Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Travel Log: First Leg, Addis/Nairobi/Kampala

Here I am on my "required" vacation, as a result of visa problems in Ethiopia. What a hard life!

On Sunday evening I flew from Ethiopia to Kenya, and spent the night with another intern in Nairobi. The next morning I found myself at a bus station, confused and lost with no idea which bus I was supposed to be on. I looked around, trying to find an official looking person, a signboard, or even a line that would indicate some order in the chaos. Finally, I found a man taking tickets! He told me that my bus wasn't there yet, but it would be along soon. I periodically shoved my ticket under his nose until, a few buses later, he took it and ushered me to my seat. I was destined to arrive in Kampala, Uganda fifteen hours later.

I had had some problems changing my money to Kenyan shillings because my American bills were too dishevelled for the tastes of the black market currency vendors. So, there I was on a 15 hour bus ride with no money, no water, no food, and tremendous hopes that I would manage to get a Ugandan visa. I felt a bit like Jack Kerouac's On the Road, booting it across the United States and back with very limited finances, but gaining tremendous beat insight. Finally, at 11pm, I arrived in Kampala with a very empty stomach, and a Ugandan visa in my passport.

Here I am now at the CPAR Uganda office. It's nice to see another branch of CPAR, visiting the ever enthusiastic staff and different programs. I look forward to seeing as much of this country as I can in such a short 6 days. Yet despite this mini-adventure within the larger internship adventure, I find myself missing Ethiopia already!

Christmas Reading Recommendation: My Heart is Africa by Scott Griffin, a Canadian who flew from Toronto to Nairobi where he worked with the Flying Doctors Service for two years.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Visas and Christmas

Just a quick update to those interested. Because of some problems with my visa, I've been asked (not so kindly, complete with jail and court threats) by the Ethiopian government to leave the country. My plan is to head to the CPAR office in Uganda where I will apply for another visa, and try to see as much of the projects there as possible. From there I'll go on my Christmas and New Year vacation to Kenya. Hopefully I'll be able to post about my adventures from these other African countries, but if not, holiday greetings and I'll be back in Addis on January 3rd. Just in time for Ethiopian Christmas on January 6th!


Thursday, November 30, 2006

World Aids Day 2006

A year ago tomorrow, I was in the foyer of the University of Toronto’s medical building, wearing a sweaty tshirt with a red ribbon on it, peddling my heart out but getting nowhere. I was participating in the Race for Dignity on stationary bikes, raising money for anti-retroviral treatment for Africans living with HIV/AIDS. I never expected then that I would be celebrating the next World Aids Day in Africa while working with non-governmental organizations who deal with primary health care and HIV/AIDS issues every day.

Ethiopia’s experience with the AIDS pandemic is both lucky and unlucky. Estimates say that 1.5million people have been infected here, out of a population of 75million- a devastating number. But, with the institution of universal access to free anti-retroviral treatment comes the possibility of change for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Yesterday I went with a coworker to visit Addis Hiwot, an organization of people living with HIV/AIDS. In Amharic, Addis Hiwot means “New Life,” and for the twenty people in the group, the organization has lived up to its name. Yalemzoud Mengistu, one of the members of the group, described to me what her life was like before coming to work in the Addis Hiwot’s recreation centre. AIDS was beating her, leaving her bedridden as a result of her low CD4 count. After receiving ART drugs, Yalemzoud was able to start working again. She told me, “When I was at home, I was thinking about the virus, crying every day. Now, I don’t have the time to think about the virus. I’m busy every day and surrounded by others in the same situation as me.” As well, through the organization, she is able to afford the balanced diet necessary to make the drug cocktail taken by her and her son effective.

The story of Yalemzoud’s situation repeats itself all over Africa, and increasingly, Asia. But most people bedridden with AIDS don’t have the chance to get out of bed and make a new life for themselves.

World Aids Day seems to have more meaning to me than Thanksgiving just past, or Christmas coming up because it deals much more with Humanity. This past summer I was so inspired by the sheer number of people working towards positive change who attended the AIDS 2006 conference in Toronto. But even the thirty or so thousand attendees don’t represent the numbers infected in one Sub-Saharan country, let alone in the whole continent.

I know there’s no turkey, or stockings, or mistletoe, but I urge you to grab hold of World Aids Day somehow so we can better represent the people affected and infected, and mobilize ourselves towards change. I’ll be in Ethiopia, attending the theatre and music festivities in the middle of Addis Ababa.

World Aids Day Actions
• Wear your red ribbon
• Attend an event at your university, high school, community centre
• Donate time or money to an organization working for change
• Read an article to increase your awareness, and then discuss it someone else
• Share whatever action you take, to prompt others to take an action too

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reflection after 2 Months

I have just past my 2 month mark here in Ethiopia. Before leaving, I had been preparing for my year abroad since getting into the International Development program at the University of Toronto, and felt ready for anything. More specifically, I felt ready for an extremely difficult year of cultural difference, heart wrenching poverty, and loneliness. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There is something about Ethiopia and Ethiopians that make my time here so different from the year I was expecting.

To start off with, I am moved daily by the universal generosity here. Sometimes the culture of beggars here frustrates and disturbs me because it is so entrenched in society. How can growth and development occur if people ask for money and food rather than doing something productive to earn a living? But the thing that amazes me about it is that every single Ethiopian, no matter how poor they are themselves, will find 10 birr cents to put into the hands of a blind man or leper that comes to ask at the door of the minibus, or a quarter to give to the rural woman in rags with a baby strapped to her back. This distribution is common among everyone. Even when you present someone with a gift, they thank you and take it (without the protestations we are used to in the West), because they know that they or someone else will return the generosity to you in the near future.

This redistribution relates closely to perspectives of poverty among the poor themselves. Ethiopia is the 5th poorest country in the world, it suffers frequently from natural disasters and food insecurity, and the rate of HIV/AIDS is steadily increasing. I knew not to expect the glamorized distended bellies that appear on World Vision commercials, but still those images were there in my head. I met an 18 year old woman last week. Her mother had died from AIDS contracted from commercial sex work, she and her brother had been raped by men in the community, and she has a 4 year old daughter as a result. Now, as the oldest child in the family, she is responsible to take care of her daughter, brother and sister. Despite these terrible difficulties, the woman was smiling and welcoming as I entered her house. Her attitude showed that despite poverty, life and happiness continue, and she’ll do what it takes to provide herself and her family with a better future. Apart from the odd pessimist, this mentality has been visible in all the struggling people I’ve met, from CPAR beneficiaries to my neighbours and friends.

At CPAR, I’ve been surprised by how wrong my expectations were as well. During pre-departure training with the University and CIDA, we often talked about cross-cultural difficulties in the work place. I was to expect that as an independent Western woman, I would find things in office that contradicted my understanding of myself and my worth, or even simply made deadlines hard to meet. I wouldn’t necessarily be able to be “me”. Over my first few weeks here, I tried to keep my “heart-on-my-sleeve” temperament in check, keeping culturally sensitive issues to myself, like my lack of religion, my acceptance of homosexuality, and my tendency to take control to get things done. As I became closer to friends at work, I realized that they understood and expected me to be different, and that was okay. The first time my “get it done mode” kicked in before a deadline, I called my boss later to apologize for my assertive behaviour, but was encouraged to take this roll again when needed. And one of the favourite past times of my co-workers and me is to joke about our respective cultures. If you come by the office at tea time one afternoon, you’ll see me walking around like a chicken, poking fun of the “Toronto hurry”.

The generosity, positive attitude, hope and tolerance of Ethiopians contributes daily to my African happiness. At this point, I feel more at home here than I have in Toronto, with fulfilling work and a great social life. I might have felt prepared to leave Canada and come to Addis, but I can’t imagine what it will be like to go back. Only 8 months to go.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Believe it or Not

Most Ethiopians Believe. In fact, I haven’t met one yet who doesn’t.

According to my pre-departure Ethio-Info package, the population is made up of about 45 percent Orthodox Christians, 35 percent Muslims, and 20 percent “Other”. These three groups live together in relative peace, although people tell me that tensions are rising because of the global climate.

As an agnostic with no history of religious affiliation, I wondered what such a pious population would think of me, and whether it would affect my work environment. When asked about my religion, I get different reactions from different people. Some want to take me immediately to get baptized. Others don’t quite understand it, “does that mean that you are a pagen?” as they can’t imagine not having at least some sort of god in life. And others take my lack of spirituality in stride, saying that they’ve met other Canadians who have the same attitude, and they think it’s normal for us.

Since I’ve been here, we’ve celebrated the Christian holiday of Meskel, lived through the month of Ramadan and experienced the Islamic holiday Eid. But it’s not just these big holidays that get the faithful riled up here. Each church has a patron saint and a certain day of the month when that saint is worshipped, bringing in crowds of people, praying, selling and begging. Driving by, you can tell what saint’s day it is by the number of people around the church. It’s possible to follow the celebrations around the city from church to church, if you like the crowds of people and loudly broadcast messages from the Bible. The poorest people in Addis follow them too, knowing that Ethiopians are more generous on holidays.

Yesterday was the annual worship and celebration for Medhane Alem (“Medicine of the World,” or Jesus) which is the church across from my house. When I stepped out of my compound onto the street yesterday, I wasn’t expecting to end up in a sea of begging bodies, bright umbrellas and ladies in white head scarves, a sermon blasting from the huge speakers. A coworker took me inside the church compound after work. I’d been nervous to go, as tourism in other people’s holy places makes me wonder, but she encouraged me to come and see the festivities. The scene was a strange mix of serious and celebratory. I was surprised at how individual the worship and prayer were, not with a priest in a pulpit, but one broadcasting over the loudspeaker from the front steps. Inside the church itself, worshippers got down on their knees or raised their hands in the air without direction from a member of the church hierarchy, and the sheer emotion of faith that many exhibited was quite moving. As I moved outside again, I realized that of the thousands of people in the compound, there was a careful division between men and women. The aesthetic result was powerful: white clothed women on one side, and men in dark suits on the other.

As I walked through, with my own white head scarf falling back from my forehead, I made mental notes of the practices, trying to fit the whole situation into my world view. The Saints, and the sign of the crucifix made me think of Catholicism. The people with their heads pressed up against the wall of the church in prayer made me think of Judaism. And the division of men and women, and the head scarves, reminded me of Islam. How did I end up in such a unique country?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Dibate Field Visit

A week ago I went with five coworkers to visit CPAR's farthest and most remote program area in Ethiopia. Dibate, in the Benishangul-Gumuz province in North Western part of the country, which almost touches Sudan. The area is very rural- even Dibate town doesn't have restaurants or a large market – and is home to a number of different ethnic groups, making it a very interesting development context.

To get there, we stopped one night at the CPAR Jarso basecamp and the next day traveled on to Dibate. Just past the basecamp, our 4x4 began a steep decline into the Blue Nile Gorge. The road was unpaved and rough, and about half way down we got a flat tyre. We were instantly helped by two mechanics and were soon on our way again. At the bottom of the valley was the Blue Nile, which, when it joins the White Nile, forms the famous Nile River. We crossed the bridge (I didn't take any photos because once a ‘farenj’ was shot doing so) and started climbing the other side. The landscape was amazing- it was as incredible as I imagine the Grand Canyon to be. At one point I saw a monkey!

We stopped to fix the flat in a small town. I got out of the car to stretch my legs. Within five minutes I'd attracted quite a crowd. They surrounded me (about 40 of them) against the car to stare and practice their English. I must have been asked what time it was 100 times! When asked, it turned out that I was the first white person some of them had ever seen.

The flat delayed us quite a bit but the landscape stayed incredible. We didn't make it to Dibate before 6 pm and decided to stay in a hotel about 50km from the base camp. When we arrived on Thursday and settled in, we got to work on our assorted responsibilities (there was a lot on the agenda for our visit.) I was tasked with developing case studies of CPAR's beneficiaries in the area as I had also done in Jarso. I went with both Abebe and Maru to visit many of CPAR's initiatives, including HIV/AIDS education, improved seed farms, woodlots, water points, and best of all one of the community schools in the very remote Gumuz villages.

By the end of the day, I felt as though I was in life-overload. I had sped through the African countryside on a dirt bike, no helmet, no roads. I had watched a woman, pregnant with her first child, lying against her mother in the dirt in pain because of the start of the birth. I had seen many times the Ethiopian version of a baby in a diaper: a baby with no pants. Because I looked so different, I had been asked questions, through an informal translator, like "are you a man or a woman?", "Can you talk?", "Can you laugh?" People would reach out and touch my hair or my arms and be absolutely amazed with the result. Or, I would reach out and touch them and they would scream and sprint 10 feet to safety. Each time we would leave the village, a crowd of children would come sprinting after me yelling, "Farenj Farenj" ("white person white person") I would reply "Habisha Habisha" ("Ethiopian Ethiopian") and they would laugh uncontrollably.

Throughout the trip, despite the language barrier, my camera was great for facilitating interaction. Each person pushed and shoved to be within the range of the lens. And when I turned it around to show them, there would be even more pushing and shoving, this time with pointing and plenty of chatter. One woman I interviewed about CPAR's HIV/AIDS educational interventions in town didn't want her picture taken because she is shy about her disability. I promised that I would show her what it looked like and she could tell me to erase it if she didn't like it. She chose to keep it and asked for a copy which I will provide the next time I'm in the field. I don't think she'd ever seen herself on camera!

One thing that I found very surprising is just how much some of the people I saw while in Dibate fit into the western stereotype of African cultures. They live in huts, their babies are naked and sometimes so are they. They live to live, not to accumulate or to plan, and they live in the most remote place I've ever been. One of the Gumuz people (An Ethiopian ethnic group) showed me how to grind something called finger millet. I got down on my hands and knees and used the stone to pummel it into a fine powder. Hard work.

On the way back to Dibate Town, it began to rain and we stopped for shelter in a cluster of huts and shops. I was ushered into the sheltered courtyard and offered the only chair. One guy seemed like the ring leader, and demanded (politely) "Photo Photo" and put his hands up to his eyes like goggles. I took it and again the crowd swarmed around me to inspect it. When the leader, in his traditional clothes, said "Bakah" (enough) and shooed the rest away so I could have some space, the questions began. "Do you speak Arabic?" "Do you have some medicine for my rough hands?" "Are you married?"

By the time we arrived back in Addis just under a week later, I was exhausted because of the overwhelming experience of rural Africa. Days on the road I find are the most intense here. I have lots of time to think without acting, and at the same time am inundated with new sensory treats. I wish that I'd written down all my insights, but I guess sometimes I've just got to think them and let them go. Suffice to say that the things I do and see here continuously make me question my world view, my norms, my identity. And I'm fairly sure that the result will be positive!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

City: Slick?

I’ve been to a few cities in my life. Try London, Paris, Havana, Chicago, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, to name a few. And here I am in Addis Ababa. If I had to compare I would say that Addis is right up there with Scarborough in my list of ugliest cities visited so far. The buildings are plain or just plain strange, the scaffolding is terrifying and prolific, the roads are full of holes and debris, and informal structures take over the streets: corrugated aluminum huts, makeshift fruit stalls and converted freight containers. But there is something about the city that makes up for all of physical deficiencies.

Take, for example, the transportation. While at first glance travel on a Minibus (communal taxi bus) seems chaotic and risky, they make travel around the city relatively quick and painless. For about 1 Birr ($0.08 Canadian) from my house, I’ll arrive at one of two central Minibus stations and can carry on for the same price again to anywhere in the city I want to go. And unlike Canada, there is always a Minibus waiting for you.

This weekend, I attempted my longest Minibus journey so far (two transfers at a total cost of about 50 cents) to Merkato, Africa’s largest open-air market. This is another one of the things that redeems Addis. I went with a coworker and his relative, as its unlikely that I would have been able to manage the sprawling marketplace on my own. The congestion on the way was unbelievable, and the actions the drivers take are awe-inspiring- if it’s going to get you somewhere faster, driving on the wrong side of the road is completely acceptable. But, when you step out of the Minibus into the teeming life of Merkato, you can understand why everyone is trying to get there. I don’t know how big the place is, as after 2 hours of walking around we’d only covered a third of it, but I guarantee that you can buy anything under the sun. A malay of cars, people, donkeys, food and manufactured goods, I was barely capable of understanding the shopping possibilities.

Merkato isn’t just a place to shop, though. Really, it’s a microcosm of Addis that showcases the gem of Addis: the people. Sometimes I feel like a rock star here because of all the attention I get, and once my friends bought me a souvenir scarf in Ethiopian colours, that attention doubled. The sentiments called out as I walked by in my new scarf testified to the pride and hospitality that I’ve encountered with each Ethiopian I’ve met. A “Welcome to Addis Ababa,” “I love Ethiopia,” and “Hello, how are you,” shouted by every third person is enough to convince me to stay here, compared to aggressive merchants, pickpockets and beggars I had been warned about.

At one point, we turned a corner and came across a group of about 5 old men on a blanket. One of them had a drum and they were singing traditional songs, trying to earn enough for dinner. A few steps further and I saw a group of about 15 women, singing and clapping and drumming as well. I pointed to my camera to ask if I could take a picture. The music got louder and more enthusiastic as I crouched down to get to their level, and they smiled as I photographed them.

On every corner of Addis you see new buildings going up, and past the city’s Ring Road construction is rampant. One of my friends told me the other day that it is as if he can see Addis waking up after years of Communist rule. I like to think that maybe the informality of the city is temporary, and that one day its surface will match the vibrant humanity that is present underneath.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Embarassing Moments

There is something about being in a foreign country with different systems and ways of doing things, combined with the fact that I am so visible as a foreigner, that leads to frequent embarrassing moments.

The first in the series was a couple of weeks ago now (and I’m only just ready to talk about it!). I was walking along the dirt road towards the CPAR compound. In order to make it to the gate, I had to make a right turn, but coming up on my right side was a horse and cart. Not too familiar with horses, I thought that I could make it in front of the buggy. As I went for it, I realized what a miss calculation that was, and in my hurry I dropped my cell phone. I reached back for the phone, to get it safely out of the way of pounding hoofs, and as I did, a roar of shock and laughter went up from the row of merchants across the street. I made it safely into the compound, unscathed. When I decided to venture outside again about an hour later, the laughter began once again at the mere sight of the farenj who almost got hit by the horse!

My cell phone works on a pay-as-you-go system. Each time I run out, I fill it up using the code on the back of a card. The prompts on the card are in English, but over the phone they’re in Amharic. The other day, my phone ran out of minutes for the first time: I dialed the number of one of my Canadian friends, and in response got a stream of Amharic. I figured that maybe the maid had picked up the phone, so I tried in my broken Amharic to explain that I wanted to talk to Dwayne. But she just kept on talking, repeating the same thing over and over again in a language I couldn’t understand. She didn’t even try to say anything about Dwayne! ‘Rude,’ I thought, and hung up the phone. Slowly it dawned on me that I had probably just tried having a conversation with a recording, telling me that my phone credit had run out!

While we were in the CPAR Jarso project areas, visiting with the beneficiaries, one of the farmers reached into his field and picked some pea pods and offered them to me. They contained the sweetest and tastiest peas I’d ever tasted. Two weeks later, I found a man with a wheelbarrow on the corner near my house, selling the same pods. I spent 3 birr (about 40cents Canadian) on half a kilo and took them home for dinner. Unfortunately when I opened the first one, they were mealy and tart. I tried the next one, and experienced the same thing. Not wanting them to go to waste, I brought them to the Lunch Club leader, to include in the menu (cooked) sometime this week. I guess he misunderstood my intention, because the Tea Lady has just arrived in my office with a heaping plate of boiled peas, still in the pod! Coworkers keep coming into my office, looking at the plate of food with a strange glance, and pretending it doesn’t exist. I think I’ll donate it to the lunch buffet when 12:30 hits.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Meskel and Jarso

Things are getting very busy here for me! My to do list for this week is a mile long, but it consists of diverse and interesting tasks, so I'm very happy with it!

This past week was a unique one: first a holiday on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then a trip to the field with CPAR to Jarso Woreda (Jarso district).

Jarso was great, as I got to meet the CPAR staff that actually makes the projects happen, as well as the beneficiaries of the projects. I went on a hair-raising drive through one of the project areas (a rocky road at the edge of a very high cliff- beautiful, but slightly intense), and then visited with many of the farmers and families that participate in CPAR's activities. I was familar with all the interventions from volunteering with CPAR before, but the thing that was so great to see is just how involved the community is in each of the actions. For example, one of the farmers has recieved a bull from CPAR to grow his cattle herd. But he also offers the same service to other farmers in the community. Another example is a woman participating in the savings and credit organization- she has put CPAR's HIV/AIDS education posters in her house for guests and customers. There were many more examples of how CPAR's beneficiaries turned around and gave back to their community in some way.

On the way back to Addis, there were many events on the road that reminded me once again that I'm not in Canada anymore! There was a race down the side of the highway. Running is huge in Ethiopia, and it's a very big deal. You watch these lanky men, in bright red running shorts, sprinting along. And then you realize that some of them aren't wearing any shoes! At another point we noticed a line of people with guns on their shoulders at the side of the road. And all of a sudden, a line of horses spanning the highway, decked in costumes and ridden by men singing at the top of their lungs are charging towards us!

And then you're just driving through regular Ethiopian highlands once again.

Meskal Celebrations ("The Finding of the True Cross")

Monday, September 25, 2006

Out of Addis

An exciting trip out of Addis this past week. I went to a small town, Sheshemane, in the Rift Valley, to visit some of the projects of CAPAIDS partner Mekdim. It was a great visit on two counts: my first glimpse of rural Africa, and my first sight of a real live development project in action. It’s hard to imagine that despite studying the topic for the past three years, development has always been an abstract concept in my head. Until now!

The projects we visited were focused on creating associations of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) and then organizing them to begin income-generating activities. Basically, after being provided with a piece of land and some money for livestock/seeds, the group of PLWHAs can make a living and also work to educate others about HIV/AIDS. As well as the agriculture-focused project, there were also a number of stores set up by members of the association to sell the usual Ethiopia goods: tissues, soap and legumes. My favourite was that they also had a movie rental shop, which consisted almost entirely of DVDs of the TV show 24. It’s very popular here, and Canadian Kiefer Sutherland, a.k.a Jack Bauer, is highly revered.

As for the landscape, words won’t express my first impressions of the expanses of African trees, mountains, fields and rock craters. Actually, my mediocre fotos from a moving car don’t either, but here they are. I’ll ask you to use your imagination to make the views in the pictures vaster and more vibrant.

***Having trouble uploading fotos because of the size to internet connection ratio. I will try again tomorrow! Many apologies

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Safe Livelihoods for Older Orphans

Today I visited HAPCSO, one of the CAPAIDS partners that I will be working with. This organization is TREMENDOUS! Despite their tiny office, crammed full with people working hard, the group seems to have huge reach and giant goals. They work primarily as caregivers to people living with HIV/Aids. Sister Tibebe told me today that they have about 5000 patients, in all 10 subcities of Addis Ababa! She also explained that even after people go on Anti-Retrovirals (provided free in Ethiopia) there is still an important role for community workers, as many of the patients have difficulties taking the medicine regularly (precision is very important for ARVs to work). It seems like such a simple issue, but many people living with Aids here in Addis don’t have watches, let alone sufficient literacy to read time.

I will be working on a project focused on youth orphaned by Aids that now have to be caregivers and breadwinners for their younger siblings. The project aims to provide vocational or business training to these kids, and then help them to put this training into action. In the end we hope this will mean that the siblings can remain in school, rather than having to earn income at an early age as well.

It’s exciting to be working with two very different development NGOs- CPAR works in rural areas of Ethiopia, while CAPAIDS works with partners in the middle of Addis Ababa. I can’t wait until next week when I travel to the ‘field’ offices with both organizations and get to see the projects in action.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Photo Update

The view from the window of my little house!

Lunchtime at CPAR-Ethiopia.

The children at Little Voice of Ethiopia shelter.

See previous post for the full story!

Ethiopian Firsts

I’m still counting the firsts here in Ethiopia: first ride in a mini-bus, first power outage, first week finished. And within my first week was my first weekend. What a good one! On Friday evening I had a restful night, trying to recuperate from a week full of firsts in a strange (but very friendly) landscape. So, I was well rested and up early on Saturday morning, ready for my first attempt at changing money (there are no such thing as lineups in Addis- you just push your way to the closest teller!) After an enjoyable morning exploring the city, I joined one of my coworkers for a drive up Entoto, a mountain overlooking the city. The view wasn’t great, as the weather was rainy and cloudy, but we plan to go up again after the rains stop. On the way down we stopped for “car-service coffee” – you park in front of a cafĂ©, and the waitress brings the coffee and pastries to your car directly. It’s a great idea, but in practice it’s a bit messy and spilly!

In the evening I met up with a pile of other Canadian interns for dinner and drinks. Among them was Nic, who invited me to spend Sunday at a shelter for street children that his friend established with her NGO, Little Voice of Ethiopia. It was quite a trek to get there- three minibuses, a taxi, and a walk down a very slippery hill – but well worth it! There are six kids there at the moment, and the group is looking to fill the house up with 20 more little bodies. We stayed and played with the children, who are all between 6 and 13, for hours. They enjoyed dancing, memory, dominoes, and especially teaching me the Amharic names for animals and body parts!

This weekend was also the first time I started to see the reality caused by poverty here in Addis. In our drive up the mountain, we passed many women with giant bushels of eucalyptus branches (used for firewood) trudging down the steep incline. They were bent double with the load, and some were pregnant or only young girls themselves. You would never see an Ethiopian man doing the same task, and so I begin to see the gender divide here. At the shelter, amidst smiling and laughing young faces, I realized that these kids have all spent time on the streets and seen things I will never see. For example, one of the girls is there because at 12 she was sent to be married, but because of her desire to continue school and remain independent, she ran away from home.

With each of these firsts, I become more interested in Ethiopia, and happy that I am here with CPAR to work and learn.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Safe and Sound

Here I am in Africa! To be specific, I'm in the CPAR office in the Bole sub city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I arrived on Sunday evening, 26 hours after taking of from Pearson Airport in Toronto. Daniel from the CPAR-Ethiopia office, and his wife Yetnayet kindly picked me up and kept me company during my first Ethiopian meal (very different from Ethiopian in Toronto because the Injera is so light, and so sour!). The next day, amidst preparing my accommodations, I met their lovely 4 year old daughter. She made an effort to teach me Amharic by pointing at objects in the house, saying the Amharic word, and waiting for me to repeat. So, even on day 2 I know useful words such as soap and toilet!

After a couple of days of settling in, I'm experiencing my first day at the office. It's been a bit overwhelming meeting everyone- twenty five Ethiopian names to memorize! But everyone is very kind and welcoming. Soon I will have a meeting with Ato Bantirgu (the Country Director) and Ato Biruk (the Program Director) to determine exactly what my role will be in the 10 months while I'm here.

So far I have stuck fairly close to home, but I hope to explore more of Addis soon. At the moment I'm terrified of not finding my way back, as there aren't any street signs/house numbers and I have to rely on my taxi driver knowing the landmarks I give him (and so far it hasn't worked!) to return me safe and sound. I will work on my courage! This morning I did make it around the corner to a coffee shop where I watched Amharic music videos while sipping the spectacular espresso, and tried to ignore the funny looks of people passing by.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Goodbye Canada; Hello Ethiopia!

Only five more days in Toronto before I'm on the plane! I can hardly believe it, after spending 4 years working towards this point.

I'm madly trying to check the last items off my to do list, accumulating student travel cards, firstaid kits, and traveller's cheques. I must admit that every once in a while there's also a frantic call to my mother!

I'll arrive in Addis Ababa on September 11th, which according to the Ethiopian calender is the start of the New Year. Already I've been invited to three parties by the friendly people in Addis that I've been in touch with! Ethiopia runs on the Julian calender, which has 13 months, unlike our 12 month one. So, when I arrive, we'll be celebrating the start of 1999. Hopefully there will be an interesting lead up to the Ethiopian Millennium while I'm there. I've already had a look at the site Ethiopian Millennium for an introduction.

This will be my last predeparture post from Toronto- next time I speak to you will be from Addis!


Monday, August 28, 2006

Impending Africa

Four months ago I found out I was going to Africa. I was ecstatic, but in an abstract kind of way. Today, two weeks before my September departure, the feelings are far less cerebral: I feel excitement and anxiety in my belly and at the ends of my toes.

My name is Kate and I’m a student in International Development at the University of Toronto. I’m about to spend 10 months as an intern with CPAR in Ethiopia. While I’m still completely unsure about what life in Africa will be like, I do know a bit about what I’ll be doing while I’m there. My focus will be on two programs, CPAR’s Moving Beyond Hunger program, and CAPAIDS Safe Livelihoods for Older Orphan’s project. I’ll help primarily with reporting and monitoring for these two projects. As well, I’ve been asked to spend time visiting communities and collecting stories and photos of people are participating in CPAR’s projects.

So here is a brief introduction to the adventure that I am about to embark on (epic, if only for me). I will be recording the highs and lows and in betweens of my time abroad here, and you’re welcome to stop by for an update!