Jane's Visit to Ethiopia

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On Saturday, March 8, Jane Kurtz arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for her first time back in 20 years. She had been invited, through the Young Authors Festival program, to speak to students in the International Community School, the Sanford British School, and Bingham Academy about her books. Her youngest sister, Jan, went with her. Here's what Jane has to say about her visit:

I met Jan in Frankfurt. It was the middle of the night, our time, but daytime in Germany, and we decided to try to stay awake, which wasn't too hard since we were so excited. When we landed at the airport at Addis Ababa, I expected to feel immediately at home. After all, I'd flown in and out of that airport hundreds of times over the years since I was two years old. Waaaaaa. It looked so different that I didn't recognize anything.

Over the next few days, though, everything began to look familiar. I remembered playing volley ball, as a teenager, at the International Community School where I first spoke. Yes, some of the buildings were new. But I could recognize the old buildings, too.

The children at the International School greeted me in fifteen or twenty different languages, showed me dances from their home countries, and did a program where they shared what they think about when they think about the country of Ethiopia. Over the next few days, I visited every single classroom and talked about my books. I also asked them questions about my books. "Does this illustration look right?" I would ask. Or "Can you tell where this scene in my book is supposd to take place?"

One day, at ICS, students from all three schools worked with me and with adult helpers from the schools to create a story to go along with some pictures that had been drawn by a French artist living in Addis Ababa. In one scene, a goat was getting too lively and chasing a little boy. In another scene, a big sister was making her little brother do all the work of carrying the groceries at a small store where they were shopping. In another scene, a boy was in the middle of a shower when the water ran out. We tried to think of plots and also the five senses details of life in Addis Ababa. I asked the students to tell me (in writing) something weird or unique about themselves and here's what one boy wrote:

My name is Alexander Monro and the wierdest thing about me is I love a slice of cheddar cheese thickly coated with honey. I am originally half German and half British and have been to many places including Zambia, Namibia, and Malawi.

I explained that we can use weird things from our own lives to make our characters in our stories seem more real and interesting.

During the lunch times, I had lunch with a small group of students each day. I asked them where they'd been born and where they had lived. One girl wrote to me, later and said this:

I lived in Texas, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and those are the countries I lived in. I hope you like where I lived. I like the books that you did. I love to make books, too. Love, Mary Strong

At Sanford School, I gave big presentations to children, in an assembly hall, and then spent a lot of time doing writing with 24 students who had been chosen to work with me.

Here's a picture of some of the students whose teachers chose them as good creative writers. The students in that group were named Aditi, Sarah, Odi, Moses, Joyce, Deaglan, Michael, Heithem, Christina, Wibayhu, Clare, and Fabio.

Two busy workersHere are two younger students busy writing about what you can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch during rainy season in Ethiopia. The students in that group were named Ansa, Chiop, Natalie, Fasil, Fariyal, Abigail, Connie, Ijeoma, Ismail, Teemt, Semhal, and David.

On the last day at Sanford,
the students were supposed
to dress up as some character
in a book or story. Here is a girl
dressed up to be Almaz in
She was carrying a bit of yarn for
the lion's tail.

I took this photograph at Bingham Academy.

At recess, I liked to watch the students playing jump rope and swinging--just the things I also did when I was their age. I remembered running a race at Track and Field Day on the field where some of them were playing. When I had a break, I wandered out under the eucalyptus trees and picked up the pods, there, remembering how I used to play with those pods when I was a girl.

On the weekend, my sister and I were able to fly to the northern part of Ethiopia for a visit. We walked through the huge stone churches of Lalibela. Ethiopian stories say that angels helped build those churches and when you see them it's hard to imagine how else they could have been built! We also went through the castles at Gondar that have fascinated me since I was a little girl and walked up those stairs pretending I was a princess. In the doorway of one ruined castle, I saw a gebeta game! Our guide said it was from the time of the kings and that the king used it to teach his young students.

Being back in Ethiopia was like going home to a world of designs and colors, flowering trees, spices, kids playing soccer in the street one morning, roosters crowing in the city to wake me up, and sunshine. It was hard to come back to the flat, snowy, gray-and- white world of North Dakota. I'm really, really glad I had a chance to visit the country I grew up in and hope I'll get a chance to go back some day.

More Pictures from Jane's Ethiopia Trip

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