"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.


  1. Fantastic. Love it Sophie! Keep up the great work. All of it. Teaching and writing, two of the most noble professions in the world.

  2. one of your students will be the next president! watch out!

  3. Opening with the words of Bilbo, that alone deserves some credits!
    A very interesting blog! I've become more and more interested in Somaliland. It started with a small plant (Edithcolea grandis). Then I wanted to know about it's origin and discovery. That led to an expedition in 1895 in British Somaliland. And reading along, I became more and more fascinated by this country. Perhaps one day I might visit it.
    I'm glad to see that people like you help the country. They deserve it!

    Besides that, I do have some question regarding old places on an old map. Perhaps you know someone that might help. It's about the Berbera area and the Goolis Range. I'm willing to pay for the information, so if you know anyone, please let me know. In the meantime, I'll look forward to read your blog...
    Stijn Ghesquiere, Belgium

  4. Dear Stijn,
    If you would like to email me at sguida2010@gmail.com, maybe we could talk more about your project. I am actually going to Berbera in two weeks for a few days, and I could probably start asking around.

    Also, I spent some time in Belgium when I was in secondary school. I lived in Overijse for a year and attended a Dutch school in Tervuren (ik kan nog een beetje nederlands spreken). Where are you from, exactly?

    Glad to hear from you!


  5. Has the Student Council issue been solved?
    Rioting doesn't sound like fun...

  6. Thanks Sophia, i hope you are enjoying your self in hargeisa and safe
    you have happy face and nice smile .are you still living in hargeisa

  7. we are very grateful for what you are doing for those kids, we can't thank you enough. history will remember you, and you will always have people who will never forget for what you have done,for the people of Somaliland.
    thank you again!