Donnacha, Jim, John, Keith, Mark & Mary


As most of you already know, in May a group from Ireland arrived here to shoot a short promotional video of three Irish VSO volunteers in Ethiopia; myself, Jim Ferguson & Dr. Mary McCauley.  The purpose of the video was to generally promote the work that VSO does and specifically to show potential Irish volunteers at recruitment fairs and the like.

I was vaguely acquainted with this plan in January in Dublin.  It was just the week before departure when I made a whistle stop visit to the VSO offices on Dawson Street to collect my visa.

I arrived to the office that morning straight in from the final VSO training weekend in Birmingham spent in contemplation of moving away from home to a third world country, on my own, for two years, in seven days’ time.  And what with the flights over and back to England thrown into the bag, I was an emotional wreck.  The time was 9:15 and I was planning to get the 10:15 bus home in time for the last of my immunisations which need to be taken at specific intervals of 0, 7, 21 and 28 days.

I wanted to get in, get out and speak to no one.

Unfortunately the lads in the office didn’t get that memo it would seem and John would insist on speaking to me!  (Honestly!  The audacity of some people!)  I made a fairly nonplussed attempt at civility but was failing miserably ever before I finally made a rush for the door at about 9:45.  Unfortunately for Donncha, he clapped eyes on me just as I was rounding a corner to sprint down the stairs rolly suitcase in one hand, stinky attitude in the other and tried to introduce himself and the plan in the 2 minute slot I allotted him.  Time is money, Donnacha! Time is money!

Looking back on that morning now, I’m pretty sure that a) I never introduced myself to him, b) I never smiled once and c) I acted like the biggest wagon of all time.  I was, as they say, like a dog and how he didn’t ring me up the next day and say “Actually Aisling, the team here in the office have had a rethink and we’re not sure you’re the right fit for us.  To be honest, we were kind of looking for someone who’s a bit less of a bitch than you to be part of the campaign, you know?”, I don’t know.

I missed the bus and was embarrassingly irrational and emotional outside Ulster Bank on the Quay but Donnacha never made that call, I was locked in and the Irish were on their way to Woldia 🙂

So ever before I left Clonmel for Ethiopia, I had something to look forward to pencilled into the calendar. I recognised that a visit from a group of Irish people to Woldia about four months into my placement would punctuate the year nicely and I was really excited about it.  But now that I had been living the life of a besieged nun in Woldia for the preceeding four months I was looking forward to the trip for a whole host of reasons I would never have contemplated pre take off.  The visit had taken on a meaning of entirely different proportions.  Maybe we could have a beer together?  Maybe we could have the illusive “craic” together?  Maybe they would understand?! Oh! The possibilities!

The trip was delayed, the plan was reworked a number of times and in the meantime I was working tirelessly, day and night, on a side operation to coordinate the stuffing of the lads’ bags with as much loot from my sisters as was humanly possible.  To say I was looking forward to the visit of these Irish people was an understatement if ever there was one and as a volunteer the social function of the trip was for me just as important as the work itself.

I’m not sure if the lads were quite ready for me when I somersaulted into their lives in the lobby of the Lal hotel in Woldia and attached myself to them limpet-like for the next week but they had to get used to the smell of desperation off me fast (that and the body odour, as there was no running water in the preceeding two weeks!).  They stayed in Woldia for three nights and I enjoyed showing them around my adopted hometown.  We filmed at my house with the neighbours sticking their oar in in every way they could conceive of which would make the filming impossible.  I felt sorry for the cameraman Keith as there were more retakes it was a fright to God.  We went to the University and interviewed the President, my counterpart and colleagues and filmed my class.  I saw their big Irish hearts melt at the kindergarten and at the orphanage.

It wasn’t really until the boys arrived to Woldia that I realised how hard I have to work at my happiness here and how much easier it was to be happy when I was in their company.  By the beginning of the second day only I was beginning to wonder how I ever managed before they arrived to Woldia at all! But the lads reacted admirably and twisted the arm of the University President over dinner to let me go with them for the next two days to meet the other Irish volunteers.

And so I got the hell out of dodge! I got to meet Jim and Dr. Mary which was brilliant and see the work that they do here.  I saw a bit more of the country even though I don’t have many pics to show for it and more importantly I stayed in a hotel with THIS BATHROOM!!!!!!!!!!!!


The week was also great craic and a very much needed break from my maniacal attempts to keep myself happy in Woldia. I cut loose and at the risk off coming off as a wanton woman drank a few beers in public in the company of men!

The boys certainly left their mark on me and more importantly, all their drugs!  (If anyone needs a few sachets of diarolite, I’m yer only woman.)

Mary, Me, John, Donnacha & Mark on a boat trip…before the torrential downpour!

IMG_7217 (1) IMG_3320 IMG_3319

Me, Jim & his colleague Teklu in Woldia


Me & Donnacha in the downpour!


John 🙂


Mark & Keith


Fun with a tarp!


Mark & Keith getting drowned!


Mary & John 🙂


A few weeks later the VSO launched my baby video into the world and I was so flattered and a bit embarrassed really by the amazingly supportive reaction of all my friends. Thank you all so so much 🙂  You will never understand what your support means to me here.  There was also a bit of negative attention that made me think seriously for the first time about the public nature of what I am doing and made me question whether I can continue to promote the work of VSO when I am so bleedin’ sensitive!

And then I thought feck it! 😀  I believe in the work that VSO does and I am proud to be a VSO volunteer.

So here they are one more time for anyone that hasn’t seen them…

My name is Aisling Healy and I’m a VSO volunteer!

Her name is Dr. Mary McCauley and she’s a VSO volunteer!

His name is Jim Ferguson and he’s a VSO volunteer!


16 responses »

  1. Great post Aisling. Now that I have FAST internet I was able to watch all the videos. Made me “homesick” for Ethiopia seeing the three of you and the settings! Hope you are thriving in this new academic year at Woldia University. Happy New Year and enjoy the upcoming Meskel and the end of the rainy season – no doubt there is plenty of sunshine on your horizon.
    Hugs from Marian

    • Thanks Marian! I believe that we will all be homesick for Ethiopia in our own way by the time we get home. Not sure how I’ll survive without injera although initially never thought I’d hear myself say it! Plenty of sunshine behind me during non existent rainy season in Woldis anyway and yes, hopefully more ahead at least in a figurative sense 😉 Hope you are settling back in well and thriving in Canada 🙂 XX

    • Thank you so much, Sheila, for your interest and support as always. Please give my regards to all in the convent too, I am sure I must be feeling the benefit of all yeer prayers and good wishes over here 🙂 -Aisling XX

    • Aw, thank YOU for reading, Nora! I like to write about what’s happening here and it’s always a great way to keep in touch with people. But I have been very slack, too busy galavanting around the place which is a good sign I think you’ll agree 🙂 BUt I have loads of material stored up for blogs to come. Thanks so much for reading 🙂 Hope all is well. Birthday coming up soon…we are getting old! xxxx

  2. Dear Aisling, On a Wet and windy Sept. morning what better surprise than to see your latest update and the mini-videos . I took a break from end of year a/cs just to check e=mails. I was just counting,and you are7 months into your time now. Well done and Thank You Love Maria


    • Thanks a million Maria! How did you enjoy the Burren? Aunty Anne was raving about it and I just think it’s so beautiful on that part of Clare, I am a bit envious of ye really. But Ethiopia is beautiful too 🙂 I am glad to be able to divert you from end of year accounts- that wouldn’t be my thing at all! Thanks for reading, watching and the continual support, it means a lot to me. Take care -Ais XXx

  3. Aww, Aisling, I teared up a bit at the part about how hard you’ve had to work at your happiness. I know only too well how that goes (and my living in a foreign country experience was strictly first world, complete with on-demand flushing toilets and – get this – hot showers any time of the day or night, no immersion needed!) It sounds like you enjoyed your break from besiged nundom (ha!), though, and no doubt, it will keep you going for a good while 🙂

  4. Jesus Siobhán, you’re the second person I’ve made cry in 24 hours! It’s not intentional I swear! And I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m trying to make people feel sorry for me, just trying to be honest, you know it’s not a bed of roses at times and all you want to do is go home for a while or be around people you don’t have to try so hard with, you know? Speak the language, same culture, sense of humour, already have a good relationship with etc. Anyway, I had a great aul week with them and lots of fond memories now 🙂 And plenty more adventures since besides 🙂 I’m devastated about the apartment by the way- “Sheila Carmody” bad cess to you and all belong to you! (except for the long sufering daughter) xxx

      • See the date you asked? See the date I answer? Says it all really Ais… I’ll get round to procrastinating later ;-P Not lacking for material, that’s for sure: gonna check out if US public librarians are part of the collateral damage of the Republican shutdown of the government: fascinating or what???
        On a not-too-distantly-related note, I did get an email today telling me a poem of mine’s being included in an anthology in Limerick (as opposed to in an anthology of limericks). One of 120 accepted contributors (better be a hardback then) but hey, I’m thrilled! And I have Your Kid to thank: she forwarded me an email inviting contributions so I sent them six. The one they chose was actually one I recited to Shelley some time before which I’d also sent her as a Thank You for drawing the invite to my attention. The judge’s got good taste! 😉
        Your blog is just wonderful. But I really feel for you, God knows I don’t know how/if I’d cope. One great thing is that I see Niamh’s scored the plane tickets so you won’t be alone during the holiday season. Keep positive, keep writing and you’ll be the first to know when I get the blog started.
        Bre 🙂

      • I’m ashamed to say I am kind of out of the loop re the US shutdown, what is going on at all?! They seem to be gone mad. I saw a friend of mine on facebook was posting places where women could get milk and “diapers” for babies during it.

        On a sort of related topic the state of the “library” in the University here would make you weep. Librarians are one of the lowliest professions here, they get paid the equivalent of around 25 euro a month 
        Well done on the publication of your poetry! That’s amazing! A bit of a thrill to see your work in print I’d say?  Maybe you’ll do a “Louis Walsh” on it and buy a few hundred copies to drive up sales?!

        Yeah all the lads and my father are coming here for Christmas, I can’t feckin wait!! Although I’ll have to take a sinful amount of time off work but feck it, it’s a once in a lifetime thing I suppose. Fingers crossed they all arrive here in one piece, I kind of won’t believe it til I see them here.

        Thanks for the support and for reading Brendan 🙂

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