Ethiopia Dispatch: Days 12 and 13: Hotel Living + Easter Sunday


Day 12: Friday, April 18, 2014

Hotel Living

It’s the beginning of the Easter holiday in Ethiopia and like most places around the world people are commemorating and celebrating. That means everything of interest to me, notably NGOs, are all closed until Tuesday so that also means I will be “hotel living” for the next few days. I do plan to get out and about in Addis if just up and down the street from my hotel.

One thing that’s certain is living in a hotel for the long Easter weekend is BOR.ING! I have been here so long I know the full menu backwards and forwards. I also know all of the staff who work here and their shifts. We’re all good buddies now after I’ve been here for nearly two weeks. They’re great, but  there is nothing to do except sit and twiddle my thumbs. I don’t want to go out much. After all, I am a woman in Addis and I want to make it back home, so wandering around town (even though I am well-traveled and it’s fairly safe in Addis save pickpocketing) is not in the cards for me this go-round.

So, I am relegated to watching a lot of BBC and CNN. There’s also international MTV which I am actually enjoying. Who knew international MTV was better than the homegrown one?

Day 13: Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sheep in the Street

I asked my taxi driver yesterday on my way to a meeting why there were so many sheep in the streets. He told me that for Easter families come together and buy sheep because you have to “spill the blood” for Easter. Large sheep can go for 3000 birr and smaller ones can go for 1100 birr. $1 USD = about 20 birr to give you some perspective on the cost.

Today on my way to the famous market here in Addis I saw not only sheep, but also large bulls  I suspect will be a delicious dinner for many, many families tomorrow. Did I tell you my favorite meal here in Ethiopia is beef tibs. So good!

Easter is huge in Ethiopia as many practice Orthodox Christianity. There are some Muslims and Protestants and further south where I was last week there are even some practicing Rastafarians, I’ve been told.

Most Ethiopians fast for 55 days prior to Easter eating no meat or dairy (even though nearly every Ethiopian I’ve met has sneaked a meat or dairy dish around me. Shhh!). Since you’re supposed to fast for so many days before Easter, Sunday is a day full of gluttonous eating and drinking. I was told to not even contact anyone on Monday because most people will be hung over. Duly noted.

My work days don’t get started again until Tuesday when I head out about three hours southwest of Addis. I do have one scheduled meeting on Monday that I am extremely grateful for. My time is winding down and I have to take advantage of every minute I have left in Ethiopia.

I wish you a happy Easter if you celebrate!  Meanwhile I will be sitting here watching TV. 

Cheers!

 

Ethiopia Dispatch: Days 9, 10, and 11


Day 9, Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On Tuesday we set out early for a five-hour drive to Arba Minch. The ride was pretty uneventful, if driving on partly paved, partly rocky roads is uneventful. You get that a lot in Africa: highway projects go very well until they don’t and you have to drive in mud and rocks for 20+ kilometer stretches.

My days in Ethiopia are speeding by now! I can hardly keep up.

I have been in Ethiopia for 11 days and so much has been accomplished in such a short amount of time! I’m a little astounded by that.

I just got back from a five-day trip to the southern region of Ethiopia. I wish I could have traveled further south, but my itinerary wouldn’t allow it. Ethiopia is extremely expansive. I drove a total of ten hours south, but there is only so much to see in such a small window of time. Also, the further you travel from the big cities the less likely you will be connected and I must be connected or else I lose my bearings! Those of you who know me in real life, know that to be true. If I cannot connect I become a madwoman!

On Tuesday and Wednesday I couldn’t connect to Wifi. I couldn’t call out on a landline and my local phone finally was able to receive texts and calls only after several hours. It was maddening, but it taught me that I need to just relax. It’s hard to do, especially for someone like me who lives on the Net. I survived, but it was painful!

I did have an amazing view, though.

But the view didn’t matter. All I wanted was my wi-fi, which, by the way, I didn’t get until I got to Hawassa a full day later.

Day 10: Wednesday, April 16, 2014

After I admitted to myself that I would never get on the Internet I decided to stand under these birds on Wednesday morning and just enjoy them and their collective chirping.

Day 11: Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday was all about driving back to Addis. It was a beautiful drive through the Great Rift Valley.

Ethiopia Dispatch: Days 7 and 8


Day 7, Sunday, April 13, 2014

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Today I spent about six hours driving south of Addis through the Great Rift Valley. It was a beautiful, sunny day to get away from capital city. After a hectic week it was a definitely a “no rush” kind of day. Today is Sunday so the road wasn’t crowded with a lot of commercial trucks.  Donkey carts and cattle herds were the only hindrances that added to the drive-time.

We stopped at a few places along the way: one place to have lunch and another place to have coffee – traditional coffee. Even though this is the fasting period for many Ethiopians there are still many meat dishes that are prepared everywhere you go.  It was my first time drinking coffee with tena adam (rue) added to it.  It gave the coffee great flavor – almost like cinnamon, but not quite.

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When we finally got to the hotel I decided to sit out in front of the lake to just relax for a moment, that’s when I saw him: a professional “slingshotter”! All he does is shoot at the precocious monkeys that are all around the compound. If the hotel didn’t hire someone to keep the monkeys at bay they will jump on your tables and eat your food, or attempt to.

Slingshotter keeping the monkeys away.

 

Day 8, Monday, April 14, 2014

I spent the entire day in the field – all day; that is until the rains came in the afternoon.

Out in the field

I did get back in time to see the lake before the sun went down. And, then it was off to dinner with new friends I met in the field.

Lake Hawassa

Tomorrow I head even further south.

More then! 

 

Ethiopia Dispatch: Day 6


*** Day 6: Saturday, April 12, 2014

This morning I went down to breakfast and quickly heard the distinct echo of a chorus of American voices. There is a rather large tour group at my hotel filled with giddy teenagers from the States. It’s good for them that they are seeing Ethiopia at such a young age.

I’m all set to travel south of Addis tomorrow to the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region. I was in the Amhara region on Wednesday and Thursday. Addis is the capital of the Oromia region.

I have a driver with a Land Cruiser (you can’t drive long distances in Africa without one) all set to pick me up in the morning and then I’m off with a local “fixer” who is working with me to make sure I get around OK and who will help me when people can’t understand my English, or in general don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m simplifying his role a lot in jest. He is an important part of making this planning trip easier and will travel with me all week as I venture south and even more south.

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The weather in Addis, by the way, has been quite pleasant. It hasn’t been hot at all; in fact, it’s been very mild, and the sun has been shining every day. With an altitude of 7500 feet the weather is perpetually nice here. In a word it’s been beautiful! I am a little sad that the June trip will take place at the beginning of the rainy season and beautiful, sunny days will be more scarce. At least it will be the beginning of the rainy season and not during the drenching height of it.

This evening I went out and took a few photos since it is my last night in Addis until I get back next week. I also enjoyed a quick macchiato before I headed up to write. And, of course, I took the obligatory coffee shot because the coffee here is, not surprisingly, phenomenal!

You might not have known that coffee originated in Ethiopia. Many of the locals have told me I need to go to the birthplace of coffee to see it. Maybe next time.

Since it’s the Easter season, many (most!) Ethiopians have been fasting. They are supposed to fast for 55 days before Easter. That means they can’t eat meat or dairy. If you’re a vegetarian, be sure to visit Ethiopia during this time as you can find some of the best vegetarian food around.

Tonight (it’s about 11:20 pm as I write this) I am taking advantage of the amount of sleep I will get. Tomorrow is Hosanna and the travel company where I hired the driver told me to get a late start in the day because a lot of people will be going to church in the morning. A late start? Twist my arm.

Addis at Night

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More tomorrow from a new city in the south of Ethiopia!

Ethiopia Dispatches: Days 4 and 5


*** Day 4, Thursday April, 10, 2014

When I woke up on Thursday morning I peeked out my tightly drawn curtains (I was trying to get some much-needed rest) and saw the sun shimmering across Lake Tana in all its splendor. It was beautiful. But, by the time I finally got downstairs to depart for my day in Bahir Dar the shimmer of the sun had faded away quickly, but the lake was still quite gorgeous.

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I am still attempting to wrap my mind around how big Ethiopia is. Friends, it is huge! It’s a country of 93 million people and the sheer size of the country is mind-blowing. How do I know? Because I am working on logistics for the rest of my time in Ethiopia in order to make sure I get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. There are some challenges, but I love an overground adventure!

After getting back from Bahir Dar on Thursday I immediately threw open my hotel windows in Addis  to hear the hustle and bustle of  the city below. There is always something going on in Addis like most capital cities.

Addis  Below

 

 *** Day 5, Friday, April 11, 2014

On Friday I had four office meetings and two site visits with NGOs. It was an intense day for sure, but full of fantastic possibilities for June. I hired a taxi driver for the day to take me around the city and wait as needed as my meetings were scattered throughout Addis.

It has been extremely nice having so many helpful NGO contacts in the States that have Ethiopian headquarters. It makes my life easier when I am in the planning stage. Global offices are in touch with each another. We all get to know one another. It’s perfect!

When I have traveled before I have never taken the time or energy to get a local number for the country I am visiting. But, in this case, having a local phone is imperative. I have loved being able to call and text my, now very many, contacts instead of having to rely on getting to Wi-Fi and reading my emails.

Tomorrow will one of my last days in Addis until the end of my trip where I will stay in the city to attend more meetings, meet more people, and iron out important details.

Ethiopia Dispatches: Day 1


This trip to Ethiopia is going to be a bit different from all of my other trips to Africa. This one is going to be more cryptic and without a lot of photos. I’m here planning the next IRP trip in June and can’t give away a lot in my dispatches. But, writer that I am, I still want to share as much as I can without spilling any beans.

Today was full of meetings replete with brain power. I love those! I am entirely fortunate to be around people who believe in global health reporting and global health in general and implementing programs that work and save lives. It’s utterly astounding to me how I even got here. I’ve always said whatever it is in your life that you want just go after it! We only have one life to live, so live it!

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It was a beautiful, sunny day in Addis today. The temperature only went up to the mid 70s – the perfect weather for being out and about in many taxis.

I took a cab to a heavily crowded shopping district about 20 minutes from my hotel where I was able to buy a local phone – a Samsung – with the help of my taxi driver. No iPhones here, folks! At least not what I’ve seen. Like every other country I’ve visited, everyone has their mobile phone stuck to their ear. It’s like the United States except in the US you see more people looking down at their phones bumping into people because we can tweet and text and type and read and post on Facebook all at the same time. I think in countries like Ethiopia, calling and texting are the major cellphone habits, but I’m not entirely sure about that just yet.

When my taxi driver parked his car in this crowded shopping district he warned me to hold on tight to my purse and keep it closed, which I did wholeheartedly. I heard him loud and clear, but one great perk of “looking” Ethiopian is no one pays you any attention. I blend in, so everyone on the street has been pretty indifferent to me unlike in other countries like Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania where I stand out. I’ve even been called a “black mzungu” before in said countries. Blending in is such a great perk even though I don’t know a lick of Amharic.

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I took a walk along the road where my hotel is located. There was an amazing bakery with freshly baked bread and plenty of coffee shops and small eateries. I must visit them when I have a free moment, which according to my schedule, is never, but I may be able to make some time to sit with the locals. I like to get out with the Ethiopian people and stumble along the rocky, uneven sidewalks, brush shoulders with people who have places to go and minibuses to catch, and dodge taxis while I’m crossing the street.

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I will be here during the Easter holiday and while I am not heavily religious you better believe I am going to see some Orthodox Christian ceremonies while I am here. I was given some really amazing destinations to visit on Easter; not the overcrowded ones that everyone talks about or are highly encouraged in the travel guide books, but the ones that are just as amazing, but not heavily attended. I’ll take photos if I can.

By the way – only every seven years Ethiopia shares Easter with our calendar, so I am very lucky in that regard.

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Tomorrow is going to be full of meetings again! More then.

The Best Part of Planning My Stay in Ethiopia


Here I am…sitting in the heart of Washington, DC…writing.

If you regularly read my blog you already know I’ve been to Ethiopia before with Save the Children, one of the most prolific and effective international NGOs that helps children and entire communities survive and thrive around the world. During that trip in December 2012, everything was arranged for me from hotel stays to site visits to transportation to most meals in order for me to tell as many stories about frontline health workers as possible.

Now that I am putting together an itinerary for the International Reporting Project‘s next global health trip to Ethiopia I’m in charge of mostly everything from program visits to logistics to finding hotels with decent Wi-Fi in remote areas. This is right in my wheelhouse and is a great privilege. I’ve been a fellow on two International Reporting Project trips and I travel extensively to low-income countries, so to now be a program manager on an upcoming IRP trip is phenomenal.

Ethiopia is a huge country and traveling from point A to point B seamlessly is going to be a challenge, but definitely doable. I’ve scouted out NGO program sites and travel throughout the country to make sure car distances are reasonable and flights in country won’t wear the fellows out. I’ll be seeing several regions of Ethiopia and many cities starting with Addis and then working my way around Ethiopia. It’s going to be an eye-opening experience to be sure and a trip that will likely change my life as all of my trips do.

The countdown continues — two more days and then I’m off to Ethiopia for 18 days!

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