Having a Dam Good Time in Amsterdam

Yep. That’s right. We went to Amsterdam.

Leaving the open and unrestricted speed lanes behind us (seriously Netherlands, 120 km/h? We’re driving German-engineered cars, not Power Wheels), Team Germany headed north for the weekend to get our passports stamped in another country.

What’s that? You don’t get your passport stamped when you come in by car?!?

Well, whatever, we went to the Netherlands and we have the pictures to prove it.

I Am Amsterdam

Upon emerging from the depths of the Amsterdam Metro system (side note: the city-wide janitorial staff for the Metro system is currently on strike. Every train and station looked like the spaceport in The Fifth Element [credit Tim Kiss for that amazing reference] and we weren’t going to be the scabs to start cleaning up the place), we realized that we sorely lacked the appropriate transportation needed to get around the city.

In Amsterdam, the pecking order for right of way goes like this:

  1. Bikes. All 1,000,000+ of them. Seriously, it’s insane.
  2. Boats (while not conflicting with traffic, they are the object of desire of every pedestrian in the city)
  3. Mopeds
  4. Cars
  5. Pigeons
  6. People with walking sticks
  7. People biking with a giant bucket in the front of their bike to carry other people who were too lazy to bike (shocker: Natalie wanted to rent one of these)
  8. Regular people walking

In front of my very own eyes, a guy was clipped by a biker and started bleeding from his arm right in the middle of the street. This was treated by the locals as a regular occurrence.

Speaking about unusual lacerations to the body, Friday night’s events included a stop over at the Vincent van Gogh museum, which doubles as a music venue on Friday evenings for aspiring DJs and contemporary jazz bands. @JoeyClarktheIII would have uttered the phrase “the jams” a record number of times.

Friday Night Lights at the Van Gogh Museum

Friday Night Lights at the Van Gogh Museum

Later on, we took to the streets to continue our Street Dance Party: International Tour Edition (copyright 2014). Knowing that we would be calling Saturday an early night as we needed to hit the road first thing on Sunday, we committed to Friday being a big night and subsequently closed down the Amsterdam bar scene. Hamburg trained us well.

Sruti and Natalie Dance Party

 

Saturday was filled with enjoying quite possibly the nicest day in human history. We kicked off the morning with a boat ride from our hotel through the heart of Amsterdam’s canal system, checking out the best of the best houseboats Amsterdam had to offer. While this was a great way to experience the entire city by day, we were suffering from serious FOMO once we realized that you could rent private boats and drive them yourselves. Unfortunately for us, everything was already booked for the day. I’ll regret not driving around a boat for the afternoon and having my team refer to me as “Captain” until the day I die.

Over the course of the day, we worked through one of the biggest open-air markets in the world, took a nap in a beautiful park, stumbled upon the Royal Palace, visited Anne Frank’s house, and caught the Netherlands soccer (excuse me, football) game with a wild crowd of spectators. Oh, and we got a bunch of cool pictures too. Check ‘em out.

Netherlands Bridge

 

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Team DHL at Royal Palace

 

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Man I really mailed in the end of this post. Until next time Amsterdam…

 

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.

 

92 Plates of Sushi on the Wall…

With just under a week to go until our final presentation to DHL executives, our group was hard at work on Thursday, formulating our strategy and pulling together the frameworks for a cohesive presentation. This week, we were able to augment the wealth of information we gathered the week prior with newfound information we gained from a global OEM and Tier-1 auto supplier in Hannover. We finished combining these two data sets to prepare the first draft of our presentation for Professor Matta (our academic advisor for the trip) who would be arriving in Koblenz shortly.

For the second straight day, our team sought shelter in one of the comforts of our homeland – Starbucks. While our three week long conquest against our struggling WiFi continues to hamper our progress at-home, it’s been a bit of a blessing in disguise. With connectivity fit for the Ethiopian team, we’ve immersed ourselves throughout the city of Koblenz, befriending any dining establishment willing to provide even a moment of free access.

After our group reached a consensus on the first draft of our presentation, we headed upstairs to check out the food court in Koblenz’s one and only mall. Having dabbled into many of the different ethnic food groups throughout Koblenz, we realized that sushi was a glaring hole in our cuisine bucket list. For the low, low price of 9,90 Euro/person, we dove into the sushi buffet and never looked back.

Sushi Plates

At least for the first 92 plates. Between five of us, we came damn near close to pushing the century mark on plates of sushi (thanks but no thanks to Sruti for not joining us in body but not in spirit on our quest). At one point, I made a quip about how disgustingly American we were with our large appetites and raucous personalities. Our German-Japanese (what a combo!) waitress silently agreed. And by silently agreed, I mean she verbally acknowledged my comment and agreed that we were basically the worst.

Later in the day, Professor Dr. Matta graced us with his presence. We had a chance to walk him through our progress and gain valuable insight into how to make this a memorable and actionable project for the DHL executives.

Team DHL with Matta

Once we finished usurping the lobby of his hotel for an impromptu meeting, the group headed out for authentic German-inspired Italian cuisine along the Rhine. Having nearly eaten the entire town’s supply of sushi between five of us earlier that day, our stomach and digestive track rallied from a deep hole to dig in on the delicious food.

All in all, Senor Professor Dr. Matta seemed as content with our presentation as he was with his seafood dinner. With much of the legwork of our presentation behind us, we called it an early night to prep for our final site visit on Friday before heading off to Amsterdam for the night.

If we happen to find anything noteworthy from our trek to Amsterdam, we’ll be sure to share it here over the weekend. But I’m doubtful that will happen.

Guys, We Might Die Tonight

There were many things we planned for heading into the GAP program: dealing with a language barrier, powering through brainstorming sessions at odd hours of the morning, trying out new cuisine, and building great rapport with our client.

But nothing could prepare us for this. Guys, we might die tonight.

I write this message from my phone in a bedroom on the upstairs floor of a random family’s home. How did I end up here, along with Sruti and Brian, you ask?

In an effort to beat traffic and knock out the four-hour drive before our 1:00PM meeting in Hannover tomorrow morning, we decided to make the trek up this afternoon. After adopting a lexicographical approach (#thanksmatta) by lowest price towards our living quarters for the night, we landed two sweet $90 apartments just outside of town. When we “checked in” this evening, we found out that the “apartments” were really one apartment and two rooms in a separate house across town.

In my mind, Natalie, Tim, and Devin are basically staying at the Ritz. We, on the other hand, are staying with a random family that doesn’t speak English, already mocked us in front of the neighbors, and is sleeping in the next room over. Brian and I have adopted the buddy system in one room and Sruti is left to fend for herself in the other room. Sorry Sruti.

This night ends in one of three ways:

  1. We wake up tomorrow like nothing happened and after a night of crying ourselves to sleep, arrive at our 1:00 meeting in one piece
  2. We befriend the nicest German family of all time and enjoy a hearty breakfast with them
  3. They turn Brian’s ribcage into a lampshade, wear my skin around like the guy from Men in Black, and feed Sruti to their dog. BTW, the dog is also mean

My money is on #3. I’d upload pictures so that the authorities know where we are but our host family’s WiFi password doesn’t work and we’re too scared to ask them for help for a third time.

If we survive, we’ll post a picture in the morning. If not, thank you for your loyal readership and best of luck on your 2015 GAP Project!

Catching Our Fifth Wind at the Five AM Fish Market (Hamburg Day Two Part Two)

Last time on Team DHL Germany’s Fisher GAP Blog: Devin recounted our day on the high sea, which featured brews on battleships, rifle competitions for roses, and Natalie befriending a beaming young gentleman. What Devin failed to tell you was that the night did not end there for four brave souls. As Tim and Devin parted ways from the rest of their motley crew, the night had just begun. A clearly defined BHAG was set: stay up all night to make it to the 5 AM Fish Market across town. The following has not been embellished because it needs no embellishment.

Sunday, May 11th 12:00 AM – With the port festival carnival drawing to a close, Brian, Natalie, Sruti, and yours truly ventured towards “Planet Bollywood”, a hastily thrown together can-knock-down game which had mild undertones of racism in its design and décor. Sruti, determined to defend her proud Indian heritage, took three attempts at knocking down the foreboding pyramid of metallic cylinders that stood before her. With speed and accuracy that would make this man blush, each throw narrowly missed its target, if the definition of “narrow” were to be redefined as 4-5 feet. Her consolation prize? A Winnie-the-Pooh flash card game, which would be an important centerpiece to the night’s activities.

Rathaus Cultural Pic!

12:30 AM – We arrive at the first bar for the evening. The place is packed for the Eurovision Finals, an international signing competition that rivals the Superbowl for viewership. With little context as to what’s happening (other than the fact that a bearded person in a dress is winning), our group decides to bust out the Winnie-the-Pooh flash cards. With a dash of creativity and a dose of improtu rule making, we create the hottest card game to hit American youths since Magic the Gathering. Business plan frameworks and licensing agreements are discussed. Inspired by our own ingenuity, the group sets off to celebrate. The bearded person wins Eurovision. S/he cries. A lot.

Can't See Me at My Winnie-the-Pooh-No Game

Can’t See Me at My Winnie-the-Pooh-No Game

1:00 AM – We find ourselves in Repperbahn once again. A Eurovision viewing party is just getting out and the place is packed shoulder to shoulder. After shuffling from bar to bar looking for a place to drink, we find ourselves in a basement akin to one the Beatles rocked out 50 years ago. The playlist features nothing but 80s tunes for the entire evening. Luckily, we brought our dancing shoes.

80s Dance Party

1:30 AM – Sruti is barefoot in the bar. Nothing more can really be said about that. She begins to fade. Laughter inspires a second wind.

2:00 AM – A bartender, awestruck by our dance moves, awards us with free beverages. Any thought of fading is instantly cast aside. Third wind level. Also, Sruti might still be barefoot.

Free Drinks!

2:30 AM – “You Can Call Me Al” sends Natalie and I to the next level. We set the Guinness record for most SnapChats taken over a two and a half minute period. Legs are starting to genuinely get sore from dancing.

3:00 AM – This is actually happening. We’re going to make it to the herald 5AM fish market. Can’t stop won’t stop.

Game Face On

Game Face On

3:30 AM – Starting to fade, I pull up directions for the fish market on my phone. Or so I thought. Failed to #gobeyond and make sure it was the right fish market. This was a mistake.

4:00 AM – Take a pic to chronicle the fact that we made it to 4:00. Leave for a train for “Fishmarkt”, a fish restaurant in the opposite direction of our desired destination.

4:00 AM Club

4:00 AM Club

4:30 AM – We get increasingly worried about whether this 5AM fish market actually exists, as we’re mere blocks away and there is little fanfare.

4:31 AM – Realize it’s the wrong fish market. Step in dog poo. Yup, that’s about right.

4:32 AM – Find the real fish market on my phone. It’s in the opposite direction. As we make our way back to the train station by the port festival for the 5th time that day, we’re starting to lose energy and fast. Someone asks me for directions in German and I give a flawless response. Carry that energy into the train station. Perfect the Bernie dance move. Fourth wind achieved.

Dance Party

5:00 AM – Once again, we find ourselves back at the Repperbahn. I become convinced it’s the gravitational nexus of memory making. We see the crowds descend down the road towards the market.

5:15 AM – Just 15 minutes past our anticipated arrival time, we see all the glory in front of us. It’s real and it’s spectacular (two Seinfeld references in one post – epic).

Cue Angels Singing

Cue Angels Singing

After reading through this lengthy prose on our adventures at finding the 5AM fish market of Hamburg, you’re probably asking yourself “why did you stay up until 5AM to visit the 5AM fish market of Hamburg and why should I care”?

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How about gigantic bags of fruit for 10 euro? Fresh fish sandwiches featuring delicious sea creatures caught just hours earlier? Infinity scarves for your girlfriend for 7 Euro? The fact that it’s only open for four hours A WEEK? Oh, and did I mention, THERE’S A LIVE BAND!

Seriously, a band gets up (or probably just stays up from the last gig) at 4AM to play 1973’s Top 40 hits for a bunch of young people wrapping up their night with shrimp sandwiches, fresh fruit, and delicious pastries.

Our Glorious(o) Reward

Our Glorious(o) Reward

If we were to rate our experience in MBA terms (and we are, because we’re doing it right now), our reward of fresh seafood sandwiches and fruit baskets aligned with our empowering decision rights to pull a non-academic related all-nighter, resulting in a high rating of our performance management. We hit all three aspects of the management decision tools triangle. What did you do at 5:00 in the morning?

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6:15 AM – Eternity – Sleep.

Thursday Was a Great Day

With three days of on-site client visits under our belt, we were finally called up to the big leagues on Thursday. The day started with a drive up to Bonn, where DHL’s headquarters literally towers over everything else in the city. Our mission? To meet with Martin Seidenberg, the CEO of DHL Supply Chain for Germany and the Alps region. Our enthusiasm level? Higher than DHL’s Post Tower Building, which stands at 41 stories. Our caffeine level? In the danger zone.

We met up with Mike and Vince, our hosts for the project, for coffee beforehand in one of DHL’s cafes on the ground floor. Despite not having an engineering background or being in the elevator lift industry, I was fascinated with the technology. Open glass chutes allowed you to see the entire interior workings of the lift system and terminals notified you which lift to take in order to get to your floor the quickest way possible. The lifts also surged at incredibly speeds. Apparently, when the tower was first built, people kept passing out so they had to tone down the speed. Sounds like a ride at Disney World.

Our meeting with Martin was incredibly informative. We not only focused on the automotive industry (our scope for this project) but also talked about the supply chain industry in general. Martin had great insight into the five- and ten-year outlook, highlighting changes that logistics providers like DHL must make in order to keep up with the industry.

Team DHL at DHL HQ

After our meeting with Martin and lunch at DHL’s canteen, we headed back to Koblenz to debrief and grab dinner. One of the interesting aspects about Koblenz is its wide variety of international cuisine. For a relatively small German town, there are many off-continent dining options, including Mexican, Vietnamese, Turkish, Argentinian, and more. Feeling a little sausage-and-potatoed out over the last few days, we decided to grab some Pho at a restaurant simply called Hanoi. Similar to our experience on Monday at the Mexican restaurant, we struggled a bit through the tri-lingual menu (in Vietnamese, German, and English) but managed to order some delicious eats.

So Pho-king Good

We capped off the night with a drink (OK, two drinks) at another local tavern, convincing ourselves that this was an important team building activity that was central to the success of our project. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for a follow-up meeting with the Tier-1 supplier we met on Monday, along with Mike, our trusted project leader. After that, we’ll be hitting the road to Hamburg to soak in the 825th (that’s right, 825th) celebration of the Port of Hamburg. Get your popcorn ready.

Getting Comfortable in Koblenz

Hallo (that means Hello) from our German home! After only a few days in Koblenz, we are starting to feel comfortable with not speaking the language, driving (and stalling) on the Autobahn, and interviewing VP-level (and above) executives in the automobile industry.

To compensate for the delicate pastries, heavy bratwursts, and free flowing beers, I’ve gone on a couple of runs along the rivers. Koblenz is located on the confluence of two rivers: the Rhine and the Moselle, in the heart of wine country. Newsflash: running with beautiful scenery makes the experience much more pleasant.

Running with a view

Today was our first long drive day, which meant plenty of team bonding on the Autobahn.  Devin and Tim would yell “Ausfahrt” (that means exit) every time we passed a highway exit. Meanwhile, I would daydream about living in one of the many castles that lined the German hills. Neither of these activities should be considered unusual, if you know us.

Ausfahrt, ya!

Back to business. Today we toured DHL’s warehouse located around the corner from Audi’s main manufacturing plant. Now, this is not your textbook (MBA 6231 Operations I) warehouse. DHL does sub assembly for Audi, which basically means that they receive lots of tiny parts from suppliers, then DHL assembles into a larger piece and sends to Audi so they can seamlessly pop it onto the vehicle on the assembly line. I never would’ve thought that a logistics company would do pretty complicated manufacturing, so I learned something new today! Plus, we get to wear sweet safety gear, so I make sure to document every time that happens.

We look good in neon green, no?

 

The boys went off to Karaoke Night at our neighborhood Irish Pub, where they made friends with locals and also came across some University of Michigan undergrads. Don’t worry,  only playful rivalry ensued. Our Buckeyes decided not to get on stage this time around, but stay tuned till next week, where maybe our comfort level will be ready to belt out some Backstreet Boys. Any song requests?

Taking Y’all to Church on Our DHL Project

As our circadian rhythms and livers continue to adjust to Germany, it’s probably about time to introduce our loyal readers to our project. Over the next three weeks, we’re meeting with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and tier-1 suppliers to help DHL Supply Chain’s Global Automotive Sector determine the buying behaviors of both prospective and current customers. Since we were assigned this project back in late February, we’ve met with DHL clients stateside to understand the industry and get a feel for DHL’s many, many different services within the automotive supply chain. And now that we’re on DHL’s home turf of Germany, we’re traveling all over the country to develop findings and a solution that can not only be applied to Europe, but can also be extended to DHL’s global market.

Ford Sign

On Monday, we met with one of DHL’s freight forwarding customers, a tier-1 safety equipment manufacturer located in our home base of Koblenz. Our main point of contact, Helge, gave us a thorough background of their business and how the approach logistics procurement. Tuesday’s agenda took us to Cologne, where we met with Markus of DHL’s Lead Logistics Provider team, which manages the entire supply chain for Ford Europe. DHL’s team for this project works just feet away from where Ford produces all of its Fiesta cars for the European market. While on-site, we got a personalized tour of the entire production complex, from where the body frame is created to where the finished car is rolled off the line for final quality testing. For security reasons, we weren’t able to take pictures throughout the tour, so you’ll have to take our word for it about how insanely awesome, complex, and impressive the entire process is when orchestrated in real-time. However, we did get a picture of us in our snazzy vests.

Team DHL at Ford

After spending the day with Markus and his team, we found our way over to the Koln Dom (the Cologne Cathedral), Germany’s #1 tourist destination. While walking through a tunnel (which smelled like the exact opposite of what cologne should smell like) on the way over, I Wikipedia’ed as much as I could about the church and impressed my teammates with off-the-cuff knowledge about its prolific history (Don’t tell them I did this… I want them to think I’m smart). For instance, did you know that the Cologne Cathedral was the world’s tallest building from 1880-1884? Boom. You’ve been knowledge’d.

Team DHL in Cologne

For dinner, we headed over to Fruh to try out one of Cologne’s famous dishes. “Heaven & Hell”, as it is loosely translated, is an interesting combo of blood pudding served over apples and mashed potatoes. Tim seemed to be halfheartedly enjoying the experience, until his first burp which, by the looks of it, was a negative life-altering experience. Also, a quick note on Cologne’s beer policy: if you order a beer at a restaurant, they’ll keep bringing you new ones until you politely refuse. Now that’s what I call customer service.

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Despite the mixed reviews about blood pudding, Cologne’s cuisine TOTALLY redeemed itself with its nougat pretzels, a combo of white and dark chocolate, nougat, and almonds resulting in a diabetic shock and cavity inducing pastry of sheer deliciousness. Needless to say, we slept like kings.

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Lady and the Tramp

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“John of Gondar”

Day 4: Gondar City-

May 5th (Monday) is an official holiday in Ethiopia and all government offices are closed. However, a subteam of our Gondar hosts had promised to make time to meet us at 1.30p. We decided to go to explore the city and check out the local market before our meeting. What an adventure it turned out to be!

First, we went to a souvenir shop which was filled with great local craft pieces – including wall hangings, dolls, decoration pieces, clothes, shawls, musical instruments and many other interesting pieces. Even though we promised ourselves that we will window shop, seek comparisons, not fall victim to impulse decisions and try our bargaining skills, the moment of truth was interesting. The pieces were so beautiful that it was hard to resist the urge, especially since we would automatically make mental calculations of how low the dollar-converted costs would be!

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Our first real adventure of the day was right outside the souvenir shop where a group of 2 young boys approached us and tried to “exchange” a 20 dollar bill for an interesting story. Their concern was that they had an “old” 20-dollar bill from 1981 which the local merchants would not accept. They wanted the nice Americans to help them by exchanging it for a newer bill since we could easily pass it on when we got back home. We had an interesting dialogue about the authenticity of the bill and in the end decided to agree to disagree.

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From there we got in the van and were taken to the local market which was bustling with activity of every sort – from fresh vegetables to chickens to clothes, utensils and hardware. Almost everyone we met was extremely friendly with smiles all around. We all noticed that many of the shopkeepers spoke very good English and didn’t try aggressive approaches to sell to the visiting “freinji” (local word for light skinned foreigner). We also noticed that there were quite a few women entrepreneurs who confidently ran their shops.

During this visit to the market we happened to stumble upon John, a 10th grade student who made our day! There was something about his demeanor that put our whole group at ease with him. We struck up a conversation with him to find out about how he loved fashion forward shoes which he then converted to soccer shoes when his 5 brother team rule over other kids in the neighborhood. He told us about his dreams of becoming a doctor one day and serving his nation. We not only got great advice from him about which fabric to buy or how to avoid fast colors but also got a pleasant surprise – an offer to show us where the beautiful fabric was weaved by the locals.

We had set a deadline for ourselves to leave the market by noon so that we could head back to the hotel, have lunch and get ready for the 1.30p client meeting. However, the offer was just too good and all of us make a group decision to flex our time in favor of this unbelievably authentic experience. John took us through the market until we reached a semi-residential area where small shacks housed families as well as a cottage industry of 1-2 person manufacturing units. John showed us where a person was hard at work at a small hand-powered loom weaving a beautiful fabric from threads of cotton. John would later also show us where the raw picked cotton was sold and along with the bobbins used to convert piles of raw cotton into thread which would then be used in the weaving process.

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On our way back, we were taken thru another route in the neighborhood where we saw ladies cooking the day’s lunch. John took us to one of the ladies and we were able to see how pancake type batter was first prepared and then poured over a heated plate to make Injeria – the staple of the Ethiopian diet. As we watched this process, we were surrounded by many curious and smiling children. For some reason, they found trust and comfort in the faces of Danny and Niraj—whose hands they held and started to walk thru the alleys back to the market. Only after we reached the van did they finally say smiley goodbyes and went off their way.

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As we said farewell to John, he offered to take us on more experiences like this should we choose to. Since he was off school for the summer, he was willing to take time off from soccer and show us around while someone covered his shop. A definite stop that we all agreed to put on our itinerary was the visit to the Jewish blacksmiths. Knowing of the historical struggles of the Ethiopian Jewish community, this experience was a must have.

Oh how lucky we got with finding John!

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We got back to the hotel recounting our many adventures (some of which we couldn’t list here) in time for our client meeting. We ended up having a 3 hour meeting with them and then a 3 hour strategy session which shed new light into how to proceed with our mission in Ethiopia. Tomorrow is a packed day and if things go well, a packed week full of work.

We can’t wait to meet up with John again!

That Time When Five Americans and an Indian Celebrated a Mexican Holiday in Germany

While Monday was our first official on-site working day in Germany (more on that to come once we get some of the pictures), it was also Cinco de Mayo. In America, we typically use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to drink in honor of our friends south of the border. So why should this May 5th be any different, despite adding an extra few thousand miles of separation between us and the birth site of tequila?

Apparently, a few of our German comrades had the exact same idea. Koblenz features not one, but (at least) two Mexican restaurants, including one in the same square as our apartment. By 8:00 on this beautiful spring day, the outside patio was crowded and the prospect of margaritas welcomed us with open arms.

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As we flipped through the menu, we realized Sruti was out of her element, and had never had fajitas before. So there would clearly be no better time for an Indian student studying in America to try traditional Mexican cuisine than while on a trip to Germany. The night ended with complimentary candy… baby rats? Feetless iguanas? Not really sure what these were but they were good? OK? Jury is still out. The whole experience was bizarre.

Mexican Candy

However, despite the glory of creating our own cultural melting pot over dinner, I would be doing all of our thousands of blog readers a disservice if I waited even one more second to show you the key chains the front desk gave us for our three apartments. Discuss in the comments below…

Koblenz Key Chains