First week in Addis

It’s now over a week since I arrived in Addis: it’s flown in some ways, but at the same time it feels like I’ve been here an age.

Most of the first few days were spent getting a handover from the previous hostel manager, who left last Thursday, and on trying to get to grips with the city itself. On the handover, it’s gone reasonably well, though the biggest challenge is still trying to get up to speed with each of the students (their names, their backgrounds, their school performance and so on). The role (for Caspar, the new hostel manager and myself) is mainly around managing the finances (ensuring all expenditure is accurately tracked), supervision of the students (ensuring they are focusing on their study, particularly in the run-up to the important national exams, and maintaining discipline in the hostel) and liaison with the school.

Getting to know our way around the city is slowly happening. It’s huge and sprawling, and the hugely disruptive roadworks around all of the main intersections mean it’s difficult (actually, impossible) to get anywhere fast. There are quite cheap taxis (a fleet of ancient ladas that seem to be standing the test of time very well), and then also really dirt-cheap shared minibuses. These are an experience: just when you think they couldn’t possibly squeeze anyone else in, they stop and pick up a few more. But they are chatty and friendly, and for going along the main routes, they’re great.

I’m still struggling to really get my bearings across the city though. Given the student hostel where we’re staying is quite far out of the city centre, in the east, a night out is a bit of a major undertaking. We’ve managed though ! Addis seems to have an amazing live music scene. We’ve spent a couple of evenings in a place called Jams, near the (very central) airport at Bole: it had a superb Reggae band last night (never saw myself as much of a Reggae fan, but in the right circumstances – like a cool Addis bar – I could definitely be a convert). It’s been really interesting in these places to get to meet a nice mix of locals from Addis, and a few people working here with NGOs (mainly Germans and Italians so far).

I got the chance on Wednesday to meet up with Crow (Clarissa), who’s been here finalising the adoption of (the very cute) Makeda , and also her friends Wendy and Simon who have been out visiting. They’ve all left Addis now, but at least we got a chance to have a night together (felt a bit bizarre having a random one-off evening with a whole group of us from London / Edinburgh, in an orphanage in Addis).

Yesterday was a big very day for the students: the quarterly reports from the school were issued. Caspar and I went along to pick them up from the teachers in the morning. I don’t think I’ve been in a school for over 25 years (and I think I was still slightly nervous in front of the headmistress). The whole concept of a parents’ day was completely new to me, of course, and suddenly I was having to have conversations about nearly 60 children (their academic performance, their conduct in class, why they haven’t had their hair cut…). Actually, they are pretty much all doing really well as ever – some of them really fantastically. Lots of EEF students take the first, second, third places in their class, even though they are sitting beside kids from quite wealthy families (the School of Tomorrow, which EEF has the relationship with, is one of the top Addis private schools). I came close to understanding how proud a parent must feel, picking up their child’s good report. Given the backgrounds some of these students came from, their performance really is admirable. And it’s so rewarding seeing how appreciative they are of the opportunity to get an education. Caspar and I still have to deal with the haircut issue, mind you – I think like with kids anywhere, fashion at that age is competing with the (pretty strict) school discipline.

So the coming week’s priorities will be sitting down with each student, for a one to one on their school report, and running some classes with them on their emails to sponsors (focused on helping some of them with their written English, and their use of the computer). Actually, the main challenge they face in writing their emails, is with the internet connection – so frustratingly temperamental and slow at times. Speaking of which, I’ll try and post this whilst I’ve still got a connection, instead of wittering on more…

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