Friday, December 20, 2013

International Day of People with Disability 2013

Impromptu parade
Slight error in the printing of the visors
December 3rd marked the 21st International Day of People with Disability. Since this is Ethiopia and time is relative, our town celebrated 2 weeks later, arbitrarily set on a Tuesday morning.

Everything was set. The band was booked, the speakers were prepared, and the cardboard visors were printed, albeit with a slight error: "International Day of Song with disability." Really, Mr. Printing Man? What is a song with disability and why is there is an international day to celebrate?

(Not so) big sister carrying her brother
We started the morning by meeting at the office and walking together to the university. This turned into an impromptu parade of sorts, since there were several people in wheelchairs accompanied by us ferenji (foreigners) marching in a line to avoid traffic. People stopped to stare and watched us walk by, mouths open.

After arriving at the university, there were stairs to navigate at the event hall, which was reminiscent of the 'Capitol Crawl' to promote the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, only with 2 stairs instead of 83 leading up to the U.S. Capitol.

The event was well-attended, even though it is difficult for people with physical differences to walk into town. The few people who are lucky enough to own wheelchairs were pushed by their relatives, while those without wheelchairs were carried by loved ones, tied to their backs with long scarves.

The event itself was long and boring with many speakers who wouldn't stop talking, typical of Ethiopian ceremonies. If it weren't for two small boys fighting in American Sign Language next to us, we may have fallen asleep. The band, however, was well received, wearing typical Oromia attire and doing the traditional dance, spears in hand.

Next, we got to work painting some murals about disability awareness. We offered to paint one mural outside the office, but our counterpart suggested that we do four murals instead. Good thing we had help! For all of the employees, this was their very first time painting or even touching a paintbrush.

Of course, our simple act of painting drew a huge crowd. One lady commented, "Oh, those foreigners are so creative." Her friend corrected her, "No, they are crazy and they love to work." 

Others attempted to mimic the sign language letters staring at the painted hands then staring at their own hands. Small children pointed to the painting of a child in a wheelchair and asked, "Whhat is zis?" 

Even though we felt like monkeys in a zoo while we were painting, at least some conversations about disabilities were started, right?