It is hard to believe I have already been abroad for almost 100 days. Though the semester has flown by it seems like Welcome Week and September were days ago. I feel now is a great time to reflect on my time abroad so far before writing one final post to conclude my experience! While I have learned I am not meant to live abroad for the long-term, I would not trade this experience for anything. I absolutely loved learning about a country that not only is rich in culture and tradition, but is also where my family is from. For me, this was my favorite part of studying abroad- learning and experiencing new food, new people, and new traditions. The first new cultural experience for me was Fashion week all the way back in September- a must do for anyone coming to Milan in the fall, what an experience! The experiences have only continued from there. I learned about aperitivo and how to properly order off a menu at a restaurant without looking like a tourist! I loved learning about all the ins and outs of the city and enjoyed eating at local restaurants but most of all I loved traveling through Italy. I got to visit the lake district, Venice, Rome, and Florence and this taught me so much about Italian culture. I cannot beleive my time is winding down here and I will have to say goodbye to such a culturally rich country!
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.
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!
[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!
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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…
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. http://youtu.be/kI5t6DY97oM
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!
And then, the boys gave me my birthday wish. They left for their un-supervised night of debauchery and I got this:
– 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).
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.
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
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!”
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.
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!
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.
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.
Tuesday May 13th
When the location for GAP clients was announced, I didn’t hesitate to sign up for Ethiopia. There was no thought, no contemplation, and no matrices of pros or cons. I simply used my gut and cashed in all my chips so I could work in Africa because I knew it would be an adventure.
I am an adrenaline junky. I thrive on fast-pace heart stopping moments that trigger you into fight or flight mode. In my mind, an African adventure might be going on safari or being stranded on the side of the road hundreds of kilometers from help. I learned that a true adventure is anything that just takes you along for the ride.
I knew Tuesday would be different because a few of us were flying from Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa instead of making the more than 8 hour drive. I didn’t know that arriving at the small, resort town airport at 7am was the beginning of a long and adventurous day. Our first shock came in the literal sense of the word. Upon entering the airport, we had to put our belongings on a conveyor belt to go through security. As Danny leaned on the rollers to take off his shoes, he was zapped by an electrical current. OUCH! We all stopped to make sure he was ok, and then continued on our journey.
The flight was smooth, and we were all mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape below of us (not to mention grateful that we weren’t driving on the switchback road we could see from the plane). Upon landing, we easily spotted Asres, our local guide from Addis Ababa University, and piled into the truck that would take us to our lodgings for the next eleven days.
As soon as we pulled into traffic we were sucked back into our version of an African adventure. Cars were whizzing by us right and left. Pedestrians were inches from the bumper of our car. We were on sensory overload from all the black exhaust, dust and constant beep, beep, beep of coming from every direction. There was bumper to bumper traffic; trucks piled high with cargo, mass chaos in round abouts, and people using the gridlock situation to sell cookies to all of us stuck in traffic. WOW!! The adventure was back in full force and my eyes were wide open to take it all in.
After more than an hour of driving over bumpy roads, behind loud trucks and onto dirt shoulders we finally arrived at our accommodations. It was time to settle in and relax while we waited for the rest of our team. As they say, there is no rest for the weary. Our planned housing had some unforeseen issues, and while trying to decide the course of action, a teammate’s bug bite conditions became worse. We all loaded back into the truck and drove 90 minutes to seek medical intervention.
More sights, sounds and smells grabbed our attention as we waited at the hospital. Addis Ababa serves as the hub for people from all over Ethiopia to come in search for treatment of malaria and other diseases. I have never seen so many people gathered outside in waiting areas, seated on benches near patient rooms or openly weeping over a diagnosis. I didn’t know where to look or what to observe. It was the most humbling experience of my trip to Africa so far. Luckily, our teammate’s situation was quickly treated, and we left to reunite with the rest of our team after their long drive.
I thought we were simply going to pick up the rest of the group and head back to our housing. We said goodbye to the University of Gondar driver, Amara, who had accompanied us for nine days. After hugs of gratitude, the adventure tapped on my shoulder to remind me it was still there. Our accommodations had not been settled. I watched as our hosts huddled around a computer and spoke in rapid succession. I don’t speak Amharic, but I am smart enough to know that they weren’t talking about putting us up in the Hilton. They entertained us by giving us a tour of the heritage museum on campus, which is housed in the former palace of the king.
Sitting in the office of the person who would play a hand in where we would live while in Addis Ababa, I thought about taking a shower and climbing into bed. I knew we had a long day ahead of us, and all I wanted to do was stop moving. But as before, the adventure heaved me out of my rest and kept chugging for many more hours. With no real solution in sight, calls were made to Ohio to seek help for our situation. Kurt, Heidi, Wondwassen Gebreyes, and Christine O’Malley were responsive, compassionate, and instrumental in our attempt to solve the issue.
While waiting for arrangements between OSU and Addis Ababa University, the team headed to dinner near the National Museum. My body relaxed and enjoyed the sumptuous food. We all agreed that we had found the best pizza in Ethiopia. Considering we had pizza almost every day, this was a huge discovery. But wait, there’s more. Yes, that’s right, the adventure wasn’t over. Lodging was finally secured for us in the center of the city, but now we had to drive more than an hour one-way in traffic that hadn’t died down — even though it was 7:30pm — to retrieve our luggage from the very first place we traveled to after landing in Addis. All of us were weary after having started our journey at 5:30am that day. I volunteered along with Danny to get the luggage while the others handled the check-in at our hotel.
Driving at night is no different than the daylight in Addis Ababa, except it is harder to see the people crossing the street inches in front of your car. The same gridlock we experienced at 1pm was still present even though it was 7 hours later. The place we were headed to locked the entry gate at 9pm, and I didn’t think there was any chance we were going to make it in time. Just when we would finally get moving, I would see brake lights ahead. It was touch-and-go for a while, but we arrived at 8:45pm.
With the luggage on board, the last leg of our adventure was coming to an end. For me it was full of ups and downs, twists and turns, peaks and valleys. Just when I thought I could breathe, a new roadblock appeared. Though it was exhausting both mentally and physically I wouldn’t have it any other way. I believe that anyone can have a normal day where things run smoothly and fall into place. But what is the fun in that? What do you learn if there is no adversity? Only by tackling what is in front of you does true adventure appear.
We left Gondar in the early morning on Monday, awakening to a multicolor sunrise and roosters crowing. We said goodbye to this lovely city and our driver Amara safely drove us three hours to Bahir Dar, a resort town on Laka Tana and the capital city of the Amhara region. Before reaching the city we passed five hippos bathing in the Nile!
We first had two meetings to visit the regional storage facility and the research lab. Then it was time for lunch and relaxation.
The ladies in the group took nice long naps, while the guys explored and walked around in the hot sun. From our group’s exploration we found that Bahir Dar seems more middle class than other places we have visited in Ethiopia thus far. All the streets we saw were paved (rather than dirt roads), many people were riding bicycles, and there were few beggars. There was also a lively downtown area with many shops and cell phone stores.
Most of the team decided to go to the Kuriftu Spa, an upscale resort providing spa treatments like massage, pedicures, waxing, etc. Most of us took advantage of different treatments, which were awesome quality and super low prices. I paid the equivalent of about $3-4 for one of the best eyebrow waxes of my life.
Relaxed and content, we reclined at the Kuriftu cafe with fried ice cream, coffee, veggie wraps and other treats. We had a lovely view of Lake Tana.
It was a well-deserved day of relaxation.
Sunday was our last full day in Gondar. We had a client presentation at 3:30pm, and then a goodbye celebration following. But first we took the morning to chillax at the hotel, leisurely drinking cups of coffee and macchiato (a popular drink here, presented so beautifully with lots of foam and chocolate drizzled on top, overflowing over the side of the small cup to the dish beneath), talking about non-work-related things, and sitting outside on the cushioned chairs, watching the world go by. It was nice to see families walking down the street, and little kids being slow, silly and cranky, like little kids everywhere. I took some time to flip through my Oprah magazine, brought from home. The luxuriousness depicted in the pages was such a stark contrast to what we’d seen this past week, it was almost surreal. Like, do both worlds really exist simultaneously?
In the afternoon we broke up into our functional sub-groups to prepare our presentation, and then met with our clients to present our findings. Drs. Afework, Reta, Legesse and Tamiru asked us helpful questions that will guide the rest of our work here.
Then Tamiru and Dr. Legesse took us to the Dashen beer garden, a lovely outdoor space with a covered roof that can fit a few hundred people. The locals took time to stare at us, the only firenji (white foreigners) there, and some even laughed, pointed, and took our pictures! It’s a new experience for some of us to be in the minority, but a good exercise in understanding what it’s like to be the “other”.
The kind proprietor took us on a tour of the outside of the Dashen brewery right next door and we learned that some Dashen beers, like the Royal Cellar line, are not pasteurized, so must be consumed there. We enjoyed many large beers and some food, and told childhood stories. A wedding after-party was also taking place across the garden, and we saw some of the wedding party doing the shoulder dance; it was quite entertaining!