World Map Mural Painting Project

31 May

So since the early 1980’s Peace Corps Volunteers all over the world have been doing this World Map Mural Project in schools and community centers and as I’m such an art person, I knew I’d HAVE to do one.  When I arrived in Bonga some 9+ months ago, I had a lot of free time waiting for the school year to start and so I made a list of goals for my 27 months in PC service, one of them was to “Paint a mural in Bonga”.  Originally I had a fun jungle themed idea with animals etc…and did a watercolor small rough draft painting and talked to my school about my idea, and in typical Ethiopian fashion, they said it was a great idea. 

I bought cement to prepare the wall, (as it is cement blocks and so not a very flat surface due to all the grooves) and then I waited and waited and waited for the school art teacher/handyman to cement the wall…..several months passed and then finally it was painted.  Then it was painted white to ready the surface.  Next Samson, a Physics teacher from a nearby school that I am good friends with, as he’s an art person too; helped me paint the entire surface a bright ocean blue.  We decided to do the border a darker blue and fade it in to give it a 3-D look, which turned out to be a hassle, but looks great.  This took 2 weekends as we underestimated the amount of paint needed and it was a holiday and we could not buy more that day.

Then I borrowed the digital projector from the Teacher’s College in Bonga and got together with a few people at dusk to project and trace the map from my laptop…..but wait, the electricity to the building did not work.  So we all dispursed and had a beer and agreed after electricity was fixed, we’d try again.  So then it took a week or so to get the electrical wiring redone for that building and we were ready again to project; but now the college needed the projector wo we had to wait another 2 weeks.  Then we’re ready again and are all ready to go despite the impending look of rain, but wait, why is the outlet not working now??? I had verbally confirmed with the handyman Lemma that morning it was good to go, and had borrowed the projector from the college a second time, a mere 8 km away. 

So although electricity was clearly working on the school gounds in general, as it turned out, the “big switch” to that building’s electricity was in the records office, locked.  Miraculously the school’s director was still on campus, so I asked him about borrowing the key, and as it turns out, he did not have a key.  Only the record keeper guy had the only key to that room, so eventually, we called him at his home, and he walked to school and unlocked the room for us and flipped the big switch.  Then, horray, success, electricity right?  Wrong.  It was still not working.  And I was starting to feel guilty dragging people to a meeting to trace this map and everything kept going wrong.

So so random school worker guy I didn’t know offered to check it out, and Samson, my Physics teacher friend and Chuck and a few other watchers played around with it.  They spliced exposed dangling wires, reconnected other ones, we had 2 extension cords going and an ancient power strip that literally had a plastic pen glued into part of it holding something together, and then the outlet itself had to be replaced which turned out to be the problem.  Once the outlet was replaced, it worked……until someone bumped it and shattered half of the outlet cover off.  So Chuck ripped off a piece of random duct tape off his aluminum water bottle and rigged the outlet back together.  So long as no one breathed on it, and the rain storm didn’t start, (it looked really bad outside) we were good to go.  And as we were finished and leaving, lightning started and it started pouring rain once I got home!

So we finally projected the map and the next weekend got together with students to paint it in.  Samson selected some art club students from a nearby school and Lemma selected some art club students from that school, (Grazmach Paulos) and Alemseged my counterpart and Chuck and I showed up to get the party started on a Saturday morning.  However, Alemseged and I talked a few days before and he was worred about 2 things going wrong. 

#1 that Barta School students and Grazmach Paulos school students would be in competition and not get along and would create problems.  (it turned out they worked together great and it was not an issue at all…..also I wanted a few Barta students to learn, so we could do this project later at Barta school in the future)

#2 that students were not talented, or coordinated enough to paint, and Alemseged wanted them to sit and watch the adults paint the entire thing and “learn” that way, he argued as the painting would be there for at least 10 years, he wanetd it to look it’s best and so kids were not to be trusted, I politely and emphatically told him perfection was NOT the desired outcome and if we selected carefully art club students and watched them, they would do a good job and it was more important to me that they helped, than it be perfect, (as it turned out they ROCKED it, and I’m SO glad they were there to paint)

So, Chuck and Alemseged fixed Europe which had gotten a bit confused with all the tiny countries with marker and I had students help me mix paint colors and I had brought a large world map from my house to use as a color scheme sample.  I was not totally sure how to begin with like 15 students all showing up at random times to help, but figured I’d start with South America as it was low and easier, and would grab green paint a brush, and show a kid Brazil on the laminated map, then show him the outline of Brazil on the wall and tell him to paint it green like the other map.  Then the next kid, another country etc…..eventually they could go look at laminated map and pick out a country to paint, find the coorasponding color and point to outline on wall and confirm with an adult it was correct, and then they’d paint it. 

Aside from a few greedy kids that wanted to paint everything, especially China and Russia and all the big countries, and some shy girls I had to encourage a bit, it went amazingly well, and we knocked it out in about 3.5 hours.  One student, (Lemma’s son) even did the lettering of the oceans!  I literally only held a brush for maybe 5 mins to demonstrate painting techniques to the students who were scrubbing the wall and not using great form.  Then, toward the end, it became almost a fight for students to get to paint as the countries were filling up quickly, so I passed out a ton of tiny brushes, (thanks to Bill, my brother who sent them in a care package) to all students and black paint and had them all free for all outline every country so they would pop.  (I must say that in this case, I am especially impressed with the strength, and “non-complainingness” of Ethiopian kids.  There was no water and it was super hot, no snacks, some of their clothing I know were ruined and they would probably be punished at home for that, not everyone got to participate the same exact amount of time, there were no prizes and it was early on a Saturday morning and the paint was enamel, and we had no kerosene to wash up with so everyone left smiling, but filthy,  I can’t really see that happening with 10-15 year old students in the States)

This or next weekend we are going to label the countries, but after that, DONE!  And so Barta school is so excited to do one just like this at their school we’ve already selected a wall, and Samson has written a proposal to get a small budget approved to buy paint for the mural.  Random townspeople are approaching me to tell me the map looks great, perfect even. 

 So here’s why I’m especially proud of this project.  It was something that the students from 2 schools did most of the work on despite concerns about their abilities. It turned out to look amazing!  It helped me bond with all involved.  It is on a main wall facing the main road, so anyone can easily see it, and it will stay there for many, many years.  I feel like although I didn’t really paint anything but the ocean, I can say I fulfilled my goal to “Paint a mural in Bonga”.  It’s nice to feel like I have a tangible legacy to leave behind.  It was super fun and rewarding and educational and now, all school’s want to do one too. 

So suuuure my 2-3 weekend project turned into a 6 month ordeal, but in the end, it turned out SO much better than I could have imagined. 


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