“unhappy vso volunteer blog”?


Now, ideally if you have an hour or so to spare, you should go back over the last five blog entries and read them, back to back, one after another, without pausing for a break.

I had to split them up for your reading convenience and I recognise that they were still so long that most people won’t have gotten through them but, all of this happened in just over one week of my life here.  That is to say…

the eggplant woman…buying the ticket for the bus…teaching english…ten hour bus ride…scavenger hunt in Addis Ababa…reception in the British Embassy…meetings…banned political demonstration..housebound…“stomach problems”…mass in the Vatican embassy…lunch invitation…pro-formas…ten hour car journey…no running water…four priests and a first birthday party…long lost neighbour…religious festival…sneaking out…inquisition…interview…groceries…slaughtered sheep…a wedding…honey wine…new neighbours and uninvited house guests…coffee and an iPhone…

…and I don’t know where to draw the full stop because what tomorrow brings will be equally chaotic.

And God forbid after a very long Ethiopian day full of this kind of stuff, I might leave my guard down (dirty dishes piled up in the sink, knickers drying on a string in the living room) because the next thing you know there’ll be a steady, undeterred, loud-enough-to-wake-the-dead knocking at the front door and it’ll be the neighbours coming in to see what I have in the kitchen, to show me the correct technique for washing the floor, to give someone I don’t know a tour of my house, to express their joy/concern/astonishment/disapproval at the contents of my pantry, to invite me to a coffee ceremony, to let the baby urinate all over the floor…

For me, this is a mad experience.  But for Ethiopians, it is every day life!  I have fooled my neighbours, the community and my colleagues.  They frequently tell me the only thing about me that is foreign now is the colour of my skin.  I have adapted well. But after the initial adjustment, I now crave silence, familiarity, routine and the television in the evenings to numb out and dull the senses, my own brand of normal.  Homesick for the first time, I suppose.

It's "just a phase" I'm going through you see

It’s “just a phase” I’m going through you see

There is little quality down-time here, little privacy, little time to recuperate and little understanding of the so-called “need” for these things which I now consider to be the luxuries of my life in Ireland.  At first it puzzled me- how can it be that there can be no understanding that sometimes I might want to close the door and be alone?  That maybe it would be best to forward plan for meetings so that people have advance notice?  That maybe there is a much more straightforward (if less interesting) system to purchase bus tickets?  That maybe asking for 14 kilos of sugar to be brought back from Addis Ababa is asking too much of someone?

All these misunderstandings are a very big part of the challenge of living and working so closely in another culture where priorities are so different to your own.  Sometimes here I feel like Bridget Jones the afternoon she arrives in fancy dress to her Aunts garden party which is no longer fancy dress.


She never got the memo and neither did I.

It would be too easy to spend a lot of my time here confused, frustrated, annoyed and irritated and lately I have fallen into that trap, with neighbours, work colleagues and friends and family at home bearing the brunt of my bad mood.  Working on my blog recently, I saw that someone was referred to this site after doing a search for “unhappy vso volunteer blog”.  That gave me a bit of a jolt and not in a good way!  Because I feel I have been very lucky and grateful to be placed here and am mostly happy.

And I think it’s part of a wider conversation I was having with my little sister Niamh a few weeks ago.  It’s about getting the balance right between experiencing all that life has to offer, so as not to miss out, but also taking time out to be restful and mindful.  And in my case it’s the difference between being invited to too many houses, too many trainings, too many parties, too many conferences, too many celebrations and being invited to too few.

From time to time it definitely does get a bit much.  There are days when I feel like breaking into that country classic, “One day at a tiiiiiime, swe-eet Jesus!” I have to exercise a lot of patience and sometimes I don’t have any.  But I think that just means I’m normal? 🙂

Not looking too unhappy here :)

Not looking too unhappy here 🙂

And with that unlikely conclusion, let us bid adieu to “Aisling Healy’s Diary”, although something tells me we haven’t heard the last of this harranged twenty-something singleton.

In the meantime, you may look forward to such diverse posts as “Penguins in Africa”, “This week I will be mostly eating…”, “Sexual harassment…Panda!”, “The half said thing is the dearest”,  “#firstworldproblems”, “Gordon Bennett, Janey Mac and Juan de le Cruz”…

Yes, folks, stay tuned for all this and much, much more still to come!

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have the afters of a wedding to attend 😉


15 responses »

  1. Substitute ‘unhappy’ with ‘realistic’ and that’s your blog. It’ll become required reading for volunteers of the future. You’re opening a window for us at home. I’ve put your anecdotes into more than a few lessons. The girls in Pres Clonmel are really curious about Ethiopia now. Whereas some wouldn’t have known where to start looking for it on a map. You’re flying a flag for us Ais. Keep it up!

    • Aw Mr. O’Loughlin! Thanks so much for such a lovely message! That will keep me going here for another little while 🙂 Especially grateful to come to it after a hard day at work and then to come home to no electricity. Hope your women at home and at school are well. Ye must all be so proud of the TYs. Thanks for the encouragement and for reading 🙂

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