Already a month???
I sometimes can’t believe I live here; every day seems almost surreal yet beautiful.
Wow, I’ve been in Somaliland close to a month…and although time has flown, I feel as though I’ve been here for a while. That first week was nice and lazy: just thinking about future projects, scoping out the campus and the area, getting excited and nervous about teaching, meeting some of the staff, getting to know the students, helping out with parent-teacher conferences (which actually consisted of one crazy sleepless night with Kiette and “The OC,” compiling progress reports for all the students from all the teachers…there are about five Mahamouds here as well as a plethora of complicated names…which every teacher wrote differently).
I somehow knew right from the start that my time in Somaliland was going to work: first, by becoming part of the family with Najat and Yussef (and Najat’s mother) in the plane from Dubai to Hargeisa, and then at the airport, when I got picked up. As the old propeller plane arrived in Hargeisa (which was an experience in itself…I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones film), I wondered if Kiette would be at the airport to pick me up, since the plane was running quite late. Everyone was reunited with their families, except for me, the only white girl for miles around. So I started going through the mayhem of security, money exchange/visa, when all of a sudden there he was: Muuse (pronounced Mussa). Now it’s hard to describe Muuse in so many words, because Muuse is such a character.
Muuse’s voice in itself, deep and melodious, commands respect and attention. I was calm and curious as I was waiting in the airport, and there, amidst the crowd, was Muuse, asking me if I was the “Canadian Odey. “ So I had time for a quick goodbye with Najat (and met her father) and before I knew it my backpack was getting hauled over Abulahi’s shoulders (one of many guards present at Abaarso Tech and comes fully loaded with an AK47 riffle) and brought into the land rover. Then I was taken out for a delicious New Years breakfast and coffee, which definitely beat my midnight check-in the night prior and the grueling 72 hours of traveling from Sydney to Hargeisa.
Seeing Kiette after two and a half years was exciting and emotion-filled, and as with all good friends, we picked up exactly where we left off.
And everything else fell into place almost perfectly: I met the students, they left for vacation, I started teaching the Post-Graduate Adult English Business Class (now say that five times) and I took over landscaping at the school. The region here is absolutely beautiful: we’re out of town, on a hill, surrounded by desert and valleys, and off in the distance, where a fiery sun goes down every night, flat mountains meet the eye.
I went exploring one day with Jonathan, down our hill, in the vast land behind the school; we walked along a dried up river that furrowed so deeply that the dirt walls surrounding it were at least 4 meters high and covered in vines, trees and dead prickly thorns. Apparently that “river” is flowing with water when the rainy season comes, although it’s hard to imagine now: the soil is so dry that it just looks like smooth compressed sand, with numerous cracks. We followed the constantly zigzagging dry gorge, without really knowing where we were going, and we eventually got out and made it all the way to an abandoned farm (apparently the well had collapsed, although we never found the well) down in the heart of the valley.
On the way I found an old turtle shell and I would have been just as shocked had I found a big ship, as I couldn’t envision the existence of either in the middle of the arid desert in which I found myself. But then Jonathan told me that during the rainy season, there are turtles everywhere! Turtles crossing the road, turtles in the city, and turtles trekking through the desert…it’s quite the image to conceive, and I can imagine it’s quite the sight to see, and I’ll be sure to take a lot of pictures when the rainy season rolls around. The whole three hours that we were gone we only saw one other person: a man walking with his donkey, which seemed almost afraid of me (maybe it was all the colors I was wearing) and neighed and nickered at me…and our guard whom I hadn’t noticed at the beginning of our walk. Hiking is definitely possible around here, although I can’t help but feel slightly ridiculously garbed in my colorful ankle length moo-moo, which unfortunately gets caught in all the not so friendly African plants which seem to attack you at every step with their barbs, creating little holes in the lovely moo-moos.
I’ve also gone to a few nurseries and gotten eucalyptus, mango, papaya and other types of trees and planted them around campus. Because the land on this hill pretty much consists of a big rock, I’ve gotten hole diggers who are making these huge holes for each tree. Then, in each hole goes a bit of dirt and manure and then I plant the tree! So it’s really not the same type of disdainful tree planting I did back in Canada, but here I find myself nonetheless: half way across the world, planting trees in the desert! About a week and a half ago, Kiette, Ahmed (THE Ahmed: one of the big bosses around here and a man well respected by all, extremely well educated and well spoken, who was involved in politics for a long time –and even about to run for the presidency!- and who, besides all these facts, has a great personality, is funny and great to hang out with), our guard, Mohamed (from Somaliland, who lived in Canada, and who is now living in Somaliland and making documentaries for small grassroot organizations and for the United Nations) and I travelled about 45 minutes outside Hargeisa to go visit Mohamed’s family’s fruit farm. I felt like I was in the outback, or going on a safari: all of us in the land rover driving on this little dirt “road” out into the middle of nowhere; we didn’t see any rhinoceroses or lions (apparently 50-100 years ago they existed here) but we did see a toucan, hundreds of pelicans, and a fox! (ok, not as exciting as a lion, but I was still pretty stoked about it). It was crazy driving through the desert and arriving to, what seemed to be, an oasis. An lush green oasis with goofy looking camels and goats roaming around, not to mention fruit trees everywhere, and cabbage gardens and great big acacia trees covered in healthy green vines. We got some mature orange trees (for which we had high hopes) and some mango seedlings….
And to my great horror the orange trees are dying! I guess taking them from their oasis proved too traumatizing.
But on another note….Daniel, the physics teacher, and I are working on a home-made solar water heater! This is an exciting project (although we kind of both dropped the ball when the students left for vacation: Daniel went traveling to Ethiopia and I kind of had nothing but trees and the adult English class on my mind) and will hopefully work and allow the students to take warm showers!
For a long time it was quite quiet at Abaarso Tech, with many of the teachers gone traveling as well as the students gone on vacation. At one point, Kiette and Jonathan had to go to visit another school a few hours away and they left me in charge of the school! That was fun and I got to give some important people a tour. And luckily I talk a lot, about ALL the different projects to be done and buildings to be erected, including, a beautiful mosque that will have stunning and picturesque landscaping to surround it (“too bad we’re still waiting on donations before we can build”) because one of the people from my tour is going to fund the mosque! And another one, Mr. Sleem Mohamed Sleem Nofal is the general manager of the Egyptian Mission in Somaliland, and he’s going to send us some Egyptian Arabic teachers for the students! He’s also more than apt when it comes to various experiments (like the solar water heater, which he has made before) and said he would help us any time we want! Hassan, a Hargeisa restaurant owner, was also there (he had brought all the visitors) and has provided us with someone to build an outside clay oven, he’s donating trees, and he’s extremely well connected so it’s been wonderful to talk and work with him. Some of the other NGO representatives were present that day as well and told me that they would be interested in participating in the Abaarso Tech project.
It now seems as though my life and work are the same thing…and call me a dork but I’m super excited about working and doing different projects!
The students just got back yesterday and today, so I’ll be teaching them as well: a writing course. And I’ll be starting an agriculture club….
It’s crazy but I’ve started looking like my mom; I have a gardener’s hands and I’m always wearing a scarf to cover my hair….I don’t know when this transformation occurred.
Anyway, obviously a whole lot more than what I’ve just written has happened, but that should suffice for now and from now on (although I always say this) I’ll write nice and short blogs every week.
Take care everybody!