Sunday, June 27, 2010

To Gladney's Families

Since my arrival in Ethiopia, reading with your children has been a pleasure and joy. Every day they astound me as they make connections and grow exponentially!

Reading aloud has been deemed “the single most important activity” for the growth and development of children, both cognitively and emotionally. Reading is truly an enjoyment based activity. Just as we talk to children to reassure, entertain, bond, explain or inspire, we can read to accomplish all these feelings and more. Reading builds vocabulary, it creates a natural opportunity to connect with children focusing around something pleasant and it creates the groundwork for life-long reading, life-long learning.

My goals are simple. Primarily I want your children to enjoy reading, to enjoy their time with me while actively learning. With the use of board books, I am exposing them to colors, numbers, animals, the alphabet, and more; but all that comes secondary to just hearing words as I read and connecting them to the illustrations. Even if this connection is unconscious, on some level it is there and will be retained. Later, the need for illustrations decreases as the imagination takes over.

My second and most important goal is to ease the transition of your children from our Foster Care to their home with you. Incorporating reading time with your child will create a familiar and enjoyable link.

They are always excited to see me walk into their room with my pile of reading material. I guarantee they will be increasingly interested to read personally with you and providing that time will be a wonderful way to simplify this incredibly huge transition.

I have compiled a list of the books we enjoy. The reading list below is divided into two categories: daily reads, which they will practically know by heart, and longer books that I incorporate less frequently for a change of pace, to add length and breadth to their attention span and to peak their curiosity of what might come. Plus they just love surprises! Although comprehension and familiarity is much less with these books, offering new material occasionally works to increase vocabulary and the children show a great interest in new illustrations.

As you already know, I cherish the time spent with your children. Thank you.

Daily Reads:
• Hand Hand Fingers Thumb by Al Perkins*
• Click Clack 1,2,3 by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin
• Where Is Babies Belly Button? by Karen Katz*
• Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
• Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault *
• Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton*
• Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton
• Hey! Wake Up! by Sandra Boynton
• Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
• Oh My Oh My Dinosaurs by Sandra Boynton*
• But Not The Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton
• Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton

Periodic Reads:
• How Do I Love You? by Marion Dan Bauer
• Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
• One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
• ABC by Dr. Seuss
• Go Dogs Go! by Dr. Seuss
• The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
• Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle
• The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle
• What’s Wrong Little Pookie? by Sandra Boynton
• Lets Dance Little Pookie by Sandra Boynton
• He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands by Kadir Nelson*

*Indicates children’s favorites!

For more information and detailed research on the read-aloud program check out:

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Sunday June 20, 2010

The minute I went to step out today the rain came pouring down. Have I mentioned its rains every day? At least it is nice in the mornings and the showers only come in the afternoons otherwise I would be getting really depressed. The droplets right now are as big as hail stones and some even round off that visual effect as they rickashay off the tin roofs. It makes me grateful to have a real roof and a hot cup of tea, but it also pains me as I think about the thousands of people all around me whose roofs are leaking and whose floors are washing away.

I got frustrated at the sudden down pour cramping my afternoon, as I scurried back through my gate trying to get into my warm home. Then while fiddling with the lock I glanced down my street to see a woman with her skirt hiked up to her knees sliding in her rubber sandals pushing rocks up against the metal wall of her house. She was either trying to keep it from falling or keep the water from rushing under.

Squinting my eyes against the golf ball sized droplets I waddled down the street to help her. Upon noticing my presence she disappeared inside and produced an umbrella for me. She actually thought I wanted to watch her struggle (not an uncommon thing for an Ethiopian, around every man changing a tire or hauling rocks at a construction site, there is a spectator group there to offer “expert advice”). “No,” I shouted, “I help” and even when I refused the umbrella she didn’t understand until I started passing rocks to her. I think I made her uncomfortable, like she was supposed to be hospitable towards me, and I had somehow breached my role as her guest with my attempt to help.

When you are a foreigner in Ethiopia every person looks upon you as their personal “company.” If you are a visitor to their country, you are a visitor to them personally, and therefore it is their job to meet your needs and have something to offer. There I was, wanting nothing but to keep her house standing, and she is insisting that I go inside, sit down and accept some coffee. In such a hostess flurry, she was even insisting that I stop passing the rocks to her. Politely refusing my hand-off was more like it, and naturally so, as if refusing a drink or second-helpings.

My attempts being thwarted, I shuffled back home drenched and jumped immediately in the hot shower, (yes, the water came back on Friday evening!), even more frustrated than when the rain began. Why would someone refuse that kind of help? Is it pride, disbelief, or some overly ingrained cultural teaching? If I weren’t so obviously a foreigner would she have accepted me? Have we done a disservice to Ethiopians, aiding them so completely, that they feel the need to act subservient towards us?

I experience the host/guest role nearly every day in almost every interaction. Although it makes me uncomfortable about 99% of the time, I make an attempt to stifle this discomfort and replace it with graciousness. As a very self-reliant person, it goes against my very being to be offered things and then be waited on, especially in places where I feel at home. It goes against my grain even more when an Ethiopian tries to hand-feed me (supposedly an act of respect that I just find yucky). In general, I am not shy and if I want something I will get it or make it happen. But still, as I dry off and decompress, what happened last hour bothers me, even more it hurts me. Her situation was desperate, how could she conceive I came over to distract from what she was doing? Why would she imagine that I put myself in her way just to be served? Is that really the reputation foreigners have made for themselves in Ethiopia?

There is this quote that I recall from my thesis research that stands out at this moment and I apologize because I don’t remember who actually wrote it, but they said, “It is almost a universal human trait to devalue what you know and value what everyone else knows.” But why?

No Water!

Friday June 18, 2010

Day 4, no water. I am actually considering going out into the pouring rain to shower. Any thoughts or experience with this course of action. It’s really only bearable for three reasons: 1) The landlord provides me with a small barrel each afternoon for cooking and toilet flushing, 2) Rhonda (a play therapist volunteer here this week) is in good spirits about it too and 3) the electricity has been relatively reliable these days, only going out twice. There is really nothing that can be done but laugh. The lack of water is not the true problem, after all I can only start smelling Ethiopian rather than “bad”; the issue is there is no measurable way to determine when it will come back on. It could be next hour, tomorrow, or in two months. And I am assured that, unlike in the US, no one is really working that hard to fix this predicament.

Despite all this I had a major breakthrough with some of the older kids at Foster. I literally had an adrenaline rush, which is a good thing for me because I’m sort of a junkie. As I was casually reading “Goodnight Moon,” as I do every day, one of the girls connected the “cow jumping over the moon” to the sound cow make; then more associated “two little kittens” with the sound of a cat. They have known their “barnyard” animal noises for weeks now, however always in the context of the story, “Moo, Baa, La La La,” which explicitly teaches what animals say. This connection between books really shows that they are comprehending rather than just memorizing, which it totally the next step. A big success!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Merkato (again)

Wednesday June 16, 2010

UGGGG! Back to Merkato yesterday. But it was much better than before because I didn’t go at it alone this time. I brought one of the girls from the shop came with me and we bought things I wouldn’t have otherwise considered as she explained how they would craft them. There were other things to, like medium sized knitting needles that they needed and were using to weave the braids tighter. It makes sense, but it’s all that crafty stuff that I would never consider.

But here is the other thing that makes me crazy about Merkato, and it has nothing to do with negotiating prices or the nonsensical arrangement of the booths. It is that everyone involves themselves in your business. I think people literally hang around Merkato just to claim they “assisted” and hold out their hand for money. As we were leaning up against out taxi, having a discussion about how we would use what we just bought and what else we needed three guys came into our audience, one of whom took it upon himself to try and offer his expert opinion. Then he proceeded to follow us around and jump on the answers to my questions directed at Yemamu, in incomprehensible English. When I tried to offer a reasonable price, he thwarted my negotiation, by explaining why the stall-keeper wanted what he asked. “Very precious beads, of course.” Distracting as this was, the problem really arose when he demanded money of me for his “negotiation” and “directional” services. Um sorry sir, no, this would have been even more productive and efficient if you neglected to “help.” Sometimes watching is helping.

I am excited to see what the women will do with the supplies. I am kind of talking a step back on this one. It is kind of an experiment to see what they produce when “on their own.” After I explained a little, and vetoed materials that were simply to gaudy and flashy, I want to see what they will come up with that can possibly be marketed in the US. Ethiopian style does not generally mesh with the typical American audience, and that is why I think they girls struggle at the shop, because their target audience is the families. It’s a difficult balance because I don’t want to be down on their cultural crafts, nor do seek to discourage them completely, but we need to achieve some balance between “cultural” and “wearable.”

Supplies are not a problem. I know I can literally find anything at a better than reasonable price and the women are really crafty, so any suggestions, things you would be interested in wearing, shoot me an e-mail. As always, I am open to anything and willing to try even more!


Monday June 14, 2010

Ethiopia is all in a tizzy. It feels like a light has turned on. There is this tangible atmosphere of excitement and energy radiating from the World Cup. I have been walking the streets in the evenings just to pick up on the liveliness all around. The shouts of support or disappointment shooting out of the bars overlaid by the screams of the announcer and crowd on the television, or the groups huddled around a handheld radio talking turns pushing it to their ears to get the play-by-play over the roar of traffic and the static.

This past week has been incredible. And change seems to be the theme. Everything has been turning around, starting fresh. Several volunteers are here now, and combined with the extensive training the caregivers just underwent, Foster is buzzing with energy. My job has become slightly more challenging because the kids are all “riled up” from their previous activity. But I would prefer them making transitions between different kinds of play rather than arriving to them already sitting still and quiet.

The other day, a kind of rainy indoor day, I walked into the foster care house for the oldest kids and the entire floor was covered in ripped paper that they were rolling in, sliding around, and throwing in a snow-ball fight fashion. They didn’t even notice my arrival they were so absorbed and having just this amazingly pure fun. Once they were given the tools, the caregivers have impressed me with their skills and creativity involving activities for the kids.

Today also marks the one month mark of reading! And while the changes are specific and unique toeachroom, each child and sometimes so slight that no one would really take note, I guarantee every child has made some new connection. They have gone from not recognizing animals, to knowing what all the barnyard animals say, from not differentiating colors to matching illustrations to the color of their clothes! And most importantly, they are still not board with me as I worried they might become! I am so impressed by their interest, attention, participation and absorption of information. I had another volunteer do some video of reading time, and as I was reviewing the tapes, I realized how much I miss when I am absorbed in reading and maintaining attention. The children who are strong participants I know, of course, but the camera picked up on lots of subtle moments I never would have noticed. Toddlers “trying out” animal noises’, experimenting with sounds and words very quietly, and the older kids pointing and discussing some illustration in whispered voices, they are all finding some way to involve themselves further in what I only initiate.

To completely (and oh so subtly) change topics, the Kechene Women at the shop finished a different kind of project. They made 65 braided bracelets with button clasps and many chose to weave the buttons into their braiding as well. They are all unique and rather cute; however the quality and imagination really depended on the crafter. I let them go on this one, gave them the supplies and the basic outline of what I wanted and told them to be creative. I really wanted to see their capabilities and creativity and I was not disappointed.

There is this book of opposites that I have been reading with the kids (Oh My Oh My Dinosaurs! by Sandra Boynton) and they way everything has flipped reminds me of that now. Truly Ethiopia reminds me every day of opposing forces. Things that shouldn’t go together anywhere else, here they do. It is a blending of old world and modernity, cultural and international, change and stagnant stubbornness. The same is true for my life here, I feel as though the opposing (and much more positive) side has come out in the past month bringing energy and enthusiasm, not only for me, but for the kids and the Kechene women, as well. Just like the World Cup has changed the climate of Ethiopia, I feel the changing atmosphere all around me.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Tuesday June 8, 2010

I’m LEGAL! Got my passport with visa back in less than 15 minutes from immigration yesterday that has to be a new record!

I also developed a new method for easing my heart stings with the begging children. I have such a hard time passing them with a cold stare, especially since they single me out (for obvious reasons) over every other passer-by. But giving a birr to everyone is nearly impossible and I would be out of taxi fare in 50 feet. So I have resorted to buying a pack of gum for only one birr and passing out the sticks…its 5 for the price of 1! I piloted this program today with great success. And while I don’t mean to make light of such a desperate situation, a little humor is the only way for me to survive, to not feel overwhelming guilty walking down the street with a bag full of groceries on my way to my nice house.

Nicholas Kristof, co-author of Half the Sky, an amazing journalistic book that addresses the global issue of gendercide on a human level, spoke at my high school’s seminar day. While I am disappointed to have missed him, the reporting article quoted him as saying, “you have won the world’s lottery.” That has NEVER been more apparent to me until now. Until I slip pass those outstretched hands, the days begging’s clanging in the tiny palms. Could I live one week, one day, one week even pleading for survival? Could I pick my next meal from the filth and sewage? It takes more bravery, humility and destitute than I could ever imagine.

I have this philosophy, and it is most important for days, like today, when the guilt crushes me; when I begin to think “who am I to be this lucky?” And maybe it’s just something I need to believe, but I feel,hat the moment I begin to suffer guilt is the moment I lose my ability to serve objectively. To feel shame is to lose perspective. To let it reach your core is to lose strength. There is no way to help everybody. No one saves the world alone, so I must stay my course, stick to my goals and pray that there are more people filling in the gaps.

In the end, who are we not to enjoy life? I believe the human spirit is resilient beyond imagination, and goodness will always triumph. I believe in my part in that victory. Just because I get angry about injustice, frustrated with myself fro only being able to do so little, especially now, when it’s all right in front of me does not mean I neglect to realize the privilege I have of doing this work. And while I might be here to teach and observe, in the end, all those I meet, children and adults alike, have been my teachers. They have carved and shaped me in still unthinkable ways. They are the life’s lessons personified, I don’t know if I would otherwise learn. Their names and faces may be fleeting, on days memories, another days ghosts. But they should know, and they never will, that they have made my life triumphant, joyful and valid. They made me.

Immigration Round II

Friday June 4, 2010

You know it’s bad when you begin making friend at the office of immigration. My passport have as well, because it is a having a full weekend sleepover.

I returned today at 1:40pm (20 minute early- can you tell I am a little anxious?) to pick up my passport and subsequent visa. As the pile of US passports began diminishing before me I began to get more and more nervous. “Great,” I’m thinking, “now that you LOST my passport I am going to have to rescind my statement about this being a relatively painless process.” Sure enough it wasn’t actually lost, just put in the “problem” pile. Apparently three days past expired incurs a $20 dollar fine, in addition to a $20 dollar renewal fee. So can’t I just go to the billing room and pay more money. Of course not, that would be logical. Instead, it’s back through the whole process: one form, six rooms, $20 more dollars, and a newly formed friendship with my interrogator and I should have a visa by Monday afternoon. I am still going to have to revoke yesterday’s statement! Especially since the computer system was down for the first hour I was there. I suppose I should be thankful that there is a computer system to begin with…

And so the saga continues. Hopefully, these entries don’t exceed a trilogy.

In other news, the Kechene women and I are starting another project on Tuesday. They will be braiding/knitting/weaving bracelets based on their specialty, with the sting I bought at Merkato. The clasp for the bracelets is a button, that I am pretty pround of purchasing, because I endured and negotiated Merkato solo. I would rather spend another day at immigration before navigating Merkato alone again. And considering that I typically love those types of places, that is saying a lot.
Merkato is just one of the most nonsensical situations I have ever been it. Finding the button guy was fairly easy, I made sure I had buttons on my shirt that day so I could communicate what I wanted to find and a backpack salesman actually gave me really great directions. But the button guy, who had millions of buttons in about 50 shoe boxes tried to convince me that each button was worth a birr. That would be about 7 cents a button, which seems a little ridiculous and would require counting out the big handfuls I wanted to buy. I asked him if he could charge me by the kilo rather than the piece, but no these buttons are “very precious.” Then I decided to just negotiate for a whole shoe box, even though it would be way more than I needed. One shoe box, containing thousands was starting price of 600 birr, so they’re not worth 1 birr a piece then. Every time I tried to bring the price down he kept saying, “We make good relationship for next time.” Yeah, okay. After a long convoluted negotiation, we settled on 200 birr for half a box. But the thing that I can’t understand and this happens repeatedly here, so I’m beginning to think it’s kind of an Ethiopian mentality, is why would someone rather have thousand of buttons that would take centuries to sell off, than a hundred birr today? This really not about the buttons specifically, but it’s an overarching concept here that I can’t seem to understand. Help!


Thursday June 3, 2010

Currently, my passport is not in my possession. This is probably the most frightening thing that can happen in a foreign country. It is currently residing in the office of immigration awaiting a stamp on my newly renewed visa, allowing me to stay in the country 60 more days, and more importantly allowing me to leave on my desired flight.

Renewing a visa in Ethiopia was shockingly one of the easiest things I’ve done. I only had to fill out one form, go to six different rooms at the office of immigration, be interrogated about my intentions for staying by two different people, pay $20, forfeit my passport, return the following day and help a lovely lady who couldn’t read English fill out her form. But even more surprising all of this only took three hours.

The upside is that I don’t have to be back to immigration until the afternoon, so I have the morning to go to foster, and won’t neglect the kids further.
The moral of this story is don’t let your visa expire, even if they did change the law the very same day you got on the plane and mid-air you were not aware that you can now only get a 30 day visa upon arrival and finally, don’t neglect to look at said visa until the first of the following month, 2 days too late.


Wednesday June 2, 2010

It’s June!!!! That means I’ve been here a whole month already and my first question is: Where did the time go? June also signifies a month since I moved home from college (terrifying), the 6th month that I have been travelling (thrilling) and the last month that I am 22 (petrifying). But a month in a country also means that any lingering questions subside and I begin to really love where I am. I get comfortable, content and start saying, “I am living here.”

The kids at Foster are seriously getting jipped this week, and consequently I feel shorted too. Yesterday I had to move from my guesthouse to a rental and the only time for the landlord was during foster time. Tomorrow I have to go to immigration to straighten out some visa confusion (also brought on by June). I am not liking this every-other-day thing because it only confuses the kids. That being said, they have not missed a beat. They are not forgetting or losing momentum, but rather are eager and learning every day.

The oldest kids impress me the most. While I expected them to pick things up faster, I also thought they might get bored with board books. But they are really into their animal sounds, the alphabet and colors, especially matching the colors they’re wearing to the colors in the books. I never imagined that “Blue Hat, Green Hat” (by Sandra Boynton) could have long-term appeal to a six year old. They have gotten into this funny phase of repeating absolutely everything I say. Then I get sassy and start saying thing like, “I want a banana split” or “I’m a crazy little monkey!” just to hear them repeat it. I call them all my monkeys because of the saying: “monkey see, monkey do!” They like repeating that one.

Sometimes I worry if they are really “getting it,” because they copy everything I speak. If I pause to see if they will anticipate the next sound or word and call it out, they go silent too, waiting for me. I suspect they know, but repeating is such a strong habit. Every once in a while someone will “anticipate” and I get excited and point to them and say “yeah!” but then they get embarrassed and giggly, particularly the oldest children. I need to learn to contain my enthusiasm and then maybe they will call out more.

Even the room I was initially struggling in has picked up significantly. I now have three solid reliable participators daily and they are becoming much more attentive for a longer period of time. As always, they relish in their time to hold books. Now my challenge has shifted to the other toddler room, because I have nearly an entirely new group. Five from this room went home with their families, which is exciting and wonderful, but sad for me. I am not used to having to say good-bye to the babies because in Guatemala they weren’t leaving regularly. Needless to say, I am practically starting over in this third room, (1) because there is a new dynamic, (2) because the average age is now younger, and (3) because there are five toddlers who have never been exposed to books, reading, or the concepts that I am introducing. The fact that there are some experienced children is helping; they are really setting the right example, and carrying on like nothing has changed, but after a comfortable month, I forgot about the challenges of the beginning weeks.

Lastly, I just wanted to ask that everyone keeps Guatemala in their thoughts and prayers. I have heard from Casa Bernabe, and they are all safe and well. A testament to that is sending e-mails! But the country, devastated to begin, is in complete ruin. I think about how all those tin shacks, perched on the steep mountain slopes, must be washing away. People with nothing, do not have anything now. That is going to mean a lot for Casa Bernabe, other orphanages and thousands of children as the devastation continues to take its toll. So please, keep them in your thoughts and send them all your positive energy.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Monday May 31, 2010

Here’s a riddle:

How many Ethiopians does it take to complete a credit card transaction?
The answer: It takes three to watch the foreigner do it herself, after the others had all made their attempts.

To add to the craziness that was last week was a whirlwind of a weekend. I went down to Nazret a smaller city about an hour south of Addis. It actually reminded me of a mini Addis, the same old world meets new, without the big city hustle. All of Ethiopia is really a clash of the past and future, of culture and international; and no more so than in Nazareth where you can literally watch a horse and buggy alongside a Mercedes, waiting for the light to turn green.

While most of the weekend was devoted to a little R&R at the hot springs and swimming pool, there was a little work involved too, although I was mostly an observer to that as well. Ten boys from the Kolffe orphanage took their “aging out” money and started a farm. With the support of Gladney, they now fatten oxen to sell, in addition to growing and bringing to market a variety of vegetables and herbs. An irrigation system was developed and implemented as well. It is an impressive operation. Especially if you consider the boys (who are really men) bunk together in a large brink barn-like structure, sharing space with the seed and grains, and fend for themselves in all other ways. They even make their own injera.

Today I visited the three government orphanages in Addis. It’s hard to express how such a sad place can really be filled with so much happiness. The orphanages are bare to the bone, and even with an incredible amount of assistance, still survive only on meager means. The need in this country is so widespread and vast, there will never be enough. Yet, children will always be children. They will be mischievous, joyful, playful, imaginative and all other wonderful things. In fact, that is what always strikes me most about children, especially those in hard and desperate situations; they still have a sense of pure wonder. Wonder. That is what is lost as we grow-up and who knows when, but somewhere along the way we start seeing dirt, rust, an old tire and a hundred ways to get hurt and stop asking to be pushed higher on some semblance of a swing.

Anticlimactic Blog- Sorry

Friday May 28, 2010

This week went by in a blur. I don’t know if anything else could have been packed in. I feel uninspired because so much has happened but it doesn’t feel like anything extraordinary has occurred. I guess that means that I am comfortably settling into life here.

The kids are doing wonderfully every day. There are successes and developments that wouldn’t appear much to an onlooker, but that make each day amazing for me. They are minute changes that only I would notice, and it goes up and down daily, but it is still all progress. The oldest kids are starting to anticipate the pages as they are being turned. Especially when it comes to animal noises and the alphabet. I’m almost positive they have memorized “Chicka, Chicka Boom, Boom.” They asked me to teach them songs, which just might be my specialty (see Guatemala), so starting Monday we are going to have some fun with those too.

This inspired me to teach the caregivers of the babies/toddlers interactive songs, like “The Grand Old Duke of York” where you balance a baby on your knees and “march them up to the top of the hill and march them down again.” It would be a simple way to get the caregiver more involved in what I am doing and I know they are always searching for new games and activities, especially in the wake of their recent training sessions.

This past Tuesday it was back to the Merkato! Amidst an (almost) parking disaster and a near run in with a bull, I managed to find some supplies for the next project with the Kechene women. Stay tuned! Hopefully we will jump start next week. It all just seems so anticlimactic. Trust me though, it’s not. Gosh! I must be tired if I can’t even muster up some ridiculous thing that happened, because they happen every day. Maybe Ethiopia has worn me down to the point of being blind sighted by its absurdities? No wait, not possible.