From our first few days in Ethiopia, we knew we were out of our element. Nothing seemed normal and our expectations were nothing close to what we were experiencing, if only for the fact that we had no idea what to expect. These expectations continued to evolve as we started our first real work day of the project. After having a brief meeting with one of the key stakeholders of our project, we took the walk to the University of Gondar’s Veterinary Medical Campus to meet with some of our partners.
Some of our research team!
After a brief introduction session, we dove head first into the nitty-gritty of our project, and were impressed by the passion and knowledge that our hosts maintained.
During the meeting, we partook in a delicious traditional Ethiopian coffee served out of a ceramic craft,
The BEST Coffee!
and snacked on some sort of toasted barley snack (called cookies and kolu) that was ridiculously addicting. One thing we as business students struggle with is ambiguity. We like structure, with specific meeting times, tight agendas, and set objectives. Ethiopia is really, really putting our team to the test and we have had to put our faith in the idea that everything will work out. Also, it’s Ethiopia. Everything is flexible.
Today we scaled back our anxiousness and began to accept and even embrace the unknown. A great example of this was with an outing with our marketing team. After meeting back with our hosts after lunch, we walked over to the main U of Gondar campus to start knocking on doors until we found a Marketing and Cultural Anthropologist professor to talk with. This happened with no advanced email, no phone calls, nothing. Unfortunately, we found that all of them were out of the office due to an emergency meeting to try to prevent protests and the subsequent government crackdowns that are happening in other regions of Ethiopia from happening in Gondar.
So what do we do next? Our gracious hosts asks, “Who do you want to see now?” As we flip through our list of people, throwing out the last hour and a half’s worth of prep work he had done for the meetings we were supposed to have, we suggest talking to someone who works for the national telecommunications company. We get the simple answer, “no problem.” So our host calls our driver and twenty minutes later (five minutes before closing) are walking up to the office of the district manager of Ethio Telecom (imagine the guy in charge of Verizon for all of Columbus). Our host introduces us and we talk for the next thirty minutes. This was shocking and amazing from American standards because not only did he take a meeting with us without an appointment, he stayed after the workday without thinking twice about it. We began to feel more at ease as since we only have three more business days in Gondar before going back to Addis Ababa, and having no meetings “scheduled” for the next three days will not create a barrier for us.
Something that we are also not used to is being in such a hospitality based culture. Today was Niraj’s birthday (Happy Birthday Niraj!) and our team mostly forgot about him. His wonderful fiancée Priyal did not though and sent him with lovely messages and a box of chocolate buckeye’s, giving him a little taste of home. So as we were about to sit down for dinner, Danny and Danielle were talking about how they had stopped for pastries with one of our hosts, and Niraj pointed out, “What, didn’t bring me back any cake for my birthday?” So after Danny and Danielle pulled their head out of the sand, they asked the front desk if they could do something special for him, either like a cookie or a piece of cake. At the end of dinner, they roll in blasting an Ethiopian happy birthday song with this! In the 45 minutes since we had mentioned this to the front desk, they had run out to a store and got him an amazing birthday cake with candles, creating a magical Ethiopian Birthday for Niraj.
Happy Birthday Niraj!
This goes to show the love and care of the Ethiopian people, and they have continued to share with us their warmth and acceptance as guests in their country.