"It's a dangerous business, going out your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet,
there's no knowing where you might be swept off to..."
--J.R.R. Tolkein

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Back-to-School Special

What exactly am I doing here? That is the question that is probably on everybody’s minds right now. That’s okay. It’s on my mind too.

School has been in session now for just a few weeks, and there is an unbelievable amount of work to do. What I’m doing is 12-hour workdays, from 7 am until 9 pm most nights. I am teaching two classes, 9th grade English and 10th grade writing, for 21 hours a week, plus endless hours of grading (especially writing—ugh), followed by teaching karate, helping out with various other projects, including detention time, work time, volunteering in the village primary school, helping prepare lessons for the after school program in Hargeisa, office hours, and showing up to the occasional staff meeting.

My new home.

Yeah, it’s been an adjustment.

The kids are, for the most part, pretty cool. Most of them are from Somaliland, from the major city Hargeisa, but there are also many from the countryside, including from the disputed regions of Sool and Sanaag, out by Puntland. Some grew up at the pinnacle of privilege (the son of the Vice President is in my 9th grade English class), and others had lived as nomads and had never seen a computer or toilet before coming here. It is truly marvelous to see them all learning together, and (miraculously) there are almost no fights between them.

There are also few are members of the Somali Diaspora who have returned because they feel our school can provide them with a world class education in a setting that will allow them to experience Somali culture. For example, we have a pair of half-Somali, half-American brothers who joined this year because their mother (from the area) returned home to work for a local NGO. Whenever I think I may be culture-shocked, I think about those two brothers, and remind myself that they have it much worse. There is also a pair of brothers who grew up in London, and their fabulously wealthy father occasionally treats the entire teaching staff to dinner at the swank Ambassador Hotel in Hargeisa. And then there is a boy who grew up in Nairobi, who was given only a week’s notice to prepare for attending boarding school in a country he has never visited and barely understands. He handles it well, and has a great attitude, although he can be a little disrespectful at times. I like to call him “Kenyan Cartman,” because he resembles the character Eric Cartman from South Park, both in sense of humor and, um…shape.

I should say that we have an INCREDIBLY talented group of kids here. During the first week of school, we had a fundraising event, and this one girl gave the most moving speech about how our school was the first time anyone cared enough to give her a progress report. She’s one of our top students.

"Somewhere in Somaliland, there is a child crying out for attention. That child was me. That child was all of us.”

Watch out, Harvard 2016!

What else do we do besides study? We have the only basketball court in the country (although, Sheikh Secondary School, the other premier boarding school in the country, and our bitter rival) is supposedly building one. We make sure that both the boys AND the girls get a chance to play, although they cannot be on the court at the same time.

Since we live in a strikingly beautiful area, sometimes we go on hikes.

And climb trees.

And it’s windy most of the time, so we fly kites.

Or we just hang out. This must be the only high school in the world where the students actually like seeing their teachers.

More to come! Thanks for reading, everyone.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Daily Bread

Every place I’ve ever visited seems to have it’s own version of white, starchy stuff that goes with every meal. In Belgium, it was either bread or potatoes. In Syria and Egypt, it was pita bread, hot from the oven. In Indonesia, it was rice. But here, it’s called laxoox (pronounce the x’s like a heavy h, like “la-HooH”).

Laxoox is a spongy pancake thing made of a mix of wheat and sorghum. Sorghum is this plant-like material that looks kind of like a corn plant, but it has seeds instead of cobs. The seeds are ground up and used like flour.

These ones are growing in my courtyard.

Anyway, to make laxoox, mix about equal parts flour and water, and a little sugar, yeast, and salt. Let rise.

Then, heat a charcoal fire, This is much easier said than done, as I learned last week. I piled up charcoal and bits of paper, and tried to get a spark. And tried again. And again…

No luck.

So, I carried it outside and set it on the porch, in the path of the wind. After several more tries, and after a hot coal blew out and set my shirt on fire, it caught and stayed lit. Success!

Once the coals are hot, heat a cast iron tablet over the flames. Spread a little oil on it.

When it’s hot, take about a quarter-cup and spread the batter in a circular motion, like this lady is doing here.

Then cover it and let it cook for a couple of minutes.

Take the cover off and, using a knife, loosen the laxoox and take it off the hot metal. Only cook one side.

It’s absolutely heavenly when hot off the griddle, but gets softer if it sits around a while.If it’s hot, fold it over and its “crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside!”

Somalis usually eat laxoox with a mug of tongue-scorching sweet tea with milk and spices. A nice way to start the day!

Monday, October 4, 2010

How to Dress for Success

Everything you ever wanted to know about Somali fashion!

Start with your basics: tank top, trousers, and shoes...

Next, put on your petticoat. They’re usually made out of nasty synthetic fabric, so that’s why I wear pants under it. Also, they usually make them way too long, so roll it down a little.

(Yes, I am wearing a petticoat. Takes ya back about a hundred years, doesn't it?)

Now get your moo moo. The louder the color, the better. I’m going to go with the red one.

(Ha! Moo moo. I can't believe I just wrote that.)

Make sure you tuck it in a little to show off the edge of the petticoat. It’s the current fashion.

Now, let’s headscarf it up!

Pull it around the back of your neck and tie it around the back.

Geez, this is complicated!

Ah, there we go.

No, we’re not done yet. Still one more step.

Wrap the other layer around so it drapes over your shoulders and arms.

Up, up, and away!

Now let's go teach some English!

Thanks for reading.