The Past vs. The Future

Manchester, England

The photo shown above was taken in the city center of Manchester, England.

I believe it is an interesting perspective as to the cultural shifts that seems to be occurring. On the left side you can see the more modern architecture representative of Manchester’s modernization and continued growth.  If you turn your attention to the right, the contrast in building design is immediately apparent. The architecture is obviously of much older design, though kept in good condition. We were informed that many buildings in Manchester were originally textile factories built in the early 1900’s, but have been “recycled” as office buildings, hotels, and so on.

With a history dating back to 79 AD, it’s fair to say that Manchester is an ancient city. Despite that, the “Mancunians” (Those who live in Manchester), have kept relevancy remarkably well. Culturally, it should be noted that while the Mancunians have a sense of practicality about them, their respect for tradition and conservation should be noted as well.

Perth, Australia 1 Month Reflection

Six weeks ago, I left for my journey to study abroad. I spent two weeks in Southern China before traveling to Perth, Australia where I will study abroad during this autumn semester at Curtin University. Since that time, I can say that I have learned more in the last six weeks than I have at Ohio State in the previous three years. I have learned so much about culture, geography, language, business, people and most importantly, myself among countless other things. Having this experience firsthand is something I would not trade for anything in the world. Sitting in a classroom and reading a textbook will never provide the same thing, the same opportunity. Unfortunately, time is moving fast and I can’t believe I’ve been abroad for six weeks already, but it is important to reflect back on my journey so far and this blog post is the perfect way of doing so!

Quite honestly, after the first day of being in Australia, I couldn’t wait to go home. I couldn’t believe the situation I got myself into! My campus was far from the city center and everything was spread out unlike Columbus, Ohio. There are about 1,000 students living on campus and out of those 1,000, a good percentage of them are graduate students that are 35 years old or older! At Ohio State, there are about 10,000 students my own age living on campus and the other 50,000 at OSU live right around the campus in nearby off-campus housing. At Curtin, this wasn’t the case; everyone is spread out throughout the city and commutes to class maybe once or twice a week. You barely see them.

To make it worse, everything closes at 5pm and the WiFi was terrible! It was quiet, far from the beach or any form of shopping area and it was much colder than I expected. I was alone, 11,600 miles away from home, and the worst part…everything was so expensive! I had no idea how I would afford to be here. What was I thinking? I knew I could survive, but I didn’t know if I wanted to. I told myself that I have to stick with it, and it is what you make of it. I knew I was tough, but this would be a true test.
It took some adjusting, but within a week of being in Australia, I had a new bank account, a new phone number, new friends, a new home, but still something was missing.

First, let me tell you what wasn’t missing. It wasn’t a way of getting around. I’m way too independent to have to rely on Perth’s terrible public transportation or their expensive taxi’s. Instead I successfully figured a different form of transportation on my own.

It also wasn’t money. Within a few days of being here, Curtin offered me a $2,500 grant that I didn’t even apply for! They apparently looked at all of the incoming international students previous semester grades and gave scholarships to those who did well beforehand. This included myself. I wasn’t about to screw up the opportunity to go abroad and got a 3.7 GPA last semester, much higher than usual. Sure enough, it paid off, literally! The extra $2,500 was just what I needed to get by, and very conveniently, i’d say Australia is 25% more expensive. So that should give you an idea of what I’m spending to come here.

Here’s what was missing. True friendship. True relationships with people who cared about you. I knew that if I was going to survive here, I needed these true relationships. I was making a lot of new friends from all over the world, but I really wasn’t close with anyone yet. I experienced a similar thing when going to Ohio State the first year and being the emotionally outgoing and sociable guy that I am, it was hard. I knew it would take time, you don’t develop true friendships overnight, but when everyone else is 18,670 kilometers away (Yes another thing I learned was the conversions), you need someone to rely on.

First off, let me tell you that it is very obvious that there are groups around campus depending on each person’s cultural background. I also want to point out that the international students here all seem significantly more educated and enlightened than the typical people I am used to interacting with. Therefore, most of these people were bigger fish, they had more talent, more social skills and brighter futures. They like me, were also tough for being here on their own. We all share the same bond with the same love of travel. That’s why we’re all here. Based on this premise, I wanted to bring everyone together.

I initially made friends with all of the Brazilians, they were very friendly and very genuine. I felt very included, whenever I’d enter the conversation, they would stop speaking Portuguese and speak English to include me. None the less, I didn’t come here to just meet Brazilians, I came here to network with people from all over the world. I forced myself to go to another group. I then proceeded to start hanging out with the Swedes. They are also very great people. After that, I hung out with a group of mostly Europeans and after one night that I spent time with them, I was invited to join a Facebook group that they had. I felt loved and got a great vibe from them.

Finally, I chose to meet the Americans, most of whom all knew each other beforehand because they are on the same study abroad program. However, for myself, this wasn’t the case as I am on exchange. I made some American friends sure. It would have been easiest to develop those friendships sure, but quite honestly, I found I did not have things in common with this group  to connect. The interactions with the Brazilians were different. They looked you in the face and spoke with you. It was nice for a change because that’s who I am.

Here we are, a month later. I have met and made friends with people from the following countries in no particular order: Brazil, Belgium, Venezuela, Germany, Holland, England, Sweden, Lithuania, France, Russia, Switzerland, Scotland, the United States, Canada, Turkey, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Malaysia, Albania, Thailand, South Korea, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, India, Iran, places that I never even heard of like East Timor and Martinique, and last but definitely not least Australia! I’m probably forgetting a few, but you get the point.

Of course, I won’t be close with everyone, but now that I feel like I know almost everyone on campus, I can start developing these closer relationships with the people who matter to me, the genuinely good people. The people who I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. And without even realizing, these people did start coming together just like I wanted. Over the weekend, I celebrated a Kraftskiva (a crayfish party) which is a Swedish tradition. Sure enough a handful of Brazilians and Europeans joined as well.

Now, a month later, I fear the day when I have to return home to the USA because I know how much I’ll miss it here. I’ve grown to love it in Australia and it is already turning into one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve found my way around and learned to love the same things the Aussies do. Not only the people matter, but I’ve adjusted to everything shutting down early and found the places that don’t. I’ve grown to love the always nice weather, the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to, eating Kangaroo, and especially the laid back attitude which mirrors my personality.

Next week, I will head to the east coast to see Sydney and Melbourne. Yet, I am not nervous. I am excited for the opportunity to meet plenty of other people as I am staying at the best youth hostel in Australia which is also top 10 in the world. Traveling to Australia has already proven to be one of the most difficult things I have ever overcome as well as one of the best decisions of my life. It has forever strengthened my desire to keep traveling. I have decided that upon graduating from Ohio State in the spring of 2015, I will look to pursue my masters degree in Europe. I cannot wait to see what is in store over these remaining next three months as well as continue to develop the friendships I have made. I will cherish every moment of it!

Final Post: What We Learned

We all did a writing exercise about what we gained from our experience here in Ethiopia, and what we will leave behind. The following are our anonymous responses.

tapestry

tapestry

  • What I gained: Accepting that I don’t always want to be adventurous; sometimes I need to relax and be comfortable.
  • What I will leave: Expectation of how I “should” be; the idea that another aspect is better than how I really am.
  • Leaving in Ethiopia my ignorance of the poverty that I thought only existed on TV.
  • Taking with me the understanding of what “being present” really means.
  • Gained friendships and new ops frameworks.
  • Leaving behind impatience and beautiful landscapes.
  • Taking away: Many new friends, new experiences, and a greater appreciation for life.
  • Leaving behind: Timidity within a group and not trusting my instincts.
  • I am taking with me a much better understanding of real difficulty, hardship and poverty.
  • I am leaving behind inflexibility, impatience and selfishness.
  • I’m leaving behind my short fuse and tendency to make small things into a big deal.
  • I’m taking an ability to be resilient and more humble.
  • Taking with me:
    Hope that people from different beliefs CAN get along and this world CAN BE a better place. Belief that poverty is NOT an impediment to generosity and hospitality.
  • Leaving behind a body of work that may serve to save an unknown child’s life on some unknown day.

Ayzo

“Ayzo” is an Amharic word we learned in the middle of our stay here. It was described to us as something you would say to a person who has fallen down, to encourage them to get up, to soothe them that it would get better, and to empathize that you have fallen down before too. I look at it as the Amharic version of “Keep your head up.” It was a useful word to know for Saturday.

scaffolding

scaffolding

Saturday, May 24th was our last day in Ethiopia. The plan was to finish up the final touches of our paper for the client, visit a local coffee shop, and perhaps get some spa treatments. Low-key, relaxed and minimal planning so we could pack up and get to the airport in time for our 10pm flight back. But as the saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs.”

doors

doors

rocks

rocks

Carla woke up painfully sick. The rest of us decided to call the HTH Insurance plan which covered us during our travel, determine which local health clinic or doctor we could use, and then go visit. But unfortunately, that wasn’t so easy. Internet was still out (since Addis had been experiencing ongoing blackouts since Monday) and we had limited phone credit to call the international hotline.

corn seller

corn seller

While Alejandra and Danny went to the local internet cafe to research doctors within network, our guide (and really, guardian angel) Tigist came to the rescue, calling friends to get information and eventually picking us up from the hotel and driving us to first one, then another medical center that would treat our sick friend without demanding extraneous paperwork. Due to distance and hideous Addis traffic we were in the car for hours, but eventually Carla was able to see a doctor who could treat her and prescribe her some helpful medicine.

printing shop

printing shop

We are so thankful that Carla was able to get treated and we were all able to get on the plane back home. We are also immensely grateful for our extraordinarily hospitable hosts, and for the opportunity to explore such a different and vibrant culture these past three weeks.

purple house

purple house

I’m including here pictures from street scenes in Addis, taken from the car as we were driving around on Saturday.

Pakistani pop, country music and our commonalities

This post was written by Javed Cheema

Thursday 5/22 was an interesting day. Niraj and Katie had already left the day before and it was my last night with the gang as I was leaving the next afternoon. It had been the desire of several of us to check out a Korean restaurant that had come highly recommended to us. After Ale and I came back from the Red Terror Museum, we really wanted to share a cup of coffee with our driver, Tikelun and Madame Mebrat. Protocol was such that all of our previous attempts at invitations had failed. Tikelun was the hardest to crack. This time, we asked him 3 times but then gave them no choice as we opened the driver’s door and forced the invitation. We were so happy to share the warm sips of coffee with our hosts and knew we made a connection when the driver refused the hotel-made pastry and accepted to partake from Danny’s stash of kollo – the genuine local article!

We set out a little after 5 for dinner and so began a 2.5 hour search for the Korean restaurant Rainbow. Earlier Carla had pulled out a rough sketch from Google maps and our hosts had politely informed us that they knew what the map was pointing to. Either the map was outdated, or way out of scale, or our hosts misjudged. Either way, thus began an interesting and somewhat comical search for Rainbow. We must have stopped in 3 different neighborhoods and taken several u-turns. We stopped policemen, people on the street, and even rival restaurants for directions. Each one was wrong and we almost gave up the search were it not for the finding of another Korean restaurant and discovering that the same owners owned Rainbow as well. We finally reached the address only to find a closed gated with inside lights turned off! Hoping against hope, Danielle got out and rung the doorbell. A person off the street confirmed what we suspected by now.

Disappointment

Disappointment

What a treat this turned out to be! We had spotted the Armenian restaurant, Aladdin, a few turns back and knowing it was recommended in the guidebook, set out for it.

Food was great. No question one of the best meals we had in Ethiopia. But even greater was what happened during the meal; we really broke the ice with the former soldier in Tikelun. We found out that he was really into action movies – especially Rambo and other Stallone/Schwarzenegger flicks. Just then a familiar tune hit my ears and a few moments later, a startled me started telling the group that this was a pop song from Pakistan – the 1st one to introduce the genre to that country! Mebrat told me that it (Nazia Hasan’s “aap jaisa koi”) was still a popular song in Ethiopia. An obscure song from the 1970s from a country thousands of miles away… what are the chances of that?? Thus began a sharing of commonalities. We asked our hosts of what music they listened to and the movies they liked. A group of us broke into choruses to several songs that they would hint at and we would get nods of approval if the mark was right. The song “Jolene” and other country westerns were definitely in. Michael Jackson was a veritable African son whose death was mourned greatly in Ethiopia. We were the only table singing, clapping and laughing ourselves silly with abandon.

What a way to end the trip!

Dropping Javed off at the (wrong) airport terminal. Oops!

Dropping Javed off at the (wrong) airport terminal. Oops!

Sharing hugs and tears – Red Terror and the human spirit

This post was written by Javed Cheema

Javed and Ale

Javed and Ale

Ale and I went sightseeing on my last full day in Addis. Our guide whom we affectionately called Madame Mebrat accompanied us. We didn’t really have a plan except that we wanted to see the unseen Addis. Oh, what a great day it turned out to be.

First, we went to the Ethiopian version of the local convention center, which was set up in a few large tents in what seemed like an open garden. This was a total chance discovery. Only later was my initial surprise to be revealed of having been frisked lightly at the entrance of the garden. We heard a band playing in the distance and we headed towards it to see a small crowd of people lining up against a red carpet. There were dance troupes representing the welcoming party dressed in the different ethnic outfits of Ethiopia. Large 4x4s would come in every few minutes and well dressed people in suits would disembark and head towards another tent of suited people sitting in front of a make shift stage. Later we found out that these were actually ministers of the state and the whole wait was for the prime minister himself to show up! They were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the liberation from the brutal Derg regime of communists.

We milled around for a while and then headed out of the garden towards the Red Terror Museum. I didn’t know what to expect and was totally unprepared for the scenes and emotions which lay ahead. Right at the entrance was a statue of an old woman, flanked by 2 younger ones with anguished expressions and tears on their faces. The plate read “NEVER, EVER AGAIN!”.

never again

never again

At the entrance was a most touching quote from this same old woman whom we found out had 4 sons slaughtered by the Communists in their prime, on a single night! The haunting quote read, “As if I bore them all in one night, They slew them in a single night!” Being a father of 3 myself, I knew what this quote meant as a parent and shuddered at the words which were a reality for this old woman.

As we got further into this rather modest but well-curated museum, we were quite shocked by the sheer capacity for barbarity in man. We discovered how over 2.5 million Ethiopians perished in the Derg period – some from a callously managed famine and others slaughtered at the hands of the army and citizen thugs. We were shown how people kept hope alive in the midst of unimaginable misery. We discovered how the students and the intellectuals were specifically targeted for barbaric torture and inhumane conditions during confinement to break their spirits and those of their fellow citizens. The “lucky” ones found a quick death.

We were shown the favorite “harsh interrogation” (aka torture) techniques that the regime had mastered in a particularly harrowing display of a hands-on human model sculpture. Many a time during the tour we almost ended our visit. The museum was too much for not just us but was even more so for Mebrat. Every few minutes, she would slip into a corner sobbing, letting her tears flow and getting a hold of her emotions. I first thought that this petite woman had an especially sensitive heart. Later I was to discover that hers was the strongest heart of us all. She shared with us that the horrors we could only imagine in faded pictures and descriptive words were actually hers in real life. Her own husband had suffered the brutality first hand. She had lost many a smiling friend to the 17-year-long horror of the Derg regime.

Another particularly harrowing exhibit was that of several glass cabinets filled with the remains of mass graves – tattered blankets, clothes, shoes, watches, rings, etc were the personal belongings of the victims. Another room had cabinets filled with human remains – skulls, teeth and bones. We were told that these represented a tiny fraction of mass graves that actually existed. Our wise tour guide made a decision to tactfully steer Mebrat away from this room as it might have been just too horrific of a memory for her.

We left the museum and walked in solemn silence for a while. We hugged each other and thanked Madame for sharing her sorrow with us. We made a real connection of humanity amongst us. Our hearts felt heavy but our spirits felt strong. I felt the weight of the resolve from the powerful words of the statue: “NEVER, EVER, AGAIN!”

PS. the Derg were toppled with US help to the rebels in the early nineties. Our visit happened to mark the 20th anniversary of this. That is why the Prime Minister was visiting the garden earlier!

Find a Snickers, Find a friend — Find BinYamin

[This post is written by Javed Cheema]

 

Danny and I went out to get some phone credit in Addis after having had a rather long day with client meetings and some sightseeing. We were requested to also bring back a piece of home if we could find some … Snickers!

It was dark outside and our part of town had been suffering from a constant electric and internet blackout for the last 4 days straight. Thankfully, we were on backup generator power and didn’t have issues inside the hotel. However, outside the hotel it was a little different story. We couldn’t find the revered chocolate bar on our first 2 stops. However, we found something much more important – kindness and generosity! We found BinYamin.

BinYamin was the owner of a small beverage shack, but an owner of a VERY big heart. After pondering for a little while which way to send the lost foreigners in the dark night of a blacked-out Addis, he finally said, “Come with me.” We were taken aback by this and we insisted that this was not that important and he shouldn’t leave his business to help us find a 12-ounce bar. BinYamin didn’t take no for an answer. We followed him for several city blocks during which he made sure that he protected us from the unruly traffic crossings and open holes in the side walk that could have made for a sewage laden mess at a minimum. We had great conversations in his broken English and our very broken Amharic. We tried our best to communicate with each other with words, gestures and facial expressions and shared a few laughs. We felt at home with this unknown person we had just met 20 minutes ago! However, the best was yet to come!

After reaching another small but well stocked shop, we discovered the Snickers bar we wanted, but we also found out that neither Danny nor I had any cash on us!!! We laughed at the silliness of our situation and tried to figure out the most polite way to break the news to our host as well as the shop keeper. Strange things started to happen. First, BinYamin’s determination that we get the bar and second, him emptying his pockets in search of cash – cash for us! However, his pockets came out just as empty as ours. But, this was not to deter a determined Ethiopian bent on kindness. He had been holding 2 phones (the old Nokia types). He put one of the phones on the counter and we finally realized what he was doing – he was putting security down in exchange for the bar and promising the shopkeeper to return with cash!!!

Here we are in Ethiopia and this unknown stranger wants to part with one of his few precious belongings to help some strange foreigners!! Oh, how overwhelmed we were with the feeling!

After some trying, we finally convinced BinYamin that we didn’t really need the bar that bad and he took his phone back. His kindness extended all the way back until he brought us back almost to the footsteps of our hotel, making sure that we got a safe escort back in the still dark night.

Forget the Snickers. We found something much more precious. We found BinYamin . There is hope for a better world because there are people like BinYamin in it!

 

Entoto Maryam Church

Wednesday 5/21/14

On Wednesday morning we met with Dr. Hailu for our final presentation. He offered helpful suggestions for improvement, and we all felt satisfied by our work and his feedback.

In the afternoon, Dr. Hailu accompanied us to Entoto Maryam Church, a beautiful old building located up a winding forested road at the top of Addis. This is where original capital was, since it served as a strategic overlook, and where King Menelik II was crowned in the late 1800s. We saw many women carrying large bundles of firewood on their back up the hilly roads.

blue wall

blue wall

church

church

princes(s) entrance

princes(s) entrance

memorial wall

memorial wall

where to go?

where to go?

Afterwards, we did some shopping at the wholesale market Shiro Meda, where Danny and Niraj finally bought their Ethiopia soccer jerseys at a reasonable price.

Shiro Meda

Shiro Meda

We ate at the Lime Tree Cafe for dinner, a popular place with expats. We were excited by the sign reading that they wash their vegetables in bleach water, hurrah! Because then we could finally eat a salad, which we shared with gusto. It was the first time we’d eaten raw vegetables in almost three weeks. (Because the water they wash vegetables with is not safe for us to drink, we’ve been avoiding raw vegetables since arriving here.)

Finally we dropped Katie and Niraj off at the airport, who are leaving early for prior commitments. The trip is really beginning to wind down!

Blackout, Day 2

The power outage continues on Tuesday. Internet is still out, phones seem to be working, and the hotel is still powered by the generator. This morning there’s no hot water, however, since apparently the water is heated by electrical power.

Javed and Niraj went to client meetings while the rest of the team sought out internet to let our family, friends, faculty advisor and GAP leaders know of our situation. The hotel kindly provided a shuttle to take us to the nearest internet cafe, but only two minutes after our arrival, the power cut out there too. I asked the young man next to me how long the outage might last. He said it could return almost immediately, or it could take quite a long time. We waited several minutes, everyone else left the place, and then we did too. The kind proprietress didn’t charge us for our time there.

Greetings from the internet cafe!

Greetings from the internet cafe!

We decided to go to the Sheraton Hotel to use the internet there. Again, the hotel driver took us down the winding road to what might be another world. As we entered the gleaming gates of the hotel, I couldn’t believe something like this existed in Addis. We went through a security check and metal detector, and entered perhaps the most luxurious hotel I’ve ever seen in my life. A gurgling fountain greeted us in the front lobby, while sumptuous brocade-covered couches and arm chairs filled the wide lobby and cafe seating area. Coffee and cakes at American prices were for sale from a sparkling clean glass case, while diplomats wearing pressed suits and speaking many different languages spoke with each other at the cafe tables.

Roses in front of the Sheraton

Roses in front of the Sheraton

Rooms cost $700/night. Considering that the average Ethiopian earns $400/year, this is where the 0.0001% of Addis resides. It was a strange slice of reality to experience, however briefly.

View from the Sheraton balcony

View from the Sheraton balcony

People Find a Way

Starting with my initial taxi ride from the airport here in Chongqing one thing has been very clear: the Chinese don’t let very much stand between them and their goals. Driving is a pretty simple example. There are lines and general traffic rules, and people follow them, until it’s more effective not to. Every time I’ve been in a car I’ve been amazed at how there is no semblance of order, yet no one ever gets in an accident. This has also been apparent in the business world, where despite laws for lots of things, they are bent or broken whenever needed to accomplish something important.

Side note: many Chinese don’t have cars and don’t drive, which explains how the poor driving stereotype developed since they come to America and are forced to drive everywhere for the first time in their life. However, driving is an actual skilled profession here, and the Chinese that do drive are phenomenally better drivers than the average American (they actually pay attention to what they are doing).

Where we're going we don't need roads! Even in a 200k car.

Where we’re going we don’t need roads! Even in a 200k car.

Anyway, my point is that people here just get things done. Need power? Just rig a line on the sidewalk and throw some cement over it. A ladder? Use whatever you can find to hold two bamboo sticks together. Cable TV in the office? Drill through the stone wall of this multi-million dollar skyscraper and hook it up. This list could go on forever. One fact pretty much sums up the town: The peninsula of Chongqing is literally a mountain, and they built a downtown on top of it anyway.

Standard permanent wiring job

Standard permanent wiring job

Brand new 900ft skyscraper

Brand new 900ft skyscraper

While some of this comes across as a little comical, the reality is that instead of wasting time worrying about how to do something, the Chinese are just getting it done. And what they are getting done in Chongqing is incredibly impressive.

Wifi in the phenomenal Three Gorges Museum

Wifi in the phenomenal Three Gorges Museum