Workshopping in Addis Ababa (2)

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It was fun being a minor player, though still with the label Special Guest, in the second round of CODE-Ethiopia workshops in Addis Ababa. This was for writers of supplementary curriculum material for Ethiopian schools, and was partly conducted in Ethiopian Amharic, leaving me in the fog of incomprehension which I’m sure some of the participants at my workshops were in at least part of the time.

The level and ubiquity of English is staggering, and I constantly found myself apologising for my concomitant ignorance of Amharic. About the best I could do in Amharic was to ask where the loo was.

Still on the topic of language: Ethiopia has over fifty (keep that in mind the next time we’re worrying about bilingualism in Canada), very few of which exist in written form, so you can imagine the challenge and cost of developing education and providing written learning material. There are also political consequences if one language becomes dominant (in government, publishing, dissemination of information, etc.) (think Canadian bilingualism), and in this context, English forms almost a kind of unifying force, by serving as a quasi-national language.

Back to the workshop: My session was on ‘Children’s book writing, editing, illustration and design in other countries’ (i.e. Canada), the most useful part of which, I think, was my sharing of a selection of Canadian books for children and young adults, and the ensuing discussion of participants’ responses to front and back covers (why they ‘worked’ – or didn’t), and design generally.

Then it was a walk through the Friday-night-teeming-with-traffic-and-people Piazza district to the Taitu Hotel, the oldest in Addis Ababa, built at the whim of Empress Taitu in 1907, for supper as a guest of the CODE-Ethiopia people.

And I’m humbled and moved all over again by their kindness and hospitality, especially when the evening culminates with a goodbye gift of an elegant traditional vest, which – you never know – may set a fashion trend in St. George, New Brunswick.

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