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



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


Rolling blackout

On Monday morning 5/19, we woke up to no internet. The city was in the midst of a rolling blackout, which apparently happens quite frequently. Our hotel was powered by a back-up generator, so our lights and water were (for the most part) working, but the internet was out and the phones were also spotty. Ethiotel, the country’s only landline and cell phone provider, was also experiencing intermittent outages. Even so, we were luckier than most, since many people have no backup power supply.

We met with our Addis client, Dr. Hailu, at 11am to present a rough draft of our proposal. With water, coffee, tea and kollo, we shared our ideas and listened to his suggestions. Overall we are satisfied with the progress we’ve made and will make time to incorporate Hailu’s suggestions before we leave.

In the afternoon, some teammates stayed at the hotel to complete their section of the project, while the rest drove into the city center to do some shopping. We bought some roasted coffee at Tomoca and green coffee at the local supermarket chain Shoa. It was our first time inside a grocery store here and we were excited to see what people buy here on a daily basis. We were also excited to stock up on some essentials, like bottled water and Mars candy bars.

During the drive back, we hit rush hour traffic, which is unlike any other traffic I’ve ever experienced. Think LA-level gridlock, but with all cars spewing diesel exhaust, and streets without painted lanes, and huge potholes, and tons of people waiting in lines 2-3 people thick for the next bus or taxi van. Pedestrians are also quite bold and usually walk right in front of cars, while cars themselves drive quite closely to each other. It’s amazing we haven’t seen any accidents yet.

After dinner we did some more work and then got ready for bed. Somehow even in the midst of the blackout, the club across the street was still well-lit, with loud music blaring through the night.


The Never-ending Sausage Fest

Before any of you start to roll your eyes and dismiss this post as another Shai-box…hear me out.

Life as a business woman often means you’re the only girl in the meeting, in the department, or even in the entire organization. Life as an MBA woman (unfortunately) stays consistent with this standard.  I was the only girl on my core team. And now…life as a Gapper…is shaping up to be the same.

Other than the very important diversity and women’s empowerment point, (both are at the very center of who I am), it doesn’t bother me too much to be the lone carrier of the lady flag. My team-bros are super great and see me and treat me like a team mate…a brilliant beautiful crazy intelligent team mate. J

There is another girl on Team Scotts, which is awesome. Not only does it mean there is someone to tell me if there is salad in my teeth, it also means there’s another voice in the discussion. But for social activities and weekends, she often has other plans.

Which means Shai and the fellas. ALL THE TIME!

For example, in London, we met up with the London team. We saw the ladies for about 20 min and then it was a total bro party for the rest of the evening.

boy fest

It can be a little difficult to be the lone lady at karaoke. I kept selecting Pink, Beyonce, and Miley Cyrus and the boys were not fans. I think Chris almost lost it when I selected the second Taylor Swift song…but that is probably justified.

karaoke growl

(FYI, Korean karaoke in france is definitely a good idea.)

This weekend the fellas and I took off on a little adventure to Switzerland. We booked one huge hotel room that was absolutely freaking great.

swiss hotel room

But what do you do when it’s 4 boys and one girl? You set up some rules. Well one rule…the Fart Zone.

Fortunately, we had a great balcony with a view.

balcony view

Then Andy and I decided to take our life into our hands and go Canyoning at the recommendation of Jeff D (who is crazy). Canyoning is like cliff jumping, but in a canyon where there are rocks on every side of you and the water comes straight from snow run off and you could basically die at any moment.

It looks like this…


When the driver picked us up, I was really excited because there were two other girls on the bus. But when we got to the loading zone and farmed out into teams, I ended up on a team with about 10 fraternity bros and Andy.

My main concern here was being the one person on the team squealing or nervous or playing into the ‘girly’ stereotype. Also, it gets a little weird when the guide tells everyone to strip down and then suit up. That meant 10 frat boys in their underroos (hello swim suits anybody?) I stealthily found a curtain to duck behind to wriggle into my wetsuit.

To make matters more gender-awkward, we had to pick up our helmets that had names across the front. And when it came to be my turn, the only helmet options I had were Snookie or Party Boy. Obviously you know what I picked…

waving party boy

Right before we took off to drive up the mountain to our insanity, I asked the guide what’s up with me being the only girl? And he said, “think of it this way, you’ve got about 10 extra brothers looking out for you on the mountain.”

One the one hand…BLERG! I don’t need BROTHERS to look out for me. I’m a strong independent woman that can do it myself.

On the other hand…BLERG! It’s on me that I assumed being the only girl meant an automatic adversarial relationship. I took on the role of “other” long before anyone put me there. And it turns the Bro-skies were totally great. So KAPOW to my own gendered assumptions.


If you have a few minutes you want to allocate to me squealing and jumping to my doom, check out this video.

Saturday also happened to be my birthday. And these sweet boys that I’ve spent the last few weeks mothering (they even call me Momma Shai), really knocked it out of the park!

I got to pick the dinner place. THAI! YUMMMY! And then I got to pick the evening activity, which, honestly, all I wanted was a night off to just be alone. The hotel had a really nice bathtub that was calling my birthday name.

But the guys insisted we all go back to the hotel together. Admittedly, I was a little annoyed because bath time did not need to include 4 boys. But when we got into the hotel, the guys had a surprise.



Gateau chocolate! My favorite!

These boys!

And then, the boys gave me my birthday wish. They left for their un-supervised night of debauchery and I got this:

spa birthday

Executive Summary:

– Birthdays in Switzerland are awesome

– Being the only girl in a room full of boys struggling to put on wetsuits is awkward

– Just because you’re the only girl in a room full of boys doesn’t mean it will be a bad experience

– We still need more women in business school, in business, and in GAP

The men of Team France know how to do birthdays right (and how to honor the fart zone).

– Shai

Une soirée seul (An evening alone…)

A quick update from Sherehan:

“Tonight, I went solo…..found a restaurant overlooking the river, with a wonderful view, yummy food and a great atmosphere.  Salad, dessert and a fine Riesling later…. my “soirée” turned into an enchanted evening filled with harmonious melodies!  Turns out, there was a concert at the Lyon Confluence, so obviously, I stayed to experience it with the wonderful people of Lyon.

The Razowski restaurant in Lyon Confluence

 Razowski is inspired by the delicacy of Eastern Europe.  The restaurant’s name is rooted in that of a Polish boxer who managed to escape thanks to his sports career.  It is a tribute to people as courageous as the founder of Razowski.

Inside Razowski        


View from the terrace


With a view this magical, I was left to wander in my thoughts and felt an overwhelming sense of serenity.  A much needed relaxing evening with beautiful melodies from amazing artists, the music filled the air and emotions overcame me.  Sometimes, it is absolutely wonderful to be left alone and experience the world untainted.  I allowed myself to be a woman who emphasizes a life of passion expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm, and cultivation of life’s pleasures… better known as quaintrelle!

As expected, the food was trés trés delicious!  The menu is very American, with burgers, nuggets, fries and brownies; I forgot I was in France.

My Salad Entrée                                                       


Dessert… YUMMY!!


Finally… the cherry on top à The Concert

Artists Lili Road (opening act) and Pep’s (pictured below)

Pep’s sang his infamous Libertà song (the crowd went wild) and how can they not, it sounds even better live.  With a simple guitar, Pep’s relied on the amazing acoustics of the Confluence.

“I just wanna be free in this way…Just wanna be free in my world

Vivere per libertà…Vivere nella libertà”

My evening alone was perfect!”

– Sherehan



Lucy, and Looking Away

Sunday we worked for a few hours in the morning because our deliverable to the GAP office was due today. By the afternoon we felt ready for a break, so most of us went to the National Museum of Ethiopia, where the fossils of Lucy and other early hominds are kept. The Awash region of Ethiopia is home to many ancient fossil discoveries, and we were lucky to see some of them.



Katie + Ardi = BFF

Katie + Ardi = BFF

After the museum, a few of us went to a cafe across the street and ordered some coffee, tea and pastries. The doughnut was one of the best we’ve ever had!

Awesome doughnut!

Awesome doughnut!

After yesterday’s excursion to the textile shops, the guys wanted to do a little masculine shopping, so off to Churchill Avenue we went in search of some swords and wooden objects. We pulled up to a small stretch of vendors which had many poor people asking for money outside of them. Several of the people were tiny children. After two weeks here, I still can’t get used to that, and my heart goes out to every kid. They touch their hands to their lips, indicating, “Give me food,” and hold their palms open, ready for us to place something in it. But we don’t, because we don’t really have food with us, and if we give anything, we will immediately be swarmed.



And that’s exactly what happened. After about 45 minutes of shopping and haggling prices with the help of our local guide Mebrat, we got in the van and all the beggars pressed up against the sides of the vehicle, talking through the windows, asking for food, or to sell us one more item. I closed my eyes, I could not look at them. I had to look away.

We drove off to dinner, to a comfortable night in our lovely hotel, to a night full of dreams.

Exploring Bole

On Saturday we worked for a few hours in the morning, since we have a deliverable due Sunday, and then went out to explore in the afternoon.

Carla and Alejandra have made a connection with a local blogger named Sara, who gave them all sorts of suggestions on where we could go for shopping, food, and other delights. The area we concentrated on is Bole, an expat neighborhood.

We first stopped at an out-of-the-way workshop (which we definitely wouldn’t have found on our own) called Sabahar that produces handwoven scarves and placemats. The factory was open and light-filled, and we went to the attached store to buy some of the colorful goods. Some of us were particularly inspired by the owner and manager, Kathy, who expatriated from Canada for her husband’s work, and 14 years ago started this business on her own. She employs over 150 local people and teaches farmers how to raise silkworms to produce the silk used in some of the scarves. It’s the kind of sustainable business that some of us want to develop after business school.

Ladies of the team wearing our new scarves

Ladies of the team wearing our new scarves



Next stop was ice cream at Igloo, which Kathy recommended as the best in Addis. We were really excited to try it, since ice cream is super rare in Ethiopia, due to the limited cold chain (something we’re learning a lot about with our project). The flavors were very bright and we’re already planning to return!

Yum, ice cream!

Yum, ice cream!

We visited another handicrafts store called Salem, owned by a kind proprietress by the same name. The inner courtyard had a puppy and kitten romping around, who Katie quickly befriended.

Not actual kitten and puppy. Just pretend.

Not actual kitten and puppy. Just pretend.

Our money all spent and our bellies full of yumminess, we retired to the hotel where we ordered pizza for dinner and talked for awhile. It was a cozy and relaxing evening.