Before Ethiopia

I’m currently experiencing a bout of perfectionism, regret (at not being able to get everything I want done perfectly completed), overwhelm, mommy guilt, and exhilaration. Tomorrow, after my son’s fourth birthday party and after I put both boys to bed together with my husband, I will leave to the airport and hop on a very late flight from Rome to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Image by YouNeek Studios. Animating Ethiopia

Image by YouNeek Studios:


I’ve been invited to teach MA and MFA Fine Arts and Film students at Addis Ababa University for a two week intensive animation seminar I have named Animation and Multimedia Storytelling. The way I see things, there are too many stories told about Africa that are told by outsiders, foreigners, and an international news media that loves to focus mainly on negative things like wars, famine, corruption, and the like happening on the continent.

I recently wrote about my very first introduction to Ethiopia from TV reports and “specials” about the famine going on in the early 80’s when I was five and six years old. It made a huge impression on me back then and I can scarcely believe I am going to the land inside my childhood TV in person. (Thankfully MUCH has changed in Ethiopia since the 80’s for the better. Unfortunately a few close family and friends haven’t gotten the memo and are concerned I am going to some horrible place.) Maybe this daily blog I aim to write while I am away will help change their minds?

So the goal is to teach the university’s first animation course and somehow pack in as much animation history, tradition, techniques, and tools as possible without the luxury of time which is so useful in digesting such a broad and wonderful but sometimes tricky-for-beginners topic.

My admittedly over-ambitious goal is that every student in my class can tell some kind of short story in animated form after only two short weeks. This is rather difficult under the best of conditions, but I am confident that at the very least they will get a solid foundation and introduction to animation, learn some new ways of working along with software and multimedia tools, and get SOMETHING moving and communicating after all is said and done.

My even loftier ambition is to (with the students’ permission) put their final work (most likely in-progress) online for a hungry Youtube or Vimeo audience. I’ve been combing through the few animations and videos out there from Ethiopia and can see an enormous enthusiastic crew of eager viewers who are in Ethiopia or originally come from there. In my imagination I see my future students, friends, and colleagues telling their stories and becoming “internet famous” within the Ethiopian and African online communities as well as the larger global audience.

Well, it would be great to keep writing (oh, my cursed perfectionism!) but I have a million small details to attend to before this time tomorrow. For the moment I’m off to copy keys for babysitters, make sure my husband and boys have everything they need, more birthday party planning (I have no #4 candle! I am a terrible person…) and still have crucial items to pack and papers to print out.

For now, I’ll leave you with a nice overview of the animation situation in Africa, Appraising the Role of Afrimation (African-Animation) in Promoting Africa’s Rich Cultural Heritage in a Digital Age written by Joseph Izang Azi in 2012.

But if you are not in an academic reading mood, how about checking out 9 African Animations for Children You Should Look For by Njeri Wangari? Who can resist the positive, educational, and uplifting influences of Bino and Fino of Nigeria and Ubongo Kids of Tanzania?

And what stories will the students at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia tell?


Read the next blog post in this series.