Into the Wild Blue Yonder…

Into the Wild Blue Yonder…

Hello to anyone who happens to venture by my rarely-updated blog. I’m off on a new adventure next week (a week from today, in fact)… this time to Ethiopia, Kenya and Zanzibar. I’ll be volunteering for a couple weeks in a home for street kids in Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia), and visiting Lalibela in the north while I’m there. Then I’ll be heading to Zanzibar (an island off Tanzania) for a few days before having a little mini-safari in the Maasai Mara. Stay tuned…

3 days and 4 layovers later…

3 days and 4 layovers later…

So I left California on Sunday at 6am, and after stops in Houston, London, Amsterdam and Sudan, I finally made it to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at 9pm on Tuesday.  WITH baggage, thank goodness.  I was picked up at the airport by Eyob, one of the staff at Mercy Home (where I am volunteering).  For some reason though, his sign read “Melissa Fammke”, so it took a few confusing minutes (and a helpful local who let me use her phone) to realize that apparently I was Melissa Fammke. Who knew?
By the time we got to Mercy Home, it was about 10:30pm, so after some quick hellos I pretty much went straight to sleep. So it wasn’t until this morning that I learned what Mercy Home was about and how I’d be helping.

Mercy Home is kind of like a cross between a group home and half-way house, except for kids.  I don’t know their exact ages, but I would guess it’s between 5 and 10 years.  There’s about 15 kids, and they have been living on the streets.  Mercy Home takes them in for a year and basically rehabilitates them– teaches them living skills, basic education, gives them food and shelter.  Meanwhile, they look for family members, and after they are here for a year, they send them to live with their family.  But even after they’re gone, Mercy pays for their education (including books and uniforms) through college and makes sure their lives remain stable.

It seems like a really good program.  The problem with a lot of typical orphanages is that once the kids are 18 they are on their own.  Here, because they go back to their families, they have a better chance at having a normal life through adulthood, but still with a safety net in case things don’t work out.

My role here is to teach them basic English and math skills, along with the two other volunteers that are already here.

They transition the kids in and out of the program in September, so the kids here now are very new.  Apparently the ones leaving knew English really well, but except for one super-smart little girl who seems to have picked up English in 2 weeks, most of them are still only communicating in Amharic.  Fortunately there is a staff member who translates, or it would be very confusing.

That’s about it for now, since it’s only the first day. Tomorrow we go to volunteer in a food bank downtown, so more on that later.

Bean soup and Bingo

Bean soup and Bingo

(… neither go over well)

On Thursday, we went to the feeding center, which is basically what it sounds like– a place for people to get food they would otherwise go without.  The people buy a token for a few cents and with it they get lunch.  On Thursday it was a serving of injera (an Ethiopian staple that’s sort of like a sour crepe, but made out of a plant), and two scoops of bean soup.  Apparently the beans weren’t all that tasty, because a lot of people insisted “Water! Water!” which I quickly realized meant they only wanted the broth.

800 people come every day and are served in 4 groups.  Each group only has about 10 minutes to get their food and eat, and the whole thing took about an hour.  We rotated in between collecting tokens, serving the injera, and pouring soup, and then in between groups we prepared plates for the next round.

The people were a mix– there were some apparently able-bodied people, but also a substantial number who were blind or disabled, and there were quite a few kids.  Unfortunately no one, including the staff, seemed to speak English beyond “hello”, “thank you”, and “America? Obama!”, but it would have been interesting to know what their stories were.

On Friday we got back to teaching the kids, and focused on numbers this time.  The kids all know the alphabet and their numbers 1-100 very well, but they only know them in order.  Put a “R” or a “7” on the board and most of them have no idea.  So we’ve been working on learning each one individually.  It’s difficult, because there’s a huge range of ability levels.  Some of the kids know every number individually and are starting to sound out words, and others don’t even know if it’s a number a letter. We’ve been splitting them in smaller groups, and that’s gone a little better.

An attempt at Bingo, however, was a fiasco, as the younger kids kept playing with the tokens and shooting them across the tables, messing up everyone’s cards. It took about 6 false bingos before we got to a real one, and even that one was probably just an accident. Live and learn.

Wherever I’ve volunteered it’s always funny to me how kids are just kids.  They have the same laughs, there’s always the bullies and the tattle-tales, the kids who know all the answers and get mad when they aren’t called on, and the ones who try to hide and avoid getting picked.

There are two other volunteers here, both guys, one who got here 5 days before I did, and one who has been here since August.  I don’t know if the guy who has been here since August is burnt out, or if it’s just his nature, but he complains a lot.  Most often about the food they serve us– which is mostly vegetables and pretty redundant, but when you think about the fact that meat is expensive and whatever they spend on us isn’t going to the kids, it’s easy to deal with. He also always seems to be counting down the minutes to the next recess or the end of the day, and insists that everything we want to do isn’t worth it, and I’m not sure if it really isn’t, or if he just doesn’t want to show us how to get there.  Anyway, this weekend, he has been staying downtown so it’s been a nice break.

It started raining like crazy on Friday night, so Saturday and today I’ve mostly hung around the house helping with the kids. We did go see “Surrogates” with Bruce Willis one day, which cost a whopping $2 and included assigned seats in the theatre.

Tomorrow, we get back to our regular schedule of teaching Monday, Wednesday and Friday and then helping at the feeding center on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then this coming weekend I’ll be heading to the northern part of Ethiopia, so more on that later…

Sticker meltdown…

Sticker meltdown…

Today we resumed teaching the kids after the weekend break.  Since Bingo appeared to be a lost cause, we went for coloring, which went over a lot better.  The beginning kids colored alphabet flash cards and the more advanced kids worked on vocab coloring books. 

We also had a speed competition for identifying letters and sounding out words, with stickers for the fastest.  Unfortunately the stickers didn’t work out quite as planned and there were several accusations of sticker theft resulting in quite a few tears. We ended up giving stickers to everyone to settle the conflict, but it made for a few hairy minutes.

The kids go to school in 4 sessions, each about 1 hour 15 minutes.  In between class time they have 30 minute recesses, with a longer break for lunch.  During recess they play games that are sort of identifiable, but not really.  For instance, their version of “Duck, Duck, Goose” involves throwing your jacket at the person you’re chasing, and to get out of the mush pot you have to serve imaginary coffee to everyone sitting in the circle.  And the whole time they sing. Just what they’re singing, I have no idea, since it’s in Amharic, of which I know exactly two words. (Salaam = hello and Ciao = goodbye).

It was a nice sunny day until about 5 minutes ago when it started pouring again, but it was good timing since we’re done for the night anyway.  Even when it’s sunny though it’s only about 70 degrees, so I think I’m in for a shock when I head down to Zanzibar and Kenya next week (where it’s currently 99).

Here are some photos of Ethiopia so far:

Dark cloud

Dark cloud

This weekend I went up to the Northern part of Ethiopia, specifically the town of Lalibela. It was one of the parts of the trip I was looking forward to most, and it didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, though, when I returned to “home” to the orphanage, I found that my money for Tanzania and Kenya had disappeared from the cabinet I had locked it in while I was away. It wasn’t one of the kids… if it had been I could almost accept the loss given their backgrounds.  But there are several floors to the building and the volunteers stay on the top one, where the kids never go.  So it was either one of the staff or one of the volunteers, but most likely one of the staff as the cabinet was still locked, but sans-money, when I returned. In any case, I’m no longer feeling all that up to writing about Lalibela or the remaining time I’ve been volunteering, so sorry for the brief entry.

Tomorrow I fly to Zanzibar, so it’s unfortunate end to my time in Ethiopia, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth after an otherwise great experience.  Now I get to figure out how to make it through the rest of my trip with much less cash than I had planned on, as essentially 2/3 of my budget is now gone.

Anyway, here are some photos of Lalibela and more from volunteering:

Hello Zanzibar

Hello Zanzibar

Monday is my flight to Zanzibar, and I’m not in the best of moods — I guess having money stolen will do that to anyone, but I was having a tough time getting past it.
So I get to Addis airport, in my little funk, and discover that they do things a little strange. Probably the strangest is how they handle the gates. My flight was Gate 4, so I go there and do the whole shoes off x-Ray line and then go into a separate walled off area specific for that gate. Not until you go through all the hoopla to get in and are stuck do you realize that all the information screens are all OUTside the gated area. And the buildings acoustics are horrible so you can barely hear that an announcement is made, much less know what it says. Which would be okay, just watch for the flight attendants to call people over, except that there are about four flights and hundreds of people waiting at the same gate and we all seem to leave about the same time. So if I’m not careful I may end up in Ougadijou or something.

So I watch (very carefully), but my boarding time comes and goes and none of the flights seem to have left. I go over to the desk to make sure I’m not missing something, and while I happen to be standing there, an attendant comes up and quietly asks a guy near me if he’s going to ZanzIbar. Like, practically whispers. He says he is, and she says to follow him, so I follow too, as does another lady nearby. We walk out of that gate, then through the whole next gated area, also full of people, down some stairs and onto a bus. I had thought maybe we were the stragglers, but we’re the first on the bus. I don’t know if they finally made an announcement or if that poor lady had to go to each person individually and ask if they are going to Zanzibar, but eventually the bus fills up.

And we sit.

For several minutes the bus doesn’t move. Then finally a guy comes up to the bus like a crazy person, whooping and hollering and practically pushes another guy into the drivers seat. That guy then starts to drive and things are going well, until all of a sudden he turns around and starts back to where we came from. Then he turns around again and we’re basically doing doughnuts. In the airport bus. Apparently he doesn’t know which plane is ours, so we drive up to about four different planes before he finally finds the right one.

Finally in the plane, I make sure it’s actually going to Zanzibar, then settle in. I got the emergency row, so I’m happily waiting for takeoff. There are three seats in the row and the guy on the aisle doesn’t show up until last minute. When he does, he’s carrying about 5 large bags of duty free alcohol and a carryon. Now, for some reason they have stored the life rafts in the overhead bins, so even before this guy, they were jammed full. So he goes up and down the aisles looking for every inch of space to stash his stuff, and moving other people’s things to who knows where in the process. Finally he’s done and he sits. The attendants come up and go through the shpiel that the guy next to me and I have already heard, about being prepared to help in an emergency. When she gets to the part about knowing how to open the exit door, he gets up and starts pulling on the door handle, trying to open it! It takes me flailing my arms and yelling “Nooooo!!” and the guy next to me practically pushing him back to persuade him that maybe it’s not a good idea. So he sits. I should mention that this guy is Asian, only because he presumably did not come from Addis, so he would have had to have been on a plane before. You’d think he would know not oplay around with the emergency exit. Maybe he was dipping into his duty free supply, I don’t know.

So, one would think that would be enough drama for one plane ride. But I’m not done! Now, a man in the row in front of us, also an emergency row, gets up and asks the attendant if his wife can sit in the empty seat next to him. While he is doing this, another flight attendant, not knowing his seat is taken, moves a lady and her friend into those seats. The other attendant quickly tells her someone is sitting there, so they explain to the lady that she’ll need to move back. She refuses! She says no, she is tired of walking and her foot hurts so she’ll sit here thank you very much, and who is this guy that he deserves the emergency row more than her, and who are the attendants to tell her what to do. No lie. So they leet her keep the seat! The poor guy gets to sit by his wife but he’s about 7 feet tall and now gets to squeeze himself into a regular row.

Now, the cranky lady has a giant purse that doesn’t fit under her seat. She tries to refuse to give it up. Then she insists on going through and taking out every item she could possibly need and tells the attendant not to hover while she does so. Mind you a whole plane of people is waiting to take off. So the attendant walks away and the lady sits on her purse! She gets away with it too, I guess the attendant figures someone else got it from her. But now they have to go through the emergency shpiel with her. She doesn’t care for it. Are you willing to help in an emergency? “Of course I am, why wouldn’t I be? I am not that difficult.” Do you know how to operate the emergency door? “Of course I do. I do not come from the jungle!” (She really said that!) The whole time me and the guy next to me are dying laughing.

So anyway, finally we take off, about an hour late, and from there on in it’s basically uneventful (except for when we have to circle the Zanzibar airport and are now doing doughnuts in the plane). We disembark, I go through the dinky airport, and meet the hotel driver, whose name is Six Fingers, for obvious reasons, and head to my hotel. There, I immediately go find an isolated spot of an amazing tropical beach and sit down to relax. Which I do for about 30 seconds until a rasta guy comes up. And I’m not being stereotypical, he said, “Call me rasta guy”. He says, “You like to chill? I like to chill too. Hakuna Matata.” And then he starts a meandering, one-sided conversation about life, the island, and, oddly, Kenyan anthropology authors. The jist is that it’s, as he says, “a pole pole life” (pole having an accent on the e and pronounced polay, I’m guessing it means laid back)

So anyway, somewhere between the insanity of the flight and my new friends Six Fingers and Rasta Guy, I forgot about the stolen money and remembered to enjoy the ride, wherever it may take me. So goodbye funk and hello Zanzibar.

Last batch of photos…

Last batch of photos…

Home now, safe, although my suitcase is somewhere in London.  Hopefully not for long…  Anyway, here are the photos from Zanzibar and Kenya…