Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Brief Escape to Lake Langano

About midway through our Pre-Service Training (PST), Peace Corps took us out to Lake Langano for a day of swimming, picnicking, and fun. The US embassy owns a little slice of shore on the lake and they kindly let us use their facilities. They even had some kayaks/canoes we could play with. It was a nice place to relax and hang out on a Sunday afternoon.

Lake Langano is brown, which is precisely why we can swim in it. See, there's this awful disease that somehow incorporates urine and snails to be created. I think it's called schistosomiasis. Anyway, because the lake is brown, the snails can't live in the water and therefore there is no disease! Yay! Apparently, it's the only lake in Ethiopia that's completely safe to swim in and it's only a couple hours away from our training site, Butajira.

There was music, volleyball, t'ej (locally made honey wine) drinking games, water activities, and Spencer and I brought our slackline. It was a great day!

Thank you to Peace Corps for organizing the trip and thank you to the embassy for letting us use their beautiful space!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Making Coffee, Ethiopian Style

Coffee is a big part of Ethiopian culture. It is a way for people to get together and share a drink and usually a snack like popcorn, bread, or roasted nuts and barley while chatting about life, gossip, or TV dramas. Coffee is most popular on the weekends, when people have time to have a leisurely cup (or three) with family and friends. Some families drink coffee every night after dinner but our family drinks it every day after lunch.

Last Sunday, we had the chance to help our family prepare the coffee beans. Our host mom, Etagu, doesn't want us to work hard at home so when I first asked her if I could help make the coffee, she said a flat out “no”. It wasn't a mean thing, she wanted me to relax! But I just stuck around and helped and she didn't shoo me away.

The first thing you do is wash the raw beans. I didn't see that part, so I don't have any pictures of it, but what you do is put the beans in a small amount of water and rub the beans in your hands. You do this as many times as it takes for the water to not become dirty, usually two to three times.

Next, you roast the beans. We roasted them on a metal disc on an electric stove stop. Jemilla did most of the work, but Spencer and I helped. You have to constantly be moving the beans around so they don't burn. While we roasted, Jemilla taught us some Amharic words and asked us if there are electric stove tops in America.

roasting the beans on the electric stovetop
When they are mostly all roasted, you take them off the heat and pick out the lightest beans. They didn't get roasted all the way, and so they won't taste good. We took them out and our host mom said they will roast them again later.

After we picked out all the unroasted beans, Jemilla put them in a hollowed out piece of wood to pound them into grounds. Again, Jemilla did most of the work. She is stong for a girl of 14! Spencer and I helped as much as Jemilla would allow us. After it was all smashed up, we put in in a plastic container and we were done preparing the beans for the week!

When you actually make the coffee, first you put water in the coffee pot (jebena jay-ben-uh in Amharic) and heat is up until the water boils. Then you add the coffee grounds into the pot, let it brew, and then pour it. Etagu hasn't let me make the coffee yet, so I that's all I know for now. Hopefully, I'll be able to do everything start o finish one day.

me and my host mom, Etagu 
The traditional coffee ceremony involves all these steps, plus burning incense (usually frankincense) and making popcorn (fundish in Amharic). Also, the coffee grounds in the pot are used three times with each pot becoming weaker. The first one is the strongest and so guests and elders generally get first dibs on it. The second or third pot could be given to younger adults or children. Or everyone could get a cup from each of the three rounds; it just depends on where you are and who's around.

What Do You Do in Pre-Service Training?

We've been in pre-service training (PST) for almost six weeks now but what does that really mean? You might be wondering, what do you really do in pre-service training?? The answer is: A LOT.

PST is a lot of work, with trainings six days a week filled with language class, TEFL training, lesson planning, language application, practicum teaching, Peace Corps trainings about safety/security and medical, and spending time with our host family, sometimes learning as much from them as from our more structured trainings. Monday to Friday, we start at 8am and end at around 5:30pm. Saturdays, we start at 8am and go until about 12:30pm.

Right now, we just finished (today!) our four weeks of practicum, which is Peace Corps' way of saying we are practicing actually teaching. We are education volunteers and our job will be to directly teach 2-3 classes of high school English. That means we will be the only teacher in the room with 40-60 high school students, teaching from the state mandated English textbooks.

Now that practicum is over, we will be more focused on language training, safety/security, medical, and will have lectures devoted to specific aspects of teaching, such as teaching grammar, clubs and how to run them, how to assess students' levels, etc.

During practicum, our whole day was mostly comprised of planning to teach, actually teaching, and talking as a group about how teaching went. Our practicum schedule was like this:

8:00 – 10:00am: Language training in small groups. Right now, my class has five students and Spencer's class has just two, him and one other student.

10:30am – 12:30pm: Lesson planning as a group. We were using the Ethiopian textbooks and modified the lessons to be more student centered and active. We had to write detailed 4MAT lesson plans and write SMART objectives about what the students will be able to do after the lesson. We planned, made teaching aids, and got help from current Peace Corps education volunteers and other trainees.

12:30 – 1:45pm: Lunch and buna (coffee) with our host family. We were lucky before and our host family lived really close to both the school we planned our lessons at and the school where we taught. Last week we changed schools (to get experience teaching different grades) and for the last two weeks of practicum we took a packed lunch with us. Our host mom made it for us. She's awesome.

2:00 – 3:45pm: This time was broken into two class periods. We taught one and watched/evaluated another trainee during the other. It was a struggle for them to get students to fill all our classrooms because there are so many trainees, it's summer and so students are off visiting their grandparents or working summer jobs, and it's the rainy season. The most I had at our previous school was 8 students. For the past two weeks, I had about 17 students a day. It's not the 40-60 we'll experience in the future, but it's better than 8!

4:00 – 5:30pm: Debrief. This is the time to get feedback from those who watched/evaluated our class. We also discussed how things went in our classes as a group. We talked about what worked and didn't work, anything we were struggling with, and any other comments we had about students, the lesson, or anythings else. This usually didn't last until 5:30, which was nice! :)

Practicum was a lot of work and I not the only trainee to say, “I'm so happy it's over!” However, it was good experience to teach Ethiopian students and get to the know the textbooks we will be teaching at site. Also, it was nice to see what was working for other teachers and to share good activities and ways to teach different topics. Overall, I'm glad we did practicum.  

Butajira Junior Primary School

For the past two weeks we were working at Butajira Primary School for practicum. It's a cute school on top of a hill with brightly colored classrooms and monkeys roaming the place. Even though it's far from our house, I'm glad we get to teach here because it's just so pretty!

Take a look.