My life as a VSO volunteer in the western highlands of Ethiopia has taken a strange turn towards luxury for the upcoming weekend of St. Patrick’s Day.
Power and water shortages, the absence of cheese, the regular scurrying of rats in my attic and the countless dust-filled walks to and from my primary schools have given way, if only for a day or two, to the bright lights of the most decadent hotel in Addis. Yes, I’m a hard-core volunteer…most of the time…but bring on the comfort!!!
Tonight,Friday night, 16th March, the Ambassador of Ireland, H.E. Ms. Sile Maguire requests the pleasure of my company (and all Irish living in Ethiopia!) at the National Day Reception at the Lalibela Patio in the Sheraton. I’m truly looking forward to this night as our ambassador looks after her VSO citizens very well. She knows we come to the big shmoke to let our hair down. She tends to give us the nod as soon as the buffet is open and drinks are being served and ensures us a safe ride home after one too many drinks. Ferrero Roche would disappoint us! The following night I’ll have to get the glad rags on for a second night, how tiresome, to attend the St.Patrick’s Day Charity Ball, again, in the Sheraton!
A ticket to the charity ball on the night of the 17th has cost well over one third of my monthly salary with part of the ticket going towards two deserving charities based in Ethiopia and the rest towards our meal (including salmon…salmon! Haven’t tasted it since I left home last September) the music (a band from Ireland are travelling for the event) and the free gargle on the night. It’s a pricey ticket by my standards of wages here but I do wonder if the hotel will actually manage to cover their costs…a ballroom full of Irish people, away from home, with a free bar. Time will tell!
I did consider staying in Nekemte and attempting a St.Paddys’s celebration of sorts here in the town and I may very well do something next year. Maybe I can organize the Kerry football team to come play with a local team (Sure the Kerry lads won’t be doing much anyway…). But when I speak about St.Patrick and explain his importance to us in Ireland it’s difficult for me to feel a sense of excitement about the day here. This is totally understandable. Only 1.7% of people in Ethiopia are Catholics so they’re not all that interested in hearing about St.Paddy, the Welshman, bringing Christianity to our wee island. And more to the point, which directly affects my mood for this occasion, is that Ethiopians don’t celebrate events quite like we do in the west. We’re a self-indulgent bunch and our celebrations know no limits at times. And we Irish can be the kings of excessive partying. So hand on my heart, St.Patrick’s Day is a day when I like to be self-indulgent. I’m one of those eejits you see dressed as a leprechaun swigging out of a bottle of beer dancing a jig in a packed sweaty bar! This year I may be dressed a little differently but I’m hoping for a bit of the Riverdance at some stage over the weekend!
Speaking of dressing, the challenges I face as a volunteer in Ethiopia involve bringing teachers together for workshops, the lost in translation language barrier, the regular ‘stomach problems’ and getting accustomed to the annoying local custom of endless calls for attention when I walk around. But suddenly a guna for the upcoming ball has become a source of stress for me! What shoes will I wear? I don’t have any shoes with me! I am reminded immediately of life back home. I haven’t thought about clothes or fashion so to speak in almost 6 months. It has been quite refreshing.
So though I look forward to my weekend of luxury celebrating our Patron Saint of Ireland I do so with slight trepidation of a different sort. The kind I have not yet experienced in my role as a VSO volunteer in Ethiopia. But rather one that has been pressed upon me, by my own need, to party the night away with fellow countrymen in honour of St.Paddy.