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!