Square ONE: Educating myself about Africa

ONE Mom Blogger and Parent Hacks Founder Asha Dornfest is traveling to Ethiopia with ONE in October. This blog post is part of our coverage in the lead up to the trip. This piece was originally published on her site.

I don’t know which language is spoken in Ethiopia.

I can only identify the location of about four or five countries in Africa, and that’s because my son studied geography last year. He can identify almost all of them.

I don’t know who my congressional representative is. This is relevant because when I hear the best way to support a cause I care about is to write to my congressperson, I don’t know how to do that.

In six weeks, I board a plane to Ethiopia to learn and share stories about the remarkable partnership between Ethiopian community leaders and the advocacy organization ONE. I’m heading into the experience with very little knowledge about the political process, international aid, the history and culture of Ethiopia, or its modern struggles and triumphs.

I’m not proud of my ignorance. But I’m telling you about it for three reasons.

I want you to know what you’ll be getting as I share this adventure with ONEMoms.

I’m no expert in policy, health, ecology, education, photography or medicine. I’ve traveled internationally, and even once to Africa (Cape Town, South Africa), but otherwise this will all be new. You’ll be getting the impressions and interpretations of someone who’s starting at Square One.

I don’t want you to feel bad or embarrassed about your lack of knowledge.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the world’s big problems? Poverty? Hunger? AIDS? Have you ever felt that even learning about these problems feels overwhelming? I have. I still feel that way. But my desire to do this storytelling job justice is motivating me to set aside the overwhelm; to educate myself about the country and the people I will have the privilege to visit in October. To widen my perspective so that I can place this trip into something larger than my own experience.

I can’t begin to understand Africa, or even Ethiopia. But I can at least begin to learn.

I want you to come with me.

I want to bring you on this journey that begins in my living room, at my local library, and in my doctor’s office. (I will admit to an irrational level of fear about the shots required for this trip…so much that my nine year-old daughter patted my arm and said “Don’t worry. I’ll go with you to hold your hand.”)

Will you go with me, too?

The official language of Ethiopia is Amharic, but it’s spoken by only about a third of the population. Ethiopian children also learn English in school. This is what Amharic sounds like.

Ethiopia is located in eastern Africa. The capital is Addis Ababa. Here’s a map of Ethiopia.

My congressional representative is Earl Blumenauer. Here’s how to find out yours.

Come to Ethiopia with me and ONE. Let’s do this together. (I’ll take one for the team and get the shots.)

I’ve just finished reading the novel Cutting For Stone (set in Ethiopia), and I’m now reading Native Stranger (on Jennifer Margulis’ suggestion). Any books or sites you think I should read? Travel wisdom to share?

Asha Dornfest is a ONE Mom Blogger and the founder and publisher of Parent Hacks, a site devoted to parents’ scrappy, real-world tips and product recommendations.