Friday, March 27, 2015

A Teaching Story: Group Presentations

My first semester teaching in Ethiopia, was definitely a period of learning, for my students as well as myself. It was my first time teaching large classes (50+ kids in each class), my first time teaching complicated English grammar, and my first time teaching Ethiopian students. I’m so grateful for my teaching experience in Korea because it really helped me in certain ways, but in other ways, this was a whole new ball game.

As I got used to teaching, my students slowly started to get used to me. They became accustomed to my accent. They learned what I expected from them during certain exercises. Most importantly, they learned to expect anything and go with the flow in my class. I was more likely than any other of their teachers to stand next to them and not leave until they muttered something—anything, in English, even if it meant just repeating after me. I was likely to walk in and give them each a paper with a word on it, tell them to find the people with the same color paper as them, and make a sentence using all the words.

Now that we’re in second semester, I’m really raising the bar. My theory is that if I don’t set my expectations high, how will I know how well they can succeed? They are used to my teaching style now and I know their levels and personalities a bit better. I took a gamble in the third week of the semester and gave them a group presentation project where they had to think of a new business idea in Durame. I laid everything out, giving clear instructions and specific questions to answer during their presentation on a copied, double sided sheet of paper. I chose groups with a wide range of abilities based on their previous semester grades and assigned group leaders. I told the group leaders to help and include everyone in their group in all aspects of the project: planning, writing, poster making, and speaking during the presentation. I told them they were in charge and I was counting on them to get things done, but don’t be dictator—work with your group, not for them.

I outlined everything they had to do as a class, gave the leaders specific instructions, and then I left for two days to go to a Peace Corps “Communities of Practice” meeting in Hawassa (3 hours away). I asked my counterpart, Daniel, to go to their classes to make sure they understood and were doing the work while I was away. He helped them and answered all their questions, explaining in Amarhic or Kambatissa if they needed it.

During the meeting in Hawassa, I talked about my presentation project and worried if it was going to work. My students are only in ninth grade. This is their first year learning all their subjects in English and some of them are so low that they won’t even say hello to me. However, others are really great English learners and are very active and dedicated to learning. I was feeling wary, but hopeful.
When I went to school the next Monday, I was nervous. What if they hadn’t done anything? They were supposed to start presenting on Wednesday, in just two days. What if they all just told me they couldn’t do it, that it was too hard? Was I expecting too much from them, pushing them too hard?
I asked them to get into their groups and show me the work they had done. I was floored. They did an amazing job! All but one group had a complete or nearly complete business plan. They thought of such great ideas for new businesses in Durame, most of which were new to the town. Some of their business names were Hens Production (a chicken farm), I Have A Dream Honey Company (beekeeping, in homage to Martin Luther King, Jr.), New Generation Restaurant, and Ambericho Lodge (named after the mountain which presides over Durame).

Tuesday, they made posters and did a phenomenal job. I took pictures of all of them and tried to get everyone to smile. They really did have fun making them though, I promise!



Wednesday presentations began, and even though there was a bit of a slow start, they really picked up. They all did so great and in case you can’t tell by my raving, I am SO proud of them all!! I even heard a couple of low level students speak English for the first time! I could tell their group leaders had helped them and I was immensely proud of both students. 



After all the presentations were finished, we hung up all the posters around the classroom and did a “gallery walk” so everyone could check out everyone else’s posters up close. They were so happy. I told them how well they did and how proud of them I was and they cheered so loudly that other teachers came to the classroom to make sure they weren't misbehaving.



I asked the school administration if I could hang their posters in the library to display them and they said yes. I’m so glad. Their hard work deserves to be admired and I want them to feel proud of themselves and what they accomplished.

I’m so happy that everything worked out. I challenged them and they rose to that challenge like champions. I can’t wait to see how far they can go by the end of the semester.       


Friday, March 13, 2015

Harar, The Walled City in the East

During the break between semesters, we took a journey to an ancient, walled city in Eastern Ethiopia: Harar. Harar has 6 gates and has everything from wide traffic circles to tiny alleys. One alley is so small that it’s named “Peace Alley” because one cannot possibly pass by an enemy in it without reconciling. It’s simply too tiny for animosity! 

a gate of Harar
Nikhil, fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, in Peace Alley
Harar was built with walls to protect it from the surrounding raiding tribes of the past. A mostly Muslim city, it has numerous mosques and shrines to various religious and historical people. The national language of Ethiopia (Amharic) is widely spoken but there are also a couple local languages, namely Afan Oromo and Harari. We learned a couple greetings in Harari and the people loved it!



We spent the days exploring the old town: poking in shops, twisting and turning along alleyways, drinking coffee, and visiting historical sights. After a long day of adventuring, we would drink some Harar Beer straight from the factory, go feed hyenas meat dangling from a small stick in our mouths, or just go out to eat with our fellow travelers and revel in everything we had seen and all the kind people we had met that day.




One afternoon, we took a trip out to Babile Elephant Sanctuary. We had a scout lead us way out in to the bush on foot to spot some wild elephants. As soon as we were near, we had to be deathly silent. A human has no chance against a frightened, charging elephant!



Another day we were invited into a local’s house for lunch and his wife prepared us a traditional Harari dish. We sat on the raised platforms endemic to Harar and talked for hours. It was a leisurely afternoon and one that truly showed just how hospitable Ethiopians can be. His friend stopped by and guessed we were with Peace Corps. He had heard of it before and was grateful for our being there. It’s always nice to hear a local telling us thank you and that we are doing good work.

lunch in a traditional Harari living room
traditional Harari food
There’s something magical about a walled city: the soft light of the late afternoon spilling onto the cobblestone streets, the children coming out to play as it cools down, the closeness and the pride in the town. It all comes together to create something unique, a certain vibe that is almost indescribable and definitely palpable.  



a gate of Harar

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Laundry in Ethiopia

Every Sunday we sit outside on the front porch and do our laundry by hand. Usually we wash for about an hour before my wrists start to ache and we stop. Rarely do we wash all the dirty clothes we have. To me, it's a lot of hard to work to wash all my clothes by hand, but when I ask my students they all say it's easy work.  Ha! They've never used a washing machine, so they don't know just how easy doing laundry could be.


We wash one piece at a time in the shallow green tubs, then rinse it in two larger buckets, and hang it up to dry on the line. We use bar soap to cover the whole piece of clothing on the outside and inside and then squeeze and rub and wash all the dirt and grime out.



the water faucet in our compound




Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Market

Saturday is market day. Everyone in town knows it and everyone goes. It's crowded, exciting, and this time of year, dusty.


At the market, there are all kinds of fruit, vegetables, grains, clothes, shoes, and basic supplies. There are men, women, children, donkeys, goats, sheep, chickens, and lots and lots of sunshine. The market is in the afternoon and there are no trees to offer shade. Some vendors have made awnings and others, like myself, use umbrellas.



When we first arrived in Durame and went the market, I was really overwhelmed. Everyone was very interested in us. They wanted to know what we were buying, what we were saying, and of course, what we were doing at their market. We had crowds of people surrounding us at all times. We talked to them in Amharic and explained we lived in Durame and would be here for two years. We spoke as much Amharic as we could and even bargained using it to make sure we wouldn't get a higher price than everyone else. “We are volunteers. We are English teachers.” we would say.




As the weeks have gone by, the crowds around us are less. People are getting more used to us and the vendors help us chase any annoying kids away. I've learned some Kambatissa (the local language, spoken only in our zone) and people love it when I speak to them using it. If I want to make anyone laugh, I can just say hello in Kambatissa! :)


There are boys who troll the market selling plastic bags and they always follow us around. They were very interested in my camera so I took a picture of them so they could see it. They loved seeing themselves on the little screen. I've gotten really annoyed with them in the past and told them to go away in both Amharic and Kambatissa. Sometimes, a little kindness goes farther than a lot of anger. This picture was the kindness. Maybe next week we'll be allies.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hidasse Secondary School

As my first semester of teaching high school in Ethiopia comes to a close, I'd like to introduce you to my school, Hidasse Secondary School. Hidasse means renaissance in Amharic and the school is only two years old. We have two grades, 9th and 10th. The students are divided into 20 sections, 11 9th grade sections and 9 10th grade sections. The sections are then divided into two shifts. One group of students come in the morning from 8am-12:30pm and then the other group comes in the afternoon from 12:30pm-5:00pm. Every two weeks, the shifts swap, so the students and teachers go to school in the morning for two weeks, then the afternoon for two weeks, then back to the morning for two weeks, and so on. Spencer and I teach different shifts, so when one of us teaches in the morning, the other teaches in the afternoon. We never teach at the same time.


I teach two 9th grade sections, 9A and 9B. In Ethiopia, the students don't change classes like in the US. The students stay in their classrooms and the teachers move from class to class to teach. As a teacher, it's not that great. It would be nice to have my own classroom to decorate and put English posters up on the wall. As of now, none of the classrooms are decorated at all. They all have blank walls. Most schools here have murals painted on the outside of the buildings but because Hidasse is new, there are none yet. The Director (what they call the principle) has asked me to help paint some, which I'm looking forward to helping out with.


My classes are pretty large, with 59 students in one class and 55 in the other. They are put into groups by their homeroom teacher and the classrooms are big enough to accommodate all of them. Because the students don't move from class to class, there is no opportunity for students to be in honors classes in subjects they excel in. Therefore, each class is a mix of levels, from those who can hold an entire conversation in English to those who answer “My name is ____” when I ask, “How old are you?” It's one of the biggest challenges we face as direct teachers, teaching a single lesson for a wide range of English proficiency.


I'm really enjoying teaching and my classes are going well. At first the students were very shy and didn't want to speak, but slowly more and more students are raising their hands to answer questions. There are still some who are silent and have a hard time understanding, but I think with continued encouragement and practice, they will improve. I have hope!

the bell, very low tech
My coworkers at school are very nice and supportive. Almost all of them speak English well and I am happy to be working at such a great school. It's nice to have a supportive and hard working staff, such as the Director and Vice Directors. They have all been so helpful in getting me set up and helping me in any way. Some of the teachers have even asked me if I would start a Teachers' English Club to help with communicative English. I'm so happy to hear their enthusiasm and willingness to work with me. I hope together we can help the students learn well and improve their exam scores, as well as help the school become the best learning environment it can be.


skit about AIDs

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Trip to Hailu's House

Now that we've been here a while, our coworkers are starting to invite us to their houses for coffee and snacks. It's really awesome because I feel like the community is really welcoming us to Durame and accepting us into their lives and culture. Yay, for integration! :)

A few weeks ago, we went with my coworker, Hailu, to the place where he grew up out in the country. After walking about 45 minutes out of town, we turned down a narrow road lined with plants and shaded by towering eucalyptus trees. It was beautiful already.


We met his brother and his family and his mother at the house where he grew up. His mother is very old and missing quite a few teeth, but very friendly and kind. She was very impressed with my limited Kambatissa (local language) skills and laughed deeply as I greeted her, showing all of the few teeth she has left.


Hailu was eager to show us around the whole place and we were happy to see how an Ethiopian farm works. First, we saw the barn, where the cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and his mother sleeps. See the picture below to see her bed, tucked into a back room of the barn. The corn hanging from the ceiling are seeds for next year. The cows are just to the right of the frame. Under where the corn is, is the pen for the goats and sheep to sleep at night.


As we toured the farm, we saw all kinds of fruit, vegetables, and grains. There were big avocado trees and swooping gishta trees, clumps of banana trees and single incet (false banana), small, sprightly coffee trees and thick mango trees, alight with blooms. We saw cabbage, sugar cane, bush beans and fields of golden tef, the grain they use to make the national dish, injera. It was absolutely amazing how many foods they were growing and how healthy everything looked, including the plump babies running around the house. :)





After the tour, we tried some sugar cane. It was our first time eating it and I must say, that stuff it tough!! First you have to whack a piece off with a knife. Then you have to take off the outsides with your teeth and spit it on the ground, you don't eat the purple part. Then finally, you have to gnaw a piece of the inside off, chew it a bit, suck the sweet juice out and spit it out. You don't actually swallow any of it but the juice. It is seriously hard work. My teeth were getting a work out! As you can see from the picture below, the kids were highly amused at my suffering.



Of course, no trip to an Ethiopian's house would be complete without having coffee and some snacks. We had bread, some delicious red beans, too many bananas to count, avocados and tiny cups of deliciously strong coffee. It's amazing that every single thing we had was probably grown within a mile (or closer!) of where we were sitting enjoying it.
On the walk home, in the afternoon sun, we caught a great view of Ambericho Mountain (the same one we can see from our living room window!).


Then we met up with a group of boys going to the market to sell matches. They were very friendly and wanted to speak with us. We used all the Amharic we could and then some. We asked them some simple English questions and a few could answer. They were a lot of fun!


It was a really great day. Ethiopian hospitality never ceases to amaze me. The kindness and love shown to us does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Durame and its people have found a place in my heart.





Buna Blossoms


I spotted these coffee blossoms in my compound a couple weeks ago. Aren't they lovely?