The idea for our Eager 4 English children’s books was conceived in the fall of 2012. At first, my role was small. I was one of about 30 volunteers who was paired with a creative writing student in the US. Our job was to provide the writer with information about our towns so that a story could be written that our students would really relate to.
As time passed, my role expanded. First into editing – I spent months going over every story and copyediting line by line. And then I spoke to the creator of the books about her vision for the design…her initial plan: a Word document. My shock and appall turned into understanding when I realized she didn’t have InDesign, nor had she worked with it in the past.
During my university days I was the fiction editor and design & layout editor for our school’s lit mag. I had also worked in publishing after graduation, so I offered my (wildly limited) expertise. But still, I had no idea just what I was getting myself into. We waited months and months for our illustrator’s edits. I got tips and advice from a friend in the US, while trying to work with an uncooperative internet connection. We weren’t allowed to speak with the printers directly for fear that they would jack up the prices due to our foreign status. I waited weeks, WEEKS for responses to the inquiries I made to our partners. I was working on four books simultaneously (one for each region – Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, SNNPR), all the while keeping up with my projects at school. I was busy, too busy.
But then, magically, it was all over. And on March 20, 2014 (a year and a half later!!!), all that hard work paid off. Peace Corps had printed 2,000 copies – 500 of each book. The printing coincided with our All-Volunteer Conference, and we were able to pass out the books to the rest of the volunteers. And just like that, it was all worth it. These books were definitely one of the hardest projects during my time here, but they were also one of my favourites : )
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 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 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!
Don’t get me wrong…I’m still all about the fiction (nonfiction as well!), but lately, I’ve really been getting into poetry. Back in the US I didn’t read much of it, but now that I have more time on my hands, I have seriously been enjoying it. My favourite right now is W.S. Merwin, with gems like…
Beyond surprise, my ribs start up from the ground.
After I had sunk, the waters went down.
The horizon I was making for runs through my eyes.
It has woven its simple nest among my bones.
Noah’s Raven Why should I have returned?
My knowledge would not fit into theirs.
I found untouched the desert of the unknown,
Big enough for my feet. It is my home.
It is always beyond them. The future
Splits the present with the echo of my voice.
Hoarse with fulfillment, I never made promises.
But I’ve been expanding beyond English writers and have been reading a lot of translated poetry as well. My current obsession is Two Lines: World Writing in Translation, a series I’ve mentioned in the past. They translate poetry/prose from around the world and publish both the original work and the English side by side. Lately, I’ve had a strong desire to learn Arabic so that I could read the originals of some of my favourite poems. Like…