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


07 February 2007

Today I spent the morning in Amharic class. We have around 13
students, including two other MTW interns -- Derek & Jim. I am
learning lots of things, like colors, numbers, prepositions, etc...
But the coolest thing is that we are learning the Amharic alphabet,
which FYI has over 300 letters. It sounds and LOOKS scary, but we
learn it in seven different forms, so we eat the elephant bite by

This afternoon I spent in the clinic with the medical team from
Baltimore. In a building (the term building should not be confused
with any establishment in the Western world; it's more like a really
old enclosed pavilion with corrugated tin/eucalyptus/cement walls,
shaped like a warehouse) we had triage, doctors meeting with patients,
a pharmacy, and a lab. I worked in the lab, running tests for
chlamydia and gonorrhea and learning how to mount slides for TB tests.
And did I mention that this clinic has been set up in the roughest
slum of Addis? It's the type of slum you smell before you see it.
Sewage and trash everywhere. Kids playing barefoot in the street.
People staring at me and Derek as we walk in with lab supplies (maybe
it was combination of ferengi and bottles of reagents).

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with a medical team doing home visits
in Lideta. We treated four different families, all beneficiaries of
the HIV project. It was amazing. We went into these homes with Alemu,
the social worker/ translator, and administered health care.

These 'homes' are probably a lot less than the shed where you keep
your lawnmower. Yet, their owners have them tidied up, music playing
and seats for their guests. We were treated with the utmost

This week I have finally been hit with the realization that I am in
Africa being a part of a project that helps the sick. I am working,
and it feels good.


06 February 2007

Scott. Taylor. Carey.

You may be tempted to think these three names merely refer to the famous missionaries of the same namesake. Well, here at Bingham, they are actually distinctions in a fierce rivalry between the three houses competing in Field Day, a two day event. Although there is no Quidditch tournament, the kids take the track events quite seriously.

Each house has a separate corner of the field where they gather and scream/chant their team name endlessly and without any real purpose other than that the other house is doing it. Like most sporting events, its either inspiring or sheer insanity. I roamed for two straight days, and nabbed a bunch of photos and some solid footage. The kids enthusiasm was staggering. Even the kids who could not jump rope to save their lives were ecstatic simply to compete.

One of the last events on Saturday was a long distance relay, and one of the students with cerebral palsy took the baton second in the lineup. He walks around with arm/leg braces but as he had told me earlier, "I wouldn't stay out here if I wasn't going to race." As he struggled past me, I fought away a crushing sensation: the determinism in his eyes was undiluted, raw, intense. For the race, he had put down his arm crutches. As the other teams lapped him, most of the kids in the infield jogged/walked beside him. I dont think anyone even noticed when the other team won the race. When he crossed the line, the place went up in a roar. I am glad to be at Bingham.