There followed a week of training at the VSO HQ which was five or ten minutes walk from the hotel.
In the beginning I hated this little distance which forced us to negotiate our way through the streets on foot but over time I began to appreciate this gentle introduction to Addis and only on one occasion was I called sexually harassed by a random stranger. Disappointing really!
There we met our fellow volunteers who were staying in different hotels- we were 4 Britons, 3 Filipinos, 3 Kenyans, 2 Canadians, 1 Dutch and 1 Irish. Nine women and six men of different ages, different walks of life but instant friends.
Having dealt exclusively with VSO Ireland and VSO UK previously it was good to see only one ex-pat on the VSO Ethiopia staff. The Country Director introduced himself and his unpronounceable name and asked us all to do the same. When it was my turn, I did the necessary and was stopped in my tracks when he asked, “what part of Ireland are you from?”. I’m sorry to say I laughed out loud as it was the very last thing I expected him to ask…but as it happens his wife is from Kerry!
During that initial presentation we were assured that the security of the volunteers is the number one priority of the VSO even above the aims of the project and I felt I was in safe hands- I think really anyone that has the good sense to marry a Kerry woman is alright by me 😉
We took short courses in the geopolitics of Ethiopia, the development context here, the sustainability of any work we might undertake, security and personal safety, health, the Amharic language etc. I felt a great sense of well-being from the Ethiopians and my experience of them so far is that they simply cannot do enough for us all and take great pleasure in treating guests well. The VSO Doctor seemed to encapsulate this mentality as he said, in a somewhat over the top fashion I thought, “I am your Doctor, your brother- I am everything to you!” I chuckled a little at this. Little did I know, I’d be laughing on the other side of my face in a few day’s time…
Each day we were provided with a traditional Ethiopian buffet at lunch time which was a colourful spread. My initial verdict on Ethiopian cuisine is that it is 50% oil, 50% spice and a 100% I’ll have to get used to it 😉 But it was a lovely touch. We were also treated to a traditional coffee ceremony which I really enjoyed. The coffee here is delicious and is something they take great care over.
Most evenings we were left to our own devices but there were a few exceptions. One evening we were taken to a cultural evening at a local restaurant- we sampled the food, and delighted in the traditional dancing and singing on show. We were also lucky enough to be in the restaurant on the same night as the Ethiopian football team so there was great excitement. They had returned home from the African cup. Ethiopia’s answer to Eamon Dunphy wouldn’t have been best pleased with their performance as they didn’t actual win- but that didn’t matter to the fans! The crowd in the restaurant were going wild! (Think Ireland in the euros 😉
Another evening we were invited to a reception at the British Embassy. I privately scoffed at this and wondered why we should all be going to the British embassy, why not our own for heaven’s sake?!
But, as you know dear reader, pride always comes before a fall. My gastro-intestinal tract seemed to be in sympathy with my patriotic mind and I had to unceremoniously decline the invitation being engaged in more “pressing” matters in the bathroom of my hotel room for the next twenty four hours
I was never so sick and, convinced of my imminent demise I lamented the fact that I had nothing of any worth to leave to anyone in a will.
I had not one but two VSO Doctors at my beck and call and so many well wishers that I shouldn’t have felt so sorry for myself but I was miserable. The Doctor felt that the culprit was a parasite in the water which is endemic here and even though the first twenty four hours was rough with the right medicine I was well enough a day later.
I was a little out-of-sorts for the rest of the week a la Victor Meldrew and I think I must have let out an audible groan when I saw that we were going on a scavenger hunt in downtown Addis to acquaint ourselves with the area. On another day I might have enjoyed it better, but I have to confess that Addis is not the most beautiful city I have ever been in.
We were also sent to a big outdoor market to use our unimpressive Amharic and haggle our way around buying essential supplies before we were sent off to our different placements all around Ethiopia. My Amharic mightn’t be up to much yet but what I didn’t have in the language department I made up for in the eyebrow department. It worked a treat! We bought a few bits and pieces and still not feeling a hundred percent I was glad to be out of there.
For all my ingratitude (and because I was very run down from being so violently sick) I was smote from on high with ten coldsores for my troubles. A fitting end to a difficult week.