17 July 2007

Face to Face (almost)

Telepresence is aptly named, eh? In fact, it looks like we are already all sitting together back in Atlanta, but its not true. Not yet.

Its always been kinda funny telling people that both our dads work for the same company, but its times like these that Cisco's dual employment really comes in handy. And I can assure you, this is not a business presentation. We jump the pond first thing in the morning. See you on the flip.


10 July 2007

Swiss Update

A quick update on things here in Switzerland---I think we brought rainy season with us. Ever since we have been here it has been rainy and cold. The minor difference being that it gets dark here around 10PM instead of 630PM.

Also, we have word that the spears have arrived in Georgia without a hitch. If only Fed Ex knew.


06 July 2007

Reason #1 I feared I would not be allowed to exit the country

Because driving is such a colorful affair in Addis, our hosting organization recommends that ex-pats dont drive the final 4 weeks before departing the country. This seems to be an accepted precaution for many folks who are about to leave. Most of our friends practiced driving abstinence to ensure no bureaucratical snafus preventing them from their exit. Its commonly understood that driving accidents, violations, or other run-ins can flag someone's record and precipitate a scene at the Bole International Airport.

Considering we were one of very few teachers left on the compound once school completed, we had little choice but to drive. Had it not been for a small shred of decency, I would have never kept quiet about all those of our friends who resorted to taxis alone for the final month. I even occasionally thought to myself about them, "Suckers!"

Naturally enough, the Friday before our Monday departure was full of errands and trips all over town resolving an issue of spears (story forthcoming). My friend Zewdu and I were driving to Bole for a final lunch together. I left the decision to him and he chose Loza, whose lasagna is first class. En route, we drive through Meskel Square. As I am cutting across 3 lanes of traffic, a traffic cop runs out in the front of the Ford Ranger. Generally, the recommended action is to wave, swerve around him and be on your way. He is on foot after all. But the Bole road was clogged. Thus, I pulled over. He took my license. He filled out his report. He gave me a ticket.
Zewdu translate for me that I am at fault because I crossed a solid white line at the end of the intersection. I get out and began to plead argue with this policeman. As we debate, at least 3 other vehicles do the same thing. I am speechless. This is hysterical for so many reasons. In a world where all drivers routinely and flagrantly violate all sorts of serious driving regulations, I get nabbed for the most petty reason possible!

Zewdu states that I have 48 hours to pay the ticket, but since my flight is before the deadline, I should not pay it. Personally, I wanted to pay the thing off so no complications would emerge, but mainly so that I could keep my Ethiopian license. But by Monday, I realize there is simply not time. Not to mention the offices are across town, and no errands in Addis are quickly accomplished. I would have to fly with the delinquent fine and hope for the best.


Reason #2 I feared I would not be allowed to exit the country

The Saga of the Spears....

Back in March a six foot spear was handed to me as a birthday present. Its craftsmanship and exotic feeling in my hand was sheer joy. Thus, when we went to Langano in June I purchased a second spear, this time 8 ft long.

Following other expat's lead, I decided to ship them home via PVC pipe, which of course meant that I would have to purchase three more spears at the Postabate shops to make the shipping costs worth it. I packaged them up and took a trip to the Post Office. I thought it must be customary to declare them appropriately as spears--the Post immediately said they do not ship weapons and that this pipe was far too long. They suggested DHL.

I knew DHL could ship them and that they would ensure their safe arrival back in Georgia. Since the whole spear declaration did not fare well, this time I would tell them they were traditional sticks, dulas, canes. This did not help--DHL only ships 1.5 Meters.

As a last resort, we tried a second DHL location in the merkato. This time I opted to stay in the car, and let the pretty blonde give a go. Twenty-five minutes later she emerged, empty handed. Undoubtedly, this girl can do anything, while I am denied at every turn.
Later that Friday afternoon we get a call from DHL to say that the main office has contacted them. They will no longer be able to ship the spears. However, the worker states that he will attempt to repackage the spears and shorten the PVC pipe so that it will meet standard requirements. I am equal parts amazed and nervous because we fly out Monday evening. He will call us back before then.

The call comes in around 3PM Monday afternoon--No dice. We race back to the Merkato and grab the spears and a significant refund of ET Birr. Back at Bingham, I am up against the clock--I remove the spear heads from the longer sticks and cut half a meter off the PVC pipe. I call Lufthansa and they said a stamped/sealed receipt would be required to verify that there are no antiques or museum property included. We have a forgery cast and the PVC pipe is now much shorter. Everyone witnessing this spectacle is laughing-- spilling long jokes about the faranj and absurd souvenirs. Of course, I have to agree.

Considering the amount of baggage, video equipment, minamin, that we have already, I am all but set to resign and leave them in Addis. But how can I at this stage? Its too late to abandon this fool's errand. So we trudge to the airport with a total of 9 bags between the two of us. The Lufthansa agent, who is wearing a EAL badge, makes no mention of the fact that we check 5 bags. Moreover, he does not even ask what the PVC contains. They ship for free, and not a word is spoken regarding my driving status.

Not only did the shipment arrive in Geneva but its now on its way to my parents in Atlanta, again free of charge. B says she will not believe it until she sees it in Georgia. I would tend to agree, but now that they are safely described as 'sporting goods' and no longer coming from a country in Africa, I expect Fed Ex to have 'chigger yellum.' In theory, they will arrive home before we will.


01 July 2007

Final Post from the Horn

Apologies for all the frivolous top 10 lists, so perhaps a little background to fill things in a bit. Its going to be difficult to leave Ethiopia, Monday night. Without a doubt, this six months has had a profound impact on the way we see things. A little tweaking to the lens through which we perceive. Its been a fascinating, mindboggling, and challenging environment. While neither of us are in any real hurry to return to the western-affluent-civilized world, what is the one thing that we will be overjoyed to have back? The one thing that we are somewhat craving? Come on, be honest, because we really do love it here (despite what our national readership suggests).

I dont mind the oblivious drivers who would never imagine looking one way before pulling out, or heaven forbid, using their turn signals. I dont detest the lack of infrastructure (transportation, communication, other systems of efficiency to name a few). I probably can get by with shoddy to nonexistent internet, however much I groan. I can withstand the ubiquitous horns and necessity for earplugs to sleep at night. I can even adapt to the immersive and omnipresent smog of pollution. *I should note that this is the very thing that Mrs. C simply cannot withstand. For her, pollution being the thick coat-of-soot-on-your-face-right-after-a-shower that it is, is a significant coffin nail.

For me, the main issue of disenchantment is the lack of anonymity, the impossibility of invisibility--for the white faranj. I look forward to be able to walk down the street and no one notice me. I dont want anyone to shout or point or stare or follow me. I cherish the thought of being completely ignored. At this point, I'd like to take some lessons from Mr Yorke on how to completely disappear. Funny to think that being average, standard and generic could ever be such a high priority.

While we are very excited about speedy internet, text messages, family time, 110W, no diesel pollution, reliable utilities, old friends, sushi, anonymity, specialty grocery items---overall, we are sad to leave here. I have retained over 10GBs of selected photos and 17 mini DV tapes of film. I suppose many pros could shoot that in a span of a couple weeks, but its an amount of footage that will take an enormous amount of sifting, even after all the undesirable stuff has already been deleted. That translates to almost 4000 useable photos and some 17 hours of video but no, I dont intend to profit by displaying the sights of what I have captured. I cant even imagine thinking that way. The thing that is so phenomenal about Ethiopia is that people really are rich in human terms. My motivation surpasses simply showing an African's plight, but instead the grandeur beneath it. Despite the abject despondency of their living situation, the folks are smiling, full of life and vitality. Its something that many Westerners cant fathom--a life apart from material comfort, minamin. Blessings to all the Ethiopian who have enriched our lives and challenged us to see the human condition in new ways.

See other faranj exits posts here and here.

Top Considerations when moving to Ethiopia

Top 10 Reasons to Move to Ethiopia

10. Insanely cheap eating (meal, drink, and coffee can cost 1USD per person)
9. Lose weight quick (of the GI variety)
8. The slow pace of life
7. Ethiopians are gracious, kind (unless on the street) and very attractive
6. Labor is cheap (get your own houseworker, guards)
5. The lack of advertising (unless you can read Amharic!)
4. The overall cost of living can be very affordable
3. If you have ever wanted to be stared and oogled at.
2. Coke doesnt have high fructose corn syrup
1. The sublime climate


Top 10 Reasons not to move to Ethiopia

10. Your body can handle only so much Injara b wat
9. Lose weight quick (of the GI variety)
8. If you take it personally when drivers dont use their turn signals, pull out in front of you, and run you off the road
7. Cold and depressing rainy season
6. General inefficiency tends to be thematic among the bureaucracy
5. The slow pace of life
4. If you prefer to brush your teeth with tap water
3. If you like simple errands to be just that--simple
2. If you have asthma or for some reason need clean, breathable air
1. If you take it personally when every single person yells "Foreigner" at you

But if you are really wondering what to really think about living in Africa, read How to write about Africa. Brilliant.


29 June 2007

Top 10 favorite Amharic Words

These may be the centerpieces of my Amharic, as I try to use these on a regular basis. I hope to retain them as a staple of my vocabulary.

10. Icka -- stuff, things
9. Rabash -- bold, tricky, cunning, crafty, downright sneaky, mischievous
8. Ishi --- ok, thanks, fine, I understand, fine,
7. Shintabait -- outhouse or toilet
6. Wushet -- Lies
5. Bakah -- Enough
4. Chigger Yellum -- No problem
3. Ow -- Yes
2. dabtara -- chorister, poet, dancer, herbologist, scribe, wizard
1. shamaggelly --- elder, old person

So, to give an affirmative answer, just make like you have been hurt. Number 6 and 7 just have the most appropriate onomatopoeia. Put some of these together for the endlessly useful parting catch phrase "Ishi bakah ciao" to indicate "ok, thats enough, bye!"


28 June 2007

Apprehending Abyssinia

With five days left in country, its time to begin the dismount. So I will repeat what Donald Levine said 40 years ago: Ethiopia "impresses me as endlessly fascinating." Particularly by the way things have developed and the things that have not developed. The fact that Ethiopia was the second Christian nation in the history of the world. The fact that it is one of two African countries to have been never colonized. The fact that it may be one of the safest cities in Africa AND one of the most sublime climates in the world. The fact that it is the 3rd highest foreign aid recipient in the world (after Afganistan and you guessed it, Iraq). Addis Ababa is a city of juxtaposition--it is a place of extreme contrasts. But in the meantime, some other fascinations, observations, intrigues:

---Ethiopians scorn eating while walking or moving about. However, Ethiopians freely urinate in public places openly without so much as a second thought (or decent concealment).

---Drivers are afraid of pedestrians while pedestrians are afraid of......rain? (as the saying suggests).

---People live securely behind gated, guarded walls while animals roam the streets freely.
---Ethiopians are more likely to pay for multiple shoe shines per week while foregoing all but the cheapest food available.

---Look down the street and you will see men holding hands with men while women are carrying backbreaking loads. I often wonder about the dynamics of Ethiopian development since it was never colonized. Obviously, its something to be proud of, but what I would like to know--has its independence been more fruitful than the seemingly positive by-products of colonization like infrastructure and civilized drivers? What do you think?


26 June 2007

There is No Me Without You

"I am not sick, its just too cold!" Haregewoin assures us from her bed at 10 AM when we finally arrive at the AWMOSA compound (its taken us three attempts). She is all bundled up under blankets, but cheerful and warm despite the rainy season chill. She welcomes us in and has coffee made for us. When we tell her we are from Georgia, her face glows and she leans up from her bed: "I am going there very soon!" She then tells us the story of a 1 year old orphan who was raped when she was 8 months old. Haregewoin is going to take her to the states for corrective surgery sometime in the next month.

Looking around the compound, we are flooded with all the sensory images from when we first read There is No Me without You. In fact, it almost feels like we have been here before. Haregewoin is as magnetic and charming as MFG suggests, which is not surprising considering her spot-on rainy season description.

As it turns out, its good we visited the orphanage today, because they are relocating next week. Her landlord just raised the rent 30%. In fact, most of the beds have already been moved and she is not accepting any more children until she settles in the new location down the street.

Since the girls have already moved to the new home, there is only a few boys left on the compound. Four of the boys are brothers and will be heading to Australia in a few weeks for their newly adopted home.

As we leave, she asks for our contact information to have during her stay in Atlanta. When asked about how she likes the states, she says she does not like the long journey or the cold weather but has no problem talking to large groups of people. We tell her that we hope to see her while in Georgia, and that she won't have to worry about the cold.


16 June 2007

Rainy Season

When we moved here, loads of folks told us it would get cold during rainy season. We smirked, and quietly laughed. Even at night, although the guards would wear Siberian trenchcoats with hooded gabbies and whatever blankets they could wrap up in, I would wear a light shirt and jeans. But every once and a while, the night air would carry a little bite if you didnt have on sleeves.

The last week of school took the jump. When the final bell would ring at 3:20, it would start raining heavy. As soon as everyone would reach their taxis and depart the compound, the rain would be gone. Clear skies again by 3:45.

Today I am wearing a sweater and wool socks. Rainy season seems to have been graciously late this year (so I am told). It seems that the teachers who left early missed the brunt of it. I was told that if its raining in the morning, it will most likely rain all day. Otherwise, it will rain in the afternoon.

This morning, it was raining, and my wool socks and sweater dont seem to be getting the job done. Its not that its that cold by definition. Instead, its the damp cold that gets in your bones. Meanwhile, I can think of at least one friend back home driving around the GH topless in his jeep loving on the summer heat.


[obviously, the photo is a poor indication of what the torrents of rain can look like]

15 June 2007

School's out (for the summer)

Today was the last day of class, hence the Alice Cooper title, and now we can really quote the Ethiopian's favorite bit of scripture: "it is finished!" I pulled some late nighters this week working on the Bingham video---today was the deadline for a screening at the farewell chapel. This of course meant that I would have to have something respectable to show for myself and would not have the pleasure of continually putting it off and off any longer.

Its hard to say if you are ever fully satisfied with something that you spend such enormous energy on, but it has reached the point where it is leaving less and less for me to gripe about after viewing it. Once its reached a consensus as to its completion, we will put it up online on Bingham's new site.

With loads of folk's help, from a variety of continents and with a variety of content, the promotional piece runs just over 5 minutes. The response was overwhelming, but I still just barely managed to corral my Grade 8 class together one last time for a photo before they escaped for the summer. There was a luncheon afterwards to send off all the teachers who are not returning next year. Half a dozen of them are leaving tonight--which means the compound will be more or less ours for the remaining two weeks.


13 June 2007

Shopping in Addis

Shopping in Addis Ababa, I have realized, is like going to yard sales on Saturdays back home. Or perhaps the more fitting way we refer to our great pastime, garage sailing.
Note the top ten similarities:

1. To do it right, you should reserve the whole day.
2. You never know what you might to find, even at the dodgiest of places.
3. You never know how much they are going to charge for things on a given day.
4. If you dont buy it when you see it the first time, it may never be there again.
5. Sometimes you can even find brand new things and things that have not been opened before.
6. You may or may not need to ask 3 or 4 people to explain the origin of an item.
7. Items can be displayed just about anywhere, for example the sidewalk, streetside or elsewhere.
8. If you are hoping to find one thing in specific, your chances are significantly reduced.
9. There is generally at least one person who wants to stay in the car at the sight of some of the stores.
10. Haggling is the name of the game.

Now if we can just find out a way to listen to Car Talk on the way in between Fantu and Bambis.


11 June 2007

Addis Broadside

Heres a project I did early after our arrival here (it only took me 5 months to get it online!). Consider it a trailer, a tiny glimpse of a larger project yet to come. Unfortunately, the quality leaves several things to be desired.


10 June 2007

Wedding Videography

On many weekends in Addis, you will be bombarded by a barrage of horns honking, then witness a long
processional of cars led by a truck with a fellow hanging out the window, hoisting a videocamera on his shoulder pointing at a white Mercedes with a ribbon on the hood. There's a distinct sensation that this type of parading would never be permitted in 'no cruise zones," or perhaps some type of funeral procession has gone seriously wack. But as it seems, almost every wedding employs this ritual in Addis, apparently an integral component of Ethiopian weddings.

So when I filmed a wedding on Saturday, it was to my relief that I was not asked to sit on a doorwindow filming a car drive down the street. One of my student's older brother was getting married and I was asked to do the videography. I was reluctant to do it at first because my wedding videography days are in the past (so I had hoped!) and I am primarily occupied with two projects already. The fact that I had very little instruction regarding expectations concerned me because of the nature of wedding videographers in Addis: aggressive, ubiquitous and all up in the bride/groom's grill.

This of course, aint the way I like to do things, so I was happy that no one seemed to scowl at me as I did my best at 'blending' myself into the surroundings, as my uncle taught me to do. The ceremony and reception were largely western in feeling, but the entire crowd of guests sang songs throughout the duration of both. It was joyous revelry in the best sense of the word.

I was glad to have filmed the day for the newlyweds, now if I can just find a moment to edit it for them before 02 July.


Attack of the Hippo

Two of the 10th graders on our trip are avid hunters. In fact, they had to be reminded not to sneak their bows or other such deadly weapons onto the van. Of course, as soon as we arrive on the compound, an air soft pistol emerges and thereafter the bargaining for new weapons ensues.

One out of every four guards down-country carries an old soviet rifle. The other three carry 6 foot long spears. The spear tips are well crafted and the opposite end is weighted to balance the piece into a flying javelin for accurate defense and other things like, hunting.

By the third day, all 7 males (5 students and both male leaders) are all slinging spears on the way to breakfast, devotions and other daily activities. The students negotiated to buy the homemade spears from the guards for 70-100 ET Birr each. Empty water bottles are practice targets, and each night several of the guys dress in their camo get-up and disappear into the forest with headlamps.

The final night, we have a bonfire on the beach and sing and talk with hot chocolate and snacks. At one point, there is a sudden crash in the water and one of the students begins beefing up the fire. Another students flips on the headlamp and peers into the darkness. The rest of us don't pay it any mind.

Before long, the two students are clutching their spears and interrupt the fireside chat: "Ok, we need to get moving." Of course, this is rude in the midst of group discussion, so they must urge us a second time: "I think we have a hippo just come offshore and we need to get out of here." They go onto to suggest that everyone should stay calm and not worry that Hippos are one of the fastest land animals in Africa and kill more people every year than lions. Before we leave, the two guys in camo grab sticks still blazing with fire in one hand and poise their spears with their other hand over their head. Of course, I have my spear and naturally follow suit. But instead of a firestick in my other hand, I have a kettle of hot chocolate. As we near the beach's end, they look over their shoulder and remind us not to come in between a hippo and the water. Apparently, thats what makes them panic.

The 12 passenger van awaits us at the top of the hill. We only have to make it back there. Right before we clear the beach, the student in the front drops his torch and we spill into each other. With only flashlights now, the groups peers left, then right. I quickly suggest to keep moving and soon we are encouraged to be loud and make as much commotion as possible. By the time the group has reached the van, the two camo students have vanished back into the woods. We get in the van, and following our good adult leader instincts, we drive immediately back to the cabin, leaving them to spear hippos alone.


09 June 2007

The final week of school

As good as it was to escape the Addis pollution and classroom shenanigans for a full week, it was even better to be back at Bingham, home again. The Langano outhouse, AKA the Shintabait in Amharic, could have been much worse. The food went over splendidly (of course), but the kids had to be tracked down for every meal and for each session of KP.

When we arrived home Friday afternoon, we realized a new void, and the creeping sensation of departure looming. Our good friends, the Millers, left while we were away. They originally had intended to stay 2 years but due to a glitch in the family planning, are now returning to Ohio to expand their empire. Little Miller #2 is due in Sept. But of course, the most painful part about this whole situation is that T-Man (age 3) has left with them.

What this means is that the mass exodus is about to begin. By next Monday, the majority of folks from Bingham will be gone. With only 5 days of classes left, our time here is vanishing before our eyes.

P.S. T-Man did not like to be disturbed while eating his precious Starbursts.


Back from Langano

The trip was delightful for a number of reasons, but chiefly for getting out of the classroom and seeing more countryside over the 2 days of traveling, and 3 full days at Langano.

9 students and 4 adults is a good number for driving down country for four hours. We stayed at the SIM compound by the lake, which has a school for about 200 kids, ranging from 7-20 years old. Since no one has birth certificates, if you can wrap you arm over your head and touch your opposite ear, your old enough to enroll. We painted their 4 classrooms and then played with the school kids in the afternoons. We taught them how to play Bingo, Checkers, and the art of Legos.

I brought out the clown balloons and as soon I squeaked out a little wiener dog, the kids would all grab it and pop it instantly. Everytime. It would be safe to say they had not seen a balloon before, much less a rubber dog with a poor figure.

Since everyone there speaks Oromo, even the 10th Graders who knew Amharic were at a loss trying to say the word for Duck and Goose. So instead, we taught the kids how to play "horse, horse, donkey." It was a smash hit. After about 10 minutes into the game, a 8 year old girl patted my head and called me a donkey. Naturally, I tore off after her. She soon realized that I was going to catch her, so she quickly turned off the circle's track and ran barefoot into the woods. I had no choice but to follow suit. When I caught her, I instantly realized why she sidestepped at the last minute. I ran directly into a evil thorny briar patch of needles. At this point, the kids really like this 'horse, horse, donkey' game even more.

03 June 2007

Black Gold

Its hard to imagine sorting coffee beans all day long for 50 cents. But thats what the women make at the Export Coffee Factory where they sit for 8-9 hours corralled in long rows, endlessly separating bad beans from good beans. The conveyor belt keeps an ample supply at their fingertips, and they hardly look up from their work when our class of 21 8th graders enter the factory to see for ourselves what the Black Gold documentary so powerfully portrays.

Even though the Oromio Coffee Farmers Union doesn't seem to have done anything for these working conditions or wages, they are dramatically improving the circumstances for Ethiopia's coffee farmers. Particularly now with the Black Gold documentary telling their story. Ethiopia, whose claim to fame is the invention of coffee, exports the good stuff all over the world. The country is pretty much dependent on it, as it more or less keeps the "economic pistons pumping." However, even as the coffee industry as risen dramatically over the last few years, the Ethiopian farmers are still getting a pitiful price for their pure product.

Our class really enjoyed watching it, and it has some great footage of Addis and the Ethiopian countryside. If you happen to see it, you might not ever enjoy your 5 dollar Venti soy latte double shot expresso Americano the same. And to hear that from my wife--now that's saying something.


Lake Langano

(Written last Monday morning, 04 June)

The MTW team from Athens, GA arrived on Friday for two weeks, which makes leaving for Lake Langano on Monday somewhat poor timing. But we are chaperoning the Grade 10 trip until Friday, and it means another venture down country. It’s a four hour trip, which means it will be the farthest south we will have ventured from Addis. Our third descent into malaria country.

Betsy is responsible for all the week's cooking, and since there will only be about 13 of us, it wouldn’t seem that big of a job. She started a week in advance and has been to roughly a half dozen shops to find enough supplies, materials, etc. We also had our houseworker helping cook for the past two days. Our entire apartment is brimming with food. We have held the Andy G mantra close to the heart while planning: “The trip can be terrible, it can rain everyday, and nobody have any fun, but as long as there is great food, everyone will have a blast!” Any time that Betsy heads to the market for ‘one last thing,’ I try to eat some of the delicious food without her noticing. I have been unsuccessful so far.

Meanwhile, grades are due today (Monday), so I have done nothing else than grade tests, quizzes and assignments that have been waiting for me all semester. Finally, I am done. After hours and hours of marking, it feels good. Now, if 15 June is the last day of class and grades have already been submitted, what do we do the last two weeks of school? I have no idea, which is why I am going Langano!

If you have any ideas what we should do the last week of school, or can think of any ideas other than grade their Nintendo Wii form/skills, leave us a comment. Otherwise, we will be putting the Wii up on the big screen!


Journey to Bahir Dar

Since we spent more time on the road than we did awake in Bahir Dar, its only fitting to describe the journey in all its dusty detail. Escaping Addis Saturday morning, the highway is not only paved but smooth. This lasts for almost two hours, but the superbly constructed pavement is quickly forgotten because (just like in Addis) it is mainly a pedestrian footpath and 80 kph automobiles are inconveniences. Before passing Debra Libanos, we pass at least 4 overturned, upside-down trucks. The truck's cargo still litters the roadside. Groups of people have lined up to watch the spectacle and some of them are selling portions of its contents.

From there, approaching the Blue Nile Gorge is an hour descent into dust and gravel. The road is unpaved, unforgiving, and makes both genders wish they had worn sports bras. The whole way down, bananas and pringles cans are rolling around the back and dust is pouring in the windows. At the bottom, we forget that all bridge photography is considered terrorist scheming--prompting confiscation or deletion. I stow my camera as the guard flags us down and the interrogation begins. I quickly confess that Jim is guilty and should be searched. Thus, he has to manually delete any jpeg with vague similarities to the vicinity.

After 10 hours of driving, we arrive in Bahir Dar. Its too dark to find our first choice hotel which is known for its 'personality'. Our second choice hotel makes up in cleanliness what it lacks in ambiance, or so the Lonely Planet tells us.

Sunday we pay 300ETB to see the island monasteries and the outlet of the Nile. I have the Sony FX1 wrapped up in B's raincoat and each time the rickety boat takes a surge I wonder how I am going to tread water and keep the camera above my head. Before long, we pass a hippo swimming in the water and I wish I could trade my breakfast for some Dramamine.

The monasteries are several centuries old and have communion services twice a year. Each one has a 20ETB entrance fee. If you've seen one,...

The Blue Nile Falls are instantly the highlight. Even though most of the water has been diverted to a hydroelectric dam, its breathtaking. Of course we pay for a guide, mainly to fend off children selling local fare (which might be mistaken for folk art) and to tell the little guy playing the flute to hold still for the faranj with the video camera.

The drive back on Monday is the same thing all over again except when instead of passing cargo trucks, we pass a passenger bus which has slipped off the highway over the mountainside. It dangles almost vertical on the steep mountainside, crushed by its fall. Right about then, I decide I wont be taking public trans across Ethiopia, even if an all day journey is only 50ETB.


25 May 2007

Fekadu's Krar

I have been on the search for a krar for some time. Most of the ones I have seen are souvenirs, and by that I mean, something best left alone hanging on the wall. When I found out that there was a man associated with Bingham who played the Krar, I decided to try and track him down. I called SIM and they put me right through. I told Ato Fekadu that I wanted to him to come play at Bingham, and I also hoped he would help me find a Krar for myself.

Two weeks later, he arrived with two friends, both slinging krars. They played at tea time for staff and then for a large group of students. Everybody loved it.

Then this morning, he called me to say that he would like to give me one of his krars that he built by hand. I was shocked. He would not let me pay him for his craftsmanship. Finally, he allowed me to contribute toward the cost of materials.

He arrived outside our apartment at 7AM and I was barely quick enough to try to sneak some extra Birr into an envelope for his handmade krar. After the handoff, I made for the apartment. He caught me redhanded before I escaped. Grudgingly, I took back the additional money. Its a beautful piece:

Also, there are some more photos here from the last week or two.

DC, aspiring azmari

14 May 2007

Last week Alemu called me at the office to see if I could come to a
beneficiary's home and give him some help. Dr. John White (the newest
MTW person here) and Alemu (my favorite Abasha nurse-social worker at
the project) were seeing a very ill woman, named Asgernish.

As I pulled up in my large diesel Bingham pick-up truck, two men were
carrying her out of the corrugated tin gate of her compound. She was
too weak to even hobble. One man got in with Asgernish into the back
seat. Alemu hopped in beside them and John got into the front seat.
Alemu directed me to drive toward ICL -- International Clinical
Laboratories. John softly informed me to roll my window down, as
Asgernish is suffering from Tuberculosis.

Asgernish is HIV+, has AIDS, TB, a serious GI infection, and mental
issues which are the result of her suffering from AIDS before she was
on ARVs. Previously, she was admitted to Black Lion -- Ethiopia's
most prestigious teaching hospital, just to be quickly released after
receiving some IV fluids and told that she needs more lab tests. And
since the premier teaching hospital isn't proactively running basic
tests for Asgernish, our project is taking her to a lab to get tested
for typhoid or any other bug which might be causing her GI infection.

Asgernish lays against the shoulder of her brother as we fight
downtown afternoon traffic to climb the hill to ILC. Alemu later told
me that her brother has helped Asgernish so much as she has fought
against AIDS. It was amazing the way he cared for her, even during
the ride. He held her hand, helped to readjust her headscarf, and
rubbed her shoulder silently.

Of course there is road work (aka guys digging up ditches with pick
axes on major roads), and momentarily I am stuck in a busy
intersection, waiting for the one lane of traffic to clear for my
passage to ILC. Taxis are not happy that I am clogging up a major
intersection just to get Asgernish to the lab, henceforth they are
wildly shouting and honking and trying to get me to take another road.

We don't give way to the taxis, and eventually make our way to ILC.
Asgernish is too weak to get out of the truck, so the John and Alemu
go inside and come out with a lab technician. The lab tech proceeds
to draw a large vial of blood from Asgernish in the back of the
truck. Asgernish's brother comforts her through the entire ordeal.
After the necessary sample has been obtained, we head back to the
office to get instant oatmeal for Asgernish to eat as she can hardly
keep anything down. The last thing she needs to be eating is injera
be wat.

While we head back to Asgernish's house (or tin shack, as it would
more aptly be called), I think about lackadaisical attitude of Black
Lion in comparison to Asgernish's loving brother.

23 April 2007

You are My Sister!

Not that I was beginning to envy DC's road experiences, but last Friday I finally joined the ranks and completed my indoctrination into the driving scene in Addis. A faranj once told me that there are two types of drivers in Addis: Those-Who've-Been-Hit and Those-Who-Will-Be-Hit.

Within my first month of driving here, I had an old Corolla attempt to pass me on the right in a crowded parking lot. Not only did I had my right signal blinking away but I had legally turned into the lot first before the blazing white Corolla barged through in my blind spot. Anyway, the result was a very minor fender-bender. I had the upper hand in that I was the one in a large, 4WD, diesel truck. Naturally, he sped off before I could even inspect the damage.

This time around however, something happened that I cannot blame on outside forces. I attempted to enter the only divided highway in the country by using an exit. Since 98% of the people with drivers' license here obey 2% of the traffic laws I figured it would not be out of the ordinary. And to avoid the sprawling traffic jam in Toro-helich, I pulled an Ethiopian move, and did what I've seen many people do: I sneaked onto the highway from the exit ramp. To my dismay, two police officers, on foot, appear from nowhere on the highway and begin blowing a referee whistle at me to pull over. Part of me thinks, I have open road and an automobile, these guys have a small whistle and boots --- why should I pull over? However, no need to mess with the law in a country that has a shaky political and legal system. I don't care to end up in some jail on the top of Entoto Mountain. So, after I pull over onto the right lane (there is no shoulder, I am just in one lane of the highway), a police officer ambles up to the window to say 'You have made big mistake, big mistake.'

Of course, I feign innocence, 'Really? I can't enter there? Oh, I didn't know! I am soooo sorry.' He asks for my license, takes a cursory look, and tells me he will have to write me a ticket and I can go to the police station in my kebele and pay it. It will cost 140 ETB (18 bucks). The thought of having to go to any government office for any unnecessary reason is very unsavory. So, I gently ask the officer, 'Is there anyway I can just pay HERE? Can't I just pay YOU, and not have to go to the kebele office?' Instantly, the police officer changes his tone. He asks me how I am doing. He asks me what country I am from. I tell him America and he gushes, 'Very cool country.' He proceeds to call me Sister, and tells me that I am his friend and I must come to his house for coffee or tea. When I gently ask again about settling up here, he informs me that because I am his Sister, I can pay now and not have to bring a ticket to the kebele (since traffic tickets often block expat's exit visa --I am more than happy to settle on the ring road). So, next I tell him all I have is 100 ETB ($11.25), and without hesitation he says 'Oh that is fine, because you are MY SISTER.' As I drive away, I realize I had effectively bribed a police officer out of a traffic violation, firmly cementing my status as a regular African driver.


16 April 2007

Holey Saturday

Saturday I deep fried homemade donuts with 12 teenage girls in Lideta.

The AIDS project hosts a weekly meeting for daughters of beneficiaries or other girls from the neighborhood in a youth group fashion. These girls are generally missing at least one if not two parents (either a parent is dead, or a dad has left). They haven't had much of a normal childhood -- they haven't had all that creative play time that the Western world bestows on children.

So, you have these 15-year-old girls who basically come from the ghetto, getting together once a week to play, learn and talk. A couple weeks ago we took them bowling. They didn't even know what bowling was until we showed them how to do it. Last week we talked about what a pattern is so they could make jewelry--most of them didn't know what a pattern was. You might think this stuff would be a little childish for teenage girls, but since they've never really had much of a chance to play and be creative, they really enjoy it.

It was rainy all day, and so we made donuts. I had made the dough the day before (to save time and clean up) so the girls rolled out the dough and cut out the donuts (Bev has a real donut cutter!).

While the donuts were rising and the oil heating, Bev led the group in a devotion. We talked about how every person has a hole in their heart that feels empty. The hole is often the cause of sadness in loneliness. Adam & Eve didn't have this hole until the whole thing with Satan happened in the garden. But since the fall, all humans are created with a hole in the heart that separates them from other people and God.

We talked about what kind of things people try to use to fill the holes in their hearts. The girls came up with some good answers. Selam said that some people use good education, good manners and good position in society to fill their hole. Lemlem said that some people try to do lots of good things, things that the church wants people to do, so that these works will make them happy.

Then we talked about how Jesus is really the only thing that can completely fill the hole. All other things that we try to fill the hole with are never enough. If we try to fill the hole with anything but Jesus, we will be inevitably disappointed.

After the girls had talked and listened for half an hour, we raucously deep fried many donuts and donut holes. The girls had a ball with the powdered sugar, and we all ruined our supper with donuts!


08 April 2007

The Slaughter of Fasika

The streets have been empty the whole weekend. Our car has not been bombarded by beggars. The diesel fumes are decreased which means I can breathe again! I am having difficulty recognizing the city as I know it. Fasika, Amharic for Easter, is not only a national holiday here, the whole city actually seems to observe it.

The drastic upswing, however, is the animal market. The explosive jump in sales this week must be great for the herding population. Everyone is hauling their new goat or an ox home for the Fasika celebration. Its not rare to see goats strapped to the tops of mini-taxes, or drapped across shoulders. On Saturday, twenty of the Ethiopian staff at Bingham all chipped in together to purchase two oxen, which means each ox is split into 10 equal parts. Then they draw lots to see who gets which pile of meat.

The ox is led into the Bingham forest and several Ethiopians rope up his feet and stand at a distance from him. He is quiet, compliant and appears to be submissive at his owners mercy. Without warning, an Ethiopian grabs him by the horns to turn his head while the men with ropes pull his feet out from under him. The efficiency of the orchestrated takedown surprises me. The ox is silent as he is flipped on his back, his legs tied up and his neck angled upwards. With one rapid stroke, the knife is dashed across his neck. The ox convulses as blood floods out his neck. The soil is drenched with a pool of red. Blood still gushes out, and several Ethiopians gather with knives out to begin the harvest. They are methodical like surgeons. Precise like painters. They continue unfazed, extracting the tongue, the heart, the kidneys, the liver, the stomach, the bladder, the ribs.

OT sacrifice descriptives are merging in my head as one graphic, penetrating image:
Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar, but its entrails and its legs, he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Leviticus 1: 5-9

You can see more photos of the slaughter here. Vegetarians enter at your own risk.


04 April 2007

In the Northern Country

St. George's Church in Lalibela

"I freely admit to having been seduced by the charm of traditional Amhara life. Played out by an extraordinary handsome people, in a setting of great natural beauty and a climate often called idyllic, it offers a gate through time to a state of being that is richly medieval. Such sights and sounds. A minstrel singing his subtle lyrics as he bows a one-stringed fiddle; in the dark interiors of church, barefoot deacons holding beeswax candles and swinging vessels of smoking incense, the pomp of a nobleman moving cross country with his crowded entourage; a young girl washing the feet of her fathers guest; warriors boasting with their martial chants; the stately rhythms of clergy chanting and dancing under the mid-day sun; the open marketplace, offering all manner of livestock, grain, and spices; the counsel of an elder, resolving a dispute; the simple dignity of the bow when two men meet."
Donald Levine's 1965 Wax and Gold

Aksum was the seat of the most advanced African dynasty from the 3rd c. BC until the 9th c. AD
Lalibela was the capital of Ethiopia during the Zagwe Dynasty (the Usurpers who stole the throne) from 1137-1270.
Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia for 200 years starting in the 17th c.

We visited these three places on our 6 day trek. It was a return to medieval times, an adventure into the neolithic era. People were farming with plows that have not been changed in 1500 years. The utter absence of industrialization is worth the trip alone. Gondar and Aksum would be better as day trips, but Lalibela, "the New Jerusalem" is a two day visit to see it all. The rock hewn churches are not simply carved into rock, they are completely free standing constructions freed from rock. Photography was difficult because of Unesco's hideous scaffolding. We took a mule ride up a mountain to see Ashetan Maryam, a monastery from the 14th c. It was a 1400 meter climb.

The stelae field in Aksum is littered by massive and protrusive rocks, and this year in September, the Rome Stele is going to be re-erected for the year 2000. The stele is over 24 meters high and it is laying on its side after being returned from Rome in 2005 (Mussolini stole it in 1937). I can see why the stelae in Aksum are likened to the pyramids in Egypt.

You can imagine the look on people's faces when a group of 30 white people with dangling cameras walked anywhere. 6 days traveling as a tourist entourage has its way of complicating matters. We were a moving target for street solicitors and people selling pieces of "Lalibela's hair" or "Makeda's shoes." The kids underwent a massive bonding experience, and I look forward to teaching the kids in Term 3 with renewed enthusiasm. It was a rich and rewarding trip.

You can see some photos of the trip here.


31 March 2007

Muggers in the Merkato

Spring break arrived yesterday and I have the next 6 school days off.
All day today I spent grading quizzes and planning for Term 3. But I
leave the Bingham compound with a feather in my cap: another day of
productive accomplishment. I begin scouting for a contract taxi
outside the gate. I am carrying a substantial amount of Birr for the
V's who need to change money. I am keenly aware of this situation.

The small contract taxis are absent altogether. I reason that they
will be easier to find at the AutoBusTera than Kolfe. Moments later, I
catch a mini-taxi for 1.20 EBirr. After I pay, I call E to let her
know that I am approaching the Hilton. She assures me they will wait
for me.

Nearing the Merkato, I step out of the mini taxi into a flood of
people. It is dark outside and the street is packed. I start
walking--hoping to catch the first contract taxi that passes by.
Weaving through a large flux of people, it seems everyone is walking
in the opposite direction of me. I keep on, wondering how long I will
have to wait.

I keep a good pace while simultaneously looking over my shoulder from
time to time. A large mob of people are swarming so I have to
negotiate between each one of them. As I proceed, someone grabs my
arm. My instinct tells me they are assisting me from stepping into the
street. After all, cars are passing on my immediate left. I turn to
look at my arm grabber and he has his heel digging into my knee. I
stumble as he forces his weight against me. Confusion overtakes me; he
is shouting.

As he tries to shove me away from the street deeper into the crowd,
two other men grab me from behind. I feel hands at my
pockets--snatching, clutching. By now, I finally realize what is
happening. With the grace of a slapstick clutz, I flail my body and
swirl my weight any which way I can. At this instant, serendipity
strikes. My shoe flies in the air like a stungun and I tumble away
from the assaulters, back into oncoming traffic. A large Izuzu truck
brakes to avoid me but drives over my Dansko without touching it.
After it passes, I hop into the street and slide my shoe back on. This
blocks the path of traffic, but lo and behold, I'm standing in front
of a contract taxi! I give the driver the nod and without hesitation
he swings open the back door like Robin in the Batmobile. I dive in.
He saw the whole thing and quickly apologizes for my loss. For the
first time, I consider my bag containing the cash and my camera. I
then realize its still tucked under my arm, unopened. I next find my
mobile phone but dread reaching for my wallet. I lean forward and out
of my pocket comes my black nylon Eddie Bauer velcro wallet from 5th
grade. I am too weak in the knees to holler back "Suckers!" as we
escape. Nearing the Hilton, I realize what a easy target I must have
been, and yet they still managed to bungle the job. Frankly, I am
embarrassed for them, but after all, it was a pretty mean shoe trick.

At this point, after two consecutive transportation crisis, I am not
sure if I am 0 for 2....or 2 and 0.


Driving in Ethiopia: Rules and Regulations

After Sunday's experience in the Merkato, here are some rules and
driving tips that citizens of Addis Ababa should be aware of and
respect at all times:

Although licenses are required for automobiles, no driving licenses
are required to drive mules, goats, or chickens. Herding of cattle is
also permitted throughout the streets.

All drivers must be alert at all times. But in Addis, people have a
right to sleep on street corners and medians. As they slumber, a foot
or leg will often hang onto the street. Extra caution advised.

A pedestrian society means three things: 1) People do not look one way
before crossing the street, much less two. 2) Before you can become
angry at a person stepping out in front of your vehicle, a second,
then a third person will do the same thing. 3) Since most people walk
everywhere, the people who do drive have to make up for everyone's
pollution. They do, and then some.

If you are involved in an accident, mark the location of the tires
with rocks before moving either vehicle out of traffic. If following
cars wreck into your street stones, make sure they are properly
adjusted before the police arrive.

If a policemen is blowing his whistle at you, he is attempting to pull
you over. Bear in mind, he is on foot.

The ubiquitous Blue Donkeys are the single biggest threat to motorists, pedestrians,
and regular donkeys alike.

If your vehicle breaks down on the street or ring-road (highway),
simply place rocks of caution 15 meters before your vehicle. Abandon
your vehicle until a convenient time to return and fix the problem
wherever it broke down.

If you have an accident involving an animal, you are responsible to
pay the damages for the livestock's funeral, burial and replacement.
You may even be asked to reimburse the owner with a small herd of
livestock. Attempt to negotiate.

If you are in accident involving a person, immediately take the person
to the hospital. You are responsible to pay for all the bills and
expenses. Attempt to bring an eyewitness.

If you are in an accident that causes the death of someone, you will
go to jail for 15 years (minimum) unless it is on the ring road in
which case it is regarded as suicide (supposedly).

The police write letters to the Bole Airport whenever a Faranj is
involved in an accident. If he attempts to leave the country before
resolving the case, he will not get very far from the airport.

Happy Driving!

27 March 2007

the inevitable lightness of being

Its Sunday afternoon at the Hilton Hotel. 5PM is time to consider transportation---our ritual of pancakes with the MTWarrens begins in an hour. Since the Vantreases are here, I decide to hire a contract taxi back to Bingham alone so we will have transportation after dinner. The Vantreases and E will catch another ride and meet me there.

Taxis are lined up outside the Hilton. I have choices, which means I can get a decent rate. I like to bargain. I knew its going to cost more than 20 Birr because thats what it costs to get to St Matthews, which is maybe half the distance to Bingham. I ask the first taxi driver in line, "How much to Kolfe?" and he pauses from his cell phone conversation and replies "As you wish." What a pushover I think, and offer an easy 30 Birr. He complies and I briefly think to myself "Shoot, I should have bid lower."

As we exit the Hilton premise, the cabbie says over his shoulder "Bole, right?" and I quickly interject with agitation "No, I said K-O-L-F-E." Without stopping, he says "No, Kolfe far away. Price now 50 Birr." I know this game; I should have seen it coming. With somewhat firm tones, I lean forward and remind him that 30 Birr is the agreed price. After slight gymnastics, I tell him the most I will pay is 40 Birr. He goes silent.

By the time we get back to the main road, he does not take the normal right but goes straight, the Merkato route. He turns the Ethiopian music on, which is more or less repetitive polka. As we descend deeper and deeper into the Merkato, I look up and begin to wonder afresh at the constant surge of pedestrians, animals, old cars. As I look to the left, I see a group of boys all facing the opposite direction. They are all in the 8-10 year range and quite lively. I stare at the boy who moves rapidly near the street, still with his back toward us. Before I can gasp, he darts in front of the speeding taxi. There is no use swerving, the brakes lock up.

I brace myself. The child never sees us, but he definitely hears the tires squeal. The bumper impacts his body, crushing him squarely above his waist. I lurch forward under the strain, expecting to run over him, but he bounces away from the car. The taxi halts right in front of him. The entire street swells around the motionless child. He remains still and silent at first, but then struggles to his feet sideways like a stunned deer. He breaks into hysterics when he feels the blood covering his face. He is bent over scrambling. A huge, loud crowd pulses forward; the driver gets out with fear in his eyes. I am paralyzed. I sense the faranj may be held responsible somehow. Above the shrieks of the people, the boy's mother screams and swoops down through the crowd. I slip into the mob towards the other side of the street. I am sweating.

Together, the mother and driver pick the boy off the ground. The mother holds his bleeding head and they open up the backdoor and place him on the seat that moments before, I occupied. The driver does not look for me as he jumps back into the driver seat. They race off to the hospital leaving me amidst a large sea of folks. I start walking and catch the next minibus and pay 2.40 Birr back to Bingham. One hour later, I drive to the Warrens. My stomach is reeling.

15 March 2007

Parent/Teacher Conferences

Day One of meeting with Parents complete. I met with parents of 7th and 8th Grade today from 4-7PM. All the parents of the good students were there. All the students whose parents I have something to discuss with--were not there. School is a half day tomorrow to leave the afternoon open for more conferences. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for three particular parents to show. If not, Roy D Mercer might be making a trip to Ethiopia.

Saturday, I leave at 5AM to fly up North with the 8th Grade. We will be gone for 6 days touring all the locations that we have been learning about: Bahr Dar, Gondar, Lalibella and Aksum. We will take a similar route that Dervla Murphy took, but in the opposite direction. We, of course, wont be limited to mule transport, but one day we will rely on these friendly beasts for travel up a mountain to a monastery. We are sleeping on floors of a few churches to make the trip economical and to give the kids a little cultural experience. From the looks of it, all the MKs should be fine with whatever we throw at them. The non-missionary kids, on the other hand, may have a little awakening awaiting them. Comfort zones will be crossed. And I have a feeling that a few complaints might be lodged with a couple of us chaperones.

Even though I have been advised against taking my videocamera, I am packing the Super 8 with Kodachrome, Roll 1 of 4. As tremendous as a trip like this will be, it would be much better if a wife was coming along.


07 March 2007

Wede Beero (At the Office)

I am slowly sinking into my work with the AIDS project.

For instance, this week I led a devotion for the women support groups. What is a support group? All the beneficiaries in the project (yes, they are all HIV+) are split into small groups to help one another deal with their disease. In physical, emotional and personal ways they aid one another through adherence, moral support and friendly fellowship. They meet formally every two weeks at the office in Lideta and on the alternating week they meet at one of their homes. Sometimes, during the formal meetings, we organize health teaching or entrepreneurial activities (so they can earn a little cash to supplement the support from the program). They do always take prayer requests at every meeting and spend time praying on the needs of the group.

So, they asked me to lead a devotion. What sort of direction do you take with a bunch of HIV+ Ethiopian women who are destitute without the WHO meds and financial support from the project? Most do not have husbands and many have children. As a white girl from Georgia, it is an interesting place to start.

We talked through John 3:1-8. We talked about who the Pharisees were (Ethiopian culture puts a high importance on knowledgeable, learned people) and the specific type of greeting that Nicodemus uses when addressing Jesus (Ethiopians are also big on greetings). We also talked about the human-ridiculousness of being reborn. Just as Nicodemus says, 'how can an old man reenter his mother's womb?' Who would want to have their grown son crawl back into their womb to be born again? Hmmm? Then, we talked about the rebirth that Jesus talks about is a spiritual rebirth. And how he goes on to explain that the Spirit is like the wind -- invisible but it blows where it will. You can feel the effects of the Spirit and likewise you can see change people's lives. Just as the wind shapes and molds the earth on its own will.

PS: The photo at the top is of one of our beneficiaries at our clinic last month. Photos of the support group are forthcoming.

03 March 2007

On top of Addis

I missed Bingham's reenactment of the Ethiopians defeating the Italians on Thursday night because I was sick. I struggled it through my classes knowing that school would be canceled on Friday in honor of the Battle of Adwa. Friday morning, I was feeling better (PTL for Cipro!) so the Bets and I made a trip over to the Hilton for the first time to scope out the joint and buy some "highspeed" internet. Our primary motivation is to to upload expense reports back to MTW. We soon realize its not going to happen. The speed is obviously faster than Binghams, but not fast enough to download ipod and other software updates. The lesson cost us $28; we ll have to do the expense reports later.

Even though the hotel was completed in 1969, its quite a nice accommodation. The itinerant veteran Cusic had recommended I read Surrender or Starve, and after reading it, I had a vivid picture of the Hilton as the journalist/ambassador/diplomat's haven of choice. Now we know why: all the luxuries of the modern world (and the prices to go with it)--right in the middle of Addis. Its easily the most international climate we have encountered here. Definitely a place a visitor might want to stay at while here (wink wink).

Departing the Hilton lobby, we make way over to a cafe atop a hotel not far from Mexico circle (see photo). We order the obligatory Macchiato and step out onto the balcony. Its breathtaking. The city has the standard hustle/bustle vibes of urban life, but the African tones are obviously different. The smell of pollution is primary, yet mixed with Eucalyptus and other earthy richness. The sounds are of honking and irate motorists, yet animals are having their say too. The sun was setting and a soft glow cast over the city. From what I could tell, the video I shot looked great, but it will undoubtedly let me down in terms of experience.

By Saturday's arrival, Betsy is sick. I am afraid she has inherited it from me. But its no use trying to guess where it came from.
Hopefully, like mine, it ll pass soon enough.


But most importantly, the new slideshow is here.

28 February 2007


So, yesterday afternoon I'm driving home from the office a little after 5PM. I have worked on my website, helped with a support group teaching HIV+ beneficiaries about nutrition and food groups, and participated in a bible study with beneficiaries. I feel like I've had a good a day as I start to head home, ready to join Daniel for a walk around the compound after I run and he plays squash. I start mentally preparing dinner in my head.

I had dropped some co-workers off en route, and was on my merry way through rush hour traffic. I go through the Merkato to get home instead of via the Ring Road (basically the bypass), because it takes about the same amount of time but is a couple less kilometers. Now, the Merkato is a pedestrian/animal/bus nightmare, but, since we pay for the cars on a per kilometer basis, it saves me $1.50 to put up with loads of people and donkeys. Now, that might not sound like a lot, but it adds up day by day on a missionary-style budget.

Now, there aren't street names, let alone signs in most places in Addis. Hence, my directions from the office to home include 'take a right by the banana billboard' and 'take a left at the huge mosque.' So, I make my banana turn and am headed to the heart of the Merkato and see my mosque. Now, there are various 'left turns' you can take -- none of them are especially marked and at 5PM the streets are clouded with people. As I start to make my turn, I realize I've turned too early, and should have waited till I'm past the mosque, not before it. Darn, I think, there is no way for me to turn around, as there is traffic everywhere not to mention people shouting 'ferenge, ferenge -- you-you-you!' at my Suzuki van.

No problem, I mistakenly think, I'll just make a turn, and cut up to the next block and have a slight adventure in the heart of Merkato. However, making turns and logically cutting back to where you think you need to go does not happen in the Merkato. Firstly, streets just suddenly end and become dirty, rocky paths clogged with Italian trucks full of teff or bananas or furniture or whatever. (And yes, these trucks must be a minimum of 40 years old, leftover from the Italian 'occupation' of Ethiopia.) With cars honking, trucks trying to run over me (in Addis, the bigger machine has the right-of-way), people shouting and begging, I am quickly and hopelessly lost. Getting out of the Merkato is more like finding the path of least resistance, not really finding the most efficient way back to your home. And, as you probably know from the previous posts, the Merkato is the largest open-air market in all of Africa.

Fifteen minutes later, I have worked my way out of the thick crush of the Merkato, but have no idea what side I've come out on. And, of course, there is no sort of shoulder to pull of on and consult a map, just people walking in front of your car and other autos honking incessantly until you pick a direction. So I pick a direction and hope it towards Bingham. 20 minutes of driving later, I realize I must have picked the worst direction possible, since I am exploring a part of Addis I've never been in. As I repeatedly call Daniel for some sort of help (Remote navigation? Psychological comfort?), I realize even if picks up, I don't even know where I am to explain how I could get out of here. I've already tried the tactic of following some blue mini-taxis, hoping they will lead me to a taxi stop I recognize (no luck, I end up near a park I've never seen). I can reach no one via phone (PS it is really not safe to be driving around Addis and trying to talk on a mobile). So, I come up with the brilliant (finally!) idea, to point my car toward the sun and try to head north and west (at least I know I can run into either the Ring Road at some point, or even Bingham).  After finding some road that went mainly west, I end up at my mosque again! Relief! At least something familiar! Unfortunately, I picked the wrong direction again, and ended up almost at the office again (yeah, it's nearing on 5:45). At this point, I am just happy to make a u-turn and know where I am. This time, on approaching the mosque, i take the CORRECT left turn (which I am pretty sure I will never miss again). Around 6 PM, I pull into the Bingham campus. Whew. What a commute.

As I walk into the apartment, Daniel has just come in from playing squash with Francois, the South African math teacher. As I exclaim about my adventure, Daniel says we have 10 minutes until our dinner date with some other teachers. Yay! What a nice surprise, no need to make anything for dinner! Just what I want after an exhausting tour-de-Merkato.

27 February 2007

Teaching IT & Social Studies (pt. 1)

Here at Bingham, Grade 7 has 3 IT classes a week. Grade 8 has 3 IT classes a week. Grade 8 has 5 Social Studies classes a week. These are my core classes. I have other classes of Study Hall and computer lab supervision, and starting in March I will have a 2 hour elective course once a week, but these 3 keep me quite busy for now, as well as the video work I am doing. Each class lasts 40 minutes unless it is a double period (my Social Studies meets back to back two days a week).

Teaching the IT class is right up my alley. Instead of sticking straight to the basics, I began the term with Apple's iPhone keynote presentation. NONE of the kids have even heard of it: they went out of their minds. I have learned that changing the direction of the classes every single day is the only way to keep them from playing Macromedia Flash games and checking their email throughout the class. I am breaking the class down into general computing with an operating system, MS Office, the Net and Photo/Video. We are going to talk alot about Firefox, Apple, shortcuts, Google, Web 2.0, etc. Everything in my power to turn these kids into power-users.

The Social Studies class is somewhat trickier, but equally fascinating. There was not a full fledged syllabus waiting for me, as I anticipated. Thankfully, we are taking a 7 day trip up north in March to see all the historic sites and ruins. I have centered the class around this, and we hope to make it through the history of Ethiopia in 7 weeks. I have attempted to get the kids to focus on the fantastic, mythic lore of Ethiopian culture, but as you can imagine, it sometimes just doesnt do it for 14 year olds. Soon, the kids began towing the line, so I had no choice but to unleash a friendly quiz now and again.

I am learning alot, obviously about Ethiopian studies, but also about engaging these kids and the art of teaching. Just like other teachers have told me, some days are rich, lively, engaging. Other days are the pits. But I have received some interesting feedback in the meantime. Grade 8 nominated me to lead their Chapel, and Grade 7 students have sent me emails saying they like IT class best of their classes (for obvious reasons I'm sure). Overall, teaching Grade 7 & 8 has been exactly what Mr. Doty said it would be: invigorating.

Also, here are some new photos:
Bazaar Slideshow

Utility Update: Thankfully, our water came back on the next morning (Sunday). So we were barely out for 12 hours.

24 February 2007

The Ethiopian Minstrel

I am sitting in a mini taxi and it is full to the floorboards. Friday afternoons are a bad time to cross town. The drivers like to wait until the seats are full and people are sitting on the wheel wells before they shove off to the next stop. A 10 minute drive by Bingham vehicle turns into a 45 minute commute by mini taxi, but it only cost 1.75 EBirr (less than .25 USD). From Bingham its probably only 3 or 4 km across town to my destination, my first music lesson. Riding by mini taxi is like riding in the old days in the Patton's old Suburban: its overcrowded with people of all ages, the seats are faded/patched/springless, the exterior is riddled with dents and perhaps even bullets, some of the windows dont handcrank up and it has its own patent-pending intake system which reroutes the exhaust back into the car. So of course, I am right at home, even though I am sandwiched inbetween two Ethiopians, partially sitting on the lap of the guy to my right.

At the back of the old building's third story, there is a small dark room with instruments strewn about and students tinkering on keyboards or other stringed instruments. The tall man with a doctor's lab coat shakes my hand and introduces himself as Samuel, the owner/teacher. I tell him I want to play the one stringer. He looks at me blankly, obviously confused. So, I gesture to the spike fiddle on the wall. He smiles. He lifts it from the wall and tucks it into his armpit. He draws the bow across the string and in my mind, I am thinking to myself "man, that sounds terrible." Of course, I tell him eagerly I want to learn how to play it. Its hard to know how well he understands English.

At that moment, the power comes back on and I realize now why we had been standing in the dark. The room is now lit up normal and he writes down for me the instrument name: Masinko. A few minutes later and I have my very own 1-stringed instrument tucked in my arm and the body between my legs. Its sound great, just like a 4th grader on a cheap violin missing a quarter of the strings. But I am encouraged, because lessons are 10 EBirr an hour. For less than 1.25 USD an hour, I can learn how to play this beautiful instrument with one string! As I leave with Lesson #1 complete, the power flickers back off.

Thankfully, I didn't have to ride a mini taxi back to Bingham with the Masinko in my lap. But walking down the street with one of these fiddles may have had some locals thinking I was a traveling bard singing the songs of Orpheus as I traverse the globe. As Betsy drove by, I leapt into the Suzuki minivan before anyone asks me to perform, and back to Bingham we bound.


Utility Update: Although we have lost power routinely on Sunday afternoons for approximately 3 hours at a time, we have never lost water until today. As soon as it went out, several teacher/neighbors called us to suggest we fill up every container we have before the tank goes dry. As they said, it could be two hours or two months before it comes back on. We ll let you know the next time we take a shower.

19 February 2007

More Merkato

Turning a corner in the Merkato, a crew of white people cause about every Ethiopian store keeper in sight to simultaneously collect his wares and rush toward you. And by rush, I mean bombard. As we moved about, I stood at a distance and snapped some photos from the hip. If you dare bring the camera up to your face, you are totally ruined. Everyone wants their photo taken, and they all want to see the LCD after you oblige them. I was determined to take some photos of candid market activity, thus I resorted to Rambo style shooting. After just about every shot, I would look at the display and see that my subject's hair was in the frame, and the rest would be roof shed, sky, or some other undesirable distant object. I was glad to be with a group of folks who were actually shopping, anything to create a diversion. We bought a traditional Ethiopian Coffee pot. It cost 15 birr--which is less than 2 USD.

Its quite an odd sensation walking around, being white. At first, it appears that you are a noted celebrity. Then you remember you are simply an outsider, a stranger, an alien--which by default means walking moneybags. But its more than that too. The people are so friendly and warm. It certainly reminds you how nice anonomity is, and why famous folks go mad.

And here is our most recent photo album:

Merkato Slideshow



This weekend we explored the Merkato, the largest open air market in Ethiopia. It is only a few kilometers away from our house and is crammed with anything and everything imaginable. It feels like you are crushed into humanity. There is everything from kitchen stuff to produce to dried goods to clothes to to furniture to electronics. People are constantly moving things around, in baskets overhead, on donkeys or in old trucks. You can get lost in the cobblestone-dirt streets that thread between the 'shops.' And everywhere we went, we got yelled at 'you! you! give me ___' or just plain 'Frenege!' or 'Hello-I love you-Give me money!'

Daniel took a lot of photos, so we will upload those soon. (As soon as our African internet cooperates.)

13 February 2007

The past two days I have spent the morning in language school, and the
afternoons in clinic. Language school is progressing nicely, I can
actually say a few sentences and understand a few things. One of the
most important things to be able to understand here are greetings.
Ethiopians are very big on greetings. They involve lots of words, eye
contact and shaking with your right hand. In fact, they consider it
quite rude if you do not administer a proper greeting. They will tell
others that 'so-and-so is mad at me, they didn't greet me!' If you do
not want to be seen as a rude ferengi, knowing greetings is quite

Clinic this week is in Gabriel (last week it was Lideta). We are not
in the midst of tough slums, but we are able to help people of a
different kebele (which is a sub-city). We had a real building next
to a church with bathrooms (instead of the hole in the ground which
was at our clinic in Lideta). Monday was a little slow, but today we
were really busy. I sat with Linda, who is an acute care nurse
practitioner, and we saw patients with the aid of a translator.

Most of the patients were HIV+, single women with children. One woman,
who is HIV+ and has lost her husband, came in for a large abscess on
her leg that was full of puss. She wanted help because she wants to be
very cautious for daughter, who is 4 years old and HIV-. We drained
the puss completely and put her on Bactrium as a prophylactic for
respiratory infection that is common with HIV+ patients. Another
patient was a small HIV+ boy whose mom was also HIV+, but not is other
two siblings. He was so tiny for a 7-year-old and very quiet. He had a
fungal rash on his face and pnuemonia in his lungs. We gave him a
course of amoxocillin and a fungicidal cream for his face. He is on
ARV's and just finished a 6 month course of TB treatment.

It's been great having the full medical team here. It's an
encouragement to treat people who have no access to medical care.

08 February 2007

Whats up Addis!

Here is a brief column by the monthly publication, Whats Up Addis! Its not exactly the Metropolitan Spirit, but its one of the only free publications thats easy to find around town. Enjoy this months' feature with some additional commentary, free of charge.

Markato : Said to be the largest open-air market in Africa, it's a great place to wander around and find anything you can think of. From electronics to spices, clothes to automobile spare-parts... this crowded, bustling and colourful part of town is the place to go! Particularly if you are interested in intimate mixing with the donkeys, goats, and ceaseless traffic.

Blue Taxi : The infamous blue taxis of Addis! This city would not be the same without them. Transporting most of the city's population and giving all the rest heart attacks and ulcers, blue taxis are as much a part of Addis as fish are a part of the sea. Well said.

Beggars : A sad sight around the streets of Addis is the thousands of beggars with no means of support. Hundreds flock to the city in hopes of jobs and a better future, but many of them unfortunately end up on the streets. A great way to help beggars is to hand out meal tickets. Hope Enterprises sells tickets which entitle the holder to a meal. This way someone gets fed and you know the money isn't being misused! Or if you need a packet of tissue for some reason, say after an unlucky visit to a restaurant, you can get them for 1 birr from about every kid on the street.

Religious ceremonies : Ethiopia is a country with a very rich religious heritage. Every year the streets of Addis are home to colourful religious events, the most colourful being Timket in January with processions that are a delight to watch, Meskel in September with a huge Demera at Meskel Square and Ramadan with everyone celebrating together. Come to Africa to escape the incessant sound-systems blasting from SUVs? Thankfully, the religious institutions here pick up the slack by constantly blaring chants, amharic hallelujahs & amens all at top decibel for every neighborhood to hear all hours of the day. Again, free of charge.

Listros : What would life in Addis Ababa be if one did not stop by a friendly and hard-working Listro to polish a pair of shoes? How would one dare to show up at office with shoes dirty with the stubborn Addis Ababa kremt chiqa and bega abuara? How about a friendly chat with these hard working kids as you get your shoes nice and shiny! If folks have shoes at all, they are full leather, and they are all about getting them polished, constantly.

White traditional cloth : Ethiopian women traditionally wear white dresses, while men wear white tunics over riding pants. The ladies' shawl, the natella, usually has a very colourful border on it, which is also found near the bottom edge of the women's dress. However, a wide variety of traditional clothing can be seen in Ethiopia ranging from loin cloths to the latest fashion. Shiro Meda is a great place to shop for these elegant accessories.

Coffee : Coffee is one of the country's strongest symbols. Ethiopia thrives on coffee and likes to drink it too. Once you have tasted Ethiopian coffee, there is no going back - there is nothing else like it! Addis has cafes on every street serving great 'buna'. For those who have time and want to have the real Ethiopian experience, the coffee ceremony is not to be missed--be prepared though, you are in it for three
delicious cups! One would think, considering Addis as father to coffee, that a good cup of joe would be standard issue at Bingham. Wrong. In fact, its weak, tasteless. Some even swear its instant coffee, gasp.

Injera : Teff is the staple grain of Ethiopia. The grain yields a seed much smaller than the size of a wheat grain, but is the basis of Ethiopian traditional. As it turns out, dont serve someone injera until its three days old. If its fresh off the griddle, its an insult to your guests.

Addis Ababa has a great number of restaurants that serve injera and all the tasty wots that go with it. Treat yourself to some wonderful cuisine and most traditional restaurants feature live singing and dancing to keep your eyes and ears happy as well as your taste buds! Never fear, your gastrointestinal will be fine. All the restaurants here are clean, safe, sanitary, and gladly welcome all ferengi patrons.

See more at www.whatsupaddis.com