The day finally came for us to present our research (all 10 weeks worth) in a two-hour presentation in front of the C-Level executives at Philips Healthcare China. Our emotions were running high, from nervous to excited, insecure to confident.
Would we provide Philips with novel ideas that they had never thought of? Had our ideas already been implemented? Were we completely off track? There was a level of uncertainty that was present throughout the project, due to the ambiguity of the assignment. We were going to address that uncertainty today. Would it be a success though? That was the big question.
Fortunately, the presentation and our ideas were a success. After in-depth questioning of our research and recommendations, we found out that we reaffirmed ideas that Philips was currently working on, as well as presented new ideas for the Home Healthcare team to further explore. Philips was impressed with our presentation, our ideas, and our professionalism. And more importantly, the Philips team was impressed with us as individuals.They even treated us to lunch with live octopus being cooked right in front of us. It was definitely a new experience…
Although there was an air of sadness as we finished the day, this was an experience that neither we nor the Philips team will ever forget.
“Ayzo” is an Amharic word we learned in the middle of our stay here. It was described to us as something you would say to a person who has fallen down, to encourage them to get up, to soothe them that it would get better, and to empathize that you have fallen down before too. I look at it as the Amharic version of “Keep your head up.” It was a useful word to know for Saturday.
Saturday, May 24th was our last day in Ethiopia. The plan was to finish up the final touches of our paper for the client, visit a local coffee shop, and perhaps get some spa treatments. Low-key, relaxed and minimal planning so we could pack up and get to the airport in time for our 10pm flight back. But as the saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs.”
Carla woke up painfully sick. The rest of us decided to call the HTH Insurance plan which covered us during our travel, determine which local health clinic or doctor we could use, and then go visit. But unfortunately, that wasn’t so easy. Internet was still out (since Addis had been experiencing ongoing blackouts since Monday) and we had limited phone credit to call the international hotline.
While Alejandra and Danny went to the local internet cafe to research doctors within network, our guide (and really, guardian angel) Tigist came to the rescue, calling friends to get information and eventually picking us up from the hotel and driving us to first one, then another medical center that would treat our sick friend without demanding extraneous paperwork. Due to distance and hideous Addis traffic we were in the car for hours, but eventually Carla was able to see a doctor who could treat her and prescribe her some helpful medicine.
We are so thankful that Carla was able to get treated and we were all able to get on the plane back home. We are also immensely grateful for our extraordinarily hospitable hosts, and for the opportunity to explore such a different and vibrant culture these past three weeks.
I’m including here pictures from street scenes in Addis, taken from the car as we were driving around on Saturday.
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.
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!”.
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!
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!
As I am getting ready to leave the city that I lived in for the past 3 weeks, I began reminiscing some of my daily experiences during my stay here.
Approximately 25 million people live in this city. Regardless of where are, it is pretty crowded. I heard that life style in Shanghai is somewhat comparable to living in New York. I have only visited NY a few times, never have lived there for 3 weeks!
A local resident told me that a unit in these buildings (these are located right in the center of the city) costs about 2 Million US dollars. Living space could be anywhere in the range of 950 – 1200 sq. feet.
Traffic is very hectic between 7 and 10 am in the morning. Subway network connects most parts of the city and is a convenient mode of travel. Least expensive too!
On a particular day, we worked late and could not get a taxi back to the hotel. We decided to walk to the nearest subway station. I was privileged to see some real crowds that evening.
If you buy a cup of coffee, it always comes with a bag. I wondered about the purpose of this bag. I quickly observed a lot of people travel by motor cycles, bikes etc. There is a hook in front where you can hang the bag and take a sip from the cup during the stop at traffic lights. How convenient! Really customer friendly!
As I travel by taxi in the morning, I notice some roadside shops selling various foods. It ranges from hot breakfast items to live chicken, meats, vegetables and fruits. People living in nearby apartments come out and buy these items. I have also seen some office goers stop and buy some breakfast before rushing through the traffic again. People walk and eat at the same time, it is a common sight here especially during the morning rush hour.
We had a fun experience with local breakfast as well. My team was scheduled for a field visit to Wuxi (pronounced as “Wushi”), a city that is 3 hours from Shanghai. We started the trip at 7 am in the morning. Around 9 am the driver stopped the car and gave us a restroom break. After a few minutes, he hands over to each one of us a local breakfast item that he purchased at a roadside cafe. It was a brownish (soy sauce) rice pudding with meat filling. Those of us that don’t eat meat were provided tea eggs. It was really delicious!
One thing that I have to come to appreciate about Shanghai is the safety factor, especially during night times. It is absolutely safe to walk on the streets even during mid-night. It is normal during these times to run into fellow strollers and even police men on their night rounds. Taxis are available in great numbers as well, if you need one in the wee hours of the morning.
Never leave Shanghai without experiencing the night lights. Almost all sky scrapers are adorned with colorful lights, some change patterns and colors as you gaze up and admire their beauty. This is probably the best I liked about this city!
Although it is hard for me to say good bye, I am ready to go to Columbus and connect with my family again. I had so many good experiences, some challenging ones of course, as expected. But overall, the whole experience was undeniably good for my growth – both intellectual and emotional. So, with a heavy heart and bitter sweet emotions I bid farewell to Shanghai, the city I called home for 3 weeks.
With our final presentation behind, we had 2 full days for shopping and sightseeing before getting on the plane to Columbus. Most of Thursday was spent on shopping. We walked around Nanjing road shopping mall purchasing sundry items such as purses, compact make up mirrors, sports jerseys, scarves etc.
Friday, the last day of our stay, we decided to do some last minute sightseeing. We took a bus to Zhujiajiao, an ancient water town that is about an hour away from Shanghai. The trip was well worth it, the view was scenic and breathtaking.
Zhujiajiao means “Zhu Settlement” or “Zhu Family Corner” in mandarin. This town also has another elegant name called “Pearl Stream”. This little town is the best-preserved among the ancient towns in Shanghai. From the pictures posted, you can view unique old bridges, small rivers shaded by willow trees, gondolas gliding on the canal and houses with courtyards. The whole environment magically transported us to a new world full of antiquity, leisure and tranquility.
While we were in the town, we visited another local tourist attraction – The City God temple.
Pictures below are from the interior portion of the temple –
Another portion of the temple was dedicated to Buddha
My friends were very happy with the trip and we all returned to Shanghai well satisfied. I sensed the trip to Zhujiajiao appeased my thirsts for sightseeing and I was ready to pack my bags to come back home.
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.
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.
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!