Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Post Ethiopia

Out of Africa~

Hello Everyone,

I am back in Salt Lake City now and am trying to catch up with this blog. Even though I tried very hard to post in 2008, it was very difficult trying to open up this blog.

First was the usual Internet problems & it seemed like beginning in January, everything got worse. Sometimes, we had no Int. connections for 7-20 days at a time. It made work frustrating, of course. Second, we have had more & longer electricity shortages. Next, the gov. there is busy censoring and trying to stop blogs so that was it. I could never actually open my blog to see what I had written last.

This project was more organized and ran better than the other two projects I had in Eth. in other years. It was great being there again even though I like the infrastructure here a bit better!
I am off to some meetings and in about 9 days or so hope to fill in on the second part of my sabbatical time in Eth.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Work: the Internet has been mostly poor to non-existent the past two weeks. Just heard there was a Univ server problem that was just fixed along with the perennial problems of the only Internet service provider for the country, ETC. Even though I am trying to acclerate some work projects, the absence of the Internet during most of the work day makes it tough to accomplish even small tasks or the training I was trying to do. I have heard things will improve soon.

Other: At home, there is usually No Electricity, No Water, Too Much of Water (as in Leaks), and just recently, water not draining from the bathroom! The previous apt. dweller did not pay his electric bill, so twice my electricity has been cut off. The Univ is supposed to be taking care of this prior problem, but so far they have not. In most bathrooms here, water is expected to splash or pour out from the shower (there may not be a shower stall or tub) onto the tile floor and into the drain. The water in the bathroom was backing up and had to take care care of it. Last Sat, there was no water at home for most of the day. It arrived around 8:30am on Sun and to celebrate, two neighbors and I went to have juice at a nearby restaurant.

Just like everywhere else, gasoline prices have gone up. So now the taxi ride to work on the communal minibus is EB 1.80 and 70 centimes for the shorter ride. I am not sure how the local people survive since their salaries have not increased.

Ethiopia is growing by leaps and bounds. The amount of new construction and works in progress is astounding in this capital city. I have never seen a place like this with so much highrise scaffolding. From the outside, some of these buildings do not look like they have adequate foundations or support for the upper floors. I hear they do have such building codes like in other countries. Many of these buildings have not been well thought out. The major road where I live is Bole and there are numerous high rise buildings built without parking areas. It is a madhouse when people look for any little space to park while others circle or simple wait for a space. Cars drive all over the sidewalks if there are sidewalks at all. Inside, handrailings seem to be a luxury item and are either minimal or non-existent. Even new buildings have chips or broken steps, cracks in the floors or walls.

There is constant road construction all over Addis Ababa as well as in the other towns I recently visited in the north. The Chinese are building most of these roads. The dust and exhaust fumes from these machines penetrate the air, sometimes for kilometers on end.

There haven been reports in the papers that soon, a trolley system will start serving Addis to supplement the public transportation system. They have some of the trolleys, but the electric lines still have to be built! Also, there is a big shortage of buses for public and private transportation. The Chinese have just delivered numerous buses to Djibuti and they are being driven to Ethiopia.

Mobile phones have become popular the past 3 years or so here. It is time consuming to get a land line and the wait is usually 7-8 years. Mobile phones can be acquired by rent or purchase by showing your passport number or local ID card number in just a few minutes. Then, the actual phone serviced is bought with a phone card for EB 25, 50 or 100. At most work places, staff usually rely on their personal mobile phones and don't bother with the office land lines as they are usually broken anyway.

Work email addresses do exist but due to the poor condition of the Internet Service (or No Service) Provider, most people do not use them. Instead, they rely on the free Hotmail or Yahoo accounts. Of course, the Int. is cen$ord here and same for the print media.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Embassy events and Timkat

Work: I was happy when I found out there was going to be a business lunch for a few people from the University to meet the reigional information officer who was arriving from Nairobi. They had invited some other librarians as well and we had a good informal discussion. Later, I found out that the new Public Affairs Counsel, Michael, would visit our library next month with some other new embassy staff. I have met with Michael a few times and he seems great for the position and hope he can help the university library in any way possible.

I have decided to hold database review twice a week with the librarians here. Since my time is now limited, I want to do as much as I can and make the best use of my time.

The President of Ethiopia arrived on our campus and our office building last Thursday to have some meetings with the AAU President. I was told not to come to work in the morning due to security issues.

Other: Timkat, the Ephiphany in the Christian calendar, fell on Saturday and Sunday. Behailu (a colleague from the Kennedy Library) and a friend of his invited me to accompany them to Jan Mada in Addis on Sunday. It took awhile for the mini-bus to show up as there was not much traffic. We walked to this nearby field and saw a huge procession. Along the way there would be dancing groups. Young men with skinny long poles painted up would join a circle and sing and dance. In a very similar fashion would be fewer women dancers. In the background were the familiar church drums and percussive sistrum instruments. Vendors were selling everything from kollo or roasted barley to hats and visors, cross necklaces, sticks of sugar cane and much more. It was jam packed with church people, tourists and pickpockets here and there. Earlier, the crowd had been blessed with holy water. A unique part of this Ethiopian ceremony is that each church has a tabot or ark. The brocaded priest carries this covered tabot on his head the previous day to the field. They pray and sing all night (and broadcast it with microphones into the neighborhoods) and then around lunch time begin to move back to their respective churches. They also bring out their special processional crosses which are often gold or silver, numerous deacons, priests, nuns, monks, Sunday school students and more who sing and dance to the church music. It is a very colorful and festive day and in Ethiopia is probably more important that Christmas day. After viewing all this, we had tibs or grilled meat nearby and then I headed home. On the way back I found someone had tried to slit my cloth market bag but were unsuccessful in stealing my bottled water and umbrella. To and from Timkat I saw people who had purchased sheep to help celebrate this holiday and were carrying these live animals home.

Friends & Neighbors & Colleagues at Work

My apartment building consists of about six floors and was built in the 70's by the socialist Derg regime. On my way to work catching the mini-bus communal taxi, I have met some university employees who reside in the Bole Road area. First was Adnan, an Egyptian professor in the School of Pharmacy. He has recommended a local plumber for our usual water problems. This kind professor has introduced me to some other Egyptians in the building and we have had some chats and hope to eat together soon. I have also run into some Americans, an Indian informatics professor and an Architecture professor, Sofiya, and some physicians.

The wildlife and horticultural society also introduced me to local Ethiopians like Kassaye and Zewdu who know a great deal about the landscape and nature. Masaret and Ruth are friendly and nice to hike with. There were some Ethio-Americans like Tsion who are fun to talk to about life in the US vs life in Ethiopia. And, more Americans and some new British friends like Sally and Elizabeth. One of my trip roommates was very nice South African named Penny from Durban & hope to stay in touch with her. Marcel from Belgium shared some nice photos with us.

At work, I came here because of my contacts with Rita and Richard Pankhurst who have lived in Ethiopia for 50 years now. They are still going strong. I see them almost weekly at the library acquisitions meeting, or the Society of Friends of the Inst of Ethiopian Studies meetings and lectures. My primary contact with the Library here has just left his position. Ebrahim was very helpful via email before I arrived and after I got here. I would ask him all sorts of work or cultural questions. I now work a lot with Daniel, a new librarian, and some with Mahalet. Terefe, a museum guide, has been very helpful and kind as well. There are numerous good secretaries and assistants who are friendly and ask about my health a great deal. (I have had a string of colds and coughs since I arrived and that seems to be a daily part of our conversation.)

Then, at the Kennedy Library there are some helpful staff like Aynalem and Behailu who I occasionally have tea with. Outside of this university I sometimes see Ato Simon and Girma who now works for Alpha University, one of about a dozen new schools that have mushroomed up in the past 2 years. A friend from the embassy, Yerusalem has been helpful mostly with work projects. And my friends from the past-Bizayehu who drives a 25+ old taxi -and his friend Eschetu who helps me with errands. I also visit my former landlord and landlady, Getachow and Askala. They have invited me for a meal and coffee and at times tutor Kokebe who just graduated from nursing school.

Northern Trip-Part 2

On this trip of 30 folks, there were about 8 from the UK, 2 from the US, 9 from Ethiopia, 5 Italians, and the rest from European countries. The Italians were quite vocal and often exclaimed "Mamma Mia"while our bus was on a treacherous road, "Bravo" when we had concluded, or "Belissimo" when we came across stunning scenery which was every day. After leaving Aksum, we arrived in the evening at Makalle and stayed in different hotels as we did not have reservations for the whole group. The next day, January 2, was also a long drive to get to Woldiya and stayed in a disappointing hotel. They had no running water but when asked would bring a bucket of water for cleaning up which I appreciated. In the late afternoon the next day we arrived at Lalibella and settled in at the Roha Hotel. Many of our group had dinner together. We headed off with a guide the next day to tour most of the 11 historic churches. Since it was getting close to Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas (Jan 7) the place was crowded with tourists, pilgrims, beggars, monks, nuns and vendors.

These rock hewn churches are magnificent structures to see. Many had a shelter over them to protect the church interiors. Our guide hired a shoe guy as we had to always remove our shoes before entering a church and then find and put our shoes back on before heading to the next church. I was happy that I had socks on as some in our group had sandals and bare feet. The church interiors was not the best or cleanest at this hectic time. Some churches were smaller and they were packed to the brim with visitors. As usual, some rooms in the church did not allow women to enter, but one could take photos at the entrance. The next day we visited a cave church on our way out and heard a priest giving a talk about church history in Amharic and also heard a bit of church music with their drums and sistrum instruments. In the evening we browsed the shops and had dinner. Water was only available for 1 1/2 hours in the morning and evening as this is a very dry area.

The next day took us back to the not so nice hotel with no water. Some of us tried to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant and had to wait more than two hours for the food to appear. We resumed our road travel early the next morning and stopped to purchase kolo or roasted barley along the way. There were also children selling bunches of carrots, women selling white honey (with the wax mixed in) or boiled beans which was hot and so delicious.

We arrived in Dessie town on January 7 which was the local Christmas day. We walked around the museum grounds as the building was closed. We stayed in the Ghion Hotel but our room had no bathroom, just a public bath which did not look great. Our whole group ate together and had very good service. While waiting for the food Elizabeth suggested we sing Christmas carols which we did in different languages. After my kitfo meal (minced ground beef) & vegetable soup, Elizabeth served us a Christmas bread and South African wine for dessert. A few people wanted to do some Ethiopian dancing so we found a local radio station and started. Later, the hotel staff brought some cassettes which had better music and some of us stayed up late dancing. Back at my room I asked for a bucket of water since there was no running water. It arrived but it looked like the bucket was an old trash can. I put disinfectant in the water before I cleaned up and went to sleep. During dinner we heard there was a problem with our bus overheating and the drivers were busy trying to make repairs.

The next day was the final day of our trip, January 8, 2008. The bus was not ready and parts had to be found, etc. Eventually we left Dessie town at 11am, five hours later than expected. We had a long drive and passed by many scenic viewpoints, especially Debre Zina and Debre Brehan. We arrived in Addis about 11:20pm and said our goodbyes and quickly dispersed.

Although we covered much ground and were on the bus a great deal, our wildlife group had an opportunity to see many unique sights and meet some interesting people along the way. As usual, another wonderful wildlife trip arranged by Elizabeth who has lived in Ethiopia for about 42 years. We had really good weather, fairly good road conditions but did witness much construction along the way. The Chinese are doing much of this road work building small bridges with Oriental motifs and using their construction machines.

Along the trip I found out through various phone calls that my electricity had been cut in my apt. in Addis Ababa. My fantastic maid cleaned up the fridge mess before I arrived and a considerate neighbor refrigerated some food items. Went to work tired the next day with good memories of our explorations to the northern regions of Ethiopia.

Ciao for now.

Northern Trip-Part 1

On December 26 I joined the wildlife group for a trip to some northern provinces. We started off heading to Debre Libamos seeing the church and goods on market day. The road heading to Debre Marcos was closed off for 5 hours in the afternoon so we walked to pass the time and ended up reaching DM very late at night. The next afternoon we arrived in Bahir Dar which has palms lining the major roads and more lush vegetation. I had begun taking my malaria medicine ( Doxicycline) a couple of days earlier. We were off to see Tis Abay Waterfalls or the Blue Nile Waterfalls. First we had a short motor boat ride and then walked for about 20 minutes. It was wonderful to see, hear, and feel the water splashing off. A local azmari musician amused the tourist by playing on a maskinko instrument. After that we arrived at the local basketry market and made some purchases. Tana Hotel was where we spent the next two nights and enjoyed the gardens and flowers. The next day, I decided to eat outside at a local eatery and started walking. I asked a schoolgirl if there were restaurants nearby and she pointed me to a small path near the hotel. I started walking and found out I was on prison grounds. So I veered off and a local guide took me to a restaurant for a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs with the hot mitmita spice, bread, and tea. Our group took a big motor boat to visit a monastery on Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. We had an excellent tour of the interior and the exterior as well.

Gondar was the next stop where we toured King Fasilidas' castle (1600s) & swimming pool, the beautiful church Debre Brehan Selassie- with the ceiling of angels, and toured an animal sanctuary. The next day took us to Simien National Park which was chillier, windier, and higher in altitude. My smaller group opted to casually walk, take photos and check the wildlife. We were rewarded with a colony of gelada baboons quietly gathered. Some were grooming each other, young ones were scampering around, adults were digging for roots. Mothers had their young either clinging to their bellies or their backs and the males looked like small lions with their huge manes and tufted tails. I watched them in silence for over two hours at just meters distance away. It was very peaceful. Most of us ate together at the fancy lodge and many opted for bunk bed accomodations for the night. Very chilly with huge ravens hanging around our building.

The next day was Dec 31 and our bus started to smoke due to a problem with the brakes. Thst was fixed and then there was a flat tire! Nearby was family's tukul or house. They invited us to see the small interior and another tukul which happened to be their mosque. Outside, they were threshing sorghum manually, beating the grains with long sticks. We had two great drivers and one was also a mechanic and took care of the NTO bus and us in good time throughout our trip. That day our drive was full of hair pin curves and so we took it easy. We also walked part of the time admiring some small waterfalls and lots of wildflowers. Late at night we arrived in Aksum and checked into the Yeha Hotel. Some of us dreamed about the trip with visions of comfort stops along the way. Our leader, Elizabeth, would announce from time to time, "men on the right side of the road, women on the left" and we would scramble off. The next day we engaged a local guide and headed off to see Queen Saba or Sheba's pool, the many obelisks, remains of palaces and the new museum. It turned out during this Aksumite period there was much trade with the Middle East and other places, including Sri Lanka.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Electricity and Water

At the University: We have had problems with no electric power twice on Fridays. Last Friday the power went off and on three times which was difficult as I was trying to use the computer. I just found out the main library has a generator for about six months donated by an NGO. We really need something like that at the Institute as the interior rooms of our building get too dark to use the library or visit the museum.
I tried to start reference work at the Foreign Language Library . I found people are not accustomed to reference and a few that did ask questions spoke in Amharic. So I will continue and try and also recommend some basic reference sources for my colleagues.
Someone that I knew from the Embassy was just here and they donated some materials for the library and museum. I ran into this person as he was leaving and he asked if it was at all possible for him to use the bathroom. I told him not to expect much (no running water) and found the key (things like that are just for staff usually and are locked). I told him it would be good for him to see what the conditions were like since he is a newcomer to Eth. At another time, I will have to discuss with him the lack of water, lack of flushing, lack of soap and toilet paper-of course, and see if he can suggest solutions.
Different foreigners handle the lack of bathrooms or the horrible bathrooms in different ways. It is interesting to see how everyone copes with this problem found throughout this country.

Other: The past couple of weeks, water pressure at home has been weak or there has been no water at times. I did go out about 2 weeks ago and purchased two 20 liter jerry cans for washing and cleaning. I think it will get worse in the coming months as that has been my experience before. I was told that due to the high volume of construction, poor reservoirs and other things, water is meagre at times.
Yesterday was a holiday-Id Aladaha. This was to commemorate the time when Moses was told to sacrifice Isaac and the saved, I am told. Lots of people were up and about in town. The Muslims were in new clothes and went to an outdoor arena, Meskel Square, to pray early morning. Lots of good cooking aromas from my apt. building! Some long known friends from AAU invited me for lunch which was pleasant. Then visited some Ethiopian friends in early evening.
Hope to attend a holiday tea at a friend's house this week. "European Christmas" is around the corner and the Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas in January 7.