We apologise for this breakdown in communication but by this Friday I will have been working for 19 days in a row.
I have gotten very little sleep and my Abyssinian palace, now sadly neglected, is looking more like a pauper’s third world shack with each passing day. To compound this, the weather has also started to become uncomfortably hot for an Irish person (so I wager it is about 25 degrees). This is making it more difficult to get quality sleep at night and then of course there is no water in the tap to wash oneself, dishes, clothes, bedding etc. I am covered in a rash of mosquito bites including one which is comically positioned in the dead centre of my forehead not unlike an Indian bindi. Electricity, telephone and internet service are frustratingly intermittent.
The reason things have taken this turn is that a few weeks ago my brilliant boss informed me that there was to be a “Life Skills Training” for about a hundred first year students at the weekend and would I mind doing a 5 minute slot the next day on assertiveness, self-confidence etc.
I was doubtful. There can be a tendency here sometimes to assume that the “ferenj” is an expert in all areas and I wondered whether I was the right one for this particular job. I mean, are Irish people really assertive and self-confident or are we modest, apologetic and full of self-doubt? Indeed, Shelley remarked, “He does know you’re not American, right?!”
But in spite of my misgivings I wholeheartedly accepted the invitation as I was so glad of having been thought of and included in this important work and also the chance to get to work with the students directly. (I pretended to be confident and assertive and it worked out surprisingly well- I might try it again some time! ;)) I ended up co-facilitating the training for the three days and again the following weekend with regular work during the weeks.
So to sum up, I went in for five minutes and came out three weeks later!
My real contribution to the training as in all things here was to make it active. Ethiopians are very fond of talking and much of my sleep deprivation over the past three weeks has been as a result of having to edit 300 PowerPoint slides of text on which the training was based.
In my mind’s eye, I could see them, as clear as crystal, the poor misfortunate students, as they drooped, wilted and lost the will to live in front of us. So I happily burned the midnight oil looking for pictures and video clips and activities to include.
As an aside, one of the PowerPoints was entitled, “How to communicate with your teachers, classmates and doormats”. Hello, doormat! I presume they meant to say dorm-mates; Ethiopian English strikes again! Hahaha 😀
Anyway, the whole experience was wonderful. Most of the students, but particularly the girls, wouldn’t even raise their eyes to meet us on Friday and by Sunday they were speaking with confidence about sensitive topics like HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, drug abuse, gender-based violence etc. They produced a little drama for us and rather spontaneously at the end of the second weekend three students came up to the top of the room to recite poetry they had composed to express their experience of the training and their gratitude. We hadn’t asked them to do this or encouraged them in any way at all. I didn’t understand the words but it didn’t matter. I was almost moved to tears. (remember, I was also very tired!)
We had a “secret friend” in operation too where the kids could leave comments for us and each other in an anonymous way. And rather be scarified by the quality of English in an institution where English is the medium of instruction, I was touched. They are something tangible to look at when I am feeling down after a bad day at work or an uncomfortable experience in town and am wondering what the hell I am doing here. Or perhaps in a few years’ time from a cosy armchair somewhere in Ireland when I am wondering, did I do anything worthwhile at all? Then, I will have these to look back on.
Sometimes volunteers have a very negative experience at their placement where they are purposefully excluded from things out of a sense of mistrust or fear. Sometimes they arrive at an institution which is almost perfectly stagnant or even absolutely corrupt and where it might be very difficult to find anyone in the place who wants to improve the situation at all. They become very frustrated and consequently very bitter. They feel they can be of no use to anyone which is surely one of the worst feelings in the world.
Conversely, I very well may have the opposite problem here! I haven’t time to bless myself as the fella said! But every day I thank my lucky stars that I have somehow ended up in a place like this with people like these.
Now, roll on the weekend for some heavy duty cleaning, errands and resting.
…Hopefully I’ll have time to update this thing properly during the week and introduce you to all the characters in my work life. X