Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Destination: Ethiopia

I'm in Ethiopia, and was told that we'd be in a city called Nazareth. The classes were moved, however, and people tell me we're now in Omhuru (?) district. Our OI classes are held at the National Defence Training Center, so we're supposedly very, very safe. I don't feel unsafe, though.

First Impressions
My first impressions of Ethiopia was not too positive. When I arrived at the airport on Sunday to leave for Addis, I was simply told, “The flight was canceled. Come back later.” Just that. When I asked the clerk to at least give me my ticket (I had purchased my ticket online and had to pick up a paper ticket at the airport), I was told that my reservation had been canceled and the evening flight was full. “Just come back later,” the clerk kept telling me. He was not going to do anything to help solve the issue.

Six hours later, I returned to the airport. I was issued a ticket (a long and drawn-out story in and of itself) and was finally able to head through emigration. In the course of events, I had made some friends, and we ended up playing cards at the coffee shop, waiting to board our plane.

Welcome to Ethiopia!
Getting to Addis, my opinion of the country changed quite a bit. The Ethiopians, it turns out, are incredibly friendly and laid-back people.

I was met at the airport by the OI site coordinator (Dr. Badeg Bakele) and his assistant, Ephram. There were also two girls from APU with them. They're here for a couple of months helping at Badeg's church. (I hope I'll be able to travel to Lalibella with these girls during one of the two weekends I'm in the country.)

So, yesterday I started teaching "Academic Writing Skills." The students have one class in the morning (this week, my group has "The Leader as an Agent of Change") and then I get them in the afternoon. You can only imagine the joy of trying to keep 35 adults engaged in the wonderfully interesting field of academic writing in an afternoon session that lasts 5 hours!

We do have a coffee break at 3:30, though, and during that break yesterday, I had a marchiato. It was not, however, like its namesake sold by Starbucks. Nevertheless, it was probably the best cup of coffee I've had in East Africa!

Referring to it as a cup of coffee isn't entirely correct, though. You get served a really small glass (perhaps a small juice glass) of steamed milk with a shot of espresso.

Meet the Students
While enjoying the marchiato, I visited with one of my students and snacked on the favorite Ethiopian snack: roasted barley. In a very gentle, Ethiopian manner--Ethiopians are very soft spoken--he asked me about my experience with Ethiopan Airlines… After answering his questions, I turned the conversation back to him, asking questions about his work etc. Turns out that he is Ethiopia's Minister of Transport and Communications!

Another of my students is one of the supreme court judges of this country. I deliberately didn't want to ask about their positions because I knew that there were some pretty important students in class, and I simply wanted everyone to be on the same foot. But visiting with them individually, you learn about what they do and who they are.

It is a challenge trying to remember the students' names. Except for the two Mohammeds in class, everyone's names are very Arabic sounding (as is their language, Amharic.) Names include ones like Getachew, Tekaligne and Abdurezelak. Try and say that one fast!

My class this week has 35 students. Only three of them are women. One of these women, I believe, will turn out to be Ethiopia's Minister of Health. She is passionate about reforming health care in her country.

I teach for five hours every afternoon (from 2-7), and an APU colleague who is from (and lives in) Ghana, Dr. Willie Adai, teaches in the morning. Today, however, we have the day off since it's a Muslim holiday.

Muslim Holiday
About 40% of my class, I am told, are Muslim. But very few of them are very devout. Today, though, is one of the three major holidays on the Muslim calendar. (The other two are Ramadan and the day they celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammed.) Today's celebration revolves around Abraham going up Mt. Ararat and sacrificing not Isaac, but Ishmael. In English, the day is called "Day of the Ram," and on our way into the city we encountered thousands of Muslims going to prayer or coming back after praying. We also saw spots where people could buy rams, though one of my colleagues (who did his PhD in Islamic Studies) told me that the Muslims were supposed to have had the lamb yesterday already, as that is the day Abraham would have found the ram.

What was interesting was to listen to my two African colleagues (one from Ghana, one from Nigeria) talk about why they thought Islam was growing so fast in Africa. (They are both strong Christians, by the way.) They explained that many of their Muslim neighbors were incredibly hospitible and generous, and that whenever anyone in their community had a crisis, it was always the Muslims who rallied around the family first. They thought that the Christian church reaches out much less to people in need.

The majority of the country are Christians, and a great majority of the Christians (not sure what percentage) are Orthodox Christians. When you drive along the roads, you'd see people stopping to cross themselves (like Catholics would) and bowing when they as much as see a Coptic Church-even ones that are still in the process of being constructed.

Christmas in Ethiopia
The Ethiopians use a different calendar, so right now, it is the year 1998 and it's still December, I think. Christmas, it turns out, is on December 30th (Ethiopian calendar), which is our January 7th, the day after I landed in this country. In a week or so, they'll be celebrating the official "end of Christmas," or the epiphany. It's supposed to be another major holiday.

Back to Class
So, back to what I'm doing here... I am teaching a 20-hour class (with much more time spent on on-line written assignments) three times over the next three weeks. The class focuses on academic writing skills, such as how to write a proper research paper. Not the most exciting class to be teaching, but I'm supposed to know how to teach it since my official background is in teaching English as a second language, and I've taught similar classes at APU to ESL students.

May it suffice to say, though, that I am delighted that teaching academic writing skills is not what I do year round... I'm not passionate about it, and for me, I simply have to enjoy my job! I cannot see the sense in doing a job just for the sake of working.

And that's what I love about my job in Kenya, and why I'm really looking forward to going back.

Speaking of Kenya
While in Ethiopia, I've been able to watch BBC at night and see news about the severe drought in Kenya. BBC reports than the official death toll is 40, though they believe this is grossly understated since they knew of 30 people--many of which are children--reported to have died in just ONE village. The most severe drought is in the east north of the county, with a severe shortage of maize, though we have a maize surplus in the west, where I live. Please pray for rain!

I'm going to explore Addis for a while before I'm being picked up to head back to Omhuru. I will not be able to connect again anytime soon. I will upload news whenever it's possible to do so.

Now I just need to figure out how many Birr (Ethiopian currency) I have to pay for my time here...

Please pray for the remaining time with my students
* for them to understand the contents of my class,
* for me to be able to know how to adjust to their needs
* for God to work through me and the other APU faculty to touch the lives of our Muslim students, especially
* for us to also be an encouragement to our Christian students

From a hot Addis,

1 comment:

  1. May I ask, how do you know your that your flavour of Christianity more accurately represents Jesus' beliefs than the Orthodox/Coptic or even Muslim religions? While you are doing good work, history and logic would suggest that the closer a tradition is to its source, the more accurate the representation.