A Trip To Dire Dawa
It was a pedagogical training course program for French instructors in Ethiopia organized by the French Embassy for the fourth time. There were 65 participants; most of them Ethiopians, some French and other nationals drawn from various colleges, universities, community and private schools and international organizations. There was a festive atmosphere at the Lycee Guebre Mariam when the large Marco polo bus loaded at around 6.30 on Saturday, March front of the bus reads “TV.5”, the famous French T.V station that sponsored the event. We left Addis at around 7.00. It was a long and arduous journey especially after passing Awash but the unusual cloudy and rainy weather was comforting. Some of the passengers were looking through the window to try to get a glimpse of any sight that might interest them. There was this “WOW” sound every time we encountered crushed vehicles. One would be as astounded by the number of accidents seen in the road. But our driver was driving with a moderate speed as if to create the semblance of order in a naturally chaotic situation. I personally felt I was on a pilgrimage or participating in a trip home for the holidays. It was in fact a trip home for some, including Gash Elyas, a senior French teacher of Addis’s Alliance Ethio-Frances who had been born an brought up in Dire Dawa. He has had tremendous years of teaching experiences here and abroad and I was struck by the number of language he speaks: Amharic, Oromifia, French, Arabic and Spanish. He turned to be a perfect traveling companion. His broad smile and his pleasant conversations made the trip much more interesting than it otherwise would have been. We stopped for lunch at Asebe Teferi, unattractive town for its culinary pleasures but the green and fresh chat was a source of consolation for some of the group who wasted no time to purchase. We arrived in Dire Dawa of around 6.30and headed to Alliance Ethio- Frances where we received a warm welcome. Later, we were assigned to our hotels. Anyone who is visiting this town should plan walking at night in the streets of Kezira. It is a part of a town where the past is still present in the evocative buildings and lined trees. DireDawans enjoy walking the streets in the evening, though it was raining little on that day. We were not there on a tourist visit but rather to attend week-long French training courses. The French connection remains strong there, where the language is still spoken. This has probably to do with its proximity to Djibouti and its base to chemin de Fer Franco-Ethiopian. The Alliance Ethio-Francaise, though not as big as the one in Addis, was established in 1908 and is one of the first and foremost French language teaching centers. It has made tremendous contributions to the education of Francophone Ethiopians who become the elite of the country’s notional administration. On Sunday morning, we all met of Alliance. It was hot but the town had a cool, fresh, early morning smell and we had breakfast there. At around 11, we got into a hall and there were some brief welcoming speech first by Mohammed Abdi, FSP Project Coordinator and Alain Zorzutti, Cooperation Attaché for Education of the French Embassy. Both of them said that the training courses would be an occasion for strengthening the existing methodology within the teaching of French as a foreign Language, led by Mrs. Sylvie Liziard of the University of Rouen, France, preparation of the students to the DELE/DALF examination, led by Mrs. Annie Coutelle from CIEP of Sevres, France and using drama to teach French as foreign language led by Mr. Alberto Crespo, as Spanish teacher and a former actor at Lycee Guebremariam M Addis Ababa. In the afternoon, we headed to Harar, which was a delightful surprise. On the road, the scenery was one of the most beautiful and the view was glorious. We took to visit Rimbaud’s house, where the famous French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud’s memory is kept. He is no Balzac but the French consider him as one of the most glamorous poet. It was said that Rimbaud spent the last ten years of his life as a trader and gunrunner along the north and East African coast. The house that carry his name has been restored by the French government and the Harari people’s Regional state and it has a museum, documentation center and community multimedia. The house is believed to have been a French school of which Rimbaud taught. Rimbaud, who wrote the poem, “The Drunken Boat”, that was translated into Amharic by Dr Berhanu, Abebe, apparently remained in Harer for a year buying and selling coffee and hides. Mme Sylvie Liziard, a professor in the University of France, who was visiting with us, said it was a strange feeling for her to in the trace of Rimbaud in a place for from home. She said it helped her to imagine the adventures life the poet led. “He went through lots of hardship, as he was working for an Indian merchant. He couldn’t have lived here. The house we see now is a bourgeoisie house”, she concluded. I was told by the guide that there are many researchers who come to use the library mainly from Alamaya University and young people from Harar to use the internet. During our two hours stay in Harar we shopped like mad and took a look of some beautifully kept old buildings. Though it was Sunday and most of them were closed, there are countless shopping centers in the town. At around 5.30, we come back to DireDawa. During the trip, I kept a daily diary, writing in French on one side and in English on the other. Of course, my English side was usually longer, but it helped my French to write a bit. One Monday morning, we started the actual training course, divided in to three groups. In our group, we began with drama lesson and our trainer, Mr. Alberto Crespo, is a tall Spanish man how could speak French impeccably. He understood the limitations of the time but he did his utmost to equip us with basic skills. He was gentle and precise and he never made any unkind remark when even we were making intolerable mistakes during the drama practices. We did some voice trainings which some of us found amusing. The group was exchanging classes and on the following day, we were in the class, where Mrs. Annie Coutelle was teaching on best practices and methods of teaching French that would eventually prepare for the standard and recognized examinations called DECF/DALF. On Tuesday evening, there was a film screening at Alliance compound. The film displayed was Les Miserables, which was turned in to a film from one of French’s classic novel by Victor Hugo. The story is quite famous in Ethiopia, as it was translated into Amharic twice by two different people and even narrated in the radio. Jean Val jean, a Frenchman imprisoned for stealing bread, must flee a police officer named Javier. The pursuit consumes both men’s lives, and soon Val jean finds himself in the midst of the students’ revolution in France. The film is too long that we had to watch the second part next day. On Thursday morning, we had an amusing and unforgettable game. It was planned in such a way that it made us discover parts of the town. Two persons would be assigned and travel in a horse-cart or Gari to find signs and names written or posted in various parts of the town. The contestants were not supposed to know the area but should read the instruction carefully and tell the Bale Gari to take them there. The instruction was written in literary French that required careful attention and through understanding, Garis are not allowed in the major roads of the town but the BaleGaleries were so skilled that they took us to places we asked using the small roads before the time we expected. After finding the names in area, and come up with a magic phrase. My seatmate and I were fortunate enough to find all the places but not the magic phrase. The game was amusing all the some. It got coverage in the local F.M and Dire people were as much cooperative as always. Thursday evening was full of emotion and anxiety for some of us. We were readying ourselves to play segments of plays we have studied with Mr. Alberto Crespo. There wasn’t enough time to practice and Alberto admitted he’s never done this before. Anyway, the small stage was prepared and ‘the actors’ were waiting with some unpredictable feelings. Of course, there weren’t long monologues and operatic battle scenes but there was skillful blend of dialogues. Most of them acted quite nicely and there was lengthy laughter from the audience now and then. Mr. Alberto was ravaged by the success and of the end, we all left together to the near- by bar and restaurant, where we dined, drank and sang. It must have been a rare occasion for the place to entertain such large crowd, speaking and singing in French. All in all, it was a wonderful experience for all of us who made the trip. Just as important as the language and cultural exposure, was the chance to discover new places and meet new people.