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.