We’re currently on a road trip in northern Ethiopia that will last 10 days. First stop was two hours north of Addis in Debre Behar, where we met two volunteers at the local teaching college. Maeve Keenan’s specialty is advising teacher trainers on learning programs for students with special needs. They practice in a local primary school, which accommodates children who are blind, physically disabled and mentally challenged. It was a Sunday, so we couldn’t see Maeve in action with her students, but we took a quick tour of the campus after delivering heaters to Maeve, and another freshly arrived volunteer from the UK, Fatima Jussab “It gets below freezing here in the evening, last night it was –5 C,” Maeve told us, shivering. I interviewed Maeve and Fatima about their experiences over breakfast at a restaurant called Eva’s, owned by a famous female Ethiopian runner. They had crepes with jam and I had delicious scrambled eggs and a macchiato, a sort of Ethiopian cappuccino.
Dessie was next, which we got to around 6 pm that night. Freezing! I had to put on my fleece and windbreaker jacket. Mahlet, who is accompanying us from the Addis VSO office, donned her toque. We met Raffi Matutino, an IT volunteer from the Philippines and Joe Abell, an English Language Improvement Center (ELIC) volunteer from the UK for dinner at a small café downtown. The guys all had lamb tibbs (cubed meat fried with onions) and I had vegetable soup – just not feeling that hungry. We stayed in a pension that night, a sort of 2-story motel, which luckily had double blankets. Breakfast was in a funny café with a slightly Roman feel, white columns and a mermaid statue. I went for a scrambled egg with berbere (blended chili spice) sauce and onions while the others had special foul which was eggs, beans, onions, spicy tomato sauce and some yogurt on top. Our driver Tamrat gave me a taste and it was delicious.
We met Raffi and Joe at their house and loaded a spare mattress in the truck that they wanted moved to campus. At Dessie Teachers Education College, I interviewed the dean about the school’s commitment to VSO, and then spoke to Raffi and Joe separately about their roles. Raffi, who had a 1-year placement, was told he’d have to wait five months before IT equipment he needed would arrive. In the meantime he was filling his time by giving some of the teachers basic computer training. “I just want to be of some use,” he told me, adding that he planned to look around at other colleges to see if he could help them out while he awaited his equipment delivery. Joe wasn’t sure what his role was yet. Having taught English in Cameroon for two years, he expected to have the same job here, but that wasn’t the case. The ELIC advisors I met before created guidebooks and manuals for teacher trainers to use, encouraging students to be creative and come up with engaging, active learning plans. Perhaps this is what Joe will end up doing as well.