Pre-Service Training

by Scott McAllister

After a gloriously failed attempt at making my first post a few days back, I shall now try again. (Perhaps this time around I’ll be smart enough to repeatedly save as I type!)

My wife and I have been in country for three months and two days now. The bulk of this time was spent training in the southern Arsi region of the country, in a town called Bekoji, a place renowned for producing some of the world’s best Olympic runners. At 4000 meters high, and myself having lived at sea-level my whole life, it’s no wonder why Bekoji runners are world-class. Moving around in my sleep was often cause enough for waking up with a start and being at a loss of breath. But our Florida lungs persevered, became acclimated and even strong after some time. Twice I managed to run a 10k. – So boosh –

Now, about this training I so briefly mentioned above. What did it entail? What did we learn? Let it suffice for me to say that we learned a lot – a whole lot.  But, if you insist, I’ll shed some light on what actually went down. To be honest, most of it, even in hindsight, is a bit of a blur.

Our days in Bekoji and our hub-site of Asella were downright consumed by training sessions. I even had dreams of my language lessons….

A typical day in Bekoji went like this:  wake up at the but-crack of dawn and eat the breakfast prepared for you by your host-family, a meal whose content you had no real say in determining and yet you shovel down with an almost primal hunger; go to the bathroom and inwardly marvel at how well you’re adapting to the hole-in-the-ground toilet (your legs will be so strong after two years of squatting!); still wearing the clothes you wore the day before and the day before that, you say goodbye to your host family in the native language, groping for the correct conjugation so you are both gender, time and number specific, and, still waving goodbye, trudge through a half-mile of mud – sticky, sucking, shoe-consuming, nothing like you’ve seen in America mud – to get to class, hoping all the while that the sky is gracious enough to hold back its well of water until you get there; having arrived, and thinking to yourself that the walk probably burned more calories than you consumed for breakfast, you plop down in your seat and stare blankly forward, your and your wife’s and the one other volunteer’s silence communicating a joint resignation to the interminable day that has yet to even begin; surrendered together, you sit through two intimate, unrelenting hours of language lesson (Tigrinia in our case); begging, pleading to leave 5 minutes early for break but jocularly denied by your oh-so-earnest instructor, you mope on over to the nearby hotel to join the rest of your Bekoji outfit for a touch of coffee and eager commiseration; after this short-lived break (30 minutes in all) it’s off to another two hours of language lesson, which somehow passes faster than the first; lunch with your host family ensues and, in our case, you’re thankful that they provide you with more food than you could ever hope to eat; feeling full, uncomfortably full, you slog back over to class, having deliberately left at a time so as to be five minutes late; you sit through another language lesson, have another tea/coffee break, and then it’s time for the highlight of the day: the cross-cultural lesson. It is during this lesson, when all the other folks training with you in Bekoji have the chance to come together, that you feel the most at ease, have a chance to goof off a little, learn a little something about Ethiopian culture. Utterly exhausted, you make your way home, grudging your instructor for the homework he assigned, but knowing deep down that you cannot wait to see him again the next day. Despite the exhaustiveness of it all, you conclude that it was a good day.

And that was a typical day in Bekoji. Of course, however, we did have days off, but those fun experiences seem now to have stacked together, are indistinguishable from each other, no longer discreet. In a nut shell, there was some eating out, plenty of beer drinking together, a murder-mystery dinner party, some soccer playing, a little early morning running, yada-yada-yada….

Getting from Asella to Bekoji required an hour-long bus ride down a perilous, weaving mountain road. It was there that, once or twice a week, we met up with the rest of our education sector group and dazed together through round after round of safety/security, medical and/or linguistic-cum-pedagogical theory and praxis lessons. Learning was had, and – thankfully – so were gratuitous amounts of coffee/tea breaks. The food provided for lunches there started off decent, became increasingly inedible, and, despite being free, was eventually spurned in favor of anything else we could manage to find.

Training lasted ten weeks. It consisted of a whole lot of what you just read, not much variation. Peace Corps was gracious enough, however, to mark one day in the calendar as a cross-cultural field trip, a day of respite from the rigors of training. We went to a place called Sodere.  A hot spring and a heated pool was reputed to exist there. This proved factual. What is more, the day of the trip landed on my twenty-fourth birthday.

My next post will tackle the events of that raucous day. I’ll also spend some time talking about the unique culture I’ve observed here.

And yes, I’ll eventually get to blogging about things as they happen. Promise.