These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Amsterdam Edition

After spending years living in Eastern and Western Africa – where me and the local cuisine rarely see eye-to-eye – one of my favorite things about travel is the food. Amsterdam was no exception. And while I loved it for the international variety (only London surpasses it in quantity), I can happily say we enjoyed the Dutch pancakes so much we ate them twice : )


Also, every cup of hot chocolate was divine – but you could have guessed that given our chocolate-scented bike ride.

I also couldn’t get enough of the architecture – Europe has something I can’t seem to find anywhere else: buildings I could stare at for hours. And in Amsterdam, I loved it all…from the traditional to the quirky.



Something that all cities I love have in common is their green space. Between the canals and the parks, Amsterdam gave me the fresh air and outdoor space that I’ve been craving, being trapped inside our apartment in Accra.



I know I already wrote about my love of Amsterdam museums, but no list of my favorite things would be complete without these beauties. Maybe next time we’ll make our way inside the Rijksmuseum.

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International Day of People with Disability

December 3rd was International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) – a United Nations’ sanctioned day that aims to promote an understanding of people with disability and encourage support for their dignity, rights, and well-being.

This day is incredibly important throughout the world, but especially in Ethiopia, where those with disabilities are usually treated as second-hand citizens, if they’re even acknowledged at all.

I’m proud to say that my main school – Adare Primary – is taking steps to rectify this issue. They’ve recently hired a teacher whose sole responsibility is to work with disabled students. Of course, you may think, what else would they do? But the harsh reality here is that students with disabilities, whether physical or mental, are placed in the same classes as their peers and are eventually forced to drop out when they fall too far behind.

As far as I’m aware, our new teacher doesn’t have much (if any) training on working with disabled students, especially our blind students who have only a bare understanding of braille. Thanks to a number of you lovely people, I have a handful of braille books on the way (including a guide to teaching braille! – Thanks Mom). But in support of International Day of People with Disability, I figured I’d make one more plea with you to help support our students with disabilities.

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Why kid lit is my favourite kind of literature

Most of my days are spent immersed in children’s literature. I’m either reading a book to the students at my school, passing out books for them to read themselves, or reading books on my own to create critical thinking questions for them.

But these last few months I’ve taken it one step further. I’ve been working on four Eager4English books written by creative writing students in the US who were paired with a volunteer here who could give the authors the inside scoop on life in Ethiopia. Specifically, life for the kids who live here. With that in mind, each writer created a story particular to the Ethiopian town they were working with.

These stories were compiled and edited months ago and then the waiting began…because what good are children’s books without illustrations? But our lovely Ethiopian artist Yonas Hailu finished up this week and now the rest of the work can continue. SNNPR’s book is almost complete with the other three (Oromia, Amhara, and Tigray) to follow in the upcoming month! But for now…teasers for some of the stories to be included in the collections.

My Lake of Love

My Lake of Love written by Mary-Liz Shaw…think of a realistic version of The Lorax in an Ethiopian setting. The story focuses on the importance of keeping Lake Hawassa clean for the generations to come. I may be biased, because this story is about my town, but I think it’s lovely!

Aremias Finds an Elephant

Aremias Finds an Elephant by Dulce Haviland is about a little boy who loves to bring the animals he finds in the woods home…culminating in the largest animal of all, an elephant!

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The power of reading


This past week marked the start of my new Reading Program at Adare Primary School. In the span of 4 days I taught 23 classes with a total of 1,368 students, grades 1-8. Each class was held in the library so that students who’ve never held a book of fiction before would get a chance to read for an hour.

The plan (hope) is to repeat this program once every month. Grades 1-6 got an introduction to literature. We read some books aloud and then I passed out books for them to read independently. In the coming months we’ll have more focused readings…a day for fairytales, nonfiction, poetry, etc.

Grades 7 and 8 will be participating in a reading challenge. Anyone remember the BOOK IT! Program sponsored by Pizza Hut? Rewarding reading with pizza? Genius. So with that in mind, students will come in every month and read as many books as they can (and then answer the critical thinking questions I created for each book!), and the student from each class (there are 10 grade 7 and 8 classes) who reads the most/answers the most questions correctly will win a goodie bag at the end of the semester.

Goodie bags will include school supplies (most of which I’ve already been able to collect), games, and books. And that’s where you can help. After all, ’tis the season to be generous : ) You can buy a cheap, used book and ship it to Ethiopia FOR FREE – that’s over 7,700 miles if you’re in Minnesota! (Though of course you can ship from anywhere!)

If you’d like to help Adare Primary School Students, here’s what you do:

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Read any good books lately?

It’s finals week at my school, which means my classroom has been appropriated and I’ve relocated to our library/copying center for tests/random room. I’ve decided to make the most of my time and dust/organize the books by reading level. Once I’ve finished, we can start moving the books into our recently built library.

It’s actually been a lot of fun going through shelf upon shelf of the randomest books people have thought to donate to Africa over the years. I thought I’d share some of the gems I’ve found so far with you…


No primary school needs this many romance novels in its collection. In fact, I’d go as far as saying they’d probably be just fine if they had a grand total of zero of these kinds of books.


If you think the cover of this book is priceless, get a look at the backside…


I’m not sure how I got through my teen years without this book.

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