12 September 2012

first day of school

All of the usual suspects were in attendance. Nervousness. Excitement. Uncertainty. Anticipation. Curiosity. I gathered all of my books, gathered my pens, prepared a thermos full of coffee, and donned my best sweater-and-button-down combo for the occasion. I stepped out the steel door of my 10’ x 10’ home and walked down the long pathway toward the aluminum gate to my compound. The +/- 0.5 mile walk through an intensifying downpour was chock full of a bouquet of the noted emotions. It’s been quite a while since I went about my “first day” in a new profession, and even longer since my last “first day of school.”

I entered the archway gates to Tigil Fre School onto the beautiful compound campus where I will spend the better part of my next two years. A right at the end of the dirt-and-stone walkway takes me down a shrub-covered path toward the school administrative offices I visited during my one week stay in Bekoji two months ago. I was relieved to find Emebet sitting on a bench with a group of female teachers. She smiled and greeted me warmly, and the rest of the group followed suit. Emebet is my transitional counterpart, charge with helping me get my foundation set in the school over the next three months.

I took a seat in the middle of the group, and there I sat. And sat. And sat. After about two hours of sitting, greeting many of the teachers I’d met back in July, and chatting lightly with Emebet about the Community Education Needs Assessment (CENA, not John) I need to complete before IST, and I was casually told, “OK. You can go to your home now.” I put up a pretty good fight, insisting that there had to be something for me to observe only to be assured that there would be no teaching and nothing of value for me to get my hands on today. As low as I’ve tried to set my ambitions and expectations, given everything we’ve learned and experienced about the pace of life and action in Ethiopia, I was still told that I was “very eager.”

I didn’t get all dressed up for nothin’. I decided to take a stroll in the opposite direction of home and further my rather limited mental map of town. I passed by the stadium, where a lot of the running outside of the forest takes place. I’d heard of the landmark many times, but had yet to knowingly set eyes upon it. Already, my route was a win. After kicking around a ball with a group of children, and assuring them that I was not a “China” (China Aydalhum. Amerikawi nen; perhaps the most common phrase I utilize ‘round here), I made my way to the main shopping thoroughfare in search of the small shop from where I’d bought some essentials with Babel a couple weeks ago. I tried unsuccessfully to find it on my own last week, but the second time was a charm on this mini adventure. 107 birr later (just over $6 US), I was walking home with a kilo (2.2 lbs.) of to-be-roasted coffee, ½ and ½ spiral pasta and macaroni, and a kg of rice. Double win. I celebrated these (small) victories with three rounds of tea and a bumbalino (the closest readily available thing to a doughnut) while noting some “wishlist” phrases for whenever I land an Amharic tutor. Hat trick.

As far as the slow start to school goes, it was pretty much exactly what I expected out of the experience. Well, I thought I might actually set foot in a classroom today, but still, we were given plenty of warning that it might take a while for things to actually start happening at our schools. With the Peace Corps emphasis on integration and building strong community relationships, my simple presence on the first “official” day of school was certainly more valuable than it might initially seem. Showing my face amongst the teachers was the first step in a long, slow journey toward the success we will reach in our work together.


  1. sounds kind of like they only make you jump in the deep end once and from there the water gradually gets deeper and deeper.

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  3. Yes, Joe, I can understand your wanting to stay and observe. Some situations can be challenging and raise a lot of questions in your mind. Your positive attitude will carry you through any situation there. I applaud your sense of adventure and confidence to venture into the market place and manage to get the items you sought.