School Pictures

I’ve been very busy with our school project, and am deliriously excited to put up before and after pictures. First here is a look at some of the progress we made recently. The last few months have seen great changes that I have noticed in the physical structure of the school, and intangibly in myself and in the community.

This has without a doubt been the most difficult undertaking of my life. From the allocation and attainment of resources to the management of a leadership team of five it has been gratifyingly challenging. There were hard days and tough decisions that we made together. There was the week in which we could not work due to the rain. There was the personal dilemma I faced as I questioned my own role. I wanted so much to help the school, but was constantly afraid that the work would continue the stereotype that all white people are rich – that we come and spend and leave.  In the end, I hope that the legacy was based not on bricks but on capacity building. The awesome thought that they could have done this without me.

The most important difference is the attitude of the leaders, teachers and neighbors of the school. Recently, a father offered to add a layer of cement to all of the interior classrooms for a fraction of his normal price. He is also painting the classrooms free of charge. For weeks, 70 or so volunteers showed up to lend a hand. Now that school is in session, we can only work in the afternoons or on the weekends.

Jon and I, as well as my European friends from a local NGO have been painting and taught and installed our “solar light bulbs.” The teachers were amazed when they saw it. Their dark, muddy and dank classroom is now filled with light and color. In one of the photos you can see the new laboratory/classroom that we are building, highlighted by new roofing and brick interiors. It will allow the classroom held under a tree to move indoors.

It has been a joy to watch the physical transformation. More importantly the cultural transformation is beautiful. From the first day, I’ve tried to instill a sense of ownership for the leaders of the project and community members. This is your work, not mine. I’ve also taken a back seat, and allowed leaders to emerge. The vice principal Kero has been a joy to work with. He has learned so much about community mobilization and construction, and he and the principal glowingly discuss their plans for the future. They want to raise funds and continue to improve the school. That is the greatest achievement of the school – the idea that I’ve worked myself out of a job.

Tomorrow we will finish the painting, the last step in our rebuilding process. The laboratory is finished, but still needs the cement flooring. The materials are in place, but I will not see this last piece – the cemented floor of the newest classroom. To me, that is the greatest joy. The feeling that I trust my friends to finish it without me, with money they raised to supplement the project. This is the beginning not the end.

Enjoy the pictures. On Sunday I will post the final ones. Thank you so much for all of your support!

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Collective Identity

carlyarnwinephotography.com

I recently calculated that I’ve spent just under 2 months of my Peace Corps Service on a bus. For those keeping track at home, that is about 8 weeks longer than you would ever want to spend on public transit in Ethiopia. This was time spent looking out the window, time spent answering questions about the United States, and plenty of time overhearing gossip about myself.  2 months of beautiful scenery, near collisions, shy kids with sweaty hands, and market-day rides filled with fermenting grains and goats on the roof. This elongated time aggregates to likely several hours of being airborne, owning a tailbone and kneecaps that will never forgive me, and finally, hopefully, a few moments of clarity.

A few months ago, I interviewed our incredible doctor, Dr. Wuhib, for a piece in our newsletter.  I asked several questions including what his favorite thing about Ethiopian culture was.  While the other questions took no more than a second to answer, Dr. Wuhib took his time with this response. He finally told me, “I have no idea how to say it or what the English equivalent is. It’s our… identity and togetherness.” I asked him if he meant a collective unconscious. He said yes, but more like a collective identity.

Just recently, I came back from a trip to Addis. It was a harrowing journey where I left for the bus station at 10am and arrived 220 miles later in Jimma at midnight. We changed buses three times, I bought two tickets, we waited four hours to even leave the capital city, and the driver stopped several times at friends’ houses along the way.

Progressively the bus, and myself, got a little angrier. At the point where folks in the US would have been threatening a lawsuit and/or a solid groin punch, the energy on the bus instantly changed. We laughed and shared jokes. It was a collective understanding, a white flag of acceptance rather than surrender. I could feel what Dr. Wuhib was talking about, and like him I find it hard to describe.

It was as if everyone subconsciously agreed that nothing could be done, this day was ruined. The only way to possibly salvage this unfortunate reality was a mutual understanding and a community effort to focus on the good. I instantly had new friends, and we all talked into the night, making friends, discussing work, and truly enjoying the beautiful misery of it all.