DANIEL SHERIFF – TEACHING VOLUNTEER
My wife and I spent 7 weeks in wonderful Ethiopia. For the first month we were volunteering through Projects Abroad. We lived with a local family in the district of Maganga, Ethiopia. The house was simple, sure, but we had a comfortable bed, hearty portions of enjira and shiro, and were treated to the fascinating coffee ceremonies that make up an integral part of life in Ethiopia.
I volunteered as a teacher and got to work at both a local primary school and an adult education centre. The kids at the school were so full of energy and such a pleasure to teach. The school principal allowed me to organise a football tournament at the end of term and we had a team from each class and over 300 children either playing or cheering on from the sidelines. The adult education centre required a completely different teaching style and enabled me to conduct discussion groups with students of a variety of ages on different hot topics – like economics, politics, history and Ethiopian society – it really gave me a fantastic insight into everyday life in Addis Ababa.
My wife is a qualified physiotherapist, and so she volunteered for a charity in the city. During the month she was able to help disabled children in various orphanages around Addis Ababa, as well as conduct an outreach programme for children unable to get to a clinic or hospital.
We found both placements incredibly rewarding and educational. We are very grateful to Projects Abroad – they took care of everything. They met us at the airport, gave us a guided tour of the city, and ensured we were settled with both our families and our placements. They organised cultural nights, meals out and cinema trips where we could meet other volunteers, and were always there when we needed them. Office Manager, Sammy, even drove me to the central market when I needed footballs, kits and a trophy for the tournament. Social Manager, Bikesegn, was kind enough to introduce me to a couple of local runners who took me out for long runs out on the hills above Addis Ababa regularly throughout my stay. I have never felt so slow in my life!
After our placement was over, we had three weeks to explore the country. We went for a relaxing weekend in an ecolodge on the shores of Lake Langano – swimming, exploring and hippo-spotting. We then flew north and tracked the famous historic circuit. We saw the 18th century island monasteries of Bahir Dar, the 17th century castles of Gonder, the majestic Simien Mountains, the ancient capital of Axum, and the astounding rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.
Ethiopia is truly one of the most fascinating, diverse and achingly beautiful countries on earth. It has everything – the history, the scenery, and the most wonderful people, always friendly, hospitable, curious and full of life. For sure, there is poverty and seeing it can be difficult, but in spite of this, it is a country with the ability to change your life.
Three Questions To Eldana – Host sister
1. Are you happy to host volunteers? Why?
Æ Definitely, me and all members of the family are very happy to have volunteers in our house - any time welcome. You know, before we hosted volunteers my knowledge of western people and their countries was very much limited and unclear but now, thanks to volunteers from different countries, my knowledge about their culture and country grows from time to time and my life style and philosophy has changed. I really appreciate their thoughts for humanity and that they gave out free service for the needy – I like that the most.
2. How do you help out volunteers at the house?
Æ On my first meeting with volunteers I say Hello and inform them to feel free and consider the house like their house and to ask anything they want. I know still there is a gap in cultural differences but if we have discussions openly all the time, there will be solution to that as well – this is what I say to volunteers every time. I am happy to help volunteers in any way. So far I id different trips with them, out to cinema, tea and coffee and took them to Merkato.
3. Any unforgettable moments with volunteers?
Æ I am like a friend to most of the volunteers who stayed in our house. I will not forget when we did the trip to the north part of Ethiopia with kim- when we had to change the car wheel seven times – you would not believe this was in one trip. And the other thing, again with Kim, we travelled until one
o’clock after mid night because we missed the way from Bale mountain to Harer. This happened because we decided to have an adventure and the driver did not know the way from Bale to Harer, but the local people told us there is a way but we could not get there so we stopped our journey to Harer to get back to Addis Ababa safely.
By Jason Macrae – Journalism Volunteer.
For anyone without a car, one of the cheapest, easiest and most reliable ways of transport is taking one of the many blue and white minibuses (or shared taxis) which speed up and down the streets of Addis all year round. The process is very straightforward: listen to where the minibus is going to, get in, pay the “weyala”, and get out once you have arrived at the chosen destination. For thousands of Ethiopians, this is a routine they know by heart and put into practice every day. Yet many people ignore the history of these minibuses or simply never ask themselves how exactly they are managed every day around the city.
The minibuses first came into service in Addis around 1980, although nobody was able to remember precisely their exact date of creation. They were naturally introduced as a means of public transportation as Addis desperately needed an efficient and inexpensive taxi service for people who did not want the hassle of larger buses and who could not afford taking a private taxi every day. Prior to the minibuses, the very first taxis which operated in Addis were known as “kour-kour” - small vehicles which can seat up to two people and still operate today in some Asian countries. These did not last long and were then replaced by Fiat Seicentos, which prospered around Ethiopia in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Minibuses are driven around every day by drivers. They will generally start work between 5 am and 6:30 am, and finish their day between 10 pm and 11 pm – meaning they will be driving for at least 14 hours every day, accounting for breakfast and lunch pauses. Drivers will usually take around half an hour off for breakfast and an hour and a half for lunch. They work every single day of the week, all year around. There would not be any minibuses without a “weyala”. The weyala, almost always a boy, is the person responsible for informing the passengers of the price of the ride and collecting fares. A weyala is also in charge of shouting out which direction the minibus is heading for, and asking the driver to stop should a passenger request to be dropped off in a specific place. They will also assist the driver should he needs to refuel or in the case of a breakdown while transporting people. The driver picks up the weyala early in the morning on his way to the first minibus route. However, it is always the driver who will choose which one he is going to work with, according to how well the weyala can attract potential customers into the minibus. The weyala will commonly take breakfast and lunch with the driver and will work the same number of hours as him, meaning they will spend most of the day together.
Drivers therefore are decently paid when you add up all their incomes for a month, and see their job as a good source of money. Furthermore, while their situation is acceptable, most of them will most certainly not see this as a permanent career especially as there is no legal contract proving the existence of their jobs.
Over the next decades, it will be interesting to see how shared taxis are replaced and where old ones are dumped.
Additionally, as the population of Addis continues to enlarge itself every day, this will inevitably pose a problem in terms of general minibus capacity: as more people take shared taxis every day, the number of minibuses is not increasing.
Consequently, minibuses will progressively not be able to meet the future demand for public transport because of an ever-growing population. New solutions will have to be imagined, for example a better public bus service. For the time being, minibuses remain a simple and quick way of getting around Addis and many people depend on them every day. They are also one of the cheapest modes of transport in the world, which makes them even more appreciable for people living in Addis who, in the past couple of years, have witnessed great inflation on other prices.
Ethiopia - By Maéva Clement from France - Journalism Volunteer – September 2009
When I first discovered Projects Abroad on the Internet and then decided to commit myself, I new I wanted to work in an English-speaking country, and more precisely in an African country. Yet I hesitated almost an entire month whether to go to South Africa or Ethiopia to complete a journalism internship.
I never regretted my choice to go to Ethiopia. First, it is the safest sub-Saharan country. There are no thefts and as a woman you can travel around without any problem. Sure, people look at you all the time because there are not a lot of white people in the area and especially when you are a young woman. You are often solicited for money, mostly by kids, but also just for a conversation. Since foreigners are rare, people want to hear their stories, learn about other cities, far away in the north. Yet, as I said, I felt really safe in Addis, even walking in the city in the evening. For instance, I travelled alone to the famous city of Lalibela (Northern Ethiopia). People were sometimes surprised, others just indifferent and I simply enjoyed my time visiting the most beautiful Christian orthodox (the religion of the majority of Ethiopian people) churches I have ever seen.
I flew to Ethiopia in September, which turned out to be the perfect month to discover the country: the rainy season was almost over (mid-September) and the dry season had not yet begun. The country was all green and beautiful and the temperature remained average. September is also a great month to discover the Ethiopian culture and way of life because people celebrate New Year (11th of September) and Meskal (the finding of the true cross in the orthodox religion), which are the two major highlights of the Ethiopian life. I enjoyed celebrating with my host family and friends. The simple display of affection from my new family touched me profoundly. I got to be part of the New Year dinner which was followed by the burning of bonfires (« chibos ») and the whole family sang traditional songs with passion, even the children with their cristallin voices. I also learned the traditional dance « iskista » when I went to a traditional club with my colleagues. This was a pure moment of joy – especially because I was a catastrophy at the beginning - and I am thankful they wanted to share New Year and its symbolic meaning with me.
I have also learned a lot from the other volunteers, some were working in care, others like me in journalism. We exchanged our experiences, travelled together, and made shared memories for life.
I interned at The Reporter, an independent Ethiopian newspaper, for a month. I would have enjoyed staying longer. To fully appreciate the benefit of the placement you may want to arrange for two months at least. For instance, I wrote for the « Life and Art » section of the newspaper and I was aiming at writing an article on the African Union's new turn towards a more independent politics regarding conflict prevention. Yet by the time I could have got the interview I had to depart! I mostly wrote with humour about my experience in Addis Ababa and in the north of the country, since I went to Bahir Dar (near Lake Tana, which is so vast it almost looks like an ocean!) and Lalibela. Three days before flying back to France I went to the « Friendship Centre » to withdraw money so as to buy a contingent of Ethiopia's delicious coffee to prepare for returning to France's tasteless coffee. In front of me stood a German foreigner who could not withdraw any money – the machine was indeed out of service. We began to laugh because no machine seemed to work that day in the area. He suddenly asked me if I was the French journalist who wrote an article on her experience as a « ferenji » (foreigner) in Ethiopia. I was puzzled: I did not even say my name nor my nationality! When he told me that he loved my columns, my humour and that he debated my articles' topics with an Ethiopian friend of his, I could not help thinking that my internship was really rewarding, just for that one person who told me the articles inspired him.
The Ethiopian people are amazing, and the landscapes are just breathtaking. I enjoyed my time with the other volunteers with which I am still in contact five months later, and my internship was an instructive experience because my colleagues were helpful, communicative and gave me a lot of freedom to write my articles. I also want to thank the Ethiopian Projects Abroad team for its support and all the great laughter we shared!
Ethiopia is really 'betam conjo'! (Betam Conjo means Very beautiful)
Injera is the basic ingredient of any Ethiopian meal. It looks like a large spongy pancake and some of the sizes produced are huge. It is usually laid down in a large circular tray and sauces, meat and/or vegetables are poured right in the middle. Then you use you right hand (only) to tear pieces off the side and scoop up the wonderful food. It has been described as having a slightly sour taste. It’s a sharp taste, but blends in well with sauces to produce a mouth-watering flavour whatever the dish.
Injera is made from Teff, a small grain packed with calcium, fibre and protein. It is an alternative for anyone allergic to gluten in wheat. It is also less fattening than wheat.
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