America. The kids are placed in to groups based on their skill level (not age) in different subjects and their comprehension of English. The younger groups have activities and video class while the older groups have English and America class. At times it can be difficult to communicate with the younger kids because they aren't taught English. Even if they can't explain something, they are always willing to show you what they need or want! There are so many volunteers coming in and out that they also hear English a lot so they can understand more than they can speak. Now that I have been around the kids for a week, many of them have warmed up to me and I get hugs every time I walk in to Layla. The kids also get excited to show me things that they have made in crafts or they want to play games with me. One little boy came up to me and showed me that I he caught a pigeon! I didn't see him catch it so I have no idea how he caught it, but he was very proud! He kept saying "It small! I keep!" and he had a huge smile on his face but I finally convinced him that he needed to let it go.
On Wednesday, I went to the hospital in Nazareth (pronounced Na-za-ret) to pick up some kids that were being admitted to Layla. Nazareth is a city South of Addis and is the second largest city in Ethiopia (Addis is the largest). We were driven by one of the AAI drivers and I went with one of the AAI social workers. I got to experience driving on the highway from Addis to Nazareth- that was interesting. You can pass people at any time on the highway here and don't have to wait for dotted lines! We were originally scheduled to pick up three kids- a 6 year old and his 2 year old sister and an 18 month old. After we filled out some initial paperwork, we were told that we were also picking up a 1 month old infant as well. Since we had to wait for the infant to arrive, we went to lunch in Nazareth.
Eating lunch in Nazareth was the first experience were I felt really out of place in Ethiopia. People are used to seeing white people (ferengi in Amharic) in the area around Layla because there are so many people volunteering and adopting in the area. Apparently ferengi are much less common in Nazareth because people stared and pointed at me in the restaurant! It was slightly uncomfortable at first but once the food came I was so hungry I didn't notice anymore. We had some delicious injera and wot, it was much different than what I have eaten at Layla.
After lunch, we went back to the hospital and waited for little while longer because the infant hadn't arrived yet. After a few minutes I realized that the infant hadn't arrived yet because her mom was bringing her in to give her up. I didn't know how to feel about watching the mom say goodbye to her infant so I stood outside and occupied the 6 year old by taking pictures of him. He had fun posing for the camera and seeing himself right away. From my perspective, the interaction between the mom and her infant was strangely unemotional and very short. But then again, I've never seen a mom give her child up for adoption (let alone in another country). While I'm sure it was very difficult for the mom, I'm sure she knows that her infant is going to be well cared for. I know that her infant will be adopted to an amazing family because AAI does an excellent job placing children. I still don't quite know how to describe the experience in Nazareth. I'm glad that I went but it's something I need to reflect on for awhile.
On a much lighter note, I might apply to get an Ethiopian driver's license! Since I already have a US license, I just have to complete some paperwork and even if I never drive here I think it would be hilarious to have one. We'll see what happens! One of the things I love about Ethiopia is that the people here are so vibrant and energetic when they talk. Conversations are loud and involve lots of hand motions which is just my style!
On Saturday, all of the volunteers went to a local silk factory. I still can't explain how silk is made but it's different than the silk made in Asia. I guess there are different worms that make different types of silk and the silk that is made here isn't shiny. Be on the watch for silk Christmas presents!