One month ago, Dani Reynaud and Ray Sanders, together with their boys Marcel, 12, and Rainier, 10, left the Methow Valley for an experience of a lifetime — an overseas post in Ethiopia working at International Community School (ICS) in Addis Abba.
Dani, who grew up in the Methow Valley, worked as the executive director of Little Star Montessori for 10 years, and Ray was a beloved PE teacher at Methow Valley Elementary. They both wanted to expose their kids and themselves to the world beyond the valley, and thanks in part to Ray’s experience at an International Baccalaureate (IB), school, they were eligible to work overseas at one of the many IB schools that are set up for international learning.
Dani was hired as the elementary school deputy principal, and Ray is teaching PE. Kids who attend the school are the sons and daughters of international aid workers, businesspeople and diplomats from around the world.
I checked in with Dani to see how they are adjusting. In short, excellent. Dani reports that school days are longer for everyone, but fun and engaging. Thankfully, unlike here at home when a 10-hour workday would leave you too tired to prepare a homemade meal, they have domestic help, so their meals and chores are mostly done when they arrive home, giving them family time together and the relief from having to do it all.
To many of us that sounds perhaps extravagant or even imperialistic. But it’s expected that an American living abroad would have hired help, especially in such a poor nation. The average civil servant earns $20 per month, less than $1 a day. So, to employ someone domestically, for that person, it’s a lifeline. Plus, if you think 8.5% inflation is rough, locals there have seen 30% rise in cost of living from the war in Ukraine.
One unexpected surprise of their new life is walkability. Located just two blocks from campus, they can safely all walk to school, and are within walking distance of restaurants, shops and ice cream! That’s right, ice cream. Ethiopia was occupied for about five years in World War II before the Allied Forces liberated it from the Fascist regime of Mussolini. Italian cuisine made a small lasting impression on the country, noticeable in gelato and spaghetti, which can be found on almost all menus.
Marcel and Rainier are making new friends from around the world. They are enjoying a new kitten and playing soccer in the street with other local kids and guards. While their team mascot is an eagle, pet tortoises roam their campus at will, often greeting Dani on her morning run along the track. They love their new community and neighborhood where chanting and singing from a nearby orthodox church soothes them to sleep.
If you follow international news, you may be abreast of the civil unrest in the northern region of the country. Rest assured, they receive daily state department briefings, and their school is well informed and prepared if the crisis escalates.
So peacefully, Dani, Ray, Marcel and Rainier are taking in the culture bit by bit having recently enjoyed their first Ethiopian meal at home. Most school functions begin with a traditional coffee ceremony, which is a mark of friendship and welcoming. Coffee is believed to originate in Ethiopia and as rich in culture as it is in taste, it’s an ancient ritual of giving and sharing. The beans are roasted on an iron pan prior to brewing and the aroma is wafted through the room. Coming up next, Sept. 11 coincides with the Ethiopian New Year, where it will be 2015, eight years behind us. It’s their first national holiday and they look forward to the ancient traditions that include flower bouquets, song and celebration..