Soddo, Ethiopia: “Tuh Rou Noo?”

by Stephen Lilly, Salesian Lay Missioner

Tuh Rou Noo? (Is everything good?)

In the morning before school, I pull out all the Amharic and Wallaytigna phrases I can remember in order to greet the children.

Whenever I ask “Tuh Rou Noo?” the answer without fail is “Tuh Rou”

(Good).  And so it is: the sun has risen; the children are smiling, and another day of school has begun.

[cincopa AwHAMZK0QxK-]One of the quirky aspects of Don Bosco Catholic School is the bell system.  When Abba Jose was searching Addis Ababa for a normal school bell he came up empty.  However, what we would consider a storm warning siren was available.  Thus, we change classes to the sound of a coming tornado.  I must say, it certainly does get your attention, and it serves its purpose well.

The time I love to hear the tornado siren the most is at 12:15: lunch time.  As a cafeteria has not yet been built, the students eat in the building that will house the science laboratories in a few years.

There is a small trench that runs down the middle of the floor, and it makes a pretty good place to put your feet.  So, the smaller children eat along the trench, and the bigger students straddle benches that are arranged along the walls.  Lunch is always a quick affair, as the children try to snarf down their food as quickly as they can in order to get out to the playing field.  However, I always enjoy looking into the children’s lunch tins while something remains to see what they have to eat.

By far the most popular choice for lunch is “injera,” the national food.  I am not 100% sure how it is made, but I believe that it is prepared from a grass called “teff.”  The seeds are collected from the grass and are ground.  Then, they are mixed with yeast and some other ingredients, and the mixture is allowed to sit for multiple days in order to ferment.  Afterward it is made into a soft flat bread.  The fermenting process gives injera a sour taste.  Usually, it is eaten with some kind of sauce or stew, which is called “Wat.”  Many students also eat yams or potatoes, pasta, or rice with different sauces.

Everything looks very good, but, as I said, it doesn’t remain long.

One thing that always stikes me is that the children will offer me part of their lunches.  Perhaps it is a sign of respect or generosity, or maybe the children just want to get to the field even more quickly.

Some of the workers check the children’s lunch tins on the way out of the room to make sure that they are eating.  However, after school you might see a child running home as fast as he can to eat because he didn’t want to sit and have his lunch.

A big event in the coming month is the inauguration of the school.

While construction is still far from complete, the date for the occasion has been set for December 8th, and preparations have begun for the ceremonies and festivities.  Some of the students will be performing songs, dances, and a short skit for the event, and rehearsals have begun during recess and lunch.  When the teacher coordinating the skit asked for volunteers during one of my classes, children were nearly falling out of their chairs trying to get her attention.  They seem excited about the event, and it will be a large celebration as hundreds of guests, including some of the large donors from Europe, will be present.  In addition to the student performances, a feast will be served, which is always a big deal.

So when will the school be completed?  Construction certainly moves at a different pace than we may be used to.  Nearly everything is done by hand.  Rocks need to be moved by hand and then shaped into the appropriate sizes.  Cement needs to be mixed by hand, and then transported to where it is needed.  So, little by little construction is progressing.  In the last few weeks the foundations have been laid for the volleyball and basketball courts; the septic system for the shower houses has been constructed, and piles of dirts have been removed from the football field.  It may not seem like much, but things are getting done slowly but surely.

In many ways the construction mirrors my own work.  Just doing a little each day and offering it to God.  It may not seem like much, but it’s something.

I hope that you are all well and that you can answer “Tuh Rou” as well.  Thank you!