Friday, August 09, 2013

4 am in Brooklyn and there are people up. Not the people I see when I usually get up and begin my day around 7, but my neighbors on a different schedule. What I love about New York is no matter what time it is, there is always someone else awake and there’s always a store open where you can get what you need. This particular morning I needed milk to go with my morning tea, and cat food for Lulu. Some old man comes in for something, another guy stops in for a coffee, asking for Sweet n Low form the guy behind the ocunter who is busily texting on his phone, a car service driver pulls probably for his morning coffee as well. Even at this hour, despite the drops of rain, it is humid and probably will be all day. I arrived from Ethiopia yesterday, doing my regular thing—cab from JFK to home, snuggle my cat and snuggle her some more. This time though I did not go out for a martini and Mexican food, but ordered Chinese take out and went to bed. I was tired! I was awaiting this day when I could just go to sleep and sleep for a long time, but it has been evading me this past week. Finally the opportunity came and I took it. I missed the martini, the Mexican food AND Shakespeare in the parking lot put on by my local bar but oh well—sleep was more important.
This past month has been amazing. Youth Solidarity and English Language (YSEL) program for 44 Ethiopian students at a site in Debre Zeyit, a city just 1 hr south of Addis Ababa. I can now happily say I have 44 more children to add to my bevy of Afghans. In Afghanistan, they cal me “Kaka” which means uncle, in Ethiopia I let them call me “Papa.” It fits and I like the sound of it when they say it to me. My YSEL-Ethiopia kids are so special—in this past month they have blossomed into amazing young men and women who will do great things in their futures. This camp was the spark for them, a motivation to do great things in their lives and I hope they never lose that motivation. I want them to all achieve great things, especially by going to university. That is my dream and I hope they are inspired by the dream. I will continue to motivate and inspire them, for young people need that and don’t get enough of it. Seems to have become my mission in life. Ethiopia, as I must have mentioned before, is a magical place. So earthy and green, lush and full of life. Like anywhere it is both wonderful and aggravating at the same time but I have embraced it all. No one culture is better than another, you just have to learn to adapt to different ways. Some of my Peace Corps teachers had a lot of complaints about Ethiopia as I’m sure anyone would, living in the small towns and villages like they do. Airing them is normal, but letting it get you angry is not healthy, plus it doesn’t make you any friends with the locals. I see the beauty in all places, the positive things, and don’t make a fuss about the negative things. When I was in Djibouti last March, I met a restaurant owner from Ocean Beach in San Diego. My mom ran in to him a few months ago and when she told me that she met up with him, she said, “You didn’t tell me Djibouti was such a bad place. **** said it was so dirty and horrible.” “It’s all in your perspective mom,” I replied. “Plus if I complained about it you would worry. Sure there were bad things about it but there were good things too. I like to focus on the positive.” That said, I’ll be singing Ethiopia’s praises for a long time. Now I have a few days at home before I head off to the next project. Washington DC on Sunday for orientation for arriving students from different countries, who are beginning their year in the US. After that it’ll be a few weeks in Afghanistan recruiting for our winter YSEL programs. Somewhere between September and December I do need to finish my book. Hopefully in October or November. We’ll see. For now I’m going to enjoy these next few blissful days in my house with my cat.

Pre-camp thoughts...July 3rd, 2013

A soft summer rain falls here in Debre Zeyit, Ethiopia. The morning sounds have awoken me an hour earlier: the melodic chorus of birds, the staff going about their morning routine, and now most suddenly the pitter patter of rain. My window is open to allow the fresh morning air with all its earthy, African aromas to pour in my little room as the rain and the voices from across the way become amplified. This will be my home for the next month, the Jerusalem Child and Community Development Organization (JeCCDO) training site in Debre Zeyit, where I will be running the Youth Solidarity and English Language (YSEL) program—a youth leadership initiative for Ethiopian youth. It’s a new project, inspired by the success of the YSEL program in Afghanistan. Tomorrow, our 44 selected students will arrive in Addis, and Friday morning we will head down to camp for a month of magical learning. The summer camp idea is new for Ethiopia and so is taking a group of 44 students from all over the country, representing the diverse cultures that make up Ethiopia, and putting them together to learn from each other. Some people have their doubts, but I know this will be a great month. It must be. I am the director of the camp and I won’t let it fail. My staff is made up of Peace Corps Volunteer teachers, and 4 local youth who will be counselors. My trusty assistant Endalkachew is here to make sure everything runs smoothly. Kyle, my colleague from DC is also here to give support to the teachers and me. Slowly our team is coming together and vy the end of today/tomorrow we will be one happy family (and stay a happy family). This is my fifth time in Ethiopia; one time last April I came for a visit and see the sites, and the rest have been work trips. All building up to this YSEL camp, which commences on Friday. It is always a strange feeling to get to the start date of a camp, after so much planning and then realize it’s time to begin. I’m sure the next day or two will be crazy and for sure things will be nutty, but as I always say, it all works out in the end, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end. So good luck to me and my staff as we begin this great adventure!