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!

“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