Be careful what you wish for…

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.

Our chariot awaits
Our chariot awaits

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.

The Nile
The Nile

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.

Water cans, water cans, and more water cans.
Water cans, water cans, and more water cans.

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.

Saying goodbye to Amara
Saying goodbye to Amara
palace selfie
Roar!!! The palace turned museum


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.


Bahir Dar


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!

hippos!!!!We checked into the hotel and found our beds had mosquito nets, the first we had seen here. Bahir Dar is warmer and has lower elevation than both Gondar and Addis, so malaria can be a concern.

Mosquito net
Mosquito net

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.

Danny, Javed and Tamiru chill in the spa lounge
Danny, Javed and Tamiru chill in the spa lounge
Alejandra gets a pedicure
Alejandra gets a pedicure

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.

Lake Tana
Lake Tana
Me and Katie appreciating fried ice cream
Me and Katie appreciating fried ice cream

It was a well-deserved day of relaxation.



Debrief and beer garden

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?

Macchiato lusciousness
Macchiato lusciousness

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”.

Ladies FirstThe 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!

Niraj & Dr. LegesseWe said goodbye to our wonderful hosts Dr. Legesse and Akilo. We are so grateful for their hospitality, and showing us so much around Gondar.

St. Mary Festival Day

Friday May 9th

 Today was a holiday, the first of the ninth month in the Ethiopian calendar, the feast of Saint Mary. Ethiopians use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian (which Americans and Europeans, etc use), and their current year is 2006. Their time follows the traditional Middle Eastern 12-hour clock, in which the start of the day begins at 6am, which they call 12.

Due to the holiday, our time would be limited, so we headed out to the rural areas to conduct some interviews. We drove about 30 minutes outside of Gondar to the village of Ambezo to interview the Health Extension Workers there. We were curious to discover what type of things they encounter in the rural areas when dealing with health issues of the villagers.

One thing that has surprised us and brought much joy is talking to the local children. When driving on country roads we see a few people, but once we pull our vehicle to the side of the road children swarm the van. They seem to come out of no where to look at the “firenje” (foreigners). During this particular stop we handed out pencils and showed the children how to do O-H-I-O.

Giving pencils to kids O-H-I-O

A particularly confusing stop for us was when we thought we were walking to a “kebele” (neighborhood), but it was really just a lookout point. It was a worthwhile stop because a little girl, Tigist, took Katie and Danielle by the hand and walked to the edge of the view point. She was very soft spoken and so sweet. We have found most of the children here to be very affectionate. It is so heartwarming to see the way they embrace us with so much trust and love.


Kebeles have leaders, and we met with Asfow, the leader of the Charambazo kebele. He told us how laws passed from the government are enforced at the kebele level. For instance, Ethiopia recently had a very successful HIV campaign to raise awareness of how the virus is spread and can be prevented. The kebele leaders organized HIV testing and gave HIV-positive individuals agricultural jobs. One thing that would not happen in the U.S. is the manner in which the interview was conducted. We drove to a location where the kebele leader was waiting for us on the side of the road with a rifle over his shoulder. We picked him up, and drove him to his next meeting, all the while asking questions. One week into our GAP project and we are learning to just roll with it, as none of us objected to the gun.

The last interview of the day was with a local religious leader of the Eastern Orthodox faith, which is the most popular religion in Gondar. His time was limited due to the holiday, but he was forthcoming with information. The site on which we met him had a large building under construction that will soon be a home to people with HIV and AIDS.

Before lunch we stopped with our Amharic speaking client ambassadors to get a plane ticket from Gondar to Addis Ababa. This is where we learned the power of patience, and discovered just how valuable our translators were. We arrived at at the ticket office at 11:45am and the agent behind the counter worked on our transaction for over 90 minutes. Hunger creeped in and we shared two granola bars between 7 people. Luckily for us a distraction in the form of a “firenje” allowed us to take up the time. Shached, an Israeli woman doing volunteer work with the local street children, shared the wait with us. We compared notes on Ethiopia and talked about our experiences abroad. If you would have told me that I would spend over an hour and a half in an airline office, I would have told you no way that would happen because I buy my tickets on the internet!

After lunch we walked to a historic landmark in Gondar called Fasilidas Castle. We were shocked by the 200 birr entrance fee per person. Though that equates to $10, we haven’t paid more than a few dollars for any meal, and $0.50 for souvenir post cards. Again, our client ambassadors came to rescue by negotiating for us to get the student rate. We each showed our BuckIDs (yes, all of us brought them all the way to Africa!), and paid just 75 birr per person. The castle makes Gondar a tourist destination in Ethiopia, and lends to the richness and vibrancy of the city beyond what you may read or imagine to exist in Ethiopia.


Though we are thousands of miles away from home, Gondar allowed us to keep up with our daily practices. Friday prayers were attended in a local mosque, and Danny and Danielle went to Shabbat services at a local synagogue. Danielle noted that the temple was simply an open air space with a corrugated metal roof, and basic benches with a curtain separating men and women, as in the Orthodox tradition. Most women wore all-white: white head coverings, shawls and dresses underneath. She also noticed that while some of the prayers were similar to the ones back home (like L’cha Dodi – welcoming of the Sabbath bride – and blessings over the bread and wine), others were different. Congregants repeated the rabbi after every word, and at the end of the service, women called out a high pitched “ay-ay-ay!” sound, which would definitely not happen in most American shuls! It is nice to be so far from home and be able to keep up with some of our traditions.

Coffee is very important in the Ethiopian culture. They have a formal ceremony for roasting the beans and pouring the coffee for guests. There is even a special dress that the women wear for the occasion. Though some of the others on the team have seen this ceremony, I had not. To my surprise, when we returned to our hotel a ceremony was set up in the lobby. With no one around but my teammates, I saw a photo op, and sat in the seat to pretend pouring coffee. I was nervous when the lady who was supposed to perform the ceremony caught me in her spot, but she was gracious and covered my head and shoulders with her scarf. It was so touching that she let me enjoy the moment and embraced me with her clothing.

Coffee Ceremony

The night ended by participating in another Ethiopian tradition called “eskista,” which is apparently the dance that the Harlem Shake is based on. This is shoulder dancing, and it is exactly what the words describe. You move your shoulders in various ways to the rhythm of the music. I couldn’t believe there was actually going to be an audience for the shoulder dancers when we first walked into the night club. We were the only people there. After just a short time the place filled up with Ethiopian twenty-somethings dressed to the nines in nice jeans and shirts for the guys, and colorful blazers, dresses and cropped pants for the women, who also had their hair styled in sleek side-sweeps and wore bright lipstick. There was so much energy, especially when the musicians and singers performed popular songs that had the whole crowd up and shaking The dancers came into the audience and danced with us. It was so much fun and a truly Ethiopian experience. Another entertaining moment was when a male singer sang some double-entendre-loaded songs to the audience. It was all in Amharic, but we know at least one verse referenced us, because the whole club looked at us and laughed. I couldn’t think of anything to compare it to in the U.S. for our hosts. I felt like I was experiencing something truly unique to the country I chose to work in for the next few weeks.

At the end of a very long, but culturally rich day we all fell asleep easily. We knew the next day was going to have more adventures as some of us were going to the Simien Mountains for exploration.









Day 5: Tea time with Dan


Yes, that tiny little glass about the same size as the tea candle is what I am supposed to drink out of, somehow.


I thought it would be nice to give Melissa, who has been doing an excellent job with our team’s blog, a break for a day and would write a bit about my day instead.  Day 5 in Malaysia started much the same as most of my days here.  Waking up early and heading down to the hotel’s pool in order to get my daily Pelotonia training in.  Since the local roads and traffic habits don’t particularly lend themselves to cycling around, a morning swim is going to need to do for now.  After my swim I grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then we loaded into the shuttle bus, and went into the office for the day.

Our hosts at WD have been most generous during our trip, and have been extremely helpful.  Today we had a nice discussion over lunch with the VP in charge of materials for Asia, who offered some experienced based insights into some of the challenges that we are facing.  After a busy day at the office working on our project, we once again loaded into the van, and zipped through traffic back to the hotel.

We decided to head back to the Sunway Pyramid mall for dinner tonight, as the variety of options available there is for practical purposes, limitless.  We chose a local tea house and Chinese food establishment called the “Paradise Inn”, after comparing the menu’s of several nearby restaurants.  The one problem I have found thus far with food in Malaysia is that it pretty much all looks delicious, and it is usually hard to decide what exactly I want to order.  It is also, generally speaking, very reasonably priced.  I eventually chose a beef and onion hot pot meal, along with Oolong tea, and a mango based desert.  As with every local meal I have had thus far, I was not disappointed in my choice.

Food here is inexpensive (not cheap), and delicious. A meal like this costs around 30 Malaysian Ringits, somewhere around $8-9 USD, depending on what exactly is ordered.

As Melissa mentioned in a previous post they take their shopping malls very seriously here in Malaysia, with a wide variety of experiences available under one roof that you generally don’t find in America.  One of these experiences at the Sunway mall is an indoor archery range, which is across the way from the Mui Thai gym, and bowling alley, and nestled next to a jewelry store.  I wasn’t about to let such a unique experience pass me, or my team by, so after dinner we headed up for some relaxation/archery practice to top off the evening.

There was no way that I was going to pass up a chance to get some team archery practice in at the mall.


We then made our way back to the hotel so that we can prepare for another full day of amazing experiences tomorrow, before we fly to Singapore on Saturday.  With so many new and different things to experience, one could easily become distracted and lose focus during a trip like this, but thankfully my team continues to do an excellent job of staying on target.

Staying focused on the target is a key part of a successful project.


And go!

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.

Our research team!
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!
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. photo(3)

Happy Birthday 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.

Drive from Addis to Gondar

Screeeech! Thump.

I braced myself against the back seat of the van and waited to see what had happened. Our driver for the day pulled over to the right side of the road. A goat herder in a white turban carrying a walking stick approached us. To our left, the goat we had apparently just hit ran to the grass for safety. Kids started slowly collecting to our van like filaments to a magnet. Our driver and guide got out, while the guide’s beautiful young wife stayed with the rest of us. The seven of us looked at each other in shock and confusion. “Close the doors,” Ale said, as the crowd gathered. Javed and Niraj got out and stood at either side.

The goat herders, our guide and driver walked to the grassy area on the left, where the goat stood, its face bloody. They were talking in Amharic, arguing from the looks of their dramatic arm gestures. Our guide picked up the goat several times, perhaps weighing him, or indicating that he wasn’t badly injured. On our right, children from around ages 4-14 gathered. They had varying hues of dark skin and eyes, with closely cropped hair, a few shaved in geometric patterns. Big bright eyes, open and looking, mouths smiling when we smiled. By then, we had determined the temperature of the situation and had opened the door. To entertain the kids, Alejandra recited the few words in Amharic she had written down: “Hello,” “Nice to meet you,” “What is your name?”


On our left, the men were still arguing, lifting the goat.

Back on the right, Alejandra asked, “Should we count to ten and impress them?” So she did. One of the kids told us her name in perfect English. We looked at each other in awe. “Pencil?” another one asked. But we didn’t have any pencils available; everything was packed in our luggage and loaded in the back.

The driver came back to the van and got money out of the glove compartment. He brought it to the goat herders; later we found out he paid 500 Ethiopian birr, or the equivalent of $25. Our guide walked back to the van carrying the goat upside down by his legs. Some of us started clearing room for him, but others loudly refused. We had three more hours til Gondar, and barely enough space for the 10 of us and our luggage as is.

* * *

Banana stand in Addis
Banana stand in Addis

The day had started about 10 hours earlier, when we left Addis Ababa bright and early 6:30 Sunday morning. Plenty of people were walking to church wearing thin white shrouds, sheer fabric wrapped around their hair and bodies like a toga.

We were surprised to notice many runners up the steep hilled streets around Addis. Lots of men running, stretching, doing push-ups on the side of the street.

Banana, people at church, Rift Valley
Banana, people at church, Rift Valley

As we drove further from Addis, crowded city streets gave way to houses and shacks further apart. The soil was red. We passed a cement factory, horses, donkeys, people herding cattle, oxen and goats. After a few hours the elevation grew higher, the air grew colder and thinner as we approached the Rift Valley. We stopped for gas, some kids approached us and we gave them some marbles.

The Rift Valley was extremely winding and extremely beautiful, mountains full of clouds and trees. A baboon ran across the road, then another and another, and we saw about seven or eight in one small curve of the road, including a mom holding her tiny baby. Near the top, women and children were selling plates of fruit, and Alejandra bought two full plates from a woman with intricate tattoos (either a pattern or script writing) covering her neck. It cost 60 cents for all the bananas and limes we then ate.

Rift Valley
Rift Valley

It got warmer as we descended, and then cooler again once the elevation once again rose.

We stopped for lunch in the afternoon, during a rain storm. Out of the restaurant window we saw at least two wedding processions around the street’s roundabout, including several donkeys wearing woven blankets, songs pouring out of cars, bajajs (small three-wheeled rickshaws), guys dancing in the back of a pick-up truck and dump truck, and the wedding parties wearing flowing outfits. By the end of our weekend, we’d counted over 10 weddings (asseh in Amharic).

Niraj stays classy with bottled water
Niraj stays classy with bottled water

We bought some cake for the road. Some of us were carsick and took more medication. Further along the route we encountered the beautiful light of the setting sun, people of varying skin tones and clothing styles carrying wood down the side of the street, and eventually, the goat.

* * *

After the guide heeded his wife’s quick response to our unease with the goat’s accommodations, and piled the goat onto a bus that had just stopped, we continued in the deepening dusk to Gondar. The roads were very winding and trucks were using their high beams in the dark. Our driver was exceptional, however, at navigating the potholes, sharp turns, people and (almost all) animals with grace and precision. We arrived in Gondar just before 9pm, grateful to have made it to our destination, to no longer be crunched in the van, bouncing around with luggage, and thankfully no goat.

Welcome to the China Club… Shanghai!

As we stream into Shanghai one-by-one, I begin to realize one thing: this is going to be an amazing experience with an amazing group of people.

Before we begin our first day on-site with Philips Healthcare, we decided to explore the amazing sites in Shanghai….

Philips - Groupie on bund 2

Experiment with the local cuisines like dumplings, hot pot, and zongzi (rice wrapped in bamboo leaves)….

Philips - Eating zongzi

And just have a great time with each other.

Philips - Under mirror

Tomorrow, a new day at Philips Healthcare begins!

Arrival in Addis Ababa

Fifteen hours is a long time to spend on a plane. But it makes sense when the journey you’re going on is to such a different place from Ohio as Ethiopia.

tracking our flight
tracking our flight

We had a smooth flight. There were many adorable yet crying babies on the plane, so sleep was limited. The arrival process was fairly smooth and quick too. Asres, our kind guide from the University of Addis Ababa, met us at the airport and drove us to the hotel.

The hotel helped us hire a driver who took us to the Piazza area, a busy center with many stores, cafes and restaurants. We had our first cup of strong Ethiopian coffee at the popular Tomoca cafe, and then walked around to find places to meet our basic needs: an ATM, pastry shop (!), and phone card for additional cell phone minutes.

Tomoca Cafe
Tomoca Cafe

Some things we noticed our first day in Addis:

Traffic: is basically organized chaos. There are few street signs and street lights, many roundabouts, tons of cars, buses and pedestrians. Yet everything flows together somewhat smoothly. Cars drive very close to each other and people, yet somehow nobody got hurt (at least not yesterday. Carla mentioned that Addis has one of the highest car accident rates in the world). Also, horn honking was surprisingly low and considerate.

Poverty: Yes, there is poverty here. We saw some small areas that looked like shanty-towns where the houses were basically concrete slabs with simple corrugated metal roofs and tarp walls, and many people begging or sleeping in the street. A few little kids came up to Danny and Niraj, grabbing onto their pants and begging them for money with their sweet little smiles and open hands. For the most part we ignored beggars, but brought little trinkets (pencils, marbles) that we will give out to kids during our trip.

Busy, bustling street life: Even amidst some poverty, many cafes were full of people drinking coffee and tea, eating snacks, relaxing and talking with friends on a Friday afternoon. People waited in long lines for buses that choked the streets. There were people working; with many active construction projects in progress and tall buildings scaffolded with long wooden poles.



Friendly and polite: We met several locals who were willing to help our clueless tourist selves navigate language barriers with bilingual assistance. One very kind shop owner helped us add minutes to our Ethiopian cell phone, and several times people helped me (Danielle) while I was waiting in line to buy something, (apparently) looking confused. Thank you, kind people!

Prices: We knew the cost of living here would be much lower than US standards, but we still experienced reverse-sticker-shock when buying things. One doughnut and three cups of tea cost about $1(total!) in a cafe, and our delicious meals at the hotel restaurant were about $3-5 each.


Painting in Hotel Taitu
Painting in Hotel Taitu

Style: The women in our group had been concerned about wearing appropriate clothes here, wanting to blend in and dress modestly. But I was surprised by how fashion-forward many of the women in Addis are. Skinny jeans, colorful makeup (especially bright lipstick), trendy hairstyles (braids, twists and side-sweeps), and leopard-print scarves are popular here. Many women wear stylish hair coverings made from sheer, jewel-edged fabric or with varying patterns. Cute flats and some high heels were spotted too, though I’m glad we were advised to wear comfortable shoes for walking.

Rain!: There was a very strong thunderstorm yesterday afternoon. Some of the streets were muddy.

ViewMost strongly we have notice scenic beauty with mountains in the background, colorful flowers everywhere, lots of trees and birds… mixed with exhaust from so many cars and buses. We keep seeing hints of other places we’ve visited or lived in here. The traffic reminds Niraj of India (but minus the cattle), the beggars are less aggressive than those Alejandra has encountered in Peru, and the narrow elevators remind Carla of Tel Aviv. The beautiful landscape and flowers look like Hawaii, and the hustle and bustle, busy activity and organized chaos remind me of New York City.


Overall, we’re so happy to be here and can’t wait to explore more!

Upside Down and Backwards: My First Week in France

Wow. I live in France now. This place is crazy. Not crazy like “OMG this is cah-rayyy-zayyy”, but crazy like EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT.

I don’t know why this took me aback so. I mean, I was more than prepared to deal with culture shock, and of course, I understood I would. But this week has been intense. I have created a list of all the differences (some, opposites) between my home country/state (the US/Ohio) and my host country.

1. The weather is the same here every. single. day. Wake up: cold, dark, probably rain. Lunch time: sunny, warm. Night: cold, dark, rain. This is not Ohio where Tuesday you’re laying out and Saturday wearing your parka.

2. There are no baggers at the grocery store. The clerk and all the people behind you literally watch you bag your items and you wonder why you bought so much. (AKA efficiency is not prized)

3. Oh! Another grocery thing: they have NO plastic grocery bags. You either bring your own or buy their reusable ones, so now I have 4 grocery bags . . . (My city, Nantes, prides itself on being one of the greenest cities in France).

4. THEY DO NOT EAT PEANUT BUTTER HERE. IT IS NOT A PRIORITY, AND I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS. You have to pay roughly 8 USD for a tiny jar of Skippy (the only brand they have). Where the PB should be in the grocery, all you see are shelves packed with Nutella and cookie butter.

5. This leads me to: everything is sweet! They put chocolate in everything, and I am 100% okay with it. I have become obsessed with this amazing dark chocolate chunk granola. It is really difficult to find a cereal without some kind of chocolate component. They have chocolate chip bread right there with the sandwich slices. They have chocolate yogurt, rows and rows of every kind of cookie/chocolate combination imaginable, and a truly sinful treat: chocolate stuffed croissants, or, pain au chocolat.

6. Their sandwich bread has no end pieces. So what does that mean? Do they make super long loaves of bread and just sell us sections of a loaf? Or do they throw away every loaf’s end pieces?? These are the things keeping me up at night . . .

7. Another food thing: the largest pack of lunch meat I can find has 4 slices. 4. What am I supposed to do, buy lunch meat every 2 days? What do they eat for lunch?? BAGUETTES. The stereotype is SO TRUE. People literally walk down the street eating baguettes. I did it. It was fun and yummy.

8. Their coffee is amazing. If you order a small black coffee. They give you the teensiest cup of espresso and a wafer. It literally woke my jet-lagged butt UP. It was also incredibly delicious, and I’d drink it every day if I was sure it wouldn’t give me a heart attack.

9. They sell their milk warm. It sits on the shelf like any other beverage. I’ve seen this before in other countries, but I just think it’s so weird.

10. They have pink toilet paper. (Yeah, I bought it)

11. Nothing is open past 7pm during the week or at all on Sundays. There is literally NOTHING to do on Sundays. Even our university closes.

12. They take 2 hour lunch breaks.

13. The people are quiet in public. It’s so quiet here. People rarely talk on trains or sidewalks. They dress in all dark colors and neither smile at you nor excuse themselves when obstructing another’s path. In class though, the students talk over the professor while he’s lecturing, and over each other when we present projects. It’s an odd juxtaposition.


That is what I’ve noticed so far. Mostly food/grocery related things. Oops.


Keep checking up on this blog; I will try to post weekly/biweekly depending on how many exciting things I have to tell you! Thanks for reading et au revoir!