dinsdag 23 december 2014

No Dr. Denker for Patricia this year

December 23, 2014

Science Project
The title of this blog will only be recognized by my Dutch friends and family and then also probably those who live in the northern part of the country. Traditionally we sit around at Christmas to do the puzzle in the 'Dagblad van het Noorden' called Dr. Denker. Not this year though, as I will be working during Christmas as the Ethiopians do not celebrate Christmas in December, but in January. Besides Afar is predominantly Muslim and as far as I know they do not celebrate the birth of Christ at all.
Meeting with teachers
Currently I am in zone 3 of Afar on the biannual supervision of the Educational bureau. A selection of schools; primary, secondary, High Schools and ABECs (alternative basic education centres) are visited and supervised about their performance. It a very interesting process and I learn a lot of how things are organised and about things that are still need improvement and also where I maybe can help. After the visit they are meetings with the local governments. Till now we did three Woredas. As I will be leaving for the rural areas tomorrow, I do not expect any internet connection any more, so this is my last chance to write this blog before it is 2015.
Very Smart Girl

ICT classroom

Okay, that is now, but almost a month has gone since my last blog and lots of things happened. I even became a year older (but I like the estimate the Ethiopian give of my age which is around 30-35J)
In my last blog I talked about getting a haircut, I did and I showed the pictures on Facebook and am not going to humiliate myself again in this blog (sorry for you Facebook haters).
My work is also progressing, as I told before, the project manager from VSOE visited Semera and finally I got my Annual Work Plan approved and also got a change to talk and meet the Bureau head (took just 2 months!). In Dutch we say: Better late than never, but I doubt if that’s an English expression :-)

Just after the visit of Tatek, I went to Mekelle for International Volunteer Day and to visit Erna another Dutch volunteer from VSO who works for ACSOT. The visit and Mekelle were very nice. On December 5 around 200 students from Mekelle University were attending a program about volunteering and also the University opened a Volunteer Centre for the students. The day began with the students brushing shoes and ended with a visit to the hospital were we gave bananas and oranges to patients and cleaning materials to clean the hospital. If the students are going to play a part in this cleaning I am not sure, but I hope and expect they will do.
The rest of the visit I stayed with Erna and it was really good to talk about Ethiopia and the Ethiopians with someone in your own language. Telling your friends and family who arenot experiencing the same is quite different. I went to visit the Derg Monument and museum and bought really good cheese (for Ethiopian standards). Erna and I had lovely meals and drinks and I felt sorry to have to leave on Sunday.

Volunteer Office Mekelle University

Detail of the Derg Monument

Halima: director of Girls Boarding School
On Monday I flew back from Addis to Semera and went straight from the airport to the Girls Boarding School. I was invited by Halima to the Nations Nationality celebrations. That was a big happening and I hoped my manager did not mind that I did not come into office. When I arrived though, it turned out that he and a lot of other managers from government offices and NGO’s were also there. On this celebration there was a lot of (traditional) dancing and I danced too. That was a nice change. On Wednesday, I taught my first English classes. That was a wonderful and amusing experience. You should expect the Ethiopians to speak good English as all their textbooks are in English and they have the national exam also in English, but the contrary is true. So it takes some effort to get the girls to speak at all, but I will be here for 2 years and will persevere. The girls are shy but motivated enormously, so my first 10 lessons are just to get their trust and let them become confident to speak.
Girl boarding school reading poem
On December 16, I became a year older as it goes on birthdays. I invited around 12-15 friends and more than half showed up. I even made some women friends and they also came by with the most lovely birthday card and chocolate. It is special that people turn up, because the Ethiopian do not celebrate birthdays after the age of 5. The day before my birthday, I ordered a cake (see picture) and some drinks in Ozzies (Oasis), a bar not far from my house. Also I got a lot of mail and congratulations through Facebook which was hearth warming. At the party I danced (again) and I really enjoyed throwing the party, it was really good fun.  And the next morning (a bit hung over) I went on the supervision where I started my blog with. So the circle is round and the blog almost finished.

Elsa, Tmnit & Patricia
But I will end with some things I still find remarkable here or am startled by:
* Driving: lots of Ethiopians drive like madmen (wrong side of the road, overtaking when it is impossible just beeping the horn if a pedestrian is in the way, zebra crossing with absolutely no status), but they also have a really relaxed going about the driving; a policy of live and let live. No aggression at all.
* All the teachers wear a white kind of lab coat. I am (sometimes) happy with that, cause I can distinguish the teachers from the students. Lots of the teachers are still so young :-)
*Are you sure or really? That is what the Ethiopians constantly ask, when you make a remark. I now have learned in Amharic to say ‘Are you sure?’ so I ask them or before they ask me I already say that I am sure.
* Another word which is also used al lot is ‘ishee’ (meaning: okay). Last week I was even using it while I was speaking English. I did not notice, but the girls I was with, pointed it out to me :-) . So I integrate nicely.
* The third word I use a lot is ‘chekerilem’ (means: No problem). That always gives a few laughs. My Afar is not so good yet, but a colleague promised to write down a list with Afar words. Unfortunately, he has not done his homework yet :-(
* During this supervision I see a lot of wild life, like Aardvarks, baboons, birds. I am excited about is, but  my team members do not seem to notice the wild life and when I asked them about the names of the animals, they do not know most of the times. For them it is probably so normal, that they do not even pay attention to it.

Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a Merry New year.
Patricia Koops (in Amharic)

woensdag 19 november 2014

Settling in in Semera

November 19, 2014

About three weeks ago, I wrote my last blog. Unfortunately I have been sick again, but now I have fully recovered and decided to take it a bit more slowly as I did before. So no running or fitness for the mean time. By doing that I actually become more Ethiopian, not only in behaviour, but I grow into an Ethiopian citizen more and more (see also pictures).
In the last few weeks, I got my work permit, which means that I do not need a visa to travel in and out of the country. Furthermore, I can fly much cheaper to Addis or any other location in Ethiopia, because I will be no longer charged the “Ferengi” prizes. For a return ticket to Addis, I have to pay 4000 birr less (€ 150) than before.
Next to that, I opened a bank account, so I can receive my salary and am no longer dependent on bank transfers with strange text messages with codes with a failing telephone network.
And yesterday, I opened a post box, so you can send me all kinds of stuff that I am really missing from the Netherlands, like stroopwafels, muntdrop, goede chocolade, basilicum- of oregano-olie en kaas, but photo’s e.g. to decorate my home are welcome as well. I would very much appreciate it when you send something. If you do, address it the following way:
Geziena Patricia Koops
Post box 138

In my leisure time, I do a lot of activities as well and meet interesting people. Two week ago I went swimming in AGDA hotel and resort. This is a brand new hotel, on the way to Logyia, where, if I would sleep 4 nights there, have spent my monthly salary (4000 birr). Luckily the swimming is less expensive approximately 60 birr. In the swimming pool, I met some Indian guys. They turned out to be ICT teachers at Semera University, so I invited myself to lecture there and they thought that was a good idea. So maybe I can teach part of the IT Management program here, because to be honest I miss teaching more than I expected.
After swimming the whole morning, I had lunch at the hotel. At first it was a little difficult to get lunch at all, because it was the official opening day of the hotel and I had no invitation. After some discussion, I could eat in the restaurant, but then I was invited by Getaway to join him and his friend for lunch in the festivities hall.
At that lunch, I ate raw beef meat which is very popular in Ethiopia, then roasted meat and then some more meat. The meat, also the raw, tasted delicious, except a day later I became ill and I am off meat totally since then.  My whole body has developed an aversion against meat it seems, the only thing I feel I still could eat is chicken, but I have not tried. Well it has been 20 years since I last was a vegetarian, so time for a change.

After lunch, I went back to the pool and met the lovely girls I am in the picture with. They were really sweet, but spoke not a lot of English. Anyway we exchanged the pictures they took with their phone through Bluetooth.
I find it strange to see that no one who was swimming was any good at it. It was more an attempt to not drown than actual swimming. So I tried to teach some girls how to swim and maybe I can employ myself as a swimming instructor. I know the owner, so maybe we can work something out and then I can swim for free J.

At work things are beginning to progress as well. Maybe it’s because I became a little pushier towards my colleagues and demand (not asked) them to act and react on things I propose. I am working on my Annual Work Plan and have made a summary for myself of all the things I have learned till so far. Besides that I have observed many things which I think can improve or should change and also wrote that down. I hope to share this soon and then I really can get started.

Yesterday Emon, Hailu and I visited the girls’ boarding school in Semera. This school as the name already gives away is only for girls. They also have, except for the guards, a completely female staff. It is for girls in level 5 till 8. After that the girls can go to high school. There is one in Semera, but the boarding school is constructing a girls’ high school at the grounds as well. The head of the school is called Halima and after talking to her about teaching there, there is a good change that I will teach there as well. It was fabulous to see and the learning materials were very modern and good quality.
I also asked Halima for a hairdresser, because I really need a haircut. This weekend I will contact her and she said she would help me to find a hairdresser in Logyia. If there is no one who can cut my hair, I have to see if I can go to one in two weeks in Mekelle were I will visit Erna another VSO volunteer.

To end this blog I tell something I do in my spare time. One of the things is swimming as I already mentioned. During weekdays I stay at home after work. It is difficult for a woman to go out alone and I do not want to be harassed or worse. Even if I go somewhere during the daytime I am almost always the only woman there and when I walk the streets men shout at me (very stupid). Even when you only talked for 5 minutes with someone, they ask for your phone number and If you I give it, they text me, that they miss me (are they out of their minds?!). Sorry, sometimes I just have to let off some steam. So in the evenings, I read a lot and listen to music. For the last two weeks I did the crypto with Jennifer on Monday or Tuesday evening trough Skype, good fun.

For the weekends, I hang out with three friends I’ve met. We go to Logyia, the dry port in Semera or stay in Semera for lunch and a few beers. I expected to drink no alcohol during my placement in Afar, because it is predominantly Muslim territory, but there are at least 4 places in Semera which I found out till now where they serve beer. It is really enjoyable to drink a beer with these temperatures.

woensdag 29 oktober 2014

Field trip and Addis (twice)

October 24-29, 2014

It has been almost two weeks since my last blog, but that doesn’t mean that all was quiet. On the contrary,  I have been in Addis for my hepatitis B booster, been on field trip to 4 remote Woredas, got sick In Mekelle and two days after I returned from the field trip, I had to fly to Addis again for an Evaluation and Monitoring training by VSO. So let me go into some details now.
Before I begin, I just want tell you about the rain we had three weeks ago. I forgot to write this in my last blog, but because it was so special, it should be mentioned. On Sunday October 5 it rained for almost 3 hours and it was the first time I actually felt cold in Semera.
Even a week ago, there was a flooding in the southern part of Afar where a lot of people and children were effected. I had never realised that this could happen here, because Semera is such a dry and hot area. It felt like a wet summer day in the Netherlands.

As written above,I was in Addis for three days around half October for my booster for Hepatitis B. I stayed with Becky and Margaret, very lovely and hospitable volunteers from the UK, did some shopping and visit the Etymologic museum, where Becky and I got in for Habesha prices (5 birr per person instead of 100 for foreigners). We also had a delicious fruit drink (avocado, guava, banana, pear etc.). A way to get some extra vitamins.

On Tuesday I got back from Addis and on that day we left for the field trip. After I was picked up at the airport, I was brought home and packed new clothes and stuff for the trip and hurried to office to find out we were not leaving before 12 o’ clock. In the end we left at quarter to three, so I could rethink my packing, did, and forgot to pack important items anyway.  At the beginning of the evening we arrived in Teru and slept in some compound. The next day we visited an ABEC (Alternative Basic Education Centre), had a meeting and later a debriefing at the Woreda Office. In total we visited three ABEC’s and four Woredas. This trip made me realise how difficult it is to bring education into a pastoral society, but also how resilient these people are. Next to that they are really involved and actively participate in the educating of their children.  Very beautiful to see. The landscape is harsh and sometimes there aren’t even any roads. One time we even had to walk for around 40 minutes to an ABEC after the car could not go on.

Another thing I have to get used to, is that I have to clean my house every day, although I do not do this always. There is constantly so much sand that brooming is a new hobby of mine. I can even do this multiple times a day and still broom up sand. Also before you eat or drink anything, you should rinse your glass or plate. But I forget sometimes. Luckily eating and drinking sand is not that bad, I believe, since my mother always said: “Zand schuurt de maag.” (translated literally: Sand grinds the stomach).

To end this blog, because people are complaining my blogs are too long ;-), I would like to write about getting vegetables here. Lots of people I spoke and even some volunteers who have been here, said it was impossible to get vegetables here and that I had to eat goats’ meat all the time. Even when you were able to find vegetables it was abused before it reaches you. Well, although it is hard to get vegetables, I have now in my fridge:  cabbage, onions, carrots, tomatoes and potatoes (and yes I know, you should not store some of these vegetables in the fridge, but in Semera it is necessary because of the heat).
For getting the vegetables you just have to know when and where to go. So last Sunday, I went shopping in Logia with Sleshi, a philosophy and ethics teacher at Semera University. Okay, it is not as easy and abundant as it is in the Netherlands, but it is to cook different and interesting meals. I do not even cook meat at home, partly as I do not know where to get it and partly because when you eat out, there is always lots of meat. To prove, I eat vegetables, the picture below is from one of my cooking sessions, where I made a Spanish omelette, so I also know where to get eggs.


donderdag 9 oktober 2014

A new home for Patricia

This is my fifth blog about my work and life in Ethiopia. I am writing this in my living room, during the siesta on Thursday October 9. Yes, I now actually have a house and I am really enjoying this (see pictures). Much better then the hotel life. It is nice and quit and although it is somewhat basic, I already feel at home. In the evening we have water (most of the time) and there are only short power cuts every day, so I have managed to cook for myself despite of the power cuts. 
It is difficult to get vegetables here, but I managed to get garlic, onions, tomatoes and potatoes. Cooking is a little like you’re on a camping site, with one (electric) cooker, so you have to plan and first cook the rice and then put it in a blanket to keep warm (hooikisten). Then you cook your vegetables and meat (but I did not cook meat yet) and then you put the things together.
I also have a routine with water, while it fails a lot. Every time there is water, I am filling my bucket and bottles I have collected over the past days. So if the tap doesn’t run, I still can wash myself, cook and flush the toilet. 
The same goes for water to drink. When I come home I cook water and after it cools, I put in the distiller and I already have about 4 litres of clean (drinking) water. It taste a little bitter, but I mix it with mango juice, which I find to sweet anyway and then put it in the fridge and after 15 minutes or so I drink it.  The logistic person from VSO Mamo said that the bitter taste of the water would disappear after a few weeks.  On the photo of my kitchen it is the silvery thing.
 House front view with the porch
 Patricia and neigbour kid 
 Furniture (outside while cleaning the house)
 Living room
Kitchen with distiller (right)

Today Emon, my colleague and neighbour, has his birthday. I surprised him this morning with a few presents from the local shop, so candles, matches, milk, juice 2 empty bottles (to put the candles in) and a nail clipper. Yes, you have to be practical in this country J.

At work there is progress as well. As I mentioned above, I am writing this in the siesta. The working hours are from 7-12 and then from 15-18.  This week we had some meetings with management and at Tuesday we were introduced in a meeting by Mohammed Oudda (Vice Head of the Bureau) to almost all the higher management and their vice-managers. We will start working with them in the coming months. Btw, I already have a new line manager, because my first line manager is no longer working for the bureau. She went to work for a NGO. My new line manager is called Derasa and he is responsible for Curriculum in the bureau.

As our project is funded by UNICEF, we also got to meet Hailu, who is from UNICEF. We did some work together and decided to visit some Woreda Offices and ABE centres (Alternative Basic Education). As this is a pastoral society, where a lot of people have no permanent residence, because of sheep/goat hoarding special school are built and also mobile schools. The enrolment rate of children is still low compared to other districts of Ethiopia and all sort of solutions are sought to get this to a higher level. In the pictures you see Emon and Hailu working on the things we are going to check when we are going visit these places
 Emon and Hailu working on objectives
District Afar with 5 zones and 32 Woreda's

Today we also visited a teachers training in Logia. After being on the wrong location twice :-), we finally found the training session. We were introduced by Hailu and then we introduced ourselves and after that the teachers introduced themselves to us, with Hailu translating into English. 
What strikes me most was the soft speaking of the teachers. I wonder how they do that in class. Part of the lectures are about student centred teaching. That is one of the objectives for Education in Ethiopia. So no longer teacher-oriented.  I found it funny that the classroom setup was very teacher-oriented, and I was wondering how these teachers would learn a more student oriented way of teaching through this. But I was there only for half an hour, so maybe they had some other teaching methods later. I hope to be able to give workshops about this as well, because I really like to learn the teachers about this.

 Teacher-students          and      Teachers from REB
 Some students introducing themselves, with Hailu translating to English

Het laatste stukje van mijn blog doe ik in het Nederlands, omdat ik geen flauw idee heb hoe in dit moet vertalen. Het gaat over het drinken van koffie en of thee. Ik noem het voor mezelf “ het Nationale voetbad”. Overal waar je komt kun je koffie en thee drinken, maar altijd (nog maar 1 of 2 keer niet gebeurd), wordt er koffie of thee gemorst op je schoteltje. Dit komt, omdat de kopjes superklein zijn en men altijd inschenkt tot aan de rand (of eroberheen). In Nederland zou de ober of serveerster een doekje pakken en je schoteltje en kopje schoonmaken, maar hier krijg je gewoon een kopje voorgeschoteld met voetbad en moet je er zelf maar voor zorgen dat je geen koffie of thee morst op je broek. Erg apart en opvallend.