The power of reading

Readers

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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Halfway Heaven

I know…it’s been an atrociously long time since my last post. But I’ve been busy! We had our Mid-Service Conference (and medical – all good) in Addis for a week and a half, and then I went on a journey up north for another week and a half. I’m finally back at site and I’m exhausted. It’s going to take a few days – or a week! – to get a blog ready about Northern Ethiopia, so be patient.

In the meantime, I know you were wondering why I hadn’t posted a book review lately (and by that I mean I’ve only raved about two books so far, both by Cheryl Strayed). But a friend recently mailed me a book called Halfway Heaven by Melanie Thernstrom (along with American candy – just in case you guys were wondering what a good friend looks like!) and I haven’t been able to put it down.

The book is nonfiction and it’s about a murder at Harvard that took place in 1995. An Ethiopian immigrant, Sinedu Tadesse, killed her roommate, Trang Phuong Ho, also an immigrant from Vietnam. The book is fascinating because the author (an investigative journalist) travels to Ethiopia to try and understand Sinedu’s upbringing and how that might have played a role in the tragedy.

I did little (to no!) research/reading about Ethiopia before I came here, because I didn’t want to come in with preconceived notions. Instead, it’s been a “learn as you go” experience. But now that I’ve been here 16 months, it’s interesting to compare my views of Ethiopia with others who have been here.

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“How You Get Unstuck”

“Within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue”—Intro by Steve Almond to Tiny Beautiful Things.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of Dear Sugar columns written by Cheryl Strayed, who has to be the most incredible writer I’ve come across since I stumbled upon Ted Dekker as a child.

Tiny Beautiful Things

I read her third book, Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail, when I first moved to Hawassa six months ago. Last week I read her second book, Tiny Beautiful Things, and a few days ago I purchased Torch, her first novel and the only piece of fiction she’s written.

Reasons why I love her advice: it’s humorous, poignant, and always compassionate. Of all the columns collected for the book, three stuck out the most.

Like an Iron Bell The first column is all about when the right time is to say, “I love you.” And she made the obvious point that it should be said as soon as you think you mean it – with the qualification that you have the right to define what it means to you when you say it. The guy who wrote the question in struggled with the heaviness of the word and she compared the word love to the idea that drug addicts stop maturing emotionally at the age they started using: that our limited interpretation about what it means to say “love” is left over from what we thought it meant the fist time we said it or thought it about someone. That even though it’s in the past, a piece of us is still frozen there.

I thought about it and realized she’s right. Love doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone you say it to. She described love as something that “can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor, and ‘loaded with promises and commitments’ that we may or may not want or keep.” And I really liked that. It’s not like we’re protecting ourselves by not saying it. Those feelings and emotions are there whether or not we’re willing to talk about them. So why not tell someone?

Write Like a Motherfucker – She writes that the words you need to get out by writing them down on paper will come when you’re ready. I love editing, but when I tell people that, I’m always asked, “But do you write?” And part of me always feels ashamed to admit that no, I don’t write my own words, I prefer to help shape others. This has often led me to wonder, should I be writing more? Am I missing out on a different way I should be expressing myself. But I do express myself, I work through my feelings and emotions both here in this blog and in my journal at home. And through conversations with friends in person, over skype, on the phone, in emails, on facebook, in 140-word tweets. I write in the way that I’m able to write at this point in my life. And if I’m supposed to write more later, I will.

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