Boat Trip!

I keep realizing all the stuff I forgot to tell you about! The Sunday before I left we went on a boat trip and it was

awesome! Some people who were leaving chartered the boat and we were very fortunate to be invited. The boat itself was quite old, but lots of fun since the top floor was just a bunch of mats for relaxing on. We saw about 4 half sinking boats on our way out of the harbor and that was a little disarming, but I was so happy to have an entire day off post I didn't really care if our ship sunk.

We sailed North for about two hours to a small group of Islands in the Red Sea. I don't know the exact name of where we went, but the skipper showed it to me on a map. We anchored in the middle of the water, and then they gave us the option to take a small boat and go ashore, which I did. What I discovered was a deserted, pristine paradise. The water was crystal clear and the sand was soft and white. We had a cooler of beer, snorkels,

fins, sunsreen, and the whole day ahead of us. I snorkeled a  bit, but there was not much to see aside from sand colored fish. Mostly we just hung out on the shallow water, drank beers, and had fun. I even held a crab!

The Djiboutians made us lunch of curry chicken and rice on the boat. It was fantastic. On the way back, we did mad-libs and I took a short nap. It was one of my best days, and one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to.

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Open Face

Last Tuesday I went to another school to speak English with the kids. It was by far the best class I visited.The school consisted of just one small classroom, complete with walls and ceiling. I'm pretty sure most of these students were a little more affluent than the others I'd seen, and they seemed less angry, which makes sense. Since we were not exposed to the elements and other classrooms, it was easy to hear, and they all were at a proficient level in the language. The topic was "Where do you go for vacation?" which I was a little worried about since it didn't seem like a great topic for poor people.

However, the answers they gave were witty, romantic, and revealing. Many said they go to Ethiopia for better weather in the Summer, but most talked about their dream locals, like Dubai and the moon. The mood was light and very friendly. In fact, whenever anyone spoke, they first took the opportunity to welcome us with "an open heart, open arms, and open face." We did not correct them, and I am thinking of just adopting that phrase into my vocabulary.

On the car ride to the school, I started talking to a guy in the Marines that told me about 'good will' missions where they go pass out donations in the local villages. He said that I could go with him on one if I wanted to. So Thursday morning, I joined him and another Marine (both named Tim) and and interpreter named Kennedy, and we headed out to the village of

Damerjog. To my delight, it was over a half an hour away and we got to bounce all over the countryside in a Range Rover while they told me stories and Kennedy answered my questions about life in Djibouti.

The Tims tried to warn me that sometimes the situation could get out of hand and turn into a mob scene while handing out supplies. I was so excited just to be on the adventure, I truly was not afraid in any way. But the warnings turned out to be unnecessary because we went to the Gendarmerie first and got local police assistance.

Basically, we drove around the town and told all the kids to go to the Gendarmerie to get stuff.

This was SO cool for me because we got to see the people in their natural environment. By the time we showed up, there was already a large crowd waiting. We set up all the stuff and then the police men let 5 or so at a time walk up and get things.


 

We mostly had flip-flops, which were a huge hit. I noticed most of the kids were wearing flip-flops when they showed up, but often they were several sizes too small or not a matching pair. They were not picky at all about the ones they took, and boys did not hesitate to grab pink ones with applique flowers. The Tims told me later that the big kids just take them from the little kids afterwards, and I commented that some things were the same all over the world.

Overall it was an amazing experience. The kids were so warm and happy. They danced and jumped around afterward (before the bullies beat them up and took their new stuff, I guess) and I was just thrilled to have been a part of it.

Oh yeah, and afterwards I got to go on the marine compound and fondle an enormous machine gun!

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Leaving Djibouti

It's been an amazing 5 weeks, but I am on my way home tonight. I'll arrive in Paris and 0600 tomorrow and should arrive in Frankfurt at 0900. I can't wait to see Beau, but I am feeling a little sad about leaving. I've had so many wonderful adventures this week that I haven't had a chance to write about, but I will. More pics and stories to follow soon!

I would also like to wish Amanda a very happy birthday! Hope you have a blast today and all year.

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Jeudi

I slept in a bit this morning and it just felt wonderful. I haven't had a good night's sleep since I've been here, but tomorrow there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm going CLU-squatting. Apparently, it's a popular activity here and one I feel very privileged to participate it. A CLU is a 'containerized living unit' and squatting means living there illegally. A Major here is leaving to go TDY tomorrow and is letting me stay in his CLU until I leave! I will have my own room! With a bathroom! Right now the bathroom is about a 5 minute walk over gravel from my tent. So this is an enormous step up and I am very excited. So excited that I agreed to meet him at 5 am to get his key tomorrow without grumbling at all.

The morning was busy talking to lots of students. I really enjoy it when I am able to help people and simplify getting an education for them. At 1700 I went to yoga, and I can tell I am getting a lot better. I am learning other fun balance moves and really enjoying it.

I rushed out of there and left for the Barbala school at 1830. This school was a bit shabbier than the others and didn't really have a floor, but the students were older and better English speakers.

Tonight's topic was "How to keep Educated people in Djibouti." We did not come up with an answer, but I did have a guy ask me, specifically, why we kept taking smart people instead of nomads. He said we could take all their nomads. I just told him his English was great and I didn't know, but it probably had something to do with money, then steered the conversation into a less accusatory area. I just cannot tell you how honred I feel to be sitting in that classroom and listening to them discuss economics, life, and love. Their world has been so different from mine and yet they are welcoming, warm, and very open. The talk openly about all their problems and the shortcomings in their society. It made me realize that Americans don't like to do this, but perhaps that has contributed to our success – being so darn patriotic and optimistic. But then again it's another story to hold these beliefs when you are completely downtrodden. Obviously, I need to think about this a little more.

I'm going to call Peaches and see if she wants to meet for a quick beer to cap off a perfectly lovely Thursday.

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And now for something completely different…

The other event I attended recently was a celebration of Guamanian liberation day, which is July 21st. There is a huge group of Army guys here from Guam and they had an enormous cook-out, featuring all kinds of indiscernable meat. They also had salads that looked confusing and strange! I fixed myself a big plate of assorted things that only looked vaguely terrifying, but said no when I was offered a fish with teeth. Apparently, the Guam guys had gone fishing and caught the fish themselves! Pretty impressive, but still NOT going in my stomach.

Here's an unattractive Marine trying to get me to eat one. The fishy is facing front so you can see all his little chompers.

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Alpha Radiation

Just got back from another successful school visit. Tonight we talked economics with the students in the class and nothing too revealing was said until one student told me that Djiboutians (and other non-Americans) will never be able to achieve success and do something new and creative because they lack the confidence. He told me if he tried to do something great, everyone would ask him, "who do you think you are?" And for this reason they will remain poor. The economy here is really bad. Khat, the legal drug here, is ubiquitous and people (mostlly men) spend all their money on it and then do nothing all day besides get high. There are also no natural resources and everything is imported. Which means that even though the country is dead broke, everything is really expensive. We went out for Indian food the other night and everyone's tab was over 20 dollars for a regular meal. It's amazing how that can be in a place where people don't have shoes or roofs.

Going to the school was really cool because we got to walk around in a sort of "shanty-town" area and I even went in a make-shift shop. Unfortunately you can't really take pictures at night without causing a raucus, so you'll have to use your imagination. I got some at the school though! Here's a picture of the chalkboard, leading up to the totally open roof. This seems to be a common style for houses. Most stuff looks like they just slapped it together with old sheets of metal.

Much like the other place we visited, the classroom consisted of simple wooden benches. I noticed none of the students had paper or pens…

Overall, it's an incredibly rewarding experience, and I am excited because I am going again tomorrow night! More learnings for me!!! My mom asked why I was doing this and going to the Orphanage, and I'm just volunteering to do it in my free time. They trips are already planned, so they make it very easy, except that the school trips are a little exclusive. I've been on the waiting list for two weeks and I only got my slot tonight as a "standby."

Making the cut as a standby always makes things so much more exciting. Especially when you find out the name of the school is "Alpha Radiation," whatever the heck that means. I just love spending time with the kids and learning more about their lives. Can't wait for tomorrow!

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Horsed School

We turned off the main road onto a tiny dirt road covered in goats and people. All along the road were crudely constructed shacks made out of sheets of metal. We had to drive very slowly to avoid rolling off the road or running over the living things that kept darting out in front of the van. We stopped and I saw the building set back a little ways from the road. It looked a bit like the set of a play, and could probably have fit on a large stage. There were three small classrooms, all in a row. Each one was furnished with very cheap wooden benches, counters, chalkboards, and not much else.

The children are friendly and excited. They're there to learn English and they take it very seriously. They've been taught to 'present' themselves to visitors, so they each come up, introduce themself, and shake my hand. I cannot understand any of their names. I smile at the girls and they giggle.

We go into the classroom and the 19 year old teacher (in the orange shirt) leads our discussion. The topic: "What type of person do you want to marry?" I have been told to let the kids do at least 75% of the talking so they can practice. They all speak English very well, but quickly and with a heavy accent, so it is difficult for me to understand. (Keep in mind most of these kids can already speak French, Somali, and probably two other languages.) Two things come across clearly: they all want to get married, and they want to marry someone rich. Some of the boys said a woman with 'good character' was more important than cash, but none of the girls. One girl said, "when hunger comes knocking at the door, love goes out the window." Dang.

 

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