Four years ago, my brother and I took a group of teachers to Ethiopia. We told everyone it was an experiment–an experiment in good listening. An experiment in teacher-to-teacher sharing.
One of the teachers, Alicia, turned out to be not only a terrific trainer but an incredible fundraiser–and her community in upstate NY really got behind her, too. She raised money for sets of books we could leave behind in each of the libraries our training had touched.
While we were there, we spent time reading books with the Ethiopian educators, writing books together, laughing, asking questions, and thinking about how to bring new literacy habits to the new libraries that were being planted in schools in a country where few students have had any access at all to books.
We learned about the struggles of teachers in Ethiopia. Library managers told us of policies that sometimes work against kids even holding the books–if a book disappears, for instance, the cost is often taken out of the already meager salary of the person in charge.
No wonder the adults in these new libraries sometimes seem like book policemen.
The most exciting thing was seeing that educators in Ethiopia are eager to learn new skills and approaches, eager to try new possibilities, eager to hear about the successes and failures and challenges of teachers in other parts of the world.
The second most exciting thing was watching American and European teachers, who had raised their own travel money and living expenses to take a chance on an experiment fall in love with Ethiopia. After our hard work, we traveled and slurped up the beauties of the land and people outside Addis Ababa.
Most times and places, it’s easier to fly across the rugged mountains of Ethiopia. But those who are willing to climb into buses get to see gorgeous and vivid and unusual and funny things on the ground.
Since that first time, I’ve been part of putting together two more groups of teachers. Each time, I wonder if our luck will run out. Will we find educators willing to give their time and raise their money? Will the trip work even as it wrenches?
So far, the luck holds.
We’ve found generous, curious, interested people who want to explore and share–and who don’t need travel to be easy.
It’s rarely easy traveling in Ethiopia. It’s rarely easy opening eyes and hearts to people who do things very differently from the way we’re used to seeing and having things done.Just like this move to Portland, each of those trips shows me how hard it is for humans to let go of their moorings and jump out of the boat and give up their rhythms and routines.
Even people who think they are brave and flexible travelers aren’t that way all the time.
This year, I was part of the planning for the summer’s group that went…but not part of the group–because of our move to Portland. I sure loved reading the stories and seeing the pictures.
Oh the tenderness
and splitting of hearts and old cocoons that come as we stumble into new worlds.
May brave writers ever gather in Vermont for the MFA residencies and brave teachers travel to Ethiopia and people leave behind homes and old ways of doing things to learn new tricks.