Reflections on an Ethiopian Adventure
When people ask me what it was like to live and work in Ethiopia, I find it hard to know what to say. However, I am going to attempt a short summary of my experience for you!
For the most part, I am really pleased to be home. Initially it was a real novelty to have all the things I missed while I was away. To have western food to eat, to be able to have a hot shower every day, to drink water straight from the tap, to know that my phone and computer would work without disruption and to have pavements to walk on! What I have been surprised about though, is how quickly I have started to take these things for granted again. Now, I almost find it hard to remember what it was like to live without them.
Despite my initial excitement about being home, there are many things I will miss about Ethiopia. It was so nice to start the day with sunshine coming through the window each morning. The weather in England so far has not been quite so consistent! I really enjoyed the way that people said hello to you in the street, particularly small children who wanted to shake your hand and practice their English. I will miss visiting different schools and talking to teachers and children about how to improve things. I loved being able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables so cheaply every day on my way home from work, and I will definitely miss my morning fruit juice!
I had some incredible experiences while I volunteered in Addis Ababa. Living there allowed me to learn a lot of things about another culture, many of which I have told you about in my other website posts. I also learned some important lessons about myself. Before living abroad I hadn’t realised how stereotypically British I was. I value politeness and organisation and queues. I also learned how important my job is to me. It was very strange being out of a classroom. I don’t think I will be tempted to swap teaching for working in an office again! Having regular power cuts also made me realise how much I rely upon modern technology in my day to day life. I thought I would find it easy to live without my mobile phone, but it was much more difficult than I thought!
More than anything though, I realised how much time we spend worrying about things that are not really important. It is nice to have the latest gadget or toy, but it is much more important to know that your friends and family are safe and healthy. We may take for granted our electricity and water, but we should always remember to be grateful for the people we love.
It has been so nice to see so many of you since I have been back and hear about what you have been doing while I’ve been gone. I am really looking forward to telling you more about my adventure in one of your assemblies soon!
Last weekend I was fortunate enough to go on a trip to the Bale Mountain National Park and Wondo Genet. The Bale Mountains are 400km from where I live in Addis so it was a long drive to get there and it meant I got to see a lot more of the country. I went on the trip with two other volunteers and we had paid to have a driver and a 4×4. If you have ever seen the roads in Africa you will understand that the 4×4 is a necessity if you don’t want to get stuck somewhere. Even with our sturdy vehicle and expert driver we got into some scary situations on mountain sides and in shallow lakes. Had I been the driver we would probably still be out in the middle of nowhere today!
This is a road we drove up. No I am not joking!
Leaving the city and seeing the towns and countryside gave me a much better appreciation of the challenges people in Ethiopia face every day. I saw the long distances that children walk to get to school, many travelling the equivalent distance from Fareham town centre to Whiteley, carrying piles of heavy text books. I saw the farmers hard at work harvesting crops to sell, or herding cattle along roads. Many children work for their families instead of going to school and they were selling food by the roadside or herding the cows and sheep.
When we stopped the car children would come and ask us for pens. I’m sure you have lots of pens and pencils that you use at home, and I know there are hundreds in school. However in the rural areas of Ethiopia pens are hard to come by and pretty expensive so if you give one to a child they can either use them at school or sell them to someone else for money. It is very hard to decide who to give what to and when. You would think it would be easy, as I have more money and pens than these people, so why wouldn’t I give them what I have? But, particularly with children you must be careful. If the children see that they can get money or objects by asking for them then they will stop going to school and will spend their days begging instead. Also if there is a large crowd of children they can start fighting if one gets given more than the other. However, there were a few occasions on my trip where I met children who weren’t begging and I could give them some sweets or bananas. At one point we were on the top of a remote hill and two children came cautiously towards us. I waved and held out some sweets, but as I did the children ran away. The driver explained that they probably haven’t seen white people before and they were scared. I know in England we teach you not to take sweets from strangers, but I have never had children be so scared of me before and it was quite a shock.
One of the children that ran away!
During our stay in the National Park we went trekking and saw some incredible things. There is a lot of wildlife that is endemic to Ethiopia, which means it is the only country you can find it. We saw the majestic Mountain Nyala, the elusive Ethiopian Wolf and the timid Menelik’s Bushbuck.
The Mountain Nyala.
The scenery was spectacular. I am not sure I can even begin to describe the incredible views from the top of the mountains. I hope the photos will help you to see what I mean, but trust me, they do not do justice to the vast beauty of the Ethiopian landscape. The highest mountain we climbed was called ‘Tulu Dimtu’ which means Red Mountain and it was 4377m above sea level.
At the top I could look down and see the clouds around and beneath me. We were so high up. It was also really peaceful and quiet. I could have sat there for a long time just looking at the sky.
The second part of our trip took us 150km east to a place called Wondo Genet. It is a town in the hills where you can find hot springs coming out of the hillside. We walked up the hills to where the springs came out of the ground and the water was so hot you could hardly put your hand in it! We then walked to some ‘boiling lakes.’ You could see the steam coming off them before you could see any of the water. When you got closer you could see the water actually bubbling which means it was over 100 degrees in temperature! One local man was sitting by a pool next to the lake cooking his potatoes in the water! Some hippos lived in one of the cooler lakes, but we only got to see one from quite a long way away.
Now I am back in the city again thinking about how lucky I am to have had such a wonderful opportunity to visit such amazing places. It is certainly something I will never forget. It has also made me feel very grateful for all the things we have in England – water and electricity, good transport and smooth roads, great schools, lovely houses, plenty of food, and hundreds of pens.
21st November 2014
An Amharic lesson!
I wonder if any of you will ever get the chance to visit Ethiopia. There are several reasons why you might like to come here. Ethiopia has some of the most beautiful countryside you have ever seen. As you travel across the country there are many different landscapes: huge mountains, great lakes, and bubbling volcanoes. As well as the amazing scenery, the weather between October and June is fantastic. Every day you have cloudless blue skies and warm sunshine.
Ethiopia is also a place of very ancient history. In fact, some of the oldest human remains have been found here. One skeleton, known as ‘Lucy’, is here in Addis in the National museum, and she is thought to be around 3.2 million years old. There are many old churches and palaces to explore too.
If you do come to Ethiopia, you will probably need to learn some of one of the local languages. However, this may prove difficult as there are over 80 different languages spoken here. Just imagine, travelling from Fareham to London and when you get there everyone is speaking a different language to you! That is how it is if you travel from place to place in Ethiopia. It can make things very difficult. For example, at the moment I am writing guidelines for teachers who teach in O-grade (which is the same as our Reception classes.) I am writing them in English, but many of the teachers who will need to use them will read and write in a completely different alphabet. It means that policies here have to be translated many times if they are going to be useful to anyone.
In Addis Ababa, I am lucky that many people do speak English. However, I have been learning to speak Amharic too, which is the official language of Ethiopia and is the main language of the capital city. The Amharic alphabet uses ‘fidel’ symbols instead of the letters we use in English. Each fidel consists of a consonant that is put together with a vowel to make a sound. Despite being able to speak some words of Amharic, I don’t think I will ever be able to read or write it! This is an example of what it looks like…
ለቅድመ መደበኛ መምህራን ስልጠና የተዘጋጀ
Just in case you ever visit, I have noted down a few important phrases for you to use. (Everything is spelt phonetically, so just sound out each word!)
Greetings (you have to choose which greeting to use based on the time of day, whether you are addressing a man or a woman, and whether you should be polite to them or not!)
‘Hello’ to anyone (polite) – Tena yistilling
‘Hi’ to anyone (informal) – Tadiyas
‘Good morning’ to a man – Denna adderk
‘Good morning’ to a woman – Denna addesh
‘How are you?’ to a man – Denna nen?
‘How are you?’ to a woman – Denna nesh?
‘I’m fine’ if you are a man – Denna nen
‘I’m fine’ if you are a woman – Denna nesh
‘What is your name?’ to a man – Simi man no?
‘What is your name?’ to a woman – Simish man no?
‘My name is …’ – Yenay sim … no
‘Thank you’ – Amesegelano
‘I don’t understand’ – Algebanyim
‘Yes’ – Awo
(As well as having a word for yes, an Ethiopian might agree with you by just giving a short intake of breath, like a gasp. It took a while to get used to that, as when someone made a gasp, I assumed they had either forgotten something, or that they were just about to say something else!)
Numbers to 10
1 – and
2 – hoolett
3 – sost
4 – arat
5 – amist
6 – sidist
7 – sabat
8 – sement
9 – zerten
10 – aser
‘Can you give me … please?’ to a man – Ibaka … sitay
‘Can you give me … please?’ to a woman – Ibakish … sitching
‘How much is that?’ – Sinter no?
‘That’s too expensive!’ – Woot no!
‘Coffee’ – Boona
‘Water’ – Wooha
‘Milk’ – Watet
‘Sugar’ – Sooquar
‘Banana’ – Muz
‘Orange’ – Birtukan
‘Melon’ – Hab hab
‘Apple’ – Pom
‘Potato’ – Dinich
‘Sweet potato’ – Sooquar dinich
‘Carrot’ – Carot
‘Onion’ – Shinkurt
So how do you think you would go into a shop and ask a man for 5 bananas? Tell your teacher and you can have a house point from me!
If there are any other words you would like to know, then get your teacher to email me and ask!
7th November 2014
Well done Preston! I have been told that you worked out how much I get paid per month.
Hello Whiteley Learners!
I hope you are all well. I can’t quite believe it, but I have been here for almost two months already! While you are getting used to cold dark evenings wearing your winter coats, I have to put on sun cream every day as the weather gets hotter! It certainly doesn’t feel like November here (but maybe that is because the calendar is different in Ethiopia and we are actually in the month of Hidar!)
I was thinking of you all a week or two ago when it was Halloween and wondering if you went out for some trick or treating. The children here in Ethiopia love sweets and chocolate just as much as you, but they don’t celebrate Halloween, so there were no treats for them last week! I have not seen any sweets or chocolate made in Ethiopia yet, instead they buy things from other countries and bring them here. For example, in the shop next to my office you can buy mars bars and snickers! Ethiopians love sugar and put lots of spoonfuls in their tea and coffee, but they hardy ever have puddings after eating a meal. They do, however, have nice bakeries and although they are expensive, the cakes are delicious!
If you go out to a cafe or restaurant to eat you have to order your food very carefully. The waiter who serves you has to pay for the food you order, and then he keeps the money you give him as his profit. However, if you order the wrong food or send something back, he still has to pay for it and it makes him get cross as he will lose money!
Lunch is served – yes those are chips in the middle!
Despite having no puddings, food is very important to Ethiopians. Because I live in the capital city of Addis Ababa you can buy a lot of food that you would get in England. As long as you have plenty of money you can find pizza, sausages, pasta, rice, chips and many other things. However, these are not the foods you would find an Ethiopian eating at home. Their traditional food involves a round, flat bread called injera. It is made with a grain called tef, which is very healthy for you. On top of the injera, Ethiopians put different sauces. Doro watt is like a chicken curry. Shiro watt and misa watt are curries made with lentils and onions and because I am vegetarian these are the sauces I like the best! Injera takes many days to make because there is yeast in the tef grain which must be left to ferment before you can cook the bread. However, the sauces are easy to make and in my first week here I had a cookery lesson so that I knew how to make them. Injera is definitely not my favourite food. It tastes a bit sour and the texture is slightly rubbery. It is hard to describe if you haven’t tasted it for yourself!
The brown roll is the injera and the rest of the plate is full of different sauces and vegetables.
The foods I do love in Ethiopia are the fruit and vegetables. There are plenty of them, they are juicy and ripe, and they are very cheap to buy! My favourite way to have fruit is mixed up in a juice – a bit like a smoothie. It might sound strange but the tastiest juice of them all is avocado. Very creamy and sweet (again I think they add a lot of spoonfuls of sugar!)
This smoothie has a mixture of orange mango guava pear and banana. The green juice on top is the delicious avocado.
So as you can see I am not starving, although there are foods that I miss from England. I am doing well and working hard to improve things in schools for younger children. One of the things I am working on is the school meals program so that all children can have a free school dinner, just like you do in Reception and Key Stage 1 now!
I hope you are all well and that you enjoy your food today!
15th October 2014
Imagine your classroom at Whiteley. Now take away the interactive whiteboard and computer. Remove the reading corner and any other reading books. Get rid of your pens, coloured pencils, rulers, calculators and everything else off your desk. Eliminate the sink and all of the paints and paintbrushes. Double the number of children in the room and visualise a teacher at the front who just talks at you for the whole of every lesson while you sit still. If you can do that, you might be getting close to picturing an Ethiopian classroom.
There are some things here that are similar to our schools in England. Most of the subjects are the same, so children learn Amharic, English, Maths, Science, Art, Music, PE and ICT (if the school has a computer.) Children at primary school all stay in the same classroom with the same teacher for most of the time. There are play times and lunch times just like you have.
However, there are many things that are different. The schools don’t have many books or pencils for children to use and certainly no internet connected laptops! Many schools run a shift system where half the children attend in the morning and half in the afternoon, which means they don’t have to employ so many teachers. Some children live so far away from schools that they have classes in a church or local building, and some don’t go to school at all.
One of the main differences is that at Whiteley your teachers try to get you to think for yourself. You get to make choices about the best way for you to learn something. If you are in Reception or Key Stage 1 you are given time to play and explore for yourself. In the schools here in Ethiopia you have to do as you are told and just remember the things your teacher says. You don’t get any choices.
You might like the sound of what I have described, or you might think it sounds awful. Either way it is the reality that children face here every day. It is not something they dislike though. In fact the majority of children are thrilled to go to school and know how lucky they are to be there. In Ethiopia, doing well at school can make a massive difference to your life. If you manage to stay in school until Grade 10 (which many children don’t) you sit exams and get a score. The better your score is, the better a college or university course you will get on to. You do not get to choose which course you go on, that is decided for you. This means that in the end you don’t get a choice in which job you have when you are older. This is something I still find hard to understand. If I had grown up in Ethiopia I would never have been able to choose to be a teacher.
So, there are many challenges for me as I volunteer here as an Early Years adviser. My goal is to improve the quality of lessons in pre-schools, so that children have the chance to play and guide their own learning. This will involve me writing policies and training the teachers here so that they understand what makes a good lesson for younger children.
Recently I went to the school shown in the photos which is in a place called Sebeta. The children there were friendly and welcoming and were also great singers. They reminded me very much of Whiteley children! Spare a thought for them when you are enjoying your learning with your amazing talented teachers today!
1st October 2014
An Ethiopian maths lesson…
If you have been in my class before you will know how much I love maths! Here in Ethiopia I have to use maths all the time so it’s a good job I like it!
Firstly, the Ethiopians tell the time differently to the way we do in England. The sun rises here at around 6’o’clock every day so that is when they start to time their day. This means that 7am is called 1am in Ethiopian time, and 8am is 2am. You would start school in Ethiopia at 2.45am! They keep counting the hours until 6pm when the sun sets and then 7pm becomes 1pm. There is no 24 hour clock here, just 12 hours in the day and 12 hours at night. It can be very confusing. If an Ethiopian wants to make a meeting with you at 9’o’clock, you have to check whether that is 9’o’clock in the morning, or 3’o’clock in the afternoon!!! I also have to keep remembering that in England you are 2 hours behind me in Ethiopia, so if I want to phone my family or friends in the morning I have to subtract 2 hours to see if it is too early to call.
I am doing a lot of maths when I spend money too. In Ethiopia the currency is called ‘birr’. At the moment there are about 32 birr in £1.00. When I go shopping I try to work out how much I would be spending in pounds and pence. For example…
A line taxi ride: 3 birr = 9p
A cup of tea: 7 birr = 22p
A smoothie style juice: 15 birr = 47p
A kilo of carrots: 13 birr = 41p
A cleaning lady for a month: 150 birr = £4.68
A croissant: 25 birr = 78p
A month’s use of the internet: 500 birr = £15.63
And for the adults… A pint of beer: 11 birr = 34p
I am a volunteer here so I only get an allowance of 3900 birr per month (If you can work out how much that is in pounds tell your teacher and if you are right they can give you a house point from me!) That means that even though some things appear to be cheap I have to be careful that I spend my money carefully.
Maybe you could work out how many birr your pocket money is worth?
22nd September 2014
Yesterday I moved into the house I will be living in while I am here. It might not look much compared to your houses, but as a volunteer I am feeling very lucky to be living here. It is light and airy and is very well furnished. So far the electricity and water have stayed on, although I know this won’t last forever!
I am sharing the house with another volunteer called Margaret, who has been so helpful in getting me settled in. Our house is inside a ‘compound’ which means other people live here too. Our landlady is an Ethiopian lady called Gette and she lives in the house behind with people from her family. As there is a lot of crime in the city we also have tall gates and walls, a guard and 3 guard dogs!
As you can see from the pictures, inside there is a large lounge, a little kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom. There is also a balcony and a small garden which will be a perfect spot for sitting and reading in the sunshine.
It is a nice peaceful spot compared to the noise of the hotel I was staying in. There are small shops nearby and some places to eat.
Today I start work at the ministry of education. To get there I have an uphill walk and then a taxi journey. Taxis here are very different to those you might have used in England. They look like small minibuses and they run on a set route. You call the taxi over and get in with lots of other people. When you see where you want to get out you shout ‘waraj’ and the driver stops! A very different way to get to work than when I used to drive my car to Whiteley!
I hope you are all still behaving! Ms Sutton J
16th September 2014:
I have arrived in Addis Ababa safely. It is very hard to describe exactly what it is like here, but I will share some of my first impressions…
Addis is a very big busy city. There is a lot of noise and people everywhere. There is a lot of traffic and the drivers and pedestrians don’t follow all the same road safety rules that we do! There are a lot of people that are poor and their houses are very basic, but there are also many new buildings and they are just building a new railway.
I have already learnt many new things, for example, it is rude to lick your fingers if they get dirty while you are eating – very hard not to do when you mostly have to eat with your hands!!! I am trying out the new words and phrases that I learnt in Amharic with varying success! I managed to ask some children what their names were and I think they were quite shocked to hear a ferengi (foreigner) using their language!
People here are very friendly and helpful. Yesterday was my birthday so I was taken out for dinner, which was a lot of fun.
At the moment I am staying in a hotel but on Sunday I will move to the house that I will share with another volunteer. I am looking forward to unpacking properly and not having to root around in my suitcase to find things!
There are a lot of children on the street here who do not go to school and never learn to read or write properly. Whiteley children – you are so lucky to have such an amazing school and wonderful teachers – I hope you are working hard for them!
I miss you all! Ms Sutton 🙂
7th September 2014:
Thank you all so much for you warm words and wishes in the final week of term. I have been really touched by all of your kind comments as I set off on my African adventure. Thank you especially to the children and parents in Year 2 who have helped to raise over £800 for my VSO fundraising.
I don’t actually leave to go to Ethiopia until the middle of September, but once I am there you will be able to check this page to see what I am getting up to.
For those of you who don’t know, I am working in the Ministry of Education in Addis Ababa as an early years advisor. Currently just over 60% of children attend school in Ethiopia, and most of those don’t start until they are 7 years old. I will be working with teachers and government ministers to run training programmes so that children can start school as early as 4 years old. It should be a really exciting project and I can’t wait to tell you all about it once it starts!
I will miss you all at Whiteley next year. I hope you have a great summer and I will be in touch soon!