Back to earth

Getting back to Addis after such a wonderful trip up in Tigray is
difficult, because I am now back to the irritating realities of
jobhunting with a bump. Searching for work is never a task I enjoy much
at the best of times, and if I am interested in development work, where
the breaks are hard to find and the contracts tend to be short, it is
something that I had better get used to, and better at. It is doubly
difficult because of the limited time that is left to me in Ethiopia (11
days!) and therefore the hard choices about where to focus that need to
be made.

I went to an interview straight after getting back from Tigray at the
One Planet International School, which resulted from my random meeting
in the street just before leaving for the north. It turned out not to
be a full interview – instead a chat about who they are and what they
are looking for. It is not what I would call a true international
school – instead its pupils are all from the Addis middle and
upper-middle classes. It’s private, currently runs from kindergarten to
about age 10-11, and will continue to grow to include extra years until
it has the full range up to the end of secondary school. They follow a
US curriculum and do most of their teaching in English, though with some
Amharic as well. I chatted with the ‘executive director’ (headteacher).
They want a native English-speaker to teach English across the full
range of age-groups; they do not have a system with one teacher teaching
each class everything, but instead teachers circulate and teach
different classes, much as in UK secondary schools. It was hard to get
details of exactly what would be included in the job description – does
this indicate flexibility or a lack of clarity? – and I wasn’t entirely
clear whether my role would be as more of an English assistant or as a
full-fledged teacher. It was also hard to draw him on details of salary
– something that bothered me but which Richard and Katy say is pretty
normal here. The deal seems to be this: teach English and possibly help
develop the curriculum, and in return you get a salary in Ethiopian
birr, a house, and 25 hours or so a week of teaching. That is more
contact time than I have been used to in the last few years, though it’s
not clear how much additional planning and preparation would be
required, and I suspect that teaching basic English to primary-age
children, it would be easier to contain the job within school hours. We
agreed that I would go away and think about it, and also research what
kind of salary I might ask for (bearing in mind that it will be at local
rates), and then get back to him on Monday to indicate whether I was
interested in a more formal job interview or not. After a dispiriting
day of job-searching, it is starting to look an attractive possibility,
at least if I want to stay in Addis. It is the wrong time of year to be
looking for jobs in real international schools, which are much
better-paid – they recruit from February to April/May, and at that stage
I still thought I was moving to Sweden.

I must have looked at 500 job advertisements yesterday, and there were
very few where I could tick more than 80% of the required
characteristics. In most cases what I was missing were the important
ones – not an Ethiopian national, not the holder of a post-graduate
development degree, not possessing 10 years’ relevant experience, and so
on. It is frustrating – there are some entry-level jobs that I am sure
I could do well but which require a degree or other relevant
qualification. A couple of other jobs I have already applied for that
were more open-minded on qualifications, where I put a lot of time into
the applications and which I looked pretty well suited for, did not
result in a shortlisting. Meanwhile, my emails sent to about 30
different contacts have so far yielded a variety of out-of-office
notices, an email saying “we are laying people off at the moment, try
another time”, two people asking rather irritably how I had got their
email addresses, and a lot of non-responses.

There are two irons left in the fire for now – the possibility of an
internship with Save the Children in Nairobi, which might last a few
weeks or a month, and the school job. The former would be much closer
to what I want to be doing, but would be unpaid, and might or might not
lead to other work. I am pretty sure that if I got the break, I could
impress them enough that it could lead to other stuff, and Katy thinks
the same. However, it’s not a solid offer at present, and I don’t know
when I will find out whether it is. Meanwhile, the school want an
answer in the first half of this week. I don’t particularly want to
work there in the long run, but it is a bird in the hand, would be paid,
would keep me here in Ethiopia, and might allow me the space and time to
network in Addis, make contacts in development, and perhaps to fit some
voluntary consulting/interning work around the job. But it worries me
that it would expand to fill my spare time (as has all my teaching work
in the past) and prove something of a dead end, though it is true that I
have fewer other commitments than before, and so could probably make
time for other work to get my name known if I really had to. I really
don’t want to teach but it would mean a toehold. The alternative is
drifting around looking for work in London, or going for the Quaker job
in Brussels – another job that has the virtues of looking like a
stepping-stone to something else.

Weighing up this kind of choice is something that I hate; there is
something uniquely stressful about having to make decisions with such
potentially huge consequences, where every path taken potentially closes
others. It all adds up to the first rumblings of doubt that I have felt
since deciding to follow a new path. Its companion is a feeling of
regret, a feeling that I want my old life back, which creeps in from
time to time and which is unwelcome but strong. I don’t trust or need
this feeling, but I am faced with uncertainty and the growing feeling
that if I want to stay here, I am going to have to give another chance
to work that was making me miserable before. It’s making me feel a bit
lonely, and playing tricks with my confidence.

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