Blog Entry Week 4- Sunday 9/28 to Saturday 10/4
This has been an amazing week at Layla. Now that Ivy is back, we have started taking the kids on field trips! Mark, Ivy and I actually took Group 4 to Yod Abbysinia for dinner. They had a lot of fun but some of the kids are very religious and have been raised to believe that dancing and singing that doesn't praise God is sinful. After speaking with the religion teacher at Layla, it seems that there is a sect of the Protestant church in Ethiopia that teaches this belief. All of the kids that were raised in this sect say that this is stated in the Bible. I don't know exactly what verse they are talking about but the dinner allowed us to open a dialogue with the kids about dancing and whether or not it was sinful. While I don't want to take a stand on whether or not this is true, my concern is that there are very few religions in the States that practice this belief and even in very religious families dancing and singing are not considered sinful under any circumstances. For some kids that have been raised with this belief, the culture shock of coming to America and experiencing how dancing is perceived there could be very difficult. Another outcome of my discussion with the religion teacher at Layla is that I am going to help teach religion class and talk about Protestantism in America. While I am definitely not an expert by any means (I need to consult Wikipedia), I think it will be a very good experience!
The next field trip we did was take Group 1A to Ivy's house for a sleepover! Most of the kids in 1A are between the ages of 5 and 9 which I think is the perfect age for a sleepover. They get tired fairly quickly (they went to bed before 9) and watching a movie and eating popcorn easily pleases them. We picked them up after dinner and the car ride probably would have been enough of a field trip for some of them. They were so excited by all the lights, the cars and the different sights and sounds! It was very sweet. However, the only downside of going to bed early was that they woke up around 6! The other volunteers (along with Ivy) and I had a hard time getting them ready but we rounded them up, got them dressed and back to Layla before 8 for breakfast! Next week we will be taking Group 1B on a sleepover field trip as well and they are much more rambunctious so we proceeding with a bit more trepidation on that one!
Another great thing that happened at Layla this week was that 3 kids (I older boy and a brother/sister sibling set) were officially placed with families. Ivy gets to tell the kids and as volunteers we get to be there when they hear the news. It was amazing not only because the kids that get families were so excited but also because all the other kids were happy for them. There were hugs all around and the whole mood was positive. While it was difficult for some of the older kids (and some of them were sad that evening and the next day), there didn't seem to be any jealousy. They are were genuinely happy for each other. This week was also the end of the grading term at Layla and the 3 kids with the highest grades from each group were recognized at a party. The other volunteers and I put together gift bags and decorated certificates for each of them to keep. There was also cake, candy and coke for all the kids at Layla and everyone got to join in the celebration. I was in charge of distributing two pieces of candy to each kid after they got cake and I have never been more impressed with their manners. All of them said thank you and not one of them complained about the candy I gave them! There were some requests for lollipops, but as a group everyone was appreciative. They are so much more grateful than any group of children I have interacted with in the States! One thing that warmed my heart this week was that even though the English teacher Anna and I substituted for last week was back, on Monday the kids came up to me and wanted me to teach their English class. While I might not be the best English teacher, at least the kids had fun and wanted me to teach again!
I have gotten to do some amazing things around Addis this week. On Sunday, I went to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant called Yod Abbysinia Cultural Restaurant with the other volunteers (Anna, Alan, Mark and Kim). Kim's friend Andante also joined us. Andante was born in Ethiopia but has lived in Chicago for the last 10 years. He is here visiting his family for the next few months. It was great to have him there because he was able to order for us in Amharic and help us decide what to get on the menu. The food was amazing and I had Ambo mineral water for the first time (Ambo is locally bottled mineral water). There was also traditional Ethiopian dancing at the restaurant which was absolutely amazing! We also had coffee that was prepared traditionally in the restaurant. The beans are roasted and brewed by hand. It was very strong but very good. Hopefully I can upload pictures soon- the dancing and food was more beautiful than I could describe with words.
On Saturday, the other volunteers and I went with Ivy to Mercato. Mercato is the largest open-air market in Africa and according to the guidebooks you can buy everything there from camels to qat (pronounced chat- as a side note, qat is similar to chewing tobacco). The market is divided in to different sections and even though we were there for almost 4 hours we didn't see nearly everything. There are no set prices so part of the experience is bartering. Alan (the youngest volunteer) was the best barterer so the rest of us made him help us out when we really wanted something! There was so much to see but my favorite section was the spice market. Each stall smelled a little bit different- some more savory and some more sweet. One stall smelled like fresh apricots even though there was not an apricot in sight! Being there was the first time I really felt like I stood out for being white. Megan (another volunteer) and I both realized at the same time that there was no way we could blend in. It didn't really make me feel uncomfortable, but it was definitely the first time I noticed everyone was staring at us and there were people constantly calling out "ferenge!" (ferenge is the word for white people in Ethiopia). I also realized that part of the reason we stood out was that there were 7 white people shopping together! My guess is that probably doesn't happen very often. After getting back to the house we all took Kim out to dinner because it was her last night at the volunteer house. Kim has been volunteering at Opportunity House (for kids with special needs) and she is also adopting a little boy from there. We are all very sad to see her go home! One of the things she said at dinner was that her experience at Opportunity House (and with us) has been life giving and that really sums up my experience thus far as well.
The only downside to this week was that we discovered that Anna had lice. It was a very small infestation (and apparently a pretty common problem among volunteers) but since she and I share a bedroom we both had to be treated with Nix and strip our bedding to have it washed. It didn't look like I had any lice but apparently they can incubate for awhile so I decided to put the kabash on those bugs and treat my hair anyways. Hopefully I don't have lice but I will give everyone an update next week!