Not long after we got to Ethiopia, my big sister got to go to kindergarten. Her teacher was so fond of her, she even gave her a lovely, big doll. I was probably mildly jealous of my sister’s having such a doll, but I was REALLY jealous that she got to go to school and I didn’t. (I’m the one holding forth in the red pjs.)
I wanted desperately to be in school.
Once we moved to Maji in the southwest corner of Ethiopia, my mom started to homeschool my older sister. We sisters always had great projects going on. (In this picture I’m the determined-looking one on the left.) My mom says that I would ask, “Do I have to go to school?” Since I was only four, she would say, “Only if you want to.” I’d say, “No! Mom! Say I HAVE to go to school.”
I wanted to be legit.
Right outside the fence was a school where I saw kids as old as 15-16-17 getting to to to school for the first time. Very few of them were girls.My sisters and I would climb the cedar trees around our house and pretend they were stores. We had elaborate games around pretending that we were shopping or going to real school.
The next August or September, my parents put my older sister and me in a Jeep and off we went down the mountain to get on the Ethiopian Airlines airplane that would take us both to Addis Ababa. Everybody cried. I instantly learned about being homesick. But I also knew that for the first time I’d have classmates. A library. Homework.
I’ll never forget standing under the shade of the airplane wing on the hot savanna waiting for the agents to finish their paperwork so we could take off. I’ll never forget the feelings of being off to school.
Now I teach writing in an MFA program. VCFA is as real as it gets (although it’s a low-residency program, so I guess it’s somewhat like the schools of my early childhood.) I’ve never stopped being a student, too. Right now, I’m a humble learner about native plants in my backyard and about crafting fiction and nonfiction at my writing desk…so glad for a world that lets me stretch my mind and never stop being curious.