Sunday, June 10, 2007

‘Ndiwelimilambo enamagama.’

“ ‘Ndiwelimilambo enamagama.’ (I have crossed famous rivers.) It means that one has traveled a great distance, that one has wide experience and gained some wisdom from it.” (A Long Walk to Freedom, p. 85)

Where to begin? How do I describe these past two months? Honestly I’m not sure I can do it justice, but we’ll see. So after much debate and finally deciding that none of the options I could find in South Africa were satisfactory, I decided to go back up to Kitgum to the Northern Uganda Community Based Action for Children with Disabilities, or NUCBACD or the center, as I will refer to it from now on. So I called Teresa, the woman who runs the center and simply asked if I could come live and help out up there for 7 weeks. And she responded with an “oh, yes that would be great” after a slight pause at not really being able to draw a face to my name. So on April 22 I left Mukono at the crack of dawn, alone, and headed up north to Kitgum.

My time in Kitgum is in some ways very hard to explain. The first month the center was on school holidays so none of the students were there. But lucky for me, Teresa has the largest of hearts and has taken in about 20 kids who she feeds and puts through school. When school is in session, they live in her rented house in the quarters (closer to town while she lives at the center) but they spent the holiday with us at the center. And so I spent many hours in that first month shelling groundnuts, or peanuts as well call them and introducing such games as pelt the g-nut at the person across from you, throw the gnut and try to catch it in your mouth, and my personal favorite, try to get the g-nut in someone else’s pocket. Needless to say we lost a few more g-nuts than we might have otherwise but as far as I’m concerned, it was worth it. The kids also took the opportunity to teach me some words of Luo which I have all but mastered. This is one of my favorite memories of my time in Kitgum and it’s this simplicity that is one of the things I will miss most.

The most amazing thing about these kids though, was their innocence. This is something I also recognized in Ethiopia, but I think maybe was lacking in Ghana and in Mukono. It is amazing to me that these kids, who have experienced far more than I have, are able to maintain their innocence. An innocence, I know recognize I lost quite abruptly around age 7. And it was inspiring and freeing to just spend time with them, to see, even partially, the world through their eyes. It almost, allowed me to be a kid again for those moments. Something that also often comes out with my brother Solomon most usually in the form of food fights at the dinner table, to the chagrin of my mother. I have never so yearned to have my youth back and I will cherish those moments when I got a taste of it again. I also fell in love with a little three year old girl named Nancy, the daughter of Teresa’s sister who has HIV and I gather is not well enough to take care of Nancy, although I did not probe. And I spent a great many hours chasing this wonderful little girl around the 2 acres of the center and reveling in the joy of catching her and scooping her up, only of course to let her down and begin the game again.

In this first half, I tried to implement a community outreach program both in the surroundings areas and the nearby IDP camps. Interestingly enough, I modeled this outreach off the HIV/AIDS awareness that I participated in at Liberia Camp in Ghana. This gave me the opportunity to see many more of the IDP camps which was interesting, and gave me a much clearer picture of the situation than I was able to get on just the weekend.

The truth of the matter is that 20 minutes is not enough time to really understand a place. I feel a strange sense of pride that in the 20 minutes we spent at the center on our weekend visit up to Kitgum back in late march that I was able to see the place for what it is and recognize that it is, quite simply, amazing. Of course, we did not get a clear picture as there are many more problems than appeared on that day. The center has NO funding. NRC (Norwegian Refugee Council) has funded the construction of a 3 room classroom block and 2 dormitories, 2 latrines, 2 bathing areas, and a kitchen/storeroom. Far Reaching Ministries drilled a bore hole and is paying teachers’ salaries now. And that is all. There is no consistent money coming in. The kids are asked to pay 2,500 Ush (roughly $1.25) per term for medical expenses and Teresa does not have the heart to turn someone away just because they cannot pay. The number of the students at the moment is around 85. There are of course no beds in the dorms so kids are sleeping on mattresses on the floor and at the moment some of the younger boys are sharing to make more space. The majority of the kids are deaf, and we have no sign language teacher. There are also 3 blind kids, around 8 mentally retarded children, 5 or so suffering from polio, and a group of older kids consisting mainly of formerly abducted children who are learning tailoring.

Most of what I feel I did at the center was more administrative. I rewrote the proposal and it can now be resent out to all the NGOs and anybody else who is interested. The rest, was more theoretical: trying to help Teresa make a plan for what to do with funds when they come in. The center is practically brand new. The land that I know to be the center was not purchased until this past December 2006, and the first classroom building not completed until January 2007. And this of course, is overwhelming. So I made it one of my goals to set Teresa up with a plan she feels comfortable with, a plan she believes in, and one she feels she can implement on her own. More than anything, that was simply talking things out. What should happen first? What gets precedent? And coming up with a list and rough budgets so that if an organization comes through with a donation she only has to pull out her list and figure out what works.

The other side of my time in Kitgum I will refer to as an emotional somersault. Before heading up a number of issues had come up that I recognized I needed to deal with more adequately before going home. And this is the reason I was not in touch. I put myself in what call, a self-imposed isolation. I had to face some personal demons and in order to not be distracted, as I so easily am, and not continue to ignore some of these issues which have been present for many many years, I needed to be alone and without contact. This is also the reason for the lessening of and lack of contact as this year has progresses. It really had nothing to do with anything (although internet access was sometimes an issue) except that it was what I needed to figure myself out.

I was quite a spectacle in Kitgum. Amidst a town where whites are people who drive big white, 4 wheel drives with NGO stickers and a huge antenna, I moved on foot (or walk as we would say). I would walk the roughly 3 km to town and back almost every day. And due to the placement of the center most of this walk would be on the Kitgum airfield which is now used as a highway, a sidewalk, planting grounds, and yes of course, as an airstrip. And I would walk to town and back regardless of whether I had anything to do in town simply because I loved being with the people. Seeing the children flee from their houses to watch me walk by. Seeing them squeal in delight if I smiled and waved and jump up and down with glee if I walked over to shake their hands. Seeing kids frozen in terror and then start wailing at the sight of me and my white skin. And so, I was given an Acholi name: Acan (pronounced Achan but there is no “h” in the Luo alphabet) meaning to persevere for the people.

And that is what I will miss most about Africa: the simply joy of being able to make a kid’s day with a smile and a wave. And what they don’t know and probably never will, is that they made me feel just as special as I hope I was able to make them feel.

Kitgum drew the world of war closer than it’s ever been before, and I don’t hesitate to say that war scares the SHIT OUT OF ME! Many of you probably don’t know what is going on now in Northern Uganda. Well peace talks are sort of happening but no one in the north actually believes they will work. I lived in Kitgum with an undertone of fear. The center is in the bush. Should peace talks fail at any point, the center will need to close, the kids will have to go back to their families, and Teresa will have to move back to the quarters. How strange to know that should Kony simply have decided to walk away from the table at any point during the past 7 weeks, I would not have been safe in what became a temporary home.

And now, the year as a whole: This year was the most necessary thing I have ever done in my life. When I was planning it I didn’t really know why I needed to do it and I still don’t know that I can explain it, but somewhere between India and Uganda, I found myself. Each segment of this journey has served its own purpose.

Costa Rica although unsatisfying in many ways, served to excite me for the rest of my travels. I was so scared when I got on the first plane ride headed to San Jose, and then leaving San Jose 5 weeks later, I couldn’t have been more ready to experience everything else.

Ecuador gave me a very small taste of the simplicity of a life of manual labor. I also learned much more about agriculture and environmental science than I realized at the time and that came back to help me in many of the other places.

India as far as I’m concerned was the real beginning. Costa Rica and Ecuador were almost a warm up for everything else that came after. India was the beginning of feeling challenged, both physically and mentally, although in retrospect, I think I resisted the NOLS “doctrine” somewhat, I gained more from that experience than I think I’ve been able to realize and it helped prepare me even more for some of the things I would face later on. At the very least, my time in India instilled in me a love of the mountains, of this overwhelming, unshakable energy that just envelopes you and takes you into its fold and you really have no choice but to lose yourself in it.

Ethiopia: my introduction to Africa and the only country that I’ve been that I have no doubt in my mind that will be back to. The country touched me, the people touched me, the project touched me. I will never forget going to pick up the first 4 kids and watch them be introduced to their new home. I will not forget the look on their faces, the mixture of fear and excitement in their eyes and the joy of making them laugh that very first night. I will never forget the feeling of teaching those 8th grade students, all 150 of them looking at ME, to change their future.

Tanzania: An interesting experience and one that I had a lot of trouble with at the time. I was suffering from what I now know to be reverse culture shock and had trouble with an experience that was still Africa but was so different from what I know it to be. And not know how to convey that adequately to my family.

Ghana: Hard to sum up, but I think it was the experience I was most ready for. I came into it frustrated by the safari world and ready to fully be there. I made a number of friends that I know I will have forever. And although it was definitely challenging, it was a situation in which I was able to adapt myself to and find my niche and I relished that. And it was probably one of the hardest places to leave.

Mukono, Uganda: The truth is that for this segment, my heart wasn’t in it. I was spent from Ghana and reeling from certain things that arose from being there and was never fully able to get myself to be there. I did what I needed to do and enjoyed my time in the classroom with my p4 class, but I didn’t love it. I thoroughly enjoyed the group that was here and appreciate what they added to my thought process about Africa and life in general.

Kitgum, Uganda: You’ve heard about this one already, but I think more than anything it served as a time to ponder on the journey so far and my life as a whole and try to fit these things together and understand them. It was a time of reflection and emotion turmoil.

So now that I’ve probably inadequately gone through each step individually, I must face going home. As I write this I will be leaving for the airport in roughly 8 hours to start a 2 day, airport hopping extravaganza to get home.

A benefit of never staying anywhere longer than two months is that no place ever really felt like home, but rather were all short-term visits. So as far as I’m concerned, NY is still home. But regardless of switching countries and switching projects, the way of life was very similar. And I think I often overlook how comfortable I have become in this life of on-and-off electricity, no running water, bucket showers, pit latrines, etc. This has become normal.

And I don’t know what it will be like to come home.

I wonder how different I am. I wonder if I’m the same person that left almost 11 months ago. And the truth is that I don’t know that I am. At the core, I think definitely, but a lot of things have changed. Changes I don’t know that I’ll be able to realize fully until I’m back into what used to be normal.

The truth is that I find myself more confused than ever before. As a friend would say, I’m in a lot of grey. Should we be in Africa? I don’t know. Are we doing any good? Yes, I think we are doing some. Are we doing more good than bad? I really don’t know. How do I reconcile some of the things I’ve seen with some of the things from western society? How do I go home and support a culture that so values thinness and body-image in general that we drive people to starve themselves on purpose? How do I reconcile that with the fact that I’ve seen probably hundreds of kids who are starving because they can’t afford food? How have I lived in America for almost 19 years having not met a deaf person or a blind person or a mentally retarded person? How do I go back to a place where the biggest news of the day is who in Hollywood has hooked up or broken up or is entering rehab? How do I go back to a world that doesn’t seem to care about all that things that are going on here? How do I make you care? How do I explain it? Can I explain it?

I have come to the realization that we live in a very strange paradox: we know so much about the world but most of what we know we see through someone else’s eyes. We see through the eyes of a journalist, a teacher, a textbook, an author, a director, and even sometimes a regular old 19-year old from NYC taking a year to travel before heading to college.

Saying this, I want to thank you for reading my blog this year, for allowing me to share some of my experiences, my stories, my views. I want to thank you for letting me, for just this short time, be your eyes.

But I leave you with this to ponder over: that if you think you understand the world, than maybe you haven’t seen enough of it with your own eyes.

For the donations, that support, the encouragement, and the love, I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart.

See many of you very soon!

Acan Molly

Friday, April 20, 2007

So Long, Farewell...

Hi Everyone!

I just want to say a couple things before I head up north on Sunday...

My time so far in Uganda has been interesting, to say the least. I have been dealing with a lot of emotional things that have come up. Things that I need to deal with and go through but that are preoccupying and are not the most pleasant. They have prevented me from being able to give myself fully to life here, to the people, to the school, to everything. I have been very caught up in my own head and have quite honestly, I feel, only done the bare minimum. I have not gone above and beyond here. I have done what has been necessary. Honestly, although I understand that it's what I needed to do, I do feel somewhat guilty about it. And it's something that I'm working on coming to terms with.

Money matters. The money for this portion in Uganda has been divided as follows. I spent roughly $45 to give the kids at House of Hope lunch when we were tree planting. This meal consisted of rice, beans, meat, and cabbage, the most complete meal they've probably ever eaten in their lives. I have given a further $1500 to House of Hope recently. $100 has been given to Jeniffer to use as she sees fit. If she wants to get clean water for the kids one day, if someone needs to go to the clinic, she can go to this money. She has currently been using her own money for these things and so I felt it appropriate to give some more funds for needs such as this. $1400 of this will go towards beginning construction for the orphanage building. This money will not complete the building by any means, but it will get things going and will make it easier to attract more money from future volunteers who come through. As it's always more appealing to donate money to something that's already begun that you are helping to complete. My views of the building is that for House of Hope to really function well, these kids need to live there. None of them are in good situations. They are all orphans living either with older siblings who should by no means be having to take care of younger children or with relatives who have begrudgingly agreed to take them in. Their food, water, and conditions cannot be monitored if they leave to go back to these places every night. $500 will be donated to Pit-Tek and Grassroots Uganda. Pit-Tek is the women's group run by Rose who accompanied us up north. The women that we interviewed there were from Pit-Tek. The money will be split between Grassroots Uganda and Pit-Tek. I will be buying, for a higher price than usual, necklaces and bracelets made of paper. Hard to explain but very cool. The money that it costs to make these items will go back to the Grassroots Uganda women and the extra money will go to Pit-Tek for projects they are working on. I believe that is where things stand right now in terms of money for Uganda. So thank you all, again, for allowing me to do all these things.

And so, I will be heading up north on Sunday. And I'm totally excited, totally scared, totally ready, and not ready at all, and a whole ton of other contradictions. But I know that this is the right thing for me now. The right way to end this journey before returning to you all. As I've mentioned I've been dealing with a lot of things here so far and I need to be alone to deal with them further and get to a point where I feel good about it to go home. So this project up north is what I need. And nothing that I could find in South Africa could satisfy what I need. Hence, staying here. So as of Sunday I will be out of touch until June 10 and then on June 11 I will be heading home with 2 marathon days of flying. I have also decided not to go to London. I am anticipating quite a case of reverse culture shock and think that returning to the developed world in London is not the best thing. So I will be home the evening of June 12 to enjoy being home at least for a few days before I become overwhelmed.

I wish everyone the best for the next 2 months or so and I look forward to updating you post-Kitgum and to seeing many of you upon my return.

All the best, Molly

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Change of Plans

Hey There All

I just wanted to quickly let you all know that there has been a change in plans. I will no longer be going to South Africa but rather, staying here in Uganda. I will be heading up north, to Kitgum, on Sunday April 22 to volunteer at the School for Kids with Disabilities which I wrote about in my last blog entry.

Much thought has gone into this decision and I actively searched for other options in South Africa but none satisfied what I feel like I need at this point to end this trip. I need to be by myself without some of the conveniences of life that have made these past bunch of weeks so frustrating. I will be without internet access unless there is an emergency and I will be unreachable except by my parents if I am needed for any reason. I will be up north until June 9 or so when I come back down to Kampala to gather many of my things which I will leave here and then fly home.

More details in the next few days.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Tittle of This and a Little of That

If there’s one word has come up consistently since I arrived in Africa, it’s hope. Most of the people I’ve come across in my travels have lived a life harder than most of us could ever have imagined. They’ve learned to live a life where suffering is a part of life. And yet, they still have hope. Hope for the future, hope for a better life, for them, for their children, hope for their country, their town, their village, hope, it seems, in general that is just unwavering. And it’s amazing and heart-wrenching and inspiring. You see it looking into their faces. There’s sadness, pain, suffering but again, there’s still hope. There’s a smile that could light up the world, a hospitality that is not often found from people who have substantially more than they need, and a fire in their spirits than can’t be put out.

Two weeks ago, a bunch of us went down to a project (discovered by a past volunteer) called House of Hope. It is run by an amazing 23 year old woman, Jenifer, and will start getting volunteers through The Real Uganda and GVN next month. The project currently is a school for orphaned kids living with elderly relatives or in child-run households in the area. There are 4 unpaid teacher volunteers who are working for food and accommodation and Jenifer who is using her own money (saved from when she was a teacher) to keep the program running. There are roughly one hundred kids and more coming daily because no there are no fees and the kids are fed one meal of porridge a day, which is more than they would receive at home. The piece of land, a gift from Jenifer’s father, is probably one of the only patches of unfertile land in the country, so we went down to plant fruit trees. This was the first time I had seen the project after hearing about it and it was incredible. It did, however, bring up a question that has been troubling me. The project is similar in terms of end goal to the project in Ethiopia (Hope Community Home). Both hope to eventually be a sustainable project with accommodation for the orphans and a school attended by both the orphans and kids from the surrounding areas whose families are able to pay fees. Then I looked at where they both are now. Hope Community Home currently has a completed structure which cost more than $1 mil and can house over 75 kids, but they only have four. Construction has already begun on two other buildings. The four kids however, are currently receiving 3 complete meals a day and going to the nearby village school (the same one I taught at) until the other is completed. They have multiple outfits of clothing, are sleeping in beds, are clean, and have received proper medical care. Then I see House of Hope tending to over 100 kids. They are being taught in an incomplete school building which was built for less than $5000. They most likely receive only the one meal of porridge a day and are living on the floor somewhere in the village practically taking care of themselves. Twenty-five kids have been tested for HIV and all 25 were positive.

So the question that has been troubling me: is it better to help a lot of people a little bit or a few people a lot?

Honestly, I don’t think there’s a correct answer, but it’s something that I feel I will be thinking about for quite a while. I would however, like to take a moment to thank you all again for your donations. Having money set aside specifically for donations has forced me to look at situations here differently than I might have otherwise. Is it sustainable? How many are affected by it? Positive or negative effects? Could the money be better used elsewhere? Can I trust the method of handing over the money? Does it set people up for dependence on an outside source? Which is the most pressing issue? Which is the most pressing issue that I can do something about? I am constantly forced to ask myself all these questions and look at the situation from a different point of view and it has troubled me and challenged me and made me consider things I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I thank you for that. I thank you for trusting me to make the best decision I can and for allowing me this opportunity to be able to make even more of a difference.

Last weekend, we went up north to Kitgum. It was amazing and emotional and challenging and inspiring and everything else. We went with a woman named Rose who runs a women’s group called Pit-Tek. She receives volunteers through The Real Uganda. Rose is originally from Kitgum and her family is still there, so we paid for her transportation and her family hosted us (fed us) during our time there. We spent two days actually exploring the area and two days traveling there and back. The first day, we interviewed a bunch of women from Pit-Tek. They had just unbelievable stories. One woman had two sons who were abducted by the LRA. One son was made to carry a 50 lb. sack of maize at the age of 6 and when he couldn’t they chopped off his head. The other brother was forced to carry the head around for days. He finally was able to escape and returned home and 3 years later is still acclimating back into society. He is currently sponsored by one of the volunteers and is in school. Another woman’s husband was in the Ugandan army and was killed in battle. Just these unbelievably amazing, inspiring stories, and then you look into their eyes, and there’s sadness and pain, but there’s still hope, and it’s just the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. We hung out a bit during the afternoon and decompressed and then went for a bit of a walk around Kitgum Town. We climbed up a hill and could faintly see the Sudan in the background which was pretty cool. Just amazing to look down and see a sea of mud huts and children. It was interesting to see such an obvious presence of organizations- Unicef, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, War Child, Norwegian Refugee Council, World Food Program, and others. The next day we interviewed a few more women and then visited an orphanage, and IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp and a School for Disabled Children. We spent barely any time at the orphanage as they were in the middle of Sunday school. The IDP camp was pretty intense. There are 222 family units, only 150 of whom are receiving food from World Food Program. (They are using a card system that is inefficient and incomplete.) All families are living in mud huts that they had to pay to build when they arrived at the camp. They are landmines surrounding the entire area. There are not really any good schools in the area so children are forced to walk miles to and from school daily. The School for the Disabled was probably the most incredible project I’ve seen on my travels. It is run by one woman, Theresa (a former nun), and receives no consistent international funding. There are currently 138 children who are blind, deaf, formerly abducted child soldiers, mentally and physically handicapped, and others. The children range from 8 to 18 all are living on the premises in tents donated by Unicef. Theresa is also following 147 kids in the surrounding areas, meeting with their families and trying to foster acceptance. There is a great stigma here for disabilities. Children with disabilities are practically cast out. They can’t work so they are therefore not worthless. Theresa cannot charge school fees because families would not pay them. She currently is relying on World Food Program which provides her with enough food to feed the kids two times a day. Norwegian Refugee Council built all the buildings, and Unicef donated the tents. There is a woman who comes every day to teach sign language to all the children. They also teach vocational skills such as tailoring to give the children a usable skill for when they leave the school. It was absolutely incredible. If I had extra time in Uganda, I would, without a doubt, go up there and volunteer.

I would also like to clarify my feelings about my time here. I am definitely enjoying myself. I like all of the other volunteers; we have a really interesting group consisting of totally different types of people: different backgrounds, different places in life, different religious beliefs, etc. I am enjoying teaching at the school. When I am in the classroom with my p4 kiddies, I love it. But quite honestly, I am not totally happy here. There’s an ease of life that I hate. I could see relishing it if I was to be here for an extended period of time but it’s not something that I need or want at this point, conveniences that I wouldn’t really miss if they weren’t here. I feel removed from the community. Unlike in Ghana, I don’t feel like an integral part of the world here. In Ghana if someone else was frustrated, unhappy, excited that transferred to me, and I loved that. I loved feeling involved, feeling like a part of it all, but I don’t feel that here, and it’s frustrating. It doesn’t help that I also feel somewhat burnt out and that this situation is close enough to Ghana to compare but different enough to be frustrating. I’m bored and a bit restless. The biggest challenges I’m facing here are my own emotional issues. So, at the moment, although I don’t know what I am doing yet in South Africa, I am looking forward to the challenge I will face there.

I think that is all for now, so I will sign off with a quote from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom:

“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of a mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.

I love that quote and just wanted to share you all. I hope you all appreciate what you have and take advantage of it because (and I know I keep saying this) we have it so fucking good.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Teacher Molly, again

Oli Otya (How are you in Luganda)

Hmmm, where should I begin? Things are good, although it definitely took a few days to settle in here. I’ve been teaching at my school for two weeks now and it’s great. It’s called the Nalusse Success Primary School and is nursery through P7. And I am Teacher Molly again for the P4 class, ranging in age 9-12ish. Nalusse is a village school with not enough funding so they are unable to afford a P4 teacher. They charge low school fees which allows kids who might otherwise not be able to attend school to get an education. They give housing to the teachers which means they get the best teachers. So, the P4 subjects are split between, me, and a number of other teachers all taking some extra classes to make sure these kids get taught. I teach English, Reading, and Spelling to the P4s which is about 18 kids and they are all great although I definitely have my favorites and am trying to be stealth about it. My schedule is a bit all over the place with a class in the morning from 8:20 to 9:30 then another from 11:20 to 12:10 and then another from 2:40 to 3:40 or another day when I teach from 2 to 4:40. It’s taking some getting used to as it’s hard to do other things as I’m constantly running back and forth to school. They’ve got a pretty clear curriculum that needs to be followed before end-of-term exams which are April 9th, so I’ve just been covering that following the books they have. It’s unbelievable what a great contrast there is between the standard of education here and in Ghana. It is significantly higher here. Their books are better, their English is better, their teachers are better; it’s really quite a drastic difference.

The biggest challenge I’ve been having is teaching them that it’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to have a wrong answer, to not know. They’ve been so trained to pretend to understand even if they don’t, to memorize if they can’t actually read, to not ask questions even if they have them, to just repeat, that they are now stuck in that mindset. I am taking it as my goal, that if I only teach them one thing, that I teach them that it’s ok to not understand, to ask questions, to get something wrong. And this isn’t a problem only here, it’s a problem anywhere the teaching method is rote learning: teacher writes, students copy or teacher says, students repeat. I’m also trying to slip in a bit of creative writing. Another result of rote learning is that their creativity has been beaten out of them, even by P3. Their goal is to give the teacher what he/she wants and that is success. So you ask for a story and they regurgitate some story they’ve read somewhere else because they think that’s what you want. So in my time here, I hope to at least make it ok for them to be wrong with me. What makes it even more difficult is that the kids are at such different levels that it’s hard to know how to deal with the kids who don’t understand, who don’t even know how to read. They end up just copying other kids work and I’m not here for long enough to teach them how to read, and their parents don’t have enough money to keep them back for a year because that’s another’s year’s worth of tuition money that could be spent on food or other necessities. I’m not sure how I’m going to do this except to keep asking if they understand what I’m saying and pester them until someone admits that they don’t.

I would like to take a moment, before I go into some other aspects of life here, to sincerely thank the teachers at Horace Mann. The fact that I can, without much trouble, teach a class of 9-12 year olds is a tribute to my education. I know that it’s ok not to understand, to ask questions, because we were taught to think for ourselves, taught that there are many sides to every argument. So I wanted to let you all know how much this journey has made me appreciate the education I’ve gotten. It’s often hard to look at something objectively when you’re in it, impossible to understand how much you’ve learned, how much something has shaped you. But I have begun to see how much my education at Horace Mann has shaped who I have become. So I wanted to give an impromptu, although thoroughly inadequate, thank you for teaching me not only that it’s ok to question, but that I must.

And now onto life in Mukono Town, Uganda: I live in a guesthouse with 3 other volunteers. We are all working on different projects and teaching at different schools but live there full time. We have the second floor apartment in a compound in the middle of town. There’s another volunteer who came in July and just never left who lives in a room on the ground level of the compound, and there are roughly 8 other volunteers living and working in surrounding villages. The guesthouse serves as a central meeting point for everyone, as they come to Mukono to use the internet and on their way to or fro Kampala and on the weekends, often before we head out somewhere else. The house itself is nicer than the one in Ghana. We have a nice balcony in the front looking out to the main road and as it’s the 2nd floor, we get a nice breeze throughout the apartment. We have no running water, so it’s still bucket showers. The latrine, which if you haven’t ever experienced takes quite a bit of balance and aim, is on ground level, two floors down from our apartment. I’ve definitely peed on myself a few more times that I’d like to admit but I’m working out a system and it’s definitely getting better, so no worries.

I think that’s really all I’ve got to report. It’s pretty amazing that I’ve only been here two weeks. This very odd thing happens in that I have this mixed feeling partly like I’ve just arrived a week ago and partly that I’ve been here forever, and it never really figures itself out. Absolutely crazy that I’ll be home in less than 3 months, that I have only one more stop left on this trip.

I hope everyone is well, enjoying life and living it to the fullest.

An early Happy 9th Birthday to my brother Solomon James Lister for March 20, 2007

Til next time…

Friday, March 02, 2007

Oh Ghana...

Hello Y’all (in honor of my good friend Miss Stacy Kinsell)!

Well I am finally in Uganda, starting the second to last leg of my journey. It has been a bit emotional and definitely harder than many of the other transitions due to feeling satisfied with my time in Ghana. But you have no idea about my second month there as I have yet to update, so here goes…

My sincerest apologies for being so slack about updating. I can only say that I got wrapped up in life in Ghana. This past month was really excellent. It was filled with frustrations, of course, but also a good feeling of accomplishment. I’ve come to the conclusion that the frustrations are part of being here, they’re what make it challenging, what make it good. It’s a different culture, a new, often slower, way of doing things, and all emotions are heightened as a result of the situation you are in here.

The frustrations I faced were mainly a result of things at the school not going well: teachers just not showing up, tutoring feeling useless as most kids don’t know how to read, people not showing up to meetings, etc. My friend Stacy and I spent a lot of our time at the school and we able to organize some things which I think (if followed through with) will be extremely helpful. We found that there was absolutely no continuity in tutoring. It almost felt like no one had ever tutored these kids before which is absolutely not the case as the tutoring program has been in place for at least 2 years. So we came up with a general lesson plan, based on phonics, covering the consonants first in sets of 3 and then the vowels, then moving on to consonant blends and so on. This should take a good 6 months at least if it’s done right and should make the transition from old volunteers to new volunteers much smoother. We also talked to one teacher, Younis (one of the two people I was most impressed by on camp), who ran a phonics workshop for teachers some time ago that seemed not to accomplish anything. We organized another one for teachers of preprimary and primary (nursery through 3rd grade) in order to enforce the idea that phonics is important and give the teachers more confidence in teaching something they never learned themselves. We also implemented a Scholarship Program, made possible by your donations. There is a 3 month certificate program in Accra which we will be funding 6 teachers to go to. The certificate will allow teachers to get jobs in Liberia when and if they go back, would also make it possible for them to get jobs in Ghana sometime in the future, and will benefit the kids now as their education will greatly improve. The certificate program was attended by Younis and another teacher who both spoke very highly of it. It covers phonics extensively which will also be excellent. Stacy and I announced two teachers who will receive the scholarship before we left. The teachers were chosen based on our own observations of who was showing up to school, doing their best, wanted to learn, etc. I felt it important to announce two before we left to make it tangible. It seems that the teachers have been screwed over a bit in the past and I’m not sure I would believe us if we came and announced this program and then left without anything definite. The remaining 4 teachers will be chosen by a friend who has 2 months left, and although we already have a pretty good idea of who deserves it, will be based on whether or not the teachers comply with some of the things we have asked of them. This includes the following: seating charts, detention, recess duty, showing up to school on time, attendance to school, meetings, workshops, and a number of other things that were implemented by a previous volunteer and are designed to help them but that they seem reluctant to try. The total of this project is $1380, $240 per person which covers tuition, materials, accommodation, and food. It has been worked out so that the teachers will not miss Children Better Way School and are contracted to come back and work there rather than taking another job in Ghana. So I am excited about this and have taken the necessary steps to make sure that there are no problems on the end of CBW.

There were a number of frustrations regarding CBW and there being a procedure to starting a project. They are adamant that all money goes through CBW and then gets requested back rather than just buying materials or giving the money directly to the school. I have decided that I will go through CBW for the Scholarship Program as I do not want CBW to intervene and create a problem that I cannot be there to fix. I have a number of people who have made it a priority to make sure that there are no problems regarding money and that it actually happens. There will be a GVN (Global Volunteer Network) representative coming at the end of March who will be there for 6 months and I will be in touch with him to make sure that he is aware of the project and can help see it through. There were problems regarding the water filter project having not gone through the correct procedure and I donated about $45 to that and then pulled out and put my money towards other things as I didn’t feel that the suggested pilot project would work. There are currently two volunteers now who are hoping to carry on the project. Many of frustrations with CBW were felt more strongly by other volunteers than by me. I think I often tend to be able to look past or ignore certain things which others cannot in order to do what I want. There have been numerous problems with Semeh, the director of CBW, but I found that unless he wants something to get done, it won’t get done, so I decided that being friends with him was the best way to go about things. I spoke with him numerous times about accountability and there being none and it seemed that steps were being taken in the right direction to correct the problem. I firmly believe that you can get things done there, you just have to figure out how to work within the system and I think I was able to do that. I found, that at times I was more frustrated by other volunteers’ pessimism than by CBW.

I have also decided to give the two guys I was most impressed with, the teacher Younis, and the CBW volunteer coordinator, Anthony, money to go to school. Younis will receive $220 to complete a 2 year program which he has already begun and Anthony will receive $400 which covers 2/3 of his tuition to take classes in NGO management. They are examples to me and their communities of hard work and dedication and believing in what you are doing and I felt they deserved this and was thrilled to be able to help in this way.

So that about sums up this past month. Made some amazing friends, Stacy in particular, who were extremely difficult to leave. Found that while sitting in the airport waiting to leave, I kind of wanted to come home, a feeling I had not had before and I think a result of feeling satisfied with the things I accomplished and the friends I made in a way that other stops did not. So it’s been an emotional few days of feeling like I don’t want to be here and not liking that feeling and fighting it. Things are getting better as I settle in here and I think my time here will be rewarding and challenging in new ways.

I hope everyone is well. My apologies but updating pictures at the moment seems rather impossible, so you’ll just have to hold tight. Again, still looking for something in South Africa so if anyone comes across anything, PLEASE let me know!

And also, a quick thanks to HM for giving me an impossible standard of education that allows me to believe that it's possible to improve a place and trust that education is the way forward.

Thanks everyone.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Out with the old, In with the New?

Hi Everyone!

First off, I would like to sincerely apologize for the lack of updates since I've been in Ghana. The internet on camp is not worth the time or money so the only real option is to come into Accra which can't be done daily. I will also be using a different email for my time in Ghana and that is My hotmail account doesn't seem to get along with Ghana and will not cooperate with me here.

Overall, things are great. Very up and down but good. School finally started January 15th and I've been tutoring 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades in the mornings and then running recess programs. I've been somewhat frustrated by the lack of other activities this past month as the Care and Support with HIV/AIDS is not really what I hoped it would be. I will be much more pro-active this coming month as I have taken on some of the things that people who left were working on. This includes the role of adminstraor who acts as a laison between the international volunteers and the Children Better Way administration. Another volunteer started and funded a water filter program which she was not able to see through to completion. It is something I view as very worthwhile so I have decided to put some addition funding towards it and make sure that it's not just picking up dust. On top of that I also hope to help out another international volunteer working at the UNHCR Clinic who is starting a daycare type program for kids with mental and physical disabilities which would be 2 afternoons 2 days a week. So i'm really looking forward to being busier and feel like my time here is a bit more wothwhile.

I find that I'm still struggling a bit to open myself up to the people here. I think I put up this wall upon arriving due to some things that took me by surprise and I think it's still working it's way down. I think that's my real goal for this next month: to make myself more available to all the people on camp. I have been absolutely awed by some of the relationships other volunteers have formed and hope to open myself up to that. I think the expectation to provide money was a real shock to me and I didn't really know what to do about it so, unfortunately, I just closed up.

With regards to money, I would like to update you as to what some of the money you donated has been put to so far. The principle and a teacher of the CBW School put together a list of 25 kids who had paid for the 1st term of school but were then unable to pay for the 2nd due to lack of funds. I have found that my respect and apppreciation for education has greatly increased over my time travelling and I see it as one of the most wothwhile investments we can make to day to ensure the future of this crazy world. I used approximately $350 of my allotment for my time here to send those 25 kids to school for both 2nd AND 3rd term and provide copy books and pencils for both terms. I did this anonymously through the teacher who made the list and I feel that although unsustainabe, it was a great and worthwhile use of the money. I am also putting some money for the water filter project as I mentioned above. It is unclear of the amount necessary to complete the project so I will play that by ear but it will be a minimum of $150. We are hoping to start a pilot program in the school which would give the kids water during recess and again before they go home. The filter will allow people here to drink the well water and not have to purchase purified water for drinking.

It's been a bit of a crazy couple days as a group of people left yesterday and a bunch of the new batch came about 2 hours later. I felt it was a shockingly quick and rushed transition as it was very hard to say goodbye to some of the people who left and before there was time to recover, more people were here. They all seem great though and I can't wait to get to know them better this coming month.

I think that is all I've got for now. Please feel free to email me at the yahoo account although I can't promise a quick response.

Live it up everyone, we've got it fucking MADE!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Little Liberia

Hey Everyone

Happy New Year to all. I hope everyone had a lovely new years. I actually spent the end of 2006 and beginning of 2007 at a pentacostal church ceremony with some of the other volunteers. Our coming was hailed as a miracle signalling that they all would get to America or Canada or Australia sometime this year. Praise the Lord! Amen!

As for camp itself, I'm finding it different in a lot of ways to my previous experiences. Many of us (although myself not so much) have been bombarded with pleas for money or food or whatever is needed or wanted that often come with a sob story. I think some of the volunteers fell prey to this and have regretted giving personal handouts to people. I found that I was somewhat underwhelmed by their situation. I feel like I've seen people who are living with less who don't ask for things the way they ask for things. There's a respect of boundaries that I've found in other places that I don't see here. I found that I was very quick to come to the opinion that they are taking the easy way out by staying at the camp but on further thought I don't think that's correct. They, in many ways, are stuck there. They are not recognized as Ghanaian citizens nor do many of them have refugee status and so they cannot get a job in Ghana. They can work on the camp but that's it. Although it's thought by many that Liberia is safe, most people are reluctant to return because they returned in 2002 and then were forced to flee again. The camp itself is really quite a bit larger than I anticipated. There are estimated to be around 42,000 people there. Those under 16 have likely never even seen Liberia and those older fought in the rebel group or watched their friends and family get killed in front of their eyes. It's a situation I most definitely have not come accross previously.

As for my day-to-day schedule, it has not actually started yet as we had a pretty thorough orienation and then everyone was on holiday for the new year and christmas. I will be participating in tutoring 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade in the mornings and then help run organized options for recess. Then in the afternoons I will participate in the Care and Support element of the HIV/AIDS program. I've definitely felt some frustration at not having really started doing anything yet as have other people but the other volunteers are great and I think it will be a very interesting and worthwhile 2 months.

Ok, that is all for now as I'm about to be logged off the internet. Hope everyone is doing well and I"ll update soon, hopefully.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Tanzanian Holiday

Hey All!

Well I'm back in Dar es Salaam having spent 2 weeks with the family travelling in the Serengeti, Seronera, Manyara, Ngorogoro (sp?) Crater, Tarangire, and Zanzibar. It was great to see the family. We saw basically every animal one going on a safari in Tanzania would want to see: elephants, zebras, lions, cheetahs, leopard, hippos, buffalo, rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, hartebeest, and a ton of birds, just to name a few. I am currently uploading the odd 400 or so pictures I took of all the animals, with a few of me and the fam, cuz that's what you do on safari. You drive around in a jeep until you see animals, you stop, and you take pictures. There are excessive number of pictures of the same thing but i just couldn't deal with paying to delete them for you so you can enjoy them all haha! Some of them may be a bit blurry as I fashioned another lens on my camera in the form of binoculars- meaning I held my camera up to the binoculars and then took the photo- to get more zoom.

The safari itself I had a bit of trouble with. It's not "my" Africa of children and schools and poverty. It's an Africa of 3-4 course meals, luxury, lodges, actual showers, and animals. I found that I had a bit of trouble adjusting, especially after the first days of thorough enjoyment. It was almost as if my mind had been so stimulated from the teaching and experience with the kids in the orphanage that suddenly when it wasn't there I didn't really know what to do. I even began to feel a bit clausterphobic towards the middle in that I couldn't leave. Suddenly I wasn't alone but was with 3 other people whose schedules needed to be taken into account. I felt a bit trapped. That feeling passed towards the end and was able to enjoy it more towards the end.

We went to a Massai village which I thought would be more up my alley but which I actually found surprisingly disturbing. Not the poverty, in any way, but they seem a very conflicted group. They seem to not be able to decide if they want to maintain their traditional customs or if they want to live in the modern world. Their villages are set up for tourism. With an entire area set up for people to buy jewelry and a whole routine. They would walk up to the car and hold their hands out expecting money. It almost seemed like they were wearing their traditional clothing and living in their traditional huts for the sole purpose of making money off of tourism. I'm not sure I can expain it better than that but there was definitely something off about the experience that I haven't quite put my finger on.

So back to the Africa I know tomorrow as I head to Ghana. Will have 1 night in a hostel in Accra before getting picked up on the 30th and taken to the camp. I believe we have a few days orientation before actually getting started but I'm totally psyched. This is actually the most excited I've been before any of the segments and I just can't wait to get there and get back to "my" Africa.

Again, pictures from the safari as well as Ethiopia are up on the site so feel free to check them out:

A quick thanks to my friends for the picture and Jenna for the "We miss you molface" sign. I really appreciated it and I will keep it with me for the rest of my journey.

Hope everyone had a happy hanukkah, a merry xmas!
Happy 2007!

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Few Extra Thoughts

I was thinking about my last couple blog entries on the my way to Tanzania (arrived last night) and there's one thing that's bothering me. I wrote in one about the kids having "blind truth" and I don't like that phrase. I don't think it accurately depicts what I am trying to describe. I think the better phrase is PURITY.

The kids are so pure. They have lived a life that could rightly make anyone pessimistic. They've suffered more than most of us can imagine. But what strikes me most is that they've lived a life free of almost everything-amenities- that we feel are absolutely necessary. It's this purity that makes the simplest things seem amazing. And that allows them to just trust people. I think all kids start out with this, but then it gets muddled by all our shit. Our electronics and toys and medicines. We so thoroughly inundate ourselves with things that we dumb our senses and we lose this purity that is so valuable.

I often think about the situation in Ethiopia and most of Africa and I ask myself: How do we help them and bring them into the modern world without stripping them of this purity? Is it even possible? And the truth is, I don't know. I think it's something I'll struggle with the rest of my trip. There's this yearning to "save" them but in many ways, they're doing better than we are. The appreciation they have for their families and their things,the simple things- the things we forget we are so fucking lucky to have at our fingertips. Things we take for granted to the point that we don't even think about it. That we can go to the doctor. That we have running water in our houses. That we go to school and will almost definitely go to college if that's what we want. We live in a world where we can pretty much do whatever we want and all we tend to want is more.

Ok I think that's enough philosophy for the moment. Pictures from Ethiopia are up, so feel free to check them out!

Hope is life.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Farewell to Remember

The rest of my time in Mekelle was wonderful. I soon settled into a routine of teaching at the school every day, playing with the kids a bit before and after, tagging along with my favorite Dr. Schmoll to town to run errands, and reading.

The kids continue to be wonderful. The two boys Senai and Fekadu are both great. Senai, the oldest of the group, is great at sports and we had a really fun time playing soccer and volleyball. The girls Brhan and Embaba are also great. Brhan definitely retained the place she won in my heart from that initial moment I witnessed between her and her sister, but it was Embaba who continually won me over day after day. Monday after the kids arrived they were taken to the hospital for check-ups. We received word that all were relatively healthy besides a few fungal issues and malnourishment, except Embaba. She has AIDS.

That brought up a whole new issue for me: coming in contact with HIV/AIDS on a daily basis. I’ve never before even known a person who has HIV/AIDS and suddenly now I was living with one. Went to the internet and did some research just so that I would be more aware of the situation. I didn’t want to feel worried that if she was sitting on my lap or a drop of saliva got on me that I would transmit the virus. That was very helpful in reassuring me and allowing me to treat her as I did the other kids. I think I even ended up giving her special treatment. Playing with the kids included anything from soccer and volleyball to them braiding my hair to my pointing at things and saying the English words. By the end, the language barrier was barely a problem in the sense that they just spoke to me in Tigrinya as if I would be able to understand. Most of the time I couldn’t but I would nod or they would point until I finally got the idea. I absolutely loved how they would start showing off when I was around, having me count while they dribbled the ball or jumped rope. It was an absolute pleasure being with them, and they will set a wonderful example for the kids to come.

The school was a welcome part of my day. I would walk to and from the school every day with a parade of kids following me. It often took me longer than the 25 minutes as I would stop and chat with almost everyone along the way. Most of the kids work in the field in the afternoon or morning when they are not in school so there were constant calls of “Molly” and “Teacher” which I delighted in responding to. I also got over my pre-class nervousness and just enjoyed it. There were days I didn’t even have to prepare something as I would just get them talking and then they would either ask a question or say something incorrectly and that would start a topic on its own. I also began to see their English improving and kids becoming more confident with speaking which was more rewarding than I could have imagined.

My farewell from the school will remain I’m sure as one of the highlights of my life. Of the $2500 of your donations, I used $200 to buy books for the school library. I was able to buy over 50 books, mostly English grammar books for all ages. Gabe and I went to the school yesterday, a few hours before my departure, to present the books and for me to say goodbye. When we arrived, all the 8th grade students were having class outside in a huge circle. I was ushered into the center of the circle (they parted to make way for me) with Gabe behind me and one of the students carrying the box of books. As I walked in, they started clapping and stood up. It was just unbelievable. By the time I started speaking, there were tons more kids and teachers who had joined the circle. Gabe made a little introduction and then I said a few words, with Gabe translating for the younger kids. The English teacher then presented me with a gift “for remembrance.” The gift consisted of a traditional Ethiopian dress and white cloth for the head (of which there must be some name but I have no idea what it is). Then, while they were preparing the traditional coffee ceremony in the teacher’s room, they had me open it and showed me how to put the clothes on and wear them. Of course all this time, there are kids fighting for space in the door opening to see all this occurring. I, soaking up every moment, ran outside into the crowd of kids so they could all see it. There were lots of laughs and smiles all around a few calls of “Beautiful” which I greatly appreciated as I definitely felt a wee bit silly. Then after coffee and fruit and bread it was time to leave. It was honestly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so appreciated or respected for anything I’ve done. And to think, I enjoyed it as much as they did! It felt like a mutual parting of can’t wait to see you again. And that was how it was left and I absolutely can’t wait to go back. Not that my 8th graders will still be there, but the entire atmosphere of the school and the respect I was shown by each and every person there was just unbelievable.

Goodbye to Gabe, Connie, and the kids was much more subdued. Gabe and the kids drove me to the airport and waited while I checked in for my flight. It was a bit tough saying goodbye. The kids each gave me a hug, and I definitely teared when saying goodbye to Embaba. I will forever feel connected to the orphanage and the kids and everything Gabe and Connie are doing as a result of the time I spent there. And I absolutely can’t wait to follow from home until I can go back and see for myself.

That’s all for now as I need to leave in 10 minutes to head to the airport and I still need to upload this. So, Happy Hanukah and Merry Christmas, and if I may say one thing, it’s enjoy your families because you don’t get it much better than we’ve all got.

Hope is life.

The Kids Have Arrived!

Yep, the kids are finally here, four of them to be exact. We—Gabe, Connie, me, and their Administrator Welday—left Friday December 1st around 10, beginning the two hour drive north to Adrigrat. Nothing too exciting: I think everyone was a bit anxious. I, for one, enjoyed seeing more of the country, the scenery, the people, and everything else. We arrived at the office around noon to the sight of a group of kids standing outside the office, these kids being the “options” for Gabe and Connie. The three of them went inside to meet with the social affairs guy and deal with all the paperwork while I waited in the car.

About two hours later, Gabe and Connie came out having chosen 4 kids to bring back with us. Apparently they had had to turn away some of the kids who had been brought by their grandparents, the kids who had been gathered outside the office. I was moved to see Gabe so hurt by having to do that, having to tell them they just couldn’t take them. I found myself in somewhat of an awkward position yesterday in that I was there and was part of it all but I wasn’t involved. I was almost a bystander, a spectator, and I found that somewhat difficult because I so badly wanted to be right in the thick of it all. We went to lunch before leaving to help ease the transition as much as possible. It was the kids, their grandparents and other family members who had walked them the 2 hours or more to town, Gabe, Connie, the social affairs guy, Welday, and me. Again I found myself in a new situation. I so wanted to just go sit with the kids and talk to them and make them smile but as they speak Tigrinya (I hopelessly do not) and not a word of English.

There was a moment that just absolutely broke my heart that I think in some way perfectly describes some emotional part of this situation. It was after lunch and one of the girls, Brhan, had moved to speak to Connie and was sitting right beside me. Her older sister—who at age 14 has been raising Brhan and 2 other younger siblings—got up and walked over and said goodbye with a faint smile and a hand shake. And that was it. This unspoken understanding that Brhan is going to a better life that totally justifies them being separated. And it just touched me. I immediately had to look away to stop myself from totally breaking down. And there was Brhan silently tearing but again with an understanding of someone way beyond her 8 years. All I wanted to do hug her and tell her everything would be ok (even though she probably already knew).

The rest of the goodbyes went similarly, without much fanfare, and then we were off. The youngest girl, Embaba, started crying for her grandfather about 15 minutes into the journey but she eventually calmed down. The rest of the ride back can really only be described as the Puke Bus Part 2, (a NOLS reference). These kids just finished probably the biggest meal they’ve had in their lives and had never ridden in a car before. So, combine those two and you’ll have some idea of what went on, totally understandable of course, but definitely made for an interesting journey.

We made a few stops in town to pick up some items before heading back to the orphanage. And at one point Connie and Gabe were both in the store and I was left in the car with the kids, me in the front seat and them in the back row. 2 of the kids were asleep and 2 awake and they had a few balloons that they were hitting back and forth. At one point one of the balloons made its way to the front seat and I jumped at the opportunity to join in the fun. We started playing some combination of balloon volleyball and keep-it-up, and that was it, the barrier was broken. Kids amaze me like that. Especially these kids who have just been taken away from everything they know and yet there’s this blinding trust. I’m not sure when in life we lose this, but it’s a damn shame.

Arriving at the orphanage was interesting. The kids were just totally and completely overwhelmed. The girls were still each holding on to a broken shoe, unwilling to let it go. First thing, showering the kids. Gabe and Connie took the kids one by one showering them and giving them new clothes. I took advantage of the balloons again and re-initiated the keep-it-up. Embaba, clearly the one having the most trouble with the transition, was the hardest to break. And finally, making a complete fool of myself, I did it and I got a smile and eventually even a laugh! What a reward!! After showering, we introduced the kids to the playroom and they just went crazy. Play cars and anything that made sound and moved on its own was a huuuge hit! Then it was dinner and bed and the first day was over and done with.

This was the originally blog entry I wrote right after that first day and night but I never had a chance to upload it. Hope you enjoy it. I will update the rest of my time in Mekelle with the kids and at the school as soon as possible.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Teacher or Miss Molly, Please

Bye! (Kids always wave and yell bye instead of hi and I just find it absolutely delightful so I thought I’d start doing it too lol!)

Let me paint you a little picture…A space, measuring 15 feet by 24 feet, 75 children, no electricity, 3 rows of 8 desks, each desk seating at least 3 kids but up to 5 normally. 3 cutouts with metal shutter-type things constantly being pushed in from the outside by kids from other grades; cracked glass above the metal with kids peering in (also serving as the source of light), a metal door which needs to be physically repositioned in order to be latched and if left open also allows for another crowd of kids to congregate, 75 kids ranging from age 10 to 17, and finally little old me up at the chalkboard trying to actually teach English. (Speaking of which, that is probably the longest sentence I’ve ever written in my entire life and I am absolutely not confidence that it is completely grammatically correct.) That should give a bit of an idea.

Tuesday: my first day at a new school. I arrived at the school with Gabe a few minutes before class was to begin, had a little chat with the director to clarify that I would be teaching 2 back-to-back 8th grade classes and then walked into the classroom. Now, for some unexplainable reason, I went in with what one could call a “romantic” vision of what my teaching experience would be like—small class setting, 20 girls, made for one-on-one teaching and individual attention. Where I came up with this vision I honestly will never know (and had I thought about it for more than 10 seconds I would have realized how ridiculous it was as the school is co-ed and has 1008 students). But, you can imagine my shock as I walked into the situation described above. Luckily Gabe was there to soften the blow and stayed for the first few minutes while I adjusted to the situation. I began by allowing them to ask me questions about myself. I figured this would help give me a sense of where they were at in terms of their English. In the first class the questions were pretty straight forward: where do you come from, how old are you, what’s your mother’s/father’s name, and so on. This was over pretty quickly and I moved on to the next thing, which in hindsight could never have really worked. I had them say their names, none of which I understood enough to even be able to repeat on the spot, and something about themselves using full sentences. I was envisioning them speaking loud enough so that everyone could hear and more specifically, so that I would be able to hear standing at the front of the room, correcting mistakes. This was not so. Not only were they so shy that they spoke so softly I had to literally be within a foot of their heads to even be able to hear words leaving their mouths but they thought they should try to answer as many of the questions as they had asked me as they could. So basically I spent 30 of the 40 minutes walking around the classroom pretending to understand the information the kids were sharing with me. The second class was quite a bit more interesting. Louder and more confident, they took up the entire 40 minutes with questions. What’s the difference between Ethiopia and Iraq? What’s it like in America? Who do you admire? They have not heard of Oprah, to my obvious chagrin. Can you tell us something about HIV/AIDS? Gabe rescued me here. Are you single or married? No proposals yet, but I’ll keep you up to date on any further developments. And it went on until the end of the class. It was pretty fabulous. Tough at times due to the language barrier and class size and my total and utter inexperience teaching anything, but at the same time, somehow completely manageable and totally enjoyable.

When I left the school, it was decided that I would teach either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on when we were going to get the first bunch of kids. Well, turns out we went on Friday so somehow I ended up teaching both days. I walked to school both days, about 25 minutes each way, which ended up being rather comical. The path is also walked by some of the students and other kids fetching water from the river, so as I approached or intersected with a kid, they would follow me. Then there were more students sitting on a wall outside who joined as well, so I ended up walking onto school grounds leading a parade of at least 50 kids. The actual classes are a lot of fun. I find that I’m always nervous right before I start and then as soon as I get in there, it’s almost like I’ve been doing it for ages. I think I might actually sound like I know what I’m talking about which I should considering I’ve been speaking English for 19 years but actually teaching it as a foreign language is definitely a bit more complicated. My main goal is trying to get them to speak it more. They have been taking it in school since grade 1 but that is the only time they use it and the only time they see it because they speak and read Tigrinya and Amharic. They are also very shy and embarrassed in terms of making mistakes in grammar and pronunciation. I had a great experience Thursday with one class where I needed to use kids as examples in explaining the comparative so I pulled 3 kids up to the front of the room and had kids try to make up sentences. The problem was that I then needed to correct those sentences and I, of course, have no idea what these kids’ names are so I had to ask them in front of everyone. Then I couldn’t pronounce any of them so I had to get them to write it on the board for me which was minimally helpful. In the end I just kept repeating it until it was close enough. Everyone got a kick out of it, though, and I was able to use it as an example not to be ashamed to get something wrong which was extremely necessary. One of the things that’s most confusing is that who’s in which class changes every day. And then, on top of that, there are some kids who manage to go to both classes, meaning that they must sneak in when no one is looking because it’s definitely not what’s supposed to be happening.

Oh, and we have kids! Four of them, 2 girls and 2 boys, but too much to tell right now so I'll save it for the next entry.

Hope is life.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Correction and Addition

Selam (Again)

I absolutely spelled it incorrectly on the last entry and I wanted to fix it as soon as possible.

I also wanted to add that the donations made through New York City Relief are TAX DEDUCTIBLE!!!!

Thanks to everyone for everything!

And I'm going to sign off this little whatever you want to call it with something I saw written on a house in Jimi in the Himalayas that I just loved.

Hope is life.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Hope 4 Ethiopia


Finally, I am writing to you all from Africa. I arrived in Addis on Wednesday morning and then hung out in the airport until my flight to Mekelle that afternoon. Upon arrival in Mekelle I was greeted by a smiling Gabe and Connie which immediately soothed some nerves.

What can I say? It’s amazing here, here in Ethiopia, here at the orphanage, just in general. There are no kids so far as they just received power the day I arrived after waiting for 2 months. If all goes according to plan, I will go with them on Wednesday to pick up the first bunch of kids. And I can’t wait. Connie and Gabe are a source of information and inspiration. Their wish to give not just the bare minimum but the world to each and every kid they can is astounding and it makes me want to do all that much more. I have never found myself so curious to learn as much as I can about everything and anything that they’re willing to share and I can’t wait to share some of that with you all. I am amazed by their generosity to do whatever they can for the extended community, from giving a free ride to

Starting next week, I will be teaching a few classes a week of English at a nearby school. And today I went to be introduced to the kids and teachers. As soon as we drove up I was overwhelmed by this sense of purpose, of feeling like there’s no other place in the world I’d rather be. Being the first white person the kids had ever seen, I was immediately treated almost like a celebrity, the kids following me while I took a tour of the school and then actually surrounding me as soon as I stopped moving. It’s just ridiculous what a smile and a wave can do. And I honestly could not stop smiling and laughing. The kids were shouting out any English they knew. “How old are you?” “Is this a pen?” The school itself has only the bare minimum in terms of supplies. There’s no specific area designated with swings or a field for the kids to play in, but we are hoping to change that by providing soccer and volleyballs and goals and nets. The school has classrooms with tables and chairs to serve 1008 students per day who are split up into two shifts. The kids walk anywhere from 1 to 10 miles to get there each day, often with water jugs so that they can bring water for their families on their way home.

At the moment, however, I am writing with an ulterior motive. I have currently given the $2500 of gifts donated by you all to Gabe and Connie to use as they see fit. Most likely it will be put towards getting a phone line for the orphanage. This is necessary to connect them to the outside world, which they depend on to keep going. Quite honestly, what they really need is more of everything, more money, more books, more clothes, more everything. I absolutely cannot promise that this is the last time I ask for your generosity because the truth is that you cannot get things done here without money. For example there is one phone company and one electricity company, both of which are government operated, so there is no bargaining on the price which is given. This does not leave a lot of room for leeway. To explain more clearly the situation of things, the orphanage is currently 3 floors which will be able to house 75 kids. The 1st floor is completely finished while the finishing touches are still being put on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Each room will house 4 kids and the hope is to eventually have a desk, chair, and closet for each child. There is one other building already under construction. It will be a cafeteria area with cooking and dining facilities and more dormitories to house even more kids. There is another area, currently just a whole in the ground, which will eventually be a school. The hope is to make the orphanage and the compound self-sustainable within the next 3 years. This will consist of a vegetable farm, likely some cattle, possibly a small fish pond, and the school. They also hope to set up an education fund for each child they intend to have at the orphanage. In order to accomplish all of this, they will need help. They will need sponsorship for each child each month for the basic needs and they will need donations of money and any supplies that can be spared to fulfill this dream. So, acting as an intermediary, I am asking you to dig even deeper than you already have and do whatever you can to help make this possible. I am going to try to make this process even simpler than before by giving you a way to donate directly to them without going through me. I also ask that as I am not in a position to get this message out to the entire world that you forward it along for me to anyone who you think would be interested and have the means to share.

To donate:
Please make the checks payable to New York City Relief
designated: Support to Ethiopia.

Send to:
New York City Relief
1181 East Broad St
Elizabeth, NJ 07201

If you have any questions regarding how money will be used please feel free to email me at and I will try and answer that for you. The orphanage also has a website, so feel free to visit as well to get a better idea of life over here and the work that Gabe and Connie are so valiantly doing each day.

I met a South African man on my flight from Addis to Mekelle who said something that really struck a chord. He said that never again will my heart only be in New York. And I know that already to be true. I can say without a doubt in my mind that I will forever feel invested in the orphanage and the kids there and all the good that Gabe and Connie hope to accomplish. Already I cannot wait to come back here and bring as many of you with me as I can convince.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

National Outdoor Luggage Service


I am officially back in civilization after a month in the Himalayan back country. An absolutely amazing experience, I learned a lot about myself and picked up quite a few outdoorsy skills. Great group of 15 students and 4 instructors. The trip as a whole is hard to explain and sum up in a blog entry as I'm sure anyone whose done a NOLS trip can attest to, but I'll certainly do my best to give you some idea of what life was like. We cooked (on a gas stove) and slept (in tents) in what are called tent groups of 3 or 4 people. We hiked in hike groups of about 5-7 people. Each hike group had to be self-sufficient on its own each day. And, except for two re-rations of food during the month, we were completely self-sufficient the entire time, carrying everything we needed on our backs. One thing that I didn't expect was how structured it was. I think I kinda thought it would be camp but in the wilderness. Alas, it was not but to be fair it was still pretty damn good. We had lots of classes on everthing from digging catholes with an ice axe for our poo, to first aid, to Indian history and culture.

On a regular day we would wake up about 2 hours before we needed to be ready to hike, usually around 6. One person would cook breakfast while the rest of us took down the tent, waited impatiently for our food, and likely went for a walk with the ice axe. Then we would pack up our packs, splitting up group gear of tent parts and food among us. We met each morning packed and ready to go usually around 8 and either had a class or just started hiking. After the first couple days we started having "Leaders of the Day" where one of us would, you guessed it, leader of the day for a hike group. In charge of picking hiking groups, breaks, map, and finding camp.

As a finish to the trip we went on student expeditions, where the students hike and camp without the instructors. We were split into two groups and left with 4 hiking days to go in the trip. I, and obviously I would, slipped and sprained my ankle on the 2nd to last day and had to walk out without a pack. Luckily my group was absolutely fantastic, all stepping up and taking my weight without a question. (My ankle is much better now and I can't wait to play soccer with the kids in Ethiopia.)

I would like to share a highlight, and that is just the group in general. Whether just chatting in the tent, watching a sunrise/sunset, having a class. There were times I was laughing so hard I almost peed in my pants and times I was crying hysterically and could barely catch my breath. And it was all great. The support, the laughs, the hugs, the new experiences...everything!

As for the days since we've been back, I've just pretty much been hanging out in Delhi with people from the group. Had a half day tour provided by NOLS which was skippable but since then I've gotten in some excellent shopping, thanks almost in full to the delightful Fabindia, some good hanging out, a day trip to agra, and a night in a 5-star hotel. In my pre-Africa freak-out I have found myself hoarding pretty much anything "western" I can get my hands on which is definitely a new position for me. At times I've found India quite overwhelming and was almost excited to be leaving; so many people everywhere, most of them trying to sell you something. A great night in the Paharganj area of Delhi cured most of that and at the moment I'm eager to get back to India at some point and give it the full time it deserves.

I'm currently entering my 4th hour sitting at the same computer, having just uploaded a bunch of pictures and written some emails, and am flying to Ethiopia TONIGHT!! Absolutely crazy to think that tomorrow I will find myself in Africa, finally. Often when I get nervous I forget why I want to be in Africa and it takes something like seeing an interview with Leonardo Dicaprio speaking of his experience shooting Blood Diamond (which btw looks fabulous)) in South Africa and an Oprah repeat to remind me that I'm so excited for what's ahead of me and signed up for it largely due to the challenge I know it will be.

As I have been writing this entry for way too long I refuse to read it over so I hope it makes sense and gives you a good enough picture of what I've been up to the past 6 weeks or so. And for everyone back in the states, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. Please eat a tooooon of good food, and an extra bite for me, and if you have a few moments, check out my pics from India which are up and just waiting to be viewed numerous times.
picture site again:

Can't wait to update you all from Ethiopia!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Back Country Bound

Hey All!

I am currently at the NOLS headquarters in Washington. Had a lovely few days in Seattle with the family although seeing them did allow me to work myself into a nervous frenzy about all that's to come.

Finally on my way after getting picked up this morning at our hotels in Mount Vernon and we've spent the day getting orientated, rationing food, and getting outfitted.

Tomorrow we fly to Delhi, India via Amsterdam and after a 14 hour bus ride and some more orientation, we'll be on our way, finally starting to hike on the 18th.

Getting going with this segment has definitely calmed my nerves a bit and I feel ready and excited to get on my way. This will probably be the last internet access I'll have until after the trip so I bid you farewell until at least November 16th. I wish everyone a fabulous month or so and I'll be in touch as soon as I can.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Say Cheese!!

Well, well the long awaited time has come!! Yes, that is right, the pictures are up!!! It´s not all of them yet because it takes an ungodly amount of time to upload them and the computer freezes constantly. There are also no comments and descriptions but you´ll have to forgive me. I will get to it in time.

Just click the link below and enjoy!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Catch Up

Hello, Hello!

My apologies for the delay in entries. The last two weeks on the farm were good, pretty uneventful. Found that I'm definitely much stronger than when I started as by the end I had no problem carrying the sacks of compost whereas in the beginning I couldn't! It was definitely really fun to be able to notice such a distinct difference! My morning chore for both weeks was cleaning out the pig pens, of which I have numerous pictures!! I'm sure you all are just itching to see them so I will try and post all the pictures I've taken so far on a site from Seattle.

In other news, I will now officially be entering Northwestern University as a Medill undergraduate student!!! I realized along the way somewhere that it was what needed to be done so I emailed them and luckily, they accepted!! So for all of you who thought I wouldn't be coming back, I am totally psyched to get there after my travels and start studying!! No fear!

I'm currently in the Andes at a lodge called Black Sheep Inn with Lucy, the other girl who was volunteering at the farm. It's at 3,200 meters which is great practice for the Himalayas. Today I went with a bunch of other people to a crater called Laguna Quilotoa. We took a bus there and then hiked all the way back, about 6 hours!! Going to be doing another hike tomorrow, not sure where yet, then down to Riobamba to take a train (where we will sit on the roof) through a part known as "the devil's nose" down to Cuenca, another town. From there we'll head back up to Quito and then up to Octovalo to go to a great indigenous market to buy looooots of Ecuadorian things, such as hats, sweaters, etc. One benefit of having the family coming to Seattle is that they can take all of that stuff home!

Ok, I hope everything is going well and happy belated Jewish New Year!

P.S. Does anyone have any good book suggestions?? If you do, please email them to me at becuase I need to load up before the next leg!! Thanks!