I am sitting on a big bed in a big bedroom in a big house in Scotland. It’s so quiet, so clean, so cold. It’s August 6 and there’s frost on the windows. But the view out my window in the greenest green you can imagine. Well, you don’t have to imagine it, here’s a photo from yesterday afternoon, when the high reached 60F.
I’m at Lynn’s house; I’ve written about our travels together many times. I have sunk into a routine of working, eating, reading, walking, more work, more eating, and watching Dickensian, a brilliant BBC TV series that jumbles together all the Dickens characters into one murder mystery. I don’t know why it never made it to the states.
Europe, Ethiopia, and England seem like dreams. The episode I wrote about in my last post has already morphed from panic-stricken flurry of drama into something that will make a good story some day.
After returning from Lalibela, I put in a week of work in the refugee camps in northern Ethiopia near the Eritrean border and in our offices in Shire. I’ve written about the “sensitizations” we carry out to tell people about the effects of torture and trauma on mental health and what we can do to help them heal.
I also sat in on a two-day training in which all of our counsellors were trained in on a new group manual for adolescents. That probably sounds like a lot of gobbledegook. There are a lot of adolescents who have fled from Eritrea. They’re there without their families. They don’t know when they’ll ever see their families again. They attend school in the camps and there are recreational facilities where they can play football and so on but in general they feel hopeless and like most teenagers, they’re restless. So they leave the camps and try to get to Europe. These are those people you see in the news who are being fleeced by human traffickers, only to drown in rubber rafts in the Mediterranean Sea. The lucky ones make it to Europe or Israel, where they again live in camps.
So there have been spates of suicides and suicide attempts and the groups for adolescents aim to prevent that and teach kids how to cope with the uncertain situations they live in.
I’ve written about the content already. This staff training was really good, despite the fact that it all had to be translated, which made it twice as long as if our Kenyan psychotherapist could have just said it once, in English. It was also despairingly hot and stuffy in the room, and why oh why did they keep one of the Landcruisers running right outside the window, so the exhaust fumes wafted into our room?
We had a break mid morning during which we were served the strongest coffee known to mankind and popcorn. Yes, popcorn, which happens to be my favourite snack. (“Counsellors,” “favourite,”—I am working on two grant proposals to British funders right now so my documents are set to UK English.)
This was also my chance to catch the cleaning lady and stop her from spraying poison and air freshener all over my room. She smiled and gestured as if to say how this was her job, how important the poison was to control the rats, how wonderful the Country Peach air freshener would smell. I smiled back, trying to convey that under no circumstances did I want this shit in my room. The toxic-smelling floor cleaner she mopped around was bad enough, thank you. I would take my chances with the rat sans poison. She smiled in return and I’m pretty sure she went ahead and did what she’d been trained to do once I was back in the training room.
There were 25 counsellors in the training, and almost all of them were millennials. They dressed like American millennials, in skinny jeans and Converse and T-shirts. But unlike their American counterparts would have done, there were no cell phones in sight. They all had cell phones. Was it out of respect for Sandra, the trainer? Or was it because they couldn’t get a signal or wifi anyway?