The Ritual of the Oreo

So being over 7000 miles away from Columbus, we tend to long for things that remind us of home. For some of us it has been a functional gym, for others it has been ice cream, for me it has been fresh vegetables, but for all of us, we shared in a little piece of home tonight. Many of us miss home, we miss our friends, our partners, our pets. But most of all, we feel for Javed, who has a wife and three kids back home. He has a special family ritual that we could all relate to, the American classic of milk and cookies. So when Javed brought out the Oreos he had stashed away, our excitement grew, but not as much as Javed’s. He quickly realized something was lacking and went in search of milk that is “packaged,” ending up with four bags of milk.
oreo
Javed told us about a ritual that he has with his kids of eating Oreos and milk. It is something they do to bond together as a family, and by sharing that with the team, he honored us by bringing us into this special part of his life. It sparked nostalgia for all of us, each longing for different periods where we were with our families. The milk we drank reminded Alejandra of the milk she had when she was a kid in Peru, which she distinctly remembered drinking with her grandparents, and the cookies stirred up memories from all of our childhoods.

As we are nearing the end of our journey in Ethiopia (Niraj and Katie depart in just four days!), we are all beginning to think more and more about home. Though we are all longing to be among our loved ones once again, we cannot take for granted the little family we have created within our team. We have shared so much on this trip, from our daily meals, to our goals and dreams, to our personal lives. This is an amazing experience we have shared with one another, and we could not thank our loved ones enough for allowing us this opportunity. We look forward to coming home to you, but in the meantime, rest assured that we are in good hands.

orea3

Top Ten Reasons You Know You’re Firenji (light-skinned foreigner) in Ethiopia

10. Someone is your group always carries Pedialyte

9.   You paid top dollar for a Lifestraw, and although you haven’t taken it out of its packaging, you manage to reference it at least once a day.

8. You brought your BuckID 7,412 miles, only to be told at a tourist attraction that it’s not internationally recognized, so you end up paying the crippling full price of $10.

7,214 miles from Columbus!

7,214 miles from Columbus!

7. You likened Eskista to ‘inverse twerking.’

6. You are crestfallen each time the baboons don’t wave back. You were sure you’d made a connection.

5. You were pleased you got a deal, paying 100 Birr for a 70-second Bajaj ride.

An enticing Bajaj - supposed to cost less than a taxi!

An enticing Bajaj – supposed to cost less than a taxi!

4. You brag about using the bathroom outside.

3. Where is Javed?

2. As soon as you enter a wifi zone, all conversation ends.

1. You can’t tell a sheep from a goat 

Niraj and Danny in between meetings with the client.

Niraj and Danny in between meetings with the client.

I overpacked…

Sooooo it’s been 16 days since we’ve arrived in Ethiopia and I’ve taken close to 1300 pictures (almost 15 gigs worth) and not one is of the rock where Simba was first introduced to the kingdom… still not happy about that one. Yes, we’re the team that hit the goat (at least we think it’s a goat) during a 14.5 hour drive. Yes, we’re the team, I can happily say, that has experienced an ailment (mostly stomach) of some sort. Yes, we’re the team that “trekked” the “Roof of Africa” aka The Simien Mountains. Yes, we’re the team that “pays” roughly $15 total for 5-star quality dinners (HA!). Yes, we’re the team that’s seen one too many naked men roaming the streets. And yes, I am the man who has harnessed his inner Steve Irwin (too soon?) and Austin Stevens to capture it all on film… well almost all of it. I decided to use roughly 2.6% of the pictures I’ve taken to show the beauty of Ethiopia… remember, T.I.A! (“This is Africa” for all of you farnajis)

Be forwarned… the blog system forces me to compress my beautiful 5MB+ pics to less than 1MB, so I apologize for the quality or lack thereof:

First Picture in Ethiopia... view from the hotel

First Picture in Ethiopia… view from the hotel of Addis Ababa

 

mmmmmmm

mmmmmmm

the countryside

the countryside

don't go chasin waterfalls...

“don’t go chasin waterfalls…”

looks friendly up until he bites your face off!

looks friendly up until he bites your face off!

IMG_1177

Danielle said this is a hibiscus, I told her it's a red flower.

Danielle said this is a hibiscus, I told her it’s a red flower.

10 people + 14 person van + ALLLLL the luggage + potentially a goat/sheep = too close for comfort

10 people + 14 person van + ALLLLL the luggage + potentially a goat/sheep as the 15th passenger = too close for comfort

O-H-I-O: Rift Valley style

O-H-I-O: Rift Valley style

a yellow flower

a yellow flower

Walia Ibex; an endangered species. These are 3 of the roughly 500 remaining.

Walia Ibex; an endangered species. These are 3 of the roughly 500 remaining.

a pink flower

a pink flower

O-H-I-O: Fasil Castle style

O-H-I-O: Fasil Castle style

Simien Mountains... up in the clouds

Simien Mountains… up in the clouds

"Dangerous for your life"... that edge leads to death

“Dangerous for your life”… this edge leads to death

IMG_1101

Remembering my elementary education that the Nile flows south to North. Here's where it starts, along with some hippos or crocodiles or something.

I remembered my elementary education. The Nile flows south to north and this is where it  starts. There are some hippos or crocodiles or something in the water.

Simien Mountains take 2

Simien Mountains take 2

almost 14000 feet above sea level

almost 14000 feet above sea level

you're welcome...

you’re welcome…

We, as humans, can learn from this picture. Baboons, goat, sheep, bovine, horses, etc all graze together in the fields. There are no feuds, no hate, no anger, just togetherness.

We, as humans, can learn from this picture. Baboons, goat, sheep, bovine, horses, etc all graze together in the fields. There are no feuds, no hate, no anger, just togetherness… not sure what happened when we left, but still a learning moment!

African Sunrise... from the hotel room

African Sunrise

IMG_0196

every time we stopped in what seemed to be a deserted area, a group of kids would come out of nowhere and run to our van. We gave them some pens and they naturally formed an O-H-I-O without instruction.

every time we stopped in what seemed to be a deserted area, a group of kids would come out of nowhere and run to our van. We gave them some pens and they naturally formed an O-H-I-O without instruction.

soaking it in.

soaking ALL of it in.

This concludes my post, however as the title indicates, I overpacked. One bag is (was) full of food (thanks mom!), anti-digestive issue meds, other various meds, a router which Danny and I just killed, toilet paper that is still packed, sugar-free lemon drops whose main ingredient  induces laxative effects (the worst), lysol wipes, toiletries, oatmeal, protein powder, peanut butter, tortillas, raw nuts, granola bars, soy nuts, bug spray, tissue packs, vitamins, ponchos, power strips and power converters. The other bag contains clothing. I’m sure I missed something, but needless to say, I overpacked.

Ethiopia is…different

I knew that the GAP trip to Ethiopia would be different when I signed up for it.  It’s why I signed up for it!  I could never have imagined how different it would truly be though.

 

Water:  We are advised not to drink the water in Ethiopia.  Natives are used to it, but we faranjis could get quite ill.  We’ve been going through 10+ bottles of water a day between the 7 of us.  This includes using bottled water to brush our teeth, avoiding ice, and not using dishware that is wet with tap water.  Though this is a bit of an inconvenience, we realize we are fortunate, as much of Ethiopia has no access to piped water.

Classy?

Bottles

Produce:  The rule we were given is, “if you didn’t peel it, don’t eat it raw.”  That means no salads, no fresh fruits or veggies (like the beautiful burgers people here eat, piled high with lettuce and tomato), and no juices.  I was dying for a salad by day 2.  Good news: those amazing fresh bananas they sell everywhere are OK.

IMG_4217

Bathrooms:  This is only day 4, but I’ve already completely given up on finding TP in a restroom here.  We’ve been…ahem…saving “it” for when we return to our hotel rooms at night.

Oh, did you want to use that sink?  That's where we store our concrete blocks.

Oh, did you want to use that sink? That’s where we store our concrete blocks.

Animals:  There.  Are.  Animals.  Everywhere.  They crowd the roads, they roam the markets, and they are very vocal at night.  Horses, cows, donkeys, goats, sheep, chickens, cats, dogs, lizards, monkeys, hippos, ibexes.  Everything but pigs, really (pork is taboo here).  Oh, and giant bugs.  Like the ones Simba ate in The Lion King.  That’s a real thing.

Cows

Remote:  I have visited family in small-town western PA.  I’ve driven across the US twice.  I thought I’d seen remote.  In working on our project, we are trying to grapple with the logistics of delivering rabies treatment and vaccine to areas without electricity or cell phone coverage, that are a 12-hour walk from any road.

People live down there.

 

Coffee:  Oh, you just drank a 30-ounce coffee from Starbucks?  That’s adorable.  This 3-ounce Ethiopian coffee had more caffeine, more flavor, and no coffee breath aftertaste.

Coffee

During a meeting at the University of Gondar, we were served coffee, kolo (roasted barley), dabo kolo (crunchy bits of bread), and tea.

 

Hospitality:  People are happy to see us here.  Shoppers in the market greeted us with “hi” and “welcome.”  The hotel clerks know our names, went out of their way to buy Niraj a birthday cake on an hour’s notice (complete with candles and an English-language birthday song), and have accommodated our every wish.  Many people in Ethiopia know at least rudimentary English and are more than happy to practice with us.  We attract a lot of attention, and the vast majority has been positive.

NirajCake

Food:  We’ve been reminded how wonderful fresh, simple food is.  Salty food is rare, and even sweet food is only mildly sweet.

Shiro and lamb tibs with injera for lunch.

 

Lifestyle:  the nature of life in Ethiopia is very communal.  In Ethiopia, many daily activities require trips outside the home, like getting water, using the internet, working, and getting food.  In the US, we can do one grocery trip a week, and do almost anything else right in our own homes.  The communal, cooperative way of life in Ethiopia is manifested as well in the personal relationships.  It is not uncommon to see men holding hands with male friends as they walk down the street, and children are frequently seen looking out for each other.

Danny and Niraj.  Friendship level: Ethiopia

 

Javed makes an Ethiopian friend.

Javed and his Ethiopian bestie.

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

Sunrise

Sunrise

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.

Sunset

Sunset

 

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.

Gondar Churches

On Saturday most of the team got up early to drive to the Simien Mountains, the second-highest point in Africa, with tons of wildlife and natural beauty. Carla and I chose to stay back in Gondar to explore the city. Our university guide and host Sintayehu met us at the hotel and accomodated our request to walk into town, about an hour walk. Since Saturday is a market day, we saw lots of people from the villages walking through town with their wares and animals (donkeys, mules and chickens). Carla and I enjoyed walking past the shops we normally drive by, because we got to see a more close-up view of the surroundings. For example, we saw there was a barber shop and some vendors selling some delicious-smelling, fried street food. We stopped in a Western Union to get some cash, and it took a really long time. We have noticed that “lines” here, such as they are, don’t really exist. People often crowd around a bank teller or post office window, and try to get their attention.

We went to our first stop, King Fasiledes Bath. It was built during the 1600s as the king’s personal pool, and is quite large, about Olympic-sized. Now it is empty, except the one time of year when people go swimming for Timkat, the Feast of the Epiphany for Eastern Orthodox (the main religion in Ethiopia) in January. There were huge trees with roots growing out of the stone and bricks, and we also saw parrots and other brightly colored birds.

Hellooooo from inside the pool!

Hellooooo from inside the pool!

We next took a bajaj (motorized three-wheeled rickshaw) to Qusquam church. We were trying to get to the Selassie church, but the bajaj driver took us there by accident. It was a lovely accident, as we were able to explore the ruins of old stone buildings. We learned that many historic buildings in Gondar had been bombed by Somalis during the war.

Qusquam Church (detail)

Qusquam Church (detail)

For lunch we stopped in the Four Sisters restaurant, a tourist destination that capitalizes on foreigners’ interest in traditional Ethiopian customs, like ritualized hand washing. Sintayehu’s cousin Eden joined us, and then we all went to (the real) Selassie church together. We had to take off our shoes and there were separate entrances for men and women. Inside, the small church was covered in religious paintings that are about 200-300 years old. With Sintayehu translating, an elderly man dressed like a priest told us about the art. According to him it was painted on fabric and then pasted on the walls. He also explained the different saints, some of whom were Ethiopian, and Carla and I were not familiar with. Others were more universal, like Jesus, Mary, and the holy trinity. Selassie actually means “trinity” in Amharic.

Priest displaying works of art

Priest displaying works of art

Ceiling

Ceiling

Outside church

Outside church

We took the bajaj back, and it was so helpful to have Sintayehu with us. Not only for his friendly companionship, which really added to our experience of the day, but for his local knowledge of negotiation, and ability to get better fares for us than we would have gotten for ourselves.

Bajaj selfie: Carla, Sintayehu and me

Bajaj selfie: Carla, Sintayehu and me

 

 

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.

Tigist

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.

Castle

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio producers and Jewish blacksmiths

Thursday our group split up to divide and conquer our list of target people to interview, in the interest of time, since Friday was our last work day in Gondar. We have three functional sub-groups: marketing, supply chain/ops, and data collection/reporting. As part of the marketing sub-group, I really wanted to meet with local radio producers while in Gondar. I read this great book called “Influencers” that talks about how people can create change and influence people in many different ways. The book mentions several social and health campaigns in the developing world that use radio dramas and popular soap operas to get their ideas across. For example, they would have characters go to the library to get adult literacy materials, or have a “bad” character drink too much and abuse his wife (a “good” character who viewers empathized with), and seeing how these popular characters acted has actually influenced people’s behavior in positive ways. I want to see if we can use radio in similar ways here in Ethiopia with the rabies campaign.

People listen to the radio here as a popular media form, since many don’t have TV or internet.  In the morning we met with an FM technician at the top of a hill where his satellite is, and asked him questions about coverage and size of their reach. We also learned about the popular shows that people listen to, peak listening times and when they have time for ads.

Afterwards, since we were on top of a hill with such a beautiful view of the city, the whole team stopped at the Goha Hotel to look at the view, and then had lunch.

O-H-I-O

University of Gondar

University of Gondar

In the afternoon we split up again, Alejandra and Carla joining me to talk with FM station marketing managers (Danny was unfortunately down for the count today with a bad stomach virus) while the rest of the team drove a bit out of the city center to speak with a kebele leader. The FM marketing managers answered more of our questions about programming, specifically existing health programming that they already offer, and costs. We actually learned that it’s possible to have your own program on a regular basis within one of the popular news/information shows, as long as you pay for it. That could be a great opportunity for the rabies project going forward.

We went back to the hotel in the afternoon for some personal time. Some team members needed a nap, but others were itching to explore. Javed called John of Gondar to see about exploring the part of the Arada market where Jewish blacksmiths work. We asked our driver Amara to take us there. Alejandra, Javed and I noticed on the ride to the market that, despite the rain, many people were walking in quite nice clothing, while others were washing themselves and even others were herding lots of goats. We wondered why there was so much activity this afternoon, and Amara said that tomorrow was a holiday, the festival of Saint Mary. Apparently they will eat goat meat during this festival (other days, Wednesday and Fridays until 3pm, Ethiopians fast and only have one meal until 3pm).

We arrived at the Arada market to meet John. The pathways around the market were muddy and slippery due to the rain, and because they don’t have paved roads in that area. The mud was mixed with garbage and probably animal feces, and it smelled quite strongly. We tried our best not to slip and fall into the muck, and John was quite a gentleman, offering to hold our hands on the most slippery parts, but our shoes and feet were covered in gunk.

John leading us to the blacksmiths

John leading us to the blacksmiths

John took us to the back of the market, where children played a game, trying to hit a bottle placed on a pile of rocks with their own little stones. We finally encountered the section where Jewish blacksmiths worked, an area covered by tarps. They had coal-lit fires where they forged their metal axes and shovels. A few of them sat on leather bags that they moved back and forth, the air in the leather bag blowing onto the coals, feeding the fire. Little bits of metal material and ash flew around in the air. The blacksmiths looked at us curiously (probably the same that we looked at them), and John explained to them that we wanted to see how they worked. I had him translate to them that I am Jewish too. They said a joke, If I am Jewish, why can’t I make a ring? We all laughed at that. Then they started pounding the hot metal together, to straighten and shape it. It looked like very hard work.

leather marketWe walked around the Jewish quarter where women often sell things. A lot of their wares were leather, like leather pouches, wallets, and a sack for carrying a baby, and items made out of horse hair. I bought two horse-related items for Danny at his request; he was very sad to miss out on meeting his Jewish brethren. We had John and his friend Teddy negotiate for us, the vendors wanted to charge almost 300 Ethopian birr ($15) for a horse hair fly swatter, but we knew it was right to negotiate first. We told them that I am Jewish and a student, to have them empathize with me more, and they knocked the price down a bit.

spicesWe walked back through the area of the market where there are spices, and bought some tea, turmeric and incense. We said goodbye to John and Teddy and thanked them for their help, offering a tip for their tour guide services.

Javed, Teddy, me and AlejandraThen it was back to the hotel for a team meeting, goal-setting and debrief of the day before dinner. But first Alejandra and I took a photo opportunity at a truck parked near the hotel, which the locals thought was quite funny. We did too.

Hello, truck!We wiped our filthy shoes off in the grass to get the muck off, but some of it will remain.shoes