A Travellerspoint blog

Ag Club Fieldtrip #1: to the Nusery

This story brought to you by: Ag Club

sunny 26 °C

Step One:
On the bus

Step Two:
Getting off the bus

Moustafa and I pondering which trees to take home.

Leaders of Ag Club. No big deal.

Ode hearts trees!

The member in Ag Club, Mohamed, who actually knows what he's doing because he's from a farm...makes Kiette and I look bad.

MJ: voted "cutest kid in school" by Kiette and me.

We use him for all our promo because he's so photogenic.

Kiette and I were talking about how we had to be careful to not bring home too many trees...because we didn't want a tree genocide on our hands...then we started thinking about us, the leaders of Ag Club, responsible for a tree genocide.

Ag Club just hanging out...

Cute little Kiette, being extra cute and little.

Explaining something of fundamental importance to Joseph.

And still explaining...

Tree transport operations. Very serious business.

Trees on the bus.

Tree # 43

Tree #60

The End


Posted by ode 21:53 Comments (0)

The School is Buzzing

Every day is a lifetime and the weeks flash by at uncanny speed. February? I don’t even know when it happened and it’s already half over.
Days are filled with a series of captivating events, important and trivial and yet I find myself interested and absorbed by everything; I teach or don’t, I play sports or don’t, I watch sci-fi with Collin on the projector or dorky anime with my fellow fanatics (Colin and Anthony: we get particularly engulfed in Avatar, which we have regrettably finished); I meet with the agriculture club and in so doing get a constant source of entertainment [The other day Najma, the nurse, wanted to come and check out the fabled agriculture club. When someone asked her if she was part of our glorious club she tried to make a joke and said “Unfortunately.” This was when we were constructing our flower boxes – some more in the abstract art genre than others – and not two minutes later, Najma tripped and fell in one of only two piles of wood in sight, stepping on a nail in the process. Two seconds into the chaotic incident, Yussef (there are two Yussefs in school, and this particular one is “Big Yussef”), one of our most devout members, says: “That’s what she gets for insulting Agriculture Club!” but then luckily proceeded to helping her remove the piece of wood and nail from her foot. Oh Agriculture Club, never a dull moment and all it took was a couple weeks and we already have our first casualty]; I discipline students (from the boarding school) in the ongoing “War for Respect” as Kiette calls it; I smoke shishah; I sometimes chew khat and stay up until dawn with the guys (specifically the “Bro Crew, ” which consists of Anthony, Colin and me), talking and playing cards and generally just hanging out and having an amazing time, which ends with a beautiful yet groggy sunrise and a couple hours of sleep or no sleep at all; I go to town to run errands or use the Internet, which, compared to the Internet here at the school, works at light speed and allows me to finally put up pictures; but generally I do a million things and nothing simultaneously, and next thing you know three weeks have gone by since my last blog update when I said I would write one every week. Some things never change and I think it will be a while yet before my procrastination improves.
Somaliland_017.jpg Abdulahi building our outdoor oven.
It does seem like I’ve been here for years because so much has happened in such a short amount of time. The school is truly like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly (I hope you all love the cheesy analogy) and it’s interesting to see the metamorphosis. New buildings are being erected, specifically the boys’ dorms, girls’ dorms, and a new teacher housing unit. And the trees that I planted are growing! Officially, you’ll all be happy to know, only one has truly died and shriveled up…but I don’t know if it left seeds on its way out or something because other plants have started growing in its place; they look almost fern-like but thus far seem as though they are doing just fine.
Agriculture club is just a lot of fun and does it make me a bad person/teacher if I like our club and kids the most? They're always doing something to crack me up, whether it's with their comments and demeanor or with their building techniques. And we keep getting a few guest members like musculos (Anthony) or Technology man (Colin), who doesn't actually do anything except a great job at standing around and making sarcastic and witty comments.
It is nice being able to hang out with the teachers although my brain often doesn't work quite so well the next day for lack of sleep- a small price to pay for quality time spent with people who couldn't be more different from one to the other...which makes for a really interesting, eclectic group. Now what is Khat? - you might be asking yourself. It's a leaf that comes from a tree/bush-like plant that everyone chews here (actually, perhaps a bit excessively) and that keeps you awake and alert...and it's apparently illegal in Canada! Unfortunately people are addicted to it which causes all kinds of problems...but in moderation it helps you stay awake and get things done.
Last weekend I got to go to Berbera, on the coast, and it was absolutely beautiful and beyond relaxing. And nothing but white/black sandy beaches (the black sand is apparently caused by iron deposits that wash up on the beach with the currents) as far as you could stretch your eyes, with relatively few people around. Saeed, one of the students in my Adult English Business Class, is the manager of one of the five star hotels here in Somaliland called Mansoor, located both in Hargeisa and Berbera, and he gave the school (two teachers specifically) an all inclusive weekend in Berbera....which, in addition to delicious food and chill accommodation, also included scuba diving! And the man behind the diving: Scuba Steve, a character of a man from Britain.
The coast is essentially where the Red Sea and Indian Ocean meet, so it's absolutely unique for diving. Unfortunately, it was rough and choppy when I was there (due to storms coming down through the Red Sea) so we could only stay in the harbour, but I got to dive alone in and around a wreck, which was exciting and invigorating after so many months of not diving. Initially, I was supposed to go with my Somali "buddy," but once descended I noticed he was no longer in sight. So I ascended and was amused to find him swimming back to the boat, so I just decided to go on to the wreck myself.
But then part way through the dive something grabs me and it's my Somali buddy! So we kept diving together and he kept bumping into me and halfway through the dive he was running low on air and went up and I was left on my own again.
Steve was busy finishing up an open-water course with Taylor and Peter, two other teachers from the University of Hargeisa, so the second dive I actually went into the dark ship, which was a little freaky because I kept expecting a shark to be there in the dark, lurking and waiting for me! (yes, they have sharks, but apparently they rarely attack and even less so if you go up to the ship).
The rest of the time I just hung out on the beach with Daniel (the physics teacher here) and napped and swam and did mostly nothing, which was nice.
When we weren't napping on the beach we were looking for camels...and I tried to feed one, which just seemed completely uninterested.

Things are definitely staying interesting, which I love.

Posted by ode 10:51 Comments (3)

A Month in Somaliland

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!

Posted by ode 13:09 Comments (13)

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