A Travellerspoint blog

I'm back!

sunny 30 °C

So much has happened and it's difficult to believe that I arrived almost a year ago.

The end of last semester left me drained, exhausted and discouraged; students were cheating left and right, discipline was extremely difficult, and two boys were caught trying to steal copious amounts of stuff out of the school. I left Somaliland (knowing I would come back of course) happy to leave the madness behind and have a nice visit with friends and family back in Canada.

Now normally when I go back to Canada after having been gone for a long time, I experience extreme reverse culture shock. I was a bit afraid to see how I would react after Africa, where the culture, people, terrain (pretty much everything actually) are so different. And what was the outcome? Somehow absolutely no culture shock!

For a few years now, ever since I went to Mexico on exchange program, I've felt very disenchanted with Canada; Canadians I had met abroad were always more nationalistic and patriotic than Americans (somehow always portrayed as the more evil, louder people south of the great north nation) and seemed blind to any faults that Canada may have, and there are quite a few. Every time I came back to my "homeland" I found the place alien and uninviting.

But not this last time. As I got off the airplane I was greeted by a running, screaming Lionel, who had borrowed his father's old red shiny 1960's convertible cadillac to pick me up from the airport, four hours south of the farm he was working on.

Then immediately to celebrating and seeing best friends; I saw Mike and Andrea, Gina and Broc, Casey and Steven and we all had a great time reminiscing and sharing stories of adventures had over the last year.

This last trip in Canada, I fell in love with my country again. Worked on the farm and was adopted once again into Lionel's family and made enough money to by myself a laptop; saw old friends in Edmonton; visited my mom in Nelson and did some hiking, biking, walking, swimming, and spending quality time with the family, including my awesome step-sister Lea who I got to know really well and her amazing friend Kelly who I loved immediately; spent close to a week with Andrea and Mike and future Huxley (who has since been born!) in Red Deer and bumped into an old friend from Victoria in a coffee shop (the world is unbelievably small at times); saw some of my old random crew in Calgary and had a good random Mexican independence; and then made it back to Edmonton for one last night of shenanigans before I had to leave the next day.

It was good to visit Canada…and everyone I saw or met, I talked to them about the project in Somaliland. And the more I talked about it the more I started feeling in love with the work again.

Now I'm back and every day I feel unbelievably happy; I am working a lot, but I love what I'm doing. I've since become the Dean of Students for the girls, and am managing everything that is related to student life outside of class (work time, detention etc.). I'm teaching a small group of grade 10 students every day for English, (which I prefer so much from teaching all the students twice a week) and a group of grade 9 students twice a week for writing.

I'm also gardening every day (mum you would be proud!) and things are growing! Some of the trees I planted ten months ago that started off the height of my shins are now taller than me and producing fruit!
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And the new staff are simply superb. So much better than last year! People are enthusiastic and actually want to work and don't (or very rarely) complain. And people such as Mike and Kenai (who you see passed out on the chairs in the picture below) are hilarious and always entertaining. But I must say I like everyone so much. Ahmed Suleiman, our Arabic and Islamic teacher, is a kind, funny and generous man…and is one of a few who has helped me out with the garden (thanks to Kenai and Elias as well!). Margaret loves chickens and exercising; Abel is extremely helpful and organized and helps everyone else be so as well; Kyle and Ayu are awesome hippy math teachers; Tom has his carpentry and his disciples; Daniel has science; Sophia is serious and loves karate; Harry is random, cool, and the good cop (he's also the Dean of Students, but for the boys); Stephanie is unique and lives in a separate world (one in which, Jonathan says, "She grew up speaking to squirrels and chipmunks"); Elias, our Russian friend, pops in once in a while to play American football with the students; Teresa is off soon to Qatar and currently lives on different people's couches; Christine is strong, independent, and Kenai's mother; Jonathan is still Jonathan, but better; and Kiette is still her wonderful self.
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It's a good group and everyone is different enough that it just works.

Goals for my time here in Somaliland: exercise (specifically yoga, sit-ups and cardio), having an awesome time with hiking club and the students, play the guitar, read, garden, make a positive impact and change on Abaarso Tech.
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Posted by ode 10:58 Archived in Somalia Comments (1)

New Foci

With the rain comes a bit of life...
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A ton has happened since I last wrote, which was a while ago (sorry everyone!).

AT Staff Diner at the end of last semester.
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Abaarso Tech Girls
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I’ve officially become the Dean of Students, we’ve had two school fieldtrips, an AT FunDay, stormy weather, floods, Somaliland elections (which were calm and fair! Check out the New York Times article “Rare Haven of Stability in Somalia Faces a Test”), my birthday, a bad stomach bug/parasite which left me ill, dehydrated and famished for about two weeks, a gender battle between the boys and girls in the boarding school, planning for next year, marketing and creating promotional material, discipline (as usual), agriculture projects around campus, organising my trip back home to Canada (working, fundraising, and visiting with friends and family)…so quite a bit!
But I’ve come to a realisation: I must become more organized, in life and work.
As many of you know, I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type girl. This has done me extremely well in the past, but here, for the first time, I find that, for my own sanity, I must become a bit more structured. Now there is always a type of organisation amidst the chaos around me…but now I’m planning on taking it to a whole new level (the organisation, not the chaos).

AT Fieldtrip to Sheikh

The Mango that Destroyed my Stomach.
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Stinky Camels.
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Boys in the Other Bus.
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Walking through Sheikh.
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Emmett, our Crazy Couch Surfer, and the "Road to Alshabab"
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Exploring in the Mountains.
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Climbing Trees is Fun.
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My plants now
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Abaarso Tech Student Designed Flag
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So here are some of my goals for the future:

In Life

-Write more often. I enjoy writing, when it comes down to it. Although I feel like it’s a hard balance to strike. The ideal writing environment, in my opinion, is a place of your own (kind of like Virgina Wolf’s a Room of One’s Own), away from everything and everyone else, where you can detach yourself and concentrate for hours at a time on what you’re doing and give priority and a chance to your ideas and imagination (having five hours at a time is ideal). But writing, in my opinion is something very contradicting; when you write, you write about life, so it’s important to be out there experiencing life in order to have something well researched that you are documenting. But in the actual act of writing, you are not “out there” at all; you are sitting quite alone, isolated. So when you are writing, you are not living, and when you are living, you are not writing. This is part of the reason I haven’t written in the last little while, because I’ve been busy with life and thus not busy with writing. But now I believe I will try and write more often – even though it means I’m not out and about – approximately once a week, whether on my blog or an article that can potentially be published.

Birthday Fun at Purple Coffee.
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-Exercise more often. I find that when I’m not exercising regularly, my energy and mood plummet. I noticed this when I was having stomach problems and not at all active physically for about two weeks. So now, I plan on doing yoga and sit-ups every day, and some sort of aerobic activity between three and four times a week.

Agriculture Club Fieldtrip to the Tree Nursery.
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-Schedule time for the activities that I enjoy doing. I love hiking and walking, drinking tea or coffee while reading a book, watching movies or shows, hanging out with Muuse or Hassan, smoking from the hookah, watching the sunset, gardening, hanging out with the boarding school students to read books and stories aloud, spending quality time with Kiette or other teachers (but especially Kiette), watching the news/getting caught up on news, learning languages (especially here, I should be learning Arabic and Somali), working on sewing projects, building and constructing, meditating and relaxing. The best way to do all these things is to schedule them! So I’ll get a nice organiser or put post-its on my computer to remind me.

Weird Reptile (apparently poisonous) that I Found on my Way to Work.
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Sunset after the rain.
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-Keep in touch with friends and family through skype and e-mail. It’s nice to hear what’s going on in people’s lives, and living so far away I sometimes feel a little disconnected, which I don’t like. So if you have skype and want to keep in touch, add me! My skype name is odismelodis.

-Eat better. Sometimes I feel like I’m wasting away, or eating food that just doesn’t provide me with much energy. The types of food that make me feel great are: vegetables, fruit and protein. As far as grains (pasta and rice) or dairy are concerned, I find they just don’t do much for me. If this means starting to cook for myself, so be it. I enjoy cooking anyways.

In Work:

-Correct assignments, quizzes, projects, and all class-work ahead of time and over a few days, instead of all in one go. Correcting 50 writing assignments at one time is excruciating and time consuming; poor grammar, incomplete sentences, unclear ideas and bad handwriting just become that much more prevalent when you’ve been correcting for 12 hours, which is the time it takes to correct so many imperfect and ambiguous assignments. My approach to the problem, until now, was to correct them all at once because I disliked doing it so much that I didn’t want to correct over a few days…but rather all in one. But that always ended up leaving me exhausted the next day, annoyed, and frustrated…so a change in technique is preferable. Better to correct over a few days, at different intervals. I can also make it a more enjoyable experience by correcting in my room, while listening to music and drinking coffee and having quality Ode time.

AT Funday
On the Way to Gabiley
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Hanging Out in a Huge Tire, No Big Deal.
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-Think more long-term and try to anticipate future problems and come up with solutions before they arise. As Jonathan has told me, I’m good at finding solutions to problems that suddenly and unpredictably occur, but it would be good to also anticipate upcoming difficulties, obstructions or crises that may transpire, to truly have the upper hand and be prepared.

Exploring in Gabiley with the Girls.
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-Make a work schedule! Make sure that discipline, after-school activities, student issues, student council, green landscaping, marketing & fundraising, grading and class preparation are all scheduled and taken care of AHEAD OF TIME. This is hard, for a last-minute, procrastinating girl such as myself, but it must me done!

New Exercise Program: Giving Piggy-Back Rides to Students.
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There was a Woman Weaving a Basket, But Didn't Want to be in the Picture...Najma was Kind Enough to Pose.
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On the Way Back From Gabiley.
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Colin's Hair Has Reached Glorious Proportions.
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Really, it’s all about TIME MANAGEMENT. Sometime though, there is just simply not an adequate amount of time to do it all, and in that case, it doesn’t matter how much I manage my time, there just won’t be enough.
But hopefully that won’t be a problem!
And now, I shall truly try to update once a week.

AT Funday Continues (even if the girls were tired) with Fun Games!
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Next...the Three-Legged Race!
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But one Team Quickly Became Casualties at the Wayside.
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And then...the Relay Race!
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Also, as usual, what makes it all worth it is the people, especially the students (adults and boarding school alike) and other staff members/friends, especially Kiette.

Boys Work as a Team to Put Together the School Furniture.
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Copied below is a description that one of my boarding school students, Abdilatif, wrote about me. So when it was 5am and I was exhausted from correcting the last of the assignments, his description put a smile on my face (I didn’t correct any of the mistakes whatsoever, so it’s typed exactly as is).

My Veteran Preceptor

Ode Lunardi is a very genius person, in fact Ode Lunardi is well qualified, well talented, and well respect person. She is from Canada and also she is an adventurous person. She is brave and oneday she took Anthony and Tom with one hand so that she is very strong. Ode Lunardi is very sociable, captivating, pro-active, tolerant, innovative and punctual person. She is tall so when she is coming class, she bows her knee. I like Ode Lunardi because she is one of my best friend teachers that I have ever seen in my life and I will remember Ode in my rest of my life. Infact she is curious person, because she is a person who wants to learn new things. Also she is very extrovert person, because she has a full confidence and very imaginative person. Her mannerisms include, she has wavy hair, and also she has a gap between her two front teeths. She wore huge clothes and that shows us that Ode is massive. She is easy-going person so be as like Ode because she is excellent example of mankind.

-Abdilatif

It’s the small things that make me truly love my job…

Posted by ode 11.07.2010 03:03 Archived in Somalia Comments (1)

Life in Abaarso Tech

Always exciting

(Painting the Abaarso Village school)

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One blog every week? I guess that is just not the Ode way…and despite my furtive efforts in getting away to my room every so often, I have somehow been ransacked, every time, with other work that was utterly imperative to complete. And from time to time, it’s just nice to convalesce by oneself somewhere in quiet.

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Jonathan has already be gone a month! And with him gone I’ve become Kiette’s right hand woman, helping out with all the tasks and minute details that come along with managerial work, which, if not done assiduously, get overlooked and potentially lead to chaotic situations in the future. Although substantially more busy than beforehand, I by no means feel encumbered, but rather find the work and all my random little jobs quite meaningful.

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I’ve since become head “disciplinary” in the school, a type of principle if you will. We’ve also pretty much won the Battle for Respect, even though we fight new fronts every week and the combat continues incessantly so that we don’t lose any ground. It’s definitely a challenge, running a co-ed boarding school – where the religion forbids the boys and girls to talk to each other –, but I feel we’ve made a lot of headway and come to some sort of arrangement: boys and girls can talk to each other during the school day hours – only if it’s related to school work, committees or clubs – or under the supervision of teachers outside school time hours. (The religion aspect of things can be bit difficult for me at times, especially because the students are at the age where they don’t fully understand their religion; it just seems like blind, overly pious, adulation, which isn’t the case with the adults, who are well versed and educated in the Quran and seem to have a more dynamic understanding of it). Other than that, we’ve officially been eschewing the boys and girls from each other. The role of disciplinary at times makes me feel a little despotic and like the students will end up fearing me…but I’ve since realized that this is not the case whatsoever! We all make each other laugh on a regular basis, and I’m always making sharp snippy jokes (which aren’t actually snippy, but highly entertaining to myself and them… and I love the fact that the students are crazy about my dark, sinister and extremely sarcastic jokes…muahaha). Amal, one of the Ag. Club members, told me the other day that I should enter our upcoming talent show as a stand-up comedian: “You should go in the talent contest because you always make the mean jokes to the students,” after which I responded that it wouldn’t be much of a talent, standing in front of the whole school with one student whom I would jokingly give a hard time to. I’ve told them that I joke with them in a “mean way” to toughen them up; “You won’t get stronger if I coddle you…so it’s tough love,” at which point they just laugh at me. But I do like hanging out with the students outside of school, and find it energizing to laugh together about silly things…like I’m a thirteen year old again (perhaps that’s why we get along so well…THIRTEEN FOR LIFE!).

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It’s interesting but I almost feel as though I’m a few different people; when I’m the disciplinary I have a certain terseness about me with the students; when I’m “at leave” I find I’m my crazy thirteen year-old self; and when I’m teaching the boarding school students or the adult business school students I find I’m some combination of the two. It’s sometimes difficult to teach and live here because of some differences, which are so fundamentally cultural, religious, or social. It’s unfortunate to say, but the work ethic here in Somalia/Somaliland is simply non-existent. Of course there are exceptions to every rule (with people such as Mahamoud, our handyman around campus who essentially fixes everyone’s problems – including making a weight set for Anthony without being asked –Muuse, our driver/go-to man who knows everyone and can get us/do absolutely anything, and many of my adult students who are extremely prominent people here in Somaliland) but generally, people don’t know how to: a) work b) work hard. c) show up on time d) show up… and the list goes on beyond w, x,y and z, and beyond mere incompetency. There are a number of reasons for this, which I won’t get into now, but the khat addiction is definitely one of them (as well as the country having been under a dictatorship for so long, then in a civil war, and subsequently, completely undone and living in chaotic disorder with no infrastructure for years to come). So when it comes to teaching the younger students, we have a lot of hurdles that we need to leap; torpid students are a problem and keeping them motivated, energetic and enthusiastic definitely keeps teachers on their toes…luckily different projects help in this regard. There’s also the problem with the lack of respect for anything; this in large part is due to the inexistence of private property for the longest time, the fact that, in the clans, everything was communal. Unfortunately this has created an innate disregard for everything material, which means that things are destroyed and don’t last (which is not ideal in a situation where funds are limited, like in our school). We are working arduously at breaking the students’ sordid habits; teaching them how to take care of things and treat them (as well as each other) with respect; and trying to get them to keep the school, their rooms, and the grounds clean. It all relates back to the Broken Window Theory that Kiette always talks about (that she got from a specific book, although the name escapes me…and she would be so happy to see me alluding to it in my blog!) where the physical appearance and aesthetic of the environment around you plays a huge role; for example, if there is a broken window in a school, which does not get fixed, the rest of the school will start getting disregarded and “broken.” However, if a school is properly maintained, the students are more likely to want to take care of it. And we’ve totally experienced this to be true! Agriculture Club planted the courtyard in the middle of the school. And since there have been flowers and plants in the courtyard, the school is relatively garbage-free. The nice courtyards have made the boys more hortatory; the members of each dorm room, (both dorm rooms overlook the courtyards), have come up with ground rules on their own, from taking off their shoes before they enter the room, to cleaning it every day, to making sure the courtyards are clean, to not being loud at night or playing in the room etc. We’ve got some really amazing kids. And behaviour issues aren’t nearly as bad as here they are in some of the public schools in Canada (and don’t even get me started about the U.S.) and we have no toadies or sycophants who annoyingly flatter the teacher to gain favouritism; I find such brown-nosing scornful and irritating. Are kids are pretty awesome and brimming at every moment with personality.

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It’s refreshing to see things change for the better, even if, at the beginning, it’s extremely taxing. Although students, to start with, almost seemed antipathetic with regard to discipline, school work, respect (towards people and school property), etc., the problem has almost been absolved.

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To have said before (in my previous blog) that the campus is transforming was a gross understatement. And it’s not only the campus (warning: the following is going to be a tad sentimental); when the incandescent light from the morning sun reaches the school and the landscape around, I find it all an almost foreign sight to behold, and it bewilders me every time. The aridity which once consumed our little hill and valley has subsided and with the rainy season arrived, the desert has now been permeated with rain; the dusty knolls are now covered in green. The school is undergoing construction and buildings are being erected with such speed.

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Even the general attitude is changing, for the better. At one point it seemed that a cloud of negativity was hanging over the students and the teachers, but now, only a skimmer of that negativity from beforehand is still there, and happiness pervades the entire campus. I find I’m learning so much, especially from the students, who have their own vast knowledge and well of experiences that they impart on me through there writing. Some of what they have seen and experienced in their lives wouldn’t even begin to be understood by Western youth. We also printed our first school newspaper! What’s funny is that it’s probably more official looking than some of the other newspapers here in Somaliland. I chose some of the best writing from my class, had a writing competition for writing an eyewitness account about a football match that the school had against the Abaarso village team, and started an official newspaper committee. Collin, with his considerable talents in technology, did all the design, formatting and putting together of the newspaper. I should be able to put it in my blog by this week . I’ve even put the newspaper in my blog! It’s the version that we printed, so it’s up to you to read it in order following the page numbers in the bottom right of the page.

(Football match)

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It’s amazing to see the students become writers. Classes are going fantastically and students are improving (both in the adult business class and the writing class), which is always so nice to see. I always find my classroom a very voluble place and the discussions that occur are always very fascinating. My adults are barely even making preposition or article mistakes (single tear of joy) and we did speeches in class; one of the students said that he's already been able to apply what he learned about speech writing/giving in his work place, because he gave a speech about potable water and he said that this was different than all the other speeches he had given before, and that he felt confident during the entire speech.

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There’s something truly satisfying about teaching and feeling that people are actually absorbing, learning and using what you have taught them. It brings this warm fuzzy feeling to my heart…(uber cheesy, I know). It’s crazy, but because of the living situation here the teachers aren’t merely teachers: they are adoptive parents, and in a weird way, almost like pedagogues. It’s vital that we be an example and not teach them anything that interferes with their religion, which is more challenging than you might think.

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And the dream of the eco village is making progress! Ag. Club has started composting and we’re starting a huge garden! Abaarso Tech has also just got the largest wind turbine in Somalia/Somaliland (Google “largest wind turbine in Somalia” and see what comes up!)…trees are still being planted, vegetables growing and Ag club is as exciting as ever…

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This past Tuesday we had a fieldtrip, and not just any old journey: it was a Prodigious Trip.

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The weather was foreboding but we had high hopes that it would prove propitious. Asha, one of my adult business students, had invited us to visit her farm again, but this time with the illustrious Ag Club. The journey there was challenging but Muuse drove with skill, and although the bus veered back and forth in the mud, we made it to the farm in one piece...and without killing any tortoises seen along the way. The farm was as picturesque as I remembered it, except for this time we found ourselves in the eye of the storm: with lighting rays seen at a distance and the subsequent thunder all around us. We could almost feel the earth tremble, which just added to the excitement of our fieldtrip. As we walked around the garden our shoes got heavy with mud, but the students were excited by the prospects of what Abaarso Tech could possibly look like in the future (viva the eco village!). After all was said and done, it was high time to leave, as the clouds looked more and more menacing. Asha and her husband, Abdi, once again gave us salad (oh sweet salad!), cabbage, oranges, guavas and papayas. The rain started coming down in torrents and the bus had some pretty close calls. But then suddenly, behind one of the bends, we saw a pick-up truck carrying close to twenty Somali workers, stuck in the mud! So we had to swerve, last minute, out of the way, consequently getting stuck in the mud ourselves, just beside the pick-up. The rain was now trickling and the sound of newly formed rivers, from the rain, could be heard flowing, as well as the constant Somali chattering, shouting and chaos of the situation, which was a rhapsodical event. At first we hadn’t even realised that our bus was stuck in the mud, and we were trying to push the truck out of the mud with the old Somali men; the women were just looking at us foreign women and students, caked in mud, trying to heave to truck out of the mud, in awe. But then in dawned on us that our own vehicle was in crisis (Muuse told us), so we dug the mud up from under the wheels and managed, in all our strength, to free the bus from its shackles! We were off a little distance, to higher and safer ground, about to continue onwards, when all of a sudden we heard the others yelling after us, asking us to help them with their pick-up truck. At that point, Kiette, the Ag Club members and I screamed “AG. CLUB UNITE!” and ran like our lives depended on it, with our sleeves rolled up and sprinting through the mud and the storm and the yelling – bodies caked in mud, clothes blowing in the wind, lighting coming down all around us, roads flooding – to save the other vehicle in need. And save it we did. The pick-up truck rolled away with its workers utterly amazed by the event they had just witnessed, and Ag Club members left the scene feeling satisfied and happy, ready to share grand stories of adventures, escapades and triumph to their friends.

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We got back and I gave oranges and other fruit to a frenzied crowd of mad students, who peeled the fruit asunder, leaving the floors of the school covered with their remnants and the smell diffused throughout the halls and classes.

Such epics are a daily occurrence and there are almost too many to recount; I merely chose one among the plethora...so until next time,

I hope you all made it through to the end.

Perhaps I’ll write another blog before a month elapses.

Peace!

Posted by ode 23:12 Comments (2)

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