Week 5 Part 1: Hope

21 06 2012

by Berhan Hagos

Yet again, I have managed to get so entwined in all of my work and experiences of the present, that I have unfortunately neglected to blog for over a week. This also just means I have a wealth of news to share of the events of my fifth week (06/11-15/12) in Addis Ababa. First and foremost, winter has officially begun. For the first month of my stay here, the weather was nothing less than perfect. Most days featured clear skies, a nice breeze and plenty of sunshine and the nights weren’t any less pleasant. Now, that is all a distant memory, as the norm has been heavy dark clouds with guaranteed showers throughout the day. This being said, I am glad that as of last Friday I have finished conducting interviews. So, I have been able to enjoy looking at the rain from my desk as I enter the collected data, allowing myself to be soothed by the sound of the rain drumming on the tin roof.

At the beginning of week five, I had done about 35 interviews and I was looking forward to doing some interviews with children in two primary schools in Teklehaimanot. I hadn’t been on the campus of a school in Addis since I myself attended the first grade at a local school in the late 1990’s. I was nervous about how the children would respond to the prospective of being interviewed since the kids at these schools were significantly older than the ones I interviewed in Burayu. Before conducting the interviews, I went to speak with the directors of each school and the district to get approval. During that process, I got to visit the schools (which are across the street from each other) and was so surprised by the differences in each of the school’s condition. Both are public schools that teach the same age range of children and are in very close proximity of one another. So one would assume that there would be a lot of similarities—and there are. Yet there is also a stark difference and that difference was evident in the condition of the buildings. While one had nicely painted walls, organized desks and intact windows the other had the opposite. One school had been built during the Derg while the other was built soon after the fall of the Derg. The one that had aged rather ungracefully showed its history on the walls. There were posters whose message had long faded and desks with missing planks.  In a sense, the condition of the schools was both a sign of the times while also being a window to the past.

In these classrooms was where I conducted interviews for the next two days. The bright eyed youth (ages 14-17) that I encountered had perspective on HIV/AIDS related stigma that I hadn’t yet really encountered. Many of them not only had a very balanced understanding of the ways in which HIV could be transmitted but seemed to be very empathetic in their responses for those that were infected. Many of them described how for them it was really not necessarily an issue to dwell on or a condition that would keep them from interacting with others. During many of the interviews there were repeated responses of “No” to the question of whether they feel their respective communities stigmatize. At the end of those two days I was feeling extremely optimistic and refreshed. Things are not always what you expect them to be and sometimes they can be so much better.

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