The inclement weather has sabotaged our internet yet again, which is why I haven’t been blogging or responding to emails for days – sorry!
We have just begun our second week of ‘Abaarso Tech intensive English summer school’. We have about twelve students, ranging from 19 – 24 years old. Some are university students in Hargeisa, others are teachers at the Young Muslim Academy in town, and a few came all the way from the Sanaag region near Puntland. The two-week English bootcamp is supposed to totally immerse the students in English – the students signed a pledge at the beginning swearing that they would speak no Somali or Arabic for the duration of the program.
They are taking courses in vocabulary, reading, writing, grammar, logic, and computer skills. Outside of class, we have been playing basketball, soccer, and even a bit of American football with them. I’ve introduced the basketball shooting game ‘H-O-R-S-E’, which has become the new game of choice. They especially like it when someone beats me, so they can all chant “Somaliland wins, America loses!” We’ve had other activities for our students to improve their English as well, such as resume workshops, film screenings, debate, and the group game ‘Mafia’.
Mafia is played with a large group and each person is arbitrarily assigned to be a townsperson, detective, doctor, or a member of the mafia. The mafia secretly kills one person each night and then the whole group ‘wakes up’, voices their suspicions, and makes accusations against the people they think are members of the mafia. The students really enjoy it and it is hilarious to hear the defense of the accused.
“Hamde accuses me of being mafia? I cannot be mafia!!! I think Hamde is mafia, because she said I was mafia!”
We are still working on explaining the concept of legitimate evidence and what makes a strong, compelling case against somebody…
The summer program has been a great experience so far, both for the students and for me. I have been able to spend lots of time teaching vocabulary, coaching basketball, and explaining the plots and characters in movies. The students have made noticeable improvements and seem much more comfortable using English as their sole tongue for communicating.
We are in the middle of one the rainy seasons in Hargeisa and it rains almost every day, usually for a couple of hours in the late afternoon. Because the school is located in an open valley, we have a clear view for miles in every direction and can see the storm clouds coming. I have gotten used to the unusual phenomenon of being able to see that it is raining a mile or two away, but not at the school. The flat desert landscape also means that we get remarkable flashes of lightning a couple of times a week that light up the campus.
Life at Abaarso Tech revolves around the school, so it is nice to get out of the walls when possible. Leaving the compound isn’t as easy as it sounds because one of the school’s guards has to accompany someone whenever they leave. The law requiring us to have an armed guard is put in place by the government, but to me it often feels like a hassle.
The village of Abaarso is a 20 minute walk from the school. It certainly is not much to speak of and is largely comprised of little shacks selling qat. The main road from Ethiopia to Hargeisa runs through Abaarso and big trucks overflowing with qat are ubiquitous in the village, dumping the day’s supply off to many eagerly awaiting fiends (Qat is a narcotic plant that everyone chews here…I’ll write a post on it in the future). There are a couple of places in Abaarso to buy soft drinks and sambusas, the delicious Somali spin on India’s samosas. Somali sambusas are filled with goat, onions, and peppers and are deep-fried in front of you, costing about 10 cents each.
Like many developing countries, Somaliland has a serious litter problem. There is no garbage collection service in the country and you see plastic bags, bottles, cans, and broken flip-flops everywhere. We went hiking in a remote riverbed the other week and I must have spotted the skeletons of at least twelve pairs of sandals. Plastic bags are the main problem because they are what qat is packaged and sold in, and such a huge percentage of the population chews qat. Somaliland is a very windy country, and the combination of strong winds and plastic bags makes many areas very unsightly. Sharp bushes are all over the landscape and their thorns prove perfect for catching the plastic bags that the wind has blown in their direction.
Even though the annual tuition that Abaarso Tech charges its students is far below the amount it actually costs to educate, feed, and house every student, many of the students’ families cannot afford the school fees and pay as much as they can. One student’s family owns a farm, and they contribute fruits and vegetables that they grow in lieu of money. They invited us out to their farm yesterday and it was a wonderful change of scenery from the school. It was a very bumpy 30 minute drive in a 4×4 to get there, but the farm seemed like it was in a completely different geographical zone. Unlike the brown, rocky landscape of the school, the farm was green and tropical. The family grows bananas, hot peppers, guavas, spinach, oranges, and pomegranates. We spent a relaxing afternoon sampling the different produce and eating lunch under a shady tree, a rare treat in Somaliland’s desert landscape.
That’s all for now; I’ll try and get another post up in a week or so. Take care.