Greetings in Ethiopia are one of a kind. Two parties meet, shake hands, and bump right shoulders before letting go. The bump can be a soft knock- pleasant and polite, or to really establish a connection, you may choose to aggressively crash shoulders and forge a real union. I’ve never encountered a more cogent and overall very cool style of greeting anywhere else, and this blog post is me shoulder-bumping anyone who reads this.
I’m interning at UNESCO – IICBA (International Institute of Capacity Building in Africa) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. IICBA is an incredible organization that is built towards capacity building across the continent with a dedication to teacher support, teacher professional development, and in increasing the supply of quality teachers in the continent. As my colleagues always say – access to quality education means access to a quality teacher, and SDG 4 is incomplete without this mantra.
I was looking forward to interning at IICBA since December 2018 when I first heard about a UNESCO pan-Africa Institute dedicated to teachers, strengthening capacity development, and curriculum improvement. The office is located in the historic United Nations Economic Commission of Africa compound, and tucked right next to the famous Africa Hall.
While in the heart of Addis Ababa, the diplomatic capital of Africa, few current projects IICBA has taken on have anything to do with its hosting nation. A challenge I was unsure of how to address going in was how my internship location will be divorced from the context I would be working in, which is definitely a shame but also an avenue for a learning experience.
Arriving in Addis in the midst of torrential downpour and ceaseless traffic snarls was a pretty dramatic entry- my shoe aptly decided to get jammed in some icky mud on the road on Day 1 and I almost fell over rescuing my foot, much to the amusement of some kids gaping at me. I wouldn’t really register myself as someone particularly oozing in Indianness- I’m just another interchangeable South Asian face I would say- but I was suddenly promoted to the Ambassador of India role. Walking on the streets people quipped little namastes and joined their hands at me, which initially left me dumbfounded on how to react, until I started returning these little gestures.
I get to room with IEDP homeboy Matt, which is incredible because I feel very rooted in how this is an IEDP experience, and I have someone to share a large portion of this journey with. We will hopefully bond and emerge as comrades with albums of shared experience to laugh/cry over, but I’m not forcing anything. Playing it cool.
Walking into the UN compound on Day 1 was thrilling, and nothing short of an airport security experience. It was my first time entering a UN headquarter, and needless to say I was at my tourist best by filming everything and whipping out a little selfie stick (about 100 security guards were not impressed). The UN HQ is a labyrinthine and sprawling compound with buildings named after prominent African rivers- Nile, Niger, Congo, Limpopo, Zambezi.
The walls are covered in history, art, culture and run across entire buildings depicting a story or event. Being here every day for about 12 weeks means I have ample opportunity to explore this historic building which feels more like a modern-day art museum.
The UNESCO IICBA Director, Dr. Yumiko Yokozeki, is the star of the show at IICBA,
with fierce energy and dedication to SDG 4. Upon meeting her you know you’re with a force to reckon with, and I hope to pick her brain and learn as much as I can. Within the first week she hosts a few colleagues and I for a cocktail and dinner, and her house is also a little museum, decorated with artefacts she’s collected during her travels with Paul (her husband with a penchant for pulling your leg). Binyam, my very Zen and stoic supervisor, assigns me the reigns of an entire
project to handle, and I’m all set to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty.
Entire details of my exciting work at IICBA and the dream project I get to take care of, and other surprises from life in Addis Ababa are coming up in my next post. Gboza, gboza, gboza!