Friday, July 3, 2009

Saying goodbye to the Nekemte girls

We’re leaving tomorrow to return to Addis. The REAL girls gave us a going-away party with speeches, food and gifts. They did the coffee ceremony and made spiced tea. We brought cakes and Merinda from the tea shop. Marge (pronounced Mar-gay) made popcorn with sugar and passed it around. She was the only one who wore a traditional Ethiopian dress. Marge is an eighth grader and on the first day I met her, I thought she didn’t speak English at all because she had such a hard time doing the introduction dialogue; she was unable to say her grade or the name of her school. She sat next to Fenon who told her the words to say. But each day, she forced the English sounds from her lips, visibly struggling but always eager, raising her hand to answer, getting to take a book home every evening because she always arrived first (even before me). By this last day, Marge was speaking English with the best of them.

Her life story, like others, was one of difficulty and pain. Her mother was sick; her father had died. Like, me she had had appendicitis and we compared our tummy scars, both agreeing that it had been a very frightening experience. Now she had difficulty walking and she lived a good distance from her school. I talked to the new mentor, Amame, about it and she will find a school closer to Marge’s home for the coming year.

I want to adopt all the girls, give them every thing I have, because they need so much and they try so hard and they’re so optimistic about their future. But if I could take only one, it would be Marge with her energy and enthusiasm and eagerness to learn. Of course, I can’t tell her that. They all want to come to America; it is the “promised land” in their imagination. Every since I was in the Peace Corps, I have decried the fact that those who emigrate to America seem to be the best and the brightest and rarely go back to their home country – a benefit to America but what a loss to Ethiopia. REAL is doing it right, educating them where they live, setting an example for the community to send girls to school, teaching them to save and to share. They would all do well in America but if they can succeed in their homeland, how much better that will be. But, oh, it is hard to leave them.