ICS Addis flew me out to visit the school when I was still in Kingston and during my visit there were a couple of say what now? realizations I encountered that I knew would present some challenges for the bougie, introverted, unycorn me 😏😏😏
that Addis is dusty, dirty and the traffic is horrific (worse than anywhere I had ever lived up to that point)
that the internet service was like going back in time to dial up service (unreliable and slower than Jamaica) and so streaming shows would be difficult
the phone service could be problematic and you often had to make a call several times before it went through…yikes
that my stomach was not a fan of Ethiopian food and stomach issues are a regular occurrence for many. I did not like Injera, the local food which is a dough like substance that is made from gluten free teff flour.
that the poverty there would make me really sad 😭
that the health care system was problematic 😣 but there was a clinic in town for expats run by the Head of Board a Swiss doctor if I remember correctly
that electricity shortages are a daily occurrence and the apartment where I would be living didn’t have a generator yet 😂😂
When I arrived I was excited to be in Addis and looking forward to working with only high school students again and having a smaller case load than Jamaica where I was responsible for grades 6-12. I quickly realized within a day that I was unprepared for the cold that came with the rainy season…it was late July/early August but it was cold y’all and that was a shock for me. Addis is a very safe city, but due to the altitude it had cooler temps and at night and early morning can get down to the 40’s. It rarely gets hotter than high 70’s during the day and the temps drop at night after the sun sets by about 10 – 15 degrees. So I learned quickly that 13 months of sunshine from the tourist website doesn’t mean warm😂😂 thank goodness for my heaters, sweaters and all the wonderful scarves I bought to wear with my sweaters #thelittlethingsinlife.
Injera is eaten with your right hand by grabbing the vegetables such as potatoes, string beans, lentils etc. with a piece of injera. Injera can be eaten for all three meals in some variety. Tibs is a meat dish that I never tried because I don’t eat meat but meat can also be eaten raw. Shiro is a reddish sauce made out of chickpeas that can be eaten with injera or other types of bread.
There were some major challenges like there’s only one internet provider, cell phone provider, electric company and this makes for companies where the service is not the best. Daily electricity outages and sometimes water shortages happened 😐. To deal with the daily electricity outtages, we were given individual generators that had to be filled with petrol to work. Every time I used that thing I cussed and often ended up with petrol on my hands and feet😭 😣. Luckily the building finally got a generator at the end of October (I think) so that the generator turned on when the electricity went off and so no more petrol on ma foot.
I bought a car to have more freedom but I hated driving in Addis😭 😣. In most areas there are no traffic signals, drivers don’t adhere to road rules, people walk out into moving traffic to cross the street, animals would often be found standing in the middle of the road, cars typically stopped short in front of you to let people cross the road and the neighborhood where I lived did not have good road lighting at night so it was a potential accident hazard. In other words it could be absolute chaos and the traffic OMG, I cursed so much while I drove 😜😜😜 and y’all I can curse.
The cohort of staff I came in with was great and the current staff living in my Varnero complex were very nice. Unlike the area by the school, there was green space and space where children could play. We had dinners, parties, went out to eat and dancing…it was lots of good times. I felt welcomed and they didn’t take my introvert preference to be alone and sometimes decline invitations personally. I found a salon across the street from the school to get my hair washed and my locs retwisted and a place across the street from my apartment to get inexpensive massages 🤗 🤗 🤗 so it was a good start.
Work started out busy as it can be when starting a new school and you have to get students ready to apply to college. But this was exacerbated by missing documents PSAT scores, missing or unofficial transfer transcripts, incomplete grades for seniors and the general disorganization of the office…to say the least I was a bit overwhelmed. On a happy note I was happy to be a part of a counseling team where I could discuss tough cases and bounce ideas off my colleagues. Charmaine the Head of Counseling saved me so many times in so many ways, I really appreciated her support and guidance.
I immediately liked and bonded with the students, they welcomed me to the school and got to work on their college applications slowly even though they complained. At the end of the year, I was very proud of their university and scholarship accomplishments and posted them on a board in the front hallway by the gym so they could be celebrated by the entire community. One of the reasons I choose to work at ICS was because I was impressed by their scholarship program for local Ethiopian students. In the Spring my office organized the application process and a test for over 100 local students interested in the scholarship. A couple of weeks later, we interviewed 10 students based on their test scores and essays and choose 4 students to offer acceptance and full scholarships. It was exciting but difficult because these students were great and motivated and hungry for the opportunity and all the students we interviewed deserved to be chosen.
The Week Without Walls trip in September was the first time I went on an overnight trip with students😂😂. It was an eventful week, the facilities where we stayed were okay, the food was limited and mostly Ethiopian which meant either injera or some variety of pasta. The days were really long because we basically spent all day and evening with the students until they went to bed but I survived it with little drama 😛.
The school year was really busy but I was enjoying my work. I was tasked with doing child protection workshops with the students and I really enjoyed using YouTube videos and conversation to educate students on sexual harassment, assault and unhealthy relationships. It made for some intense but great conversations but they learned a lot because I challenged their stereotypes and made them think.
For me Addis was a hard place to live personally, I was food deprived and cold most of the time. The stomach issues continued throughout my time in Addis despite the fact that I was a picky eater and didn’t eat meat. When I cooked at home it wasn’t an issue but eating out was a challenge. The electricity and some times water outages were difficult to get used to. The bathroom and hygiene challenges in some places such as no soap, or toilet paper were difficult for this bougie woman😏😏😏.
Here’s what people don’t tell you about international work and living in a different time zone…it can be lonely. That your friends and family will not always make the effort to keep in touch – the phone calls happen less, they may not visit where you decide to live, that dating as an expat can be difficult in some countries so that closeness you once had with certain friends becomes limited to Christmas dinners and summer get togethers . At least this was the case for me when I moved to Ethiopia, it was a new normal for me and it was difficult at first so I was grateful for the support of the people I worked with who became friends.
Seriously? 😣 😣 😣
One of the challenges of being a black woman in international schools is the way people perceive you when you express disagreement. ICS was no different in this area, there were times when I had to correct people’s assumptions about what I said and meant. The principal unfortunately was a frequent flyer in this area. He was a first year principal so I expected a learning curve. Overall he was nice, supportive when parents complained (which was markedly different than AISK) and trusted me to do my job and when we met to discuss important matters, he gave me feedback. But I had to often correct his perspective on my role as a Counselor…no problem right? However as time went by he appeared less open to this and would often try to convince me to agree with him. He would often say “but you have to admit” when I would disagree with him as if it would magically change my mind. Sigh! This happened too many times to count.
Overall my first year in Addis was good, the highlights were 😍🤗
I enjoyed the job, the students, my colleagues, my department, made some friends, and everyone at school was super helpful and friendly. Menelik a taxi driver was a god send and helped me to navigate lots of things.
there was a farmer’s market that happened twice a month at school where I could buy fresh vegetables, fish, hummus, scarves, clothes, art, etc…so many goodies
I had weekly lunches with my sistafriends Tyelise and Nadine, and I often escaped to Jackie’s classroom whenever I need a break from the craziness or just needed to laugh. Lucy was often my voice of reason and her husband Vince made me laugh so hard. He took me to the duty free store to buy Malibu and constantly teased me about how long it took me to drink it because I only went once that year and got my allowance of 4 bottles I think…so many good times, so many great people
My assistant Meron and I developed a good record keeping system that made it more efficient to keep track of documents and the HS office staff was wonderful and supportive in helping me get what I needed
Ethiopian people are kind, proud of their rich history and I truly enjoyed learning about it. I visited Lucy at the National Ethiopian museum, the Ethnological museum at Haile Selassie’s palace at the Addis Ababa university. I learned about the variety of crosses used in the Orthodox Christian religion and the angels had little afros and brown faces. I loved the cultural celebrations such as the coffee ceremonies even though I didn’t drink coffee, dressing up for Meskel, seeing the Timket parade and went to many Ethiopian restaurants and enjoyed the traditional dancing🤗 🤗. Initially Addis seemed to be one of the few places where Christians and Muslims lived peacefully but police clashes came later in the year, and the shutting down of the internet happened intermittently so that certain news could be contained.
I made enough money to save, and got to travel on the African continent which made it all so worth dealing with the challenges in Addis (so many bucket list dreams were realized) 😍😍😍
Ethiopia Airlines is referred to as the official airline of Africa which means the cost of flights was not inexpensive but since my salary was decent and I spent so little on expenses in Addis I could afford to travel so I did quite a bit. Their customer service is mediocre and the airport sucks in so many ways LOL😂😂
Some of the trips I took 🤗 🤗
Zanzibar in October, the beaches and food reminded me of Barbados, the people were lovely and the food was delicious. I loved it so much I went back in May with Jackie 🤗 🤗
Lalibela with Jackie – the holy city with the amazing churches chiseled from rock some of the original structures have been there for 900 hundred years.
Gonder with Jackie – the city of castles built for emperors
Cairo with Jackie to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx, we visited the Egyptian museum and saw the Mummy exhibit (incredible) and ate some delicious food
Cape Town and Robben Island – for me South Africa had been a dream deferred for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I did and saw so much and I even got my hair done there 🤗 🤗 🤗
Paris at the end of the school year to finally see the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Musee de Orsee, and so much more, and I loved taking public transportation in Paris (city girl at heart)
I had a decision to make 🙄
Initially I thought I could deal with the difficulties and stay another year or two after my two year contract but near the end of the school something happened that made me rethink this plan.
I had a health episode in the middle of the night sometime in May that scared the shit out of me. I went to my doctor at the clinic who then sent me to the cardiac hospital where I was given a series of tests and told I had a heart problem😭😭😭.
I don’t remember if I told anyone including my family because I was trying to remain calm enough to finish the school year. The doctor assured me after he saw the test results that it wasn’t urgent but recommended that I retake the test with my doctor when I got to Boston. It turned out that what I was told was a heart issue turned out to be a panic attack but my BP was really high. I was so relieved but it was enough to convince me that maybe it was time to leave Addis.
When I look back at those pictures from the first summer after Addis I had lost so much weight in that one year, I couldn’t believe it. I knew it was time to get back to a healthier state but I wasn’t sure this was possible
for me in Addis😣 .
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Next post… next year will be much better but…