I have officially finished my first year of teaching in Ethiopia. There were some days that I didn’t think it would come soon enough, but sure enough, here it is. As I stared at the young faces of my students with their ambitious dreams of being a doctor or an engineer, I prayed that they have the courage to make their dreams come true. In one year, I’ve learned to deeply care about these 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 year olds and I want the best for them. I went into my classes with a speech prepared: “Do good in this world. Take chances and fight for what you want. Have faith and appreciate those that stay by your side. Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve. Chiri is a small town and Ethiopia is a small country, so that means that there are plenty of things left to see and experience in this world.” I’d like to think that my words mattered but realistically, I know only a few really comprehended.
I recently spoke with a sibling of someone that I worked with at a summer camp a couple years back. She is deciding whether to accept her placement in Africa as a teacher and I strongly recommended her to do so. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, sometimes, you don’t get to see the change and the impact that you make in your community, but as a Teacher, you do. All the little ways you impact a person are visible because you get to see that person for 9 months change and evolve. Not only do you get to see others change, but you see change within yourself. As a teacher, it is possible to reflect on how to do better for the following year, how to improve your lessons and teaching methods. Being a teacher in a developing country that desperately needs good teacher is both challenging and rewarding.
In the past year, I’ve had to learn about patience with both others and with myself. As an American and as a Latina woman, I have been taught to make moves, to work hard and be determined. Being in Ethiopia, I can’t be the fast-paced and driven woman I was back home. Meetings never start on time, lessons don’t go the way I want them to, and clubs can be as tiring. Ultimately, I have had to learn to slow down both mentally and emotionally and some days, it’s tough to be so laid back. Some days, I can feel angst and find myself pacing back and forth. I’ve also had to learn to cherish the small victories. For example, getting my students and teachers excited to practice their English. In my tutoring classes, being able to pronounce words correctly or being able to write the fidel alphabet correctly is an accomplishment. In my classes, a big win is having only 8 students fail out out of 100 students. When you’re working in a developing country where you are learning the language and so many things are out of your control, it’s the small victories that keep you going.
When I left Delaware a year ago, I never thought that I would change so drastically. I have formed meaningful relationships with other Americans and with local staff. I have had to learn how to communicate more effectively and I have had to learn to let the small things go. I’ve learned to love Ethiopian food like injera, the staple food here. I’ve learned to love water and electricity because with those two, anything is possible. I’ve learned to weep with joy when it is no longer the dry season and the first rain falls. I’ve had to learn how to change my diet so that I can consume the calories I need (sometimes I fail at this though). I’ve had to learn when to ask for help from others because we can’t do it alone. I’ve learned to enjoy coffee and drink it if offered. I’ve adapted to being called “ferenji” and I’ve adapted by not knowing what tomorrow will bring but also being okay with that. Most importantly, I’ve had to work really hard to learn how to laugh at things that I normally wouldn’t laugh at because laughter helps with my sanity. In one year and with this job, I’ve learned more about myself and others than I have in any other jobs I have previously occupied. I count my lucky stars for giving me this opportunity to do great work with and for others, but also, within myself.
Note: I will be traveling throughout this summer both in and out of country so my posts will be more sporadic. However, expect more posts and pictures when I get back in the groove of things. As the Italians would say, “arrivederci!”