Monday, December 03, 2007

Merry World AIDS Day!

I wore my AIDS ribbon to work on Saturday. It's red, and beaded, with the colours of the Kenyan flag (green, black, white and red) at the bottom, and was given to me by a new friend active on Campus and in East Africa.

As I pinned it to my top in the morning, I wondered how many people would acknowledge it and get into some discussion surrounding World AIDS Day. As a waitress, I wondered how bringing peoples' attention to something unpleasant- like incurable disease- would affect my tips.

I was unprepared, however, for the response I did get: people kept mistaking my pin for a Christmas decoration! More than once, I received exclamations of, "Wow, you look so festive!"

Sorry. I'm not so much 'festive' as trying to be globally conscious.

I visited some of the activities at U of T as part of the Day, and I must admit I was disappointed. I felt that there could be more NGOs represented, more links between student groups and groups from the wider community, more coordination of events on campus. I was frustrated that I didn't feel it was enough (granted I didn't make it to the main event at Hart House because I was busy serving pancakes on Queen Street).

My amazement that people would mistake my ribbon for a nod to Xmas, and my feeling that the university community should do so much more made me realize how just because I see this issue as a 'big deal' doesn't mean that everyone does. Sometimes you can get lost in a bubble of activists and activism and totally forget that you are virtually invisible to the outside world.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

All You Need to Know About AIDS in Africa

Stephen Lewis, the former UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa, called Stephanie Nolen's 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa, "the best book ever written about AIDS". I must admit that I was skeptical- how could a relatively short book of stories encapsulate this massive epidemic? By the time I'd finished the third of 28 stories, I'd changed my mind.

Nolen successfully uses 28 human experiences of HIV/AIDS, gathered over years of reporting on the issue, to tackle each aspect of the pandemic: orphans, access to treatment, medical research, AIDS in conflict zones and within the military, at-risk groups such as truck drivers and sex workers, African political and international humanitarian approaches to HIV, experiences of children, women, elites, couples, families, activists, and the poorest of the poor. Her approach left me more knowledgable, and intermittently heartbroken and ready for action. The book critically examines the role of each actor in the pandemic, from international to local in the present and since the first recorded infection. It emphasizes the complexity of the crisis, most importantly its intrinsic links to poverty, as well as including a vital section on how you can help.

Effectively, Nolen has written a book that provides an overview of the political, historical, cultural, and economic realities of HIV/AIDS in Africa while constantly drawing the reader back to one fundemental point: HIV/AIDS is first and foremost a human issue. She quotes Nelson Mandela (he is the main character in the 27th story), "Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice" (353).

Buy itfor everyone on your Christmas list.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Internationalism's last chance?

Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail has just written an interesting piece about Bernard Kouchner (the father of humanitairan action) in the role of France's foreign minister. Check it out here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Living in Defiance of Despair: Hope in the Balance

This weekend, as six of Random House’s authors deeply embedded within humanitarian issues in Africa spoke during what was an epic (9 hour) seminar on the subject, each participant struggled to define the word ‘hope’ in a humanitarian context. Marilyn McHarg (MSF), James Orbinski (Nobel prize winner for MSF, currently Dignitas International), Stephanie Nolen (Globe and Mail’s Africa correspondant), Romeo Dallaire (Led peacekeeping mission to Rwanda in 1994), Chimamanda Adichie (Orange broadband prize winning novelist), and Stephen Lewis (former UN Envoy for Aids in Africa), or as I like to refer to them, the Canadian ‘development glitterati,’ each found a different definition. The result was a variety of voices, each with often contradictory visions of “humanitarianism in the 21st century.”

Of course I can’t attempt to cover each point covered in the extraordinarily long session at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall, but I’ll try to touch on some of the highlights.

Marilyn McHarg saw humanitarian action as “creating space for hope,” and in the same vain, James Orbinski suggested, “Hope is about possibility”. It was interesting to see the way in which they differed, however, given that Orbinski is a former director of the organization McHarg now represents. While McHarg toed the company line and focused on the apolitical nature of humanitarianism in general, Orbinski emphasized how we may like to look at humanitarianism as simply addressing human suffering, but “human suffering does not take place in a political vacuum”. He went on to discuss the ways in which MSF and other organizations acted politically in order to address issues of human suffering, including increasing access to anti-retroviral drugs in Africa. One of the key topics that Orbinski seems to focus on in his writing and speaking which I find particularly interesting is the detrimental impact of military-delivered humanitarian action. This led to some respectful but adamant opposition from Romeo Dallaire, who during his hour emphasized that the only way to confront the new forms of conflict was through coordination of military, political and humanitarian aspects. Adichie didn’t weigh in on this particular debate, but although she claimed to be “only a story teller,” she articulated strong sentiments on how change and hope must come from within Africa itself.

My favourite speaker, however, was Stephanie Nolen for her frank and passionate discussion of her experience as a journalist covering HIV/AIDS in Africa. Far from the polished and formal presentations of the others, Nolen FELT her way through her 20 minute talk, and then intermittently teared-up and cussed while being interviewed by moderator Gillian Findlay. Her message to us? “We do more than we did, but that’s not enough…The Gap makes a t-shirt about AIDS. You can’t say you don’t know there’s a problem. Real foreign aid starts here.”
To read:

Stephanie Nolen:28: Stories of AIDS in Africa

James Orbinski: An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the 21st Century

Stephen Lewis: Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa (CBC Massey Lecture)

Romeo Dallaire: Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

Chimamanda Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

AIDS Blame Game

The Globe and Mail published a story about the findings of one US academic today: according to researcher Michael Worobey, it is possible to trace the initial cases of HIV in the United States to Haitian immigrants, rather than a US sex tourist returned from a vacation on the island. This article, and the research in general, is a punch in the face for those working to reduce the racial stereotyping that comes along with the pandemic.

During the initial stages of the pandemic in the 1980s and 1990s, Haitians suffered stigma and stereotypes, even to the point of being blamed for ‘causing’ the disease’s appearance in America. Needless to say, attributing such a devastating illness to one ethnic group (or one sexuality) leads to racism, as well as a variety of other ‘isms’, and it’s taken significant efforts to mitigate the damage done by this Haiti-Aids association. In his book, Aids and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame, Paul Farmer tackles this issue and anthropological perspectives of health head on.

By publishing this study, the Globe and Mail risks bringing those out-of-date stereotypes back to life, and for what purpose? It seems to me that the US’s desire to firmly release themselves of blame (it wasn’t one of their citizens that brought the virus to America after all) is counter productive to attempts to ensure that every individual makes efforts to protect him or herself, regardless of their (or their sexual partner’s) origin. While this type of research may be important for disease epidemiology, it also works to “distance” those who feel they don’t fit into the victim profile—formerly, Haitian or homosexual, currently, African.

I’d rather see the opposite, a ‘proximity’: understanding the role that we all have in relation to HIV/AIDS- protecting ourselves, and helping to remove barriers to prevention and treatment for others.
Upcoming Development Events:
Saturday, Nov. 3: Hope in the Balance
Nov 4-17: UN Exhibit "Lessons from Rwanda" (UofT Multifaith Centre)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

World Press 2007

I'm never quite prepared for the intensity of the World Press Photo Exhibit. I'm always very excited to go, and then get stopped in my excitement tracks when I get there. I start having to breathe slower, prepare myself for what's around the corner. Zahra made the comment yesterday as we stepped from image to image, that what is hard to process is that there had to be someone there to take the photo. There had to be someone watching the man getting shot, the baby being burried, the gas main breaking, the boy waiting for interrogation by US troops in Iraq. It's hard to imagine being there.

Some of the ones that stuck with me include:

A ruined town in Kashmir, with rows and rows of men praying towards Mecca in the rubble of their mosque (Espen Rasmussen)

The juxtaposition of a group of African migrants arriving on the shores of the Canary Islands, and the bikini-clad toursits they enountered (Arturo Rodriguez)

Contestants in the Ms. Senior Sweetheart beauty pagent (Magnus Wennman)

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Best of the Press

Heading to the World Press Photo Exhibit tomorrow. I always look forward to this event as it passes through Toronto each year. It mixes global events with art in a way that's stunning, and equal parts heart-wrenching and humorous. I highly recommend checking it out in person, but if it isn't coming through your town/city, you can have a look at the gallery here.

In other development news, I attended the Branding AIDS Conference last week. Interested as I am innovative engagement, I was curious to hear academic and practical perspectives on what Bono terms "off the rack enlightenment". Keynote speaker Lisa Ann Richey provided an interesting critique of comodifying AIDS with a specific focus on (Product) RED and the Africa Issue of Vanity Fair that I talked about in a previous post. Her research is a work in progress but focuses on how "heroic shopping"...

- Could undermine hard won gains towards corporate social responsibility by focusing not on people, planet and profit, but just profit.

- Lacks the transparency and accountability of traditional aid agencies.

- Oversimplifies the issue of AIDS into slogans: "all it takes is two pills per day" (without recognizing how difficult it really is to live on ARVs in Africa).

- Doesn't recognize the (unequal) relationship between producers and consumers, but rather sees AIDS as an anomaly in a system that usually works fine.

I'm eager to see Richey's critique develop. For now, you can see her working paper here.

As the conference continued, I felt that it deteriorated into a more general debate about issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, one totally beyond the scope of a half day conference. At one point I got up and (very nervously) asked about whether the panel saw the possibility for using "compassionate consumption" as an initial "hook" leading to mainstream awareness, and how they felt an individual's interest in wearing a (RED)tshirt or carrying a (RED)iPod could be translated into more engaged action. The only reply was that everyone should start reading Lenin...not something I felt had very practical application in the current response to the AIDS pandemic.

In general, though, it was a really interesting session. As usual, I'm excited to be a participant in development understanding as it happens.

Next up in the Fall Lineup of Development Events, Hope in the Balance, a day with Canada's development glitterati.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ideas Worth Spreading

Back from Africa and in the world of mega bandwidth, I've lately been indulging in the internet's video offerings, mostly on YouTube and TV Links. Now that I've exhausted the most recent season of Grey's Anatomy, I was lucky enough to stumble upon TEDTalks thanks to referrals from friends and fellow development bloggers. As far as I understand it, Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) is a series of conferences with the world's experts, during which the participants give 20 minute presentations on innovative research, initiatives and perspectives about the world around them. Recently, they've decided to post the TEDTalks online for public access, including the most recent set focused on Africa: The Next Chapter. I have only watched a couple so far, but am impressed by the diversity of their content, and the exciting new ideas they present. Certainly a 20 minutes better spent than with the melodramatic characters that fill the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hope in the Balance

It seems like development is all around. Maybe I've just got development coloured glasses on, but it is as if we're getting more and more into this notion of humanitarianism; in every magazine or newspaper, there seems to be at least one mention of international charity. For me, this is a good and a bad thing. On one side, the developing world becomes synonymous with humanitarian crisis, because all we hear from places like Africa is bad news. In an interesting speech by Andrew Mwenda, posted on Development Crossing, he says "Africa has 53 countries. Of these, only 6 of them currently have civil war. The media therefore only report on 6 countries." On the other hand, though, while Africa iteslf isn't a humanitarian crisis, it does face huge challenges related to poverty, health, and governance. So even if the development issues are disproportionately represented in the media, it's not for us in the West to lose our focus.

Of the 6 countries currently embroiled in civil war, the one we pay most attention to is Darfur. Last week I was able to attend the Darfur:Darfur exhibit at the ROM, the effort of someone outside the bubble of development, but certainly a humanitarian. The aim was to bring awareness to the tragedy currently taking place in Sudan, while at the same time presenting images and music of culture and daily life in the country. The general message? Africa is a continent home to both humanitarian crisis and real life. And we can't forget the second aspect, letting our tendency to think of Africa as a project take over.

For me this was one of the biggest realizations I had in Ethiopia. I'd expected cultural isolation, lonliness and a drastic drop in my standard of living. I was surprised (but entirely happy) to find the contrary, and I settled into a 'real life' for my ten months there. I witnessed poverty and hardship, but that was only a small portion of my overall experience of the country. I'm excited to look at this in more depth in my Africa in the 21st Century course this semester, as we attempt to 'think about Africa as a living place rather than merely as a site for intellectual [and humanitarian] speculation and study.'

Toronto in the World: Upcoming Events
The Branding AIDS Conference
Hope in the Balance

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Special Issue: Africa

Old news is sometimes good news! As I sat in Timothy’s coffee today, adjusting to student life once again, I picked up the July 2007 Vanity Fair. The words Special Issue: Africa were blazoned across the cover, against the background of the smiling faces of Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warrant Buffet. Apparently, the magazine put out 20 different covers that month, all featuring different actors in the current era of philanthropy and activism on behalf of Africa. Not just limited to the cover, “Africa” (in the humanitarian sense) was featured throughout the magazine in articles, photographs and even advertisements (ie, the Red Campaign available at the Gap).

My interest in how we’re getting the message about issues of poverty, HIV/AIDS, and debt in Africa out in North America and Europe is keen; I’m always on the look out for new and innovative ways that individuals, NGOs and companies engaging in the continent. Two months ago, Vanity Fair succeeded in just that. By having Bono (Africa’s self appointed spokesperson) guest edit, the one time fashion magazine was fully co-opted by the movement for change in Africa (or at least one branch of it). The result? A huge group of readers (regular and not), that probably aren’t quite as engaged in the issues as, say, subscribers of the African Economist, were given a pile of information on issues far outside their usual attention.

Although in the development world we constantly question the quality of the interventions performed by these mainstream/celebrity activists, I feel like the initial pull of fame endorsing an issue is important. Get people interested, and only then turn them into critics. The sheer number of people that tune in to big name humanitarian assistance makes them incredible useful, as far as I’m concerned. Even if you don’t believe in Madonna approach to development, its difficult to disagree that it’s better to have her on board than not.

Media moments like this one just passed- the Vanity Fair Africa Special Issue- give me confidence that Africa’s issues are becoming more important to us, here in the West. They are finding their way onto our agenda through interesting and innovative venues. It gives me butterflies in my stomach.

Check out: the Darfar: Darfur exhibit at the ROM in Toronto- From Dusk to 11pm every day between September 8 and 17. Or visit

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Memories Fading Fast

I'm upset at how fast and easily I've reintegrated into North America. It might sound peculiar, but I feel that in some way it belittles my time spent in Ethiopia. I hate how my memories are fixed, in complete opposition to the dynamism that I experienced while living there. It's almost as if, except for the photos and friends made, that I've never even set foot in Addis. I feel like it's too soon that my Habesha memories have been transferred from present tense into past tense.

To top it all off, I'm experiencing devastating writers block...I planned to come back and write write write about Ethiopia and it's wonders and our missconceptions from this side of the Atlantic. No such luck. It would seem that the words only come in situ.

The only solution is to go back!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Without Wat

A month back from Ethiopia and I'm having all the normal reactions. I feel as if my ten month internship was a dream, leaving me questioning whether it really happened at all. I've only just started getting used to walking by a line of cars and not having conversations with people about my skin colour through the windows. But perhaps the most difficult thing of all was going for Ethiopian food for the first time since being outside of the country.

Before I left for my placement, I ate Ethiopian once every couple of months, quite rarely given how often I ate the other ethnic staples- Japanese, Thai, Somali, Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian. A plate of wat and injera was a special treat. In fact, two years ago, my boyfriend and I went for Ethiopian food on our first date. When I asked CPAR's Ethiopian country director how the Canadian version of his cultural eats compared with the real thing on one of his visits to the CPAR-Toronto office, he just smiled and laughed politely.

I spent my first couple of weeks in the CPAR-Ethiopia canteen with tears in my eyes as my new coworkers piled heaps of too spicy wat, berbere and mitmita on my plate. After my first trip to the field, the idea of another bite of injera (which I'd just eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner for four days straight) was enough to make my stomach turn. I came well prepared for the second trip with Mars bars, which I privately ate for breakfast.

But somewhere in the middle of my Christmas vacation, I began craving the food of which I'd been so tired. I happily stepped into the first hotel I saw when I arrived home to Addis and dug into a huge plate of tibs and shiro.

As I prepared to leave Ethiopia in June, the messages of those who'd left before me were pretty consistant: eat as much injera as you can before you's just not the same.

Last week, I went for Ethiopian food in North America for the first time in a year. Excited to show my friends what I'd feasted on, I enthusiastically ordered kitfo (raw beef), gomen (kale) and ayeb (cottage cheese), my three favourite dishes. After a month of withdrawal, I could practically taste the huge dish covered with injera with portions of red, white and green before it arrived. I confidently ripped a piece of injera off...and it crumbled in my hand. The tangy and supple staple of my memories doesn't exist here.

The absence experienced by my tastebuds is similar to that experienced by my heart.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Click here for a reflection piece I wrote on the CPAR website.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tips for Reintegration

They say that returning home after spending time in a different country can be harder than adjusting to life away in the first place. My culture shock comes in waves, alternating between experiencing pleasant surprises of ‘home’ and marveling at its deficiencies. Most significantly, I find myself asking, ‘is this it?’ as I participate in conversations and activities that don’t seem quite as vital as those I experienced in Ethiopia. One week in, here’s a list of tips for others in the same situation:

1. Don’t go home.
After a day in Toronto, I continued on to Boston where I’ll spend the last two months of the summer. Being in a new place provides excellent distraction from not being in Addis any longer, a distraction that wouldn’t be possible in a familiar city.

2. Join Facebook.
Adding the friends that you made overseas helps ease the transition away from roommates, coworkers and buddies, and into new interactions. I feel less lonely for my friends in Addis because I can keep track of their lives and converse with them on a daily basis. It makes them seem not quite so far away.

3. Stay involved.
If you were working for a company or ngo overseas, organize some tasks for yourself to do upon returning home. CPAR has asked me to do some writing for its newsletters, and I have some follow up to do with CAPAIDS. These tasks also provide a link with the life I lived in Ethiopia, and help mitigate the feelings of uselessness that comes from leaving a job I loved.

4. Link with other recent returnees.
On my first night back, I went to a bbq with some friends who I’d met in Addis. I’m afraid I might have overused their sympathetic ears, but being able to talk to someone who related was great. One of my friends hadn’t left the house since arriving back three weeks ago!

5. Channel your feelings of withdrawal.
Work on something related to your experience helps to minimize the feeling that the whole thing was a dream. Some suggestions: write an article about the country you visited for an online publication, organize a small fundraiser for an organization you became familiar with overseas, do a presentation for the organization you were overseas with…

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


My first question when I got off the plane in Toronto was, “What am I doing here?” I have repeated the question over and over again in the four days I’ve been on North American soil. People keep saying things about “home” and “safe” in their conversations with me now that I’m back, but I find that those words don’t really apply. The friends I made in Addis gave me a terrific send off, with a party on Friday night, a breakfast in my honour on Saturday morning, and finally hugs at the airport on Saturday evening. As I looked at them, I saw “home” in their faces and my surroundings: my Kazanchis neighbourhood with its busy sidewalks and characters, the blue and white taxis that populate Addis, and the ubiquitous white cloth that covers its (female) resident's heads. The city is more home to me than Toronto ever has been.

The two things that have struck me most in North America since my return have been food and safety. To generalize the first, everyone is always eating here. In the airport, everyone passed the time before their flights by snacking. I bet most of them weren’t even hungry. The evening I arrived, I attended a Canada Day BBQ, which consisted primarily of 6 hours of non-stop eating. I could barely walk out the door, because I kept eating long after I had my fill. And the things that are being consumed here are so much larger than I remembered- tomatoes the size of baseballs, meal portions bigger than my head, and jerry cans full of sugary beverages.

And safety. What is this assumption that Africa is unsafe? Sure, it has more disease and probably more car accidents than in Canada, but it’s not those things we focus on. I was struck by the constant direction given by parents (not my own), signs and PA systems instructing me on how to be ‘safe’. Like in the airport, a voice without a face told me regularly to, “Please stay to the right of the moving sidewalk so that others can pass safely on the left.” Signs in the Boston subway emphasized a safe and happy Fourth of July. People seem to be glad that I’m home safe, but I must admit that I never felt particularly unsafe in Ethiopia.

So, here I am in North America once again. They’re right when they say Africa gets under your skin. But I’m trying to count my blessings, including McDonalds cheeseburgers, speedy internet, and loved ones.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Up for Grabs

There’s nothing like a bit of harassment to make you realize that you’re not in Canada anymore. Today, while taking friends of my roommate on a tour of Merkato, Addis’ main market, I gave specific attention to keeping my purse close and out of the hands of thieves. Turns out, I should have also been taking care of more personal assets to keep them out of the hands of passers by. As we strolled happily, though slightly out of place, down the busy streets of the market, a boy in the oncoming traffic managed in a split second to grab my breast without breaking stride and continue down the quasi sidewalk with his giggling friends. Held back by my limited Amharic, I managed to get out a very stern “what is it?”, rather than a sentence containing significantly more expletives, and probably something about how it is unacceptable to fondle someone without an invite. In reality, the episode ended right there, but later I got to thinking about how my reaction exemplified my identity, gender issues, and the overall circumstances of security and rule of law here in Ethiopia.

In general, I tend to identify less with being a woman than a human being, but in this case I certainly felt it was a gendered incident. Also, the incident proved how, despite how at home I feel here, I will always be an outsider, limited by my language abilities and the stereotypes of foreigners. If I’d confronted the grabber, those around me would likely have thought, “oh, just another farenji getting angry.” I think we have this reputation from our overly aggressive approach to getting local prices, as well as our intolerance of lateness, less than perfect craftsmanship and being perpetually treated like we’ve just arrived in Ethiopia. Finally, if I’d approached the police about it, it’s possible that I would have been laughed at to my face (if the police hadn’t used it as an excuse to ‘round up all the youth in Merkato and take them away).

The identities made vivid by this encounter- being a woman and a foreigner- made me think of how the situation would have been different if it had happened in Canada. First, those around me would have been on my side. Second, I would have had the language ability to confront the grabber. And third, I would have the satisfaction of filing a police report (though likely nothing would come of it in the future.) Here, I felt there was absolutely nothing that I could do about the problem. Even discussing it later didn’t help, as those that I told completely denied the sexual aspect of it and focused instead on the incident as an unsuccessful attempt to steal my purse. This is the daily reality of most women here: a complete lack of options to act on sexual, psychological and physical gender based harassment that occurs.

Certainly, my up for grabs experience by no means represents my overall Ethiopian experience; except for this incident, I’ve found Habeshas nothing but respectful. And an isolated grab is nothing in the face of continued human rights violations in this country.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Socially Conscious Web 2.0

Over the past months here in Ethiopia, I’ve managed to fall deeper into Web 2.0. For those of you not as enamored as I am, Web 2.0 is the latest generation of internet applications that feature user-driven content (like wikipedia, youtube, flickr, myspace…). My first foray into Web 2.0 is what you’re looking at right now: my blog. Since its inception, I’ve managed to join various online networking, photo and social book marking sites as well. And as someone who’s interested in getting Canadians and others involved in international development issues, I tend to look for the social consciousness in Web 2.0. I’ve been delighted to find several ways in which the internet is promoting the causes I feel passionate about.

For starters, I’m part of two online networking sites that are engaged in promoting community activism and global awareness: and These two sites allow you to link with others working for positive change, share your experience, and even find jobs within the field. TakingITGlobal focuses on getting youth around the world to increase their involvement through contributing to newsletters, developing artists’ pages, and joining organizations working on development issues online. I post my blog there as well, and have taken an online course on fundraising that they provided. has two neat components, the first mobilizing its members to increase dialogue on community and global issues through holding forums in their area, and the second allowing its members to build volunteer and speaker profiles to become more active in their causes. Both have allowed me to connect with other individuals who are interested in the same issues that I am.

As well, both the organizations I work for have online fundraising strategies that make use of Web 2.0 applications. For example, CAPAIDS annual Bike A Thon, which raises money to buy bikes for frontline Aids workers in Africa, is facilitated through an individualized donation system. Using a template, I can personalize my own donation page, including photos and my fundraising goals, and then send the link to friends and family. They can then donate online with their credit card, which means that instead of going door to door like I used to in high school, I can reach friends overseas or family back in Victoria.

Today I came across one of my most exciting discoveries so far, on the ubiquitous social networking site, Facebook. Usually reserved for connecting with friends you didn’t even know you knew and posting photos of last night’s debaucheries, Facebook has recently made an application available where you can feature a “cause” on your profile page and invite your friends to support the cause, and make donations if they choose. I looked at some of the most popular, and even though the Causes application has only been available for a few days, there have already been significant contributions. This from a demographic that purportedly thinks more about beer than poverty. CPAR hasn’t joined yet, as all the organizations available so far are based in the US, but I’m excited to feature the organization on my profile when they are listed, and encourage my friends to forget their student loan payments for a moment and support my Cause.

Hopefully this will encourage those of you who are holding out against Web 2.0 to dive right in!

If you do, here’s where to find me:

Site Username Description jongbloed linking active youth katejongbloed linking active individuals Kate Jongbloed the social networking site katejongbloed my photos online katejongbloed online list of my favourite sites Kate in Ethiopia like Facebook for books katejongbloed networking for young professionals

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Islam in Ethiopia

After travelling to Lalibela’s rock hewn churches, visiting monasteries by mule and boat, and speaking frequently about Ethiopian Orthodox saints, I thought it was probably a good idea to check out Ethiopia’s other major religion: Islam. I work with Ahmed, a practicing Muslim, and a former employee at the Ethiopian Islamic Council, so I figured he’d be my in. I’ve spent the past nine months trying to remember not to shake his hand! We arranged an appointment on Friday afternoon, before prayers, so that I could visit the Grand Mosque in the heart of Addis’s biggest market (less than a block away from an equally large Orthodox church). Before I left to meet him, I practiced putting on my hijab with the help of another coworker, Saade. As I walked around my office with it on, my coworkers began to call me Amina!

I was early for our appointment, and for the first time in Addis, I felt thoroughly out of place as I waited in front of the men’s gate at the Mosque. Even the little Amharic I’ve gained didn’t apply: the beggars I encountered all wore prayer caps, and the only way I know to fend them off is by saying, “God will provide.” Except that in this case, I would have been talking about the wrong God. I kept on waiting for someone to say, “You don’t belong here,” but of course they didn’t.

When Ahmed arrived, we met the administrator of the Mosque, and he showed us around the women’s part, which made Ahmed very uncomfortable. As we walked around, he commented on my long skirt, saying that I looked like a true Muslim. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the top part of my dress, hidden by a sweater, would have made him change his mind!

At ten minutes before seven we prepared for prayer. I left Ahmed half way, as he went to the men’s part and I headed back towards the woman’s part. As I walked up the stairs, wondering how this was all going to work, two young women in full chador beckoned me over. Placing me between them in our straight prayer line, three rows back from the front, they signaled to me that I should follow their example when the prayer started. And so, we bent forward, kneeled, put our heads to the floor, stood up, crossed our arms, and held out our index fingers in symbol of Allah. When we were finished, the girls asked me my name. When I replied, “Kate,” they said, “No, your Islamic name.” Amina.

I stayed Amina, under my headscarf, all the way home.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Northern Ethiopia

Last Thursday I found myself in a sunny restaurant, having a delightful breakfast of marmalade, toast and boiled eggs with my mother. What made it less delightful was that we were supposed to be on the plane for our four-day trip to Bahir Dar and Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia. We’d arrived at the airport at 5:30am to find that our e-tickets didn’t appear on the computer, but after much haggling and talking to several people, we had boarding tickets in our hands and were rushing towards our gate. Once safely in the plane, a man from the airline came in and asked if any of us were headed to Bahir Dar. Apparently, they’d decided just then to change the route, and make three other stops before arriving in Bahir Dar. Our arrival time would be four hours later than planned. Luckily, there was another plane, leaving twenty minutes later, for our destination. We tumbled back onto the tarmac and into the waiting area. Then the announcement came that our new flight was delayed. We had a three-hour wait ahead of us, and no duty free shops. Three and a half ours later, we were still waiting; we didn’t end up taking off until about one o’clock (forty minutes later than we would have arrived in Bahir Dar if we’d stuck with the first plane!). However, after a rocky 35-minute flight, we finally arrived in Bahir Dar. Upon hearing our story, a couple of the guys we met in the airport explained Ethiopian Airlines’ local name: Inshallah Airlines (“If God wills it” Airlines).

We spent two days in Bahir Dar, staying with a friend of ours (a fellow Canadian), and visited ancient monasteries on Lake Tana, and the Blue Nile Falls (or what’s left of them after a hydrological project was constructed up stream). As well, we had a chance to visit a local NGO who’s just starting to embark on an HIV/AIDS program- Bahir Dar has the highest prevalence rate in the country at 23 percent. It was a nice change to eat fresh fish from the lake, and to be near water after land locked Addis!

Our next stop was Lalibela, and luckily God must have willed it, because we arrived on time. We had a serendipitous meeting with two Canadians (one my mum’s age and one mine) in the airport bathroom, and ended up spending our two days there with them. With the help from our guide, Abush, we visited the ancient rock-hewn churches in the town, trekked with mules up a mountain to visit another, and drove some distance away to see a monastery built into a giant cave. The latter included bodies of over 5000 pilgrims who’d chosen to be buried there.

Exhausted and filled with Ethiopian mythology and Orthodox culture, we left on Tuesday to return to Addis and the‘real world’. We didn’t make it to Axum or Gonder to complete our historical tour, but I guess that will have to be saved for the next trip to this incredible country!

For me, the trip provided a chance to practice my Amharic, share my small knowledge of Ethiopia with people who were fresh off the boat, and meet some tremendous people. I think it solidified the experience I’ve had here, making me aware of the skills I’ve learnt on placement, and my personal progress.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Tekla Haymanot

I’ve talked before in this blog about Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, and I become steadily more interested in it as I realize its pervasiveness in society here. As usual, religion is a crucial part of the history and the present of this country.

There are several saints revered in Orthodox Christianity here, some indigenous, and others that are specifically Ethiopian. I’ve mentioned before how each church is named after one, and each of the days of the month is attributed to a specific saint. One can ask a Christian Ethiopian, “Who is your saint?” and they will answer immediately. When significant events happen here, like the birth of a child or some sort of near-death experience, people pick the saint of that particular day as their saint, and will pay special attention to religious duties on that saint’s day. Often, they’ll light candles, or attend service on that day each month, and will go to the church with that saint’s namesake.

My Ethiopian saint is Tekla Haymanot. A couple of months ago, I was in a car accident with two friends on the way home from Debre Sina where an intern friend was sick with typhoid fever. At a bend in the road, the driver lost control of the car because of problems with the steering and a pothole. We flew down the hill beside the road, narrowly missing trees and rocks, and as we swerved to avoid a farmer’s field and barbed wire fence, the momentum threw me through the closed window. I landed, a bit dazed, on the ground as the car continued for a few meters before stopping. The two friends left in the car looked into the back seat to see if I was okay, and were terrified when they didn’t see me sitting there. As they got out of the car, I stood up, unharmed except for what would become a huge bruise on my thigh and a couple of scratched elbows. No one else was hurt. On our way off the road, we could have hit a tree, crumpling the front of the car, or hit a rock and flipped over, either of which would have caused serious damage to us in the car. But we didn’t.

When we drove back into Addis, I visited with the Ethiopian family living behind our house, and asked them what saint’s day it was that day. We lit a candle for Tekla Haymanot, and he’s been my saint ever since.

The story of Tekla Haymanot says that he showed a special ability in performing miracles during childhood, and went on, later in life, to pray without interval for twenty years. He spent the whole prayer standing, and at one point, his right leg rotted and fell off. He continued for seven more years standing only on his left. You can find the rotten leg in a church in Debre Libanos. It comes out once a year, and those that revere him are permitted to drink the water in which the leg is washed.

Currently reading: The Chains of Heaven by Philip Marsden, the true story of his journey hundreds of kilometers on foot between Lalibela and Axsum, two of Ethiopia’s most holy places. The story of Tekla Haymanot above was taken from the book, and from accounts of Ethiopian friends. The painting of Tekla Haymanot was done by my fabulous artist friend, Geta Mekonnen.

Mum's Arrival

My Mum is arriving in Addis bright and early tomorrow morning. This will be her first time in Africa, though she did work as a nurse in Iran before the revolution when she had just graduated. I’m excited to show someone around this place that’s been my home for ages. I’m excited that someone from my previous Canada life will understand what I’ve seen and experienced, if only just the surface of it. I’m excited to shock her with Addis’s poverty-riches, traditional-modern dichotomies. And I’m excited that having new eyes around will likely make me see things I haven’t seen before.

We plan to visit the Christian cultural areas in the North of the country. We’ll take a tour. I’ll probably feel uncomfortably like a tourist, a feeling I’ve managed to escape in the past few months. But, the underground churches must be seen!

My Mum plans to volunteer while she’s here- travel with a purpose. She’s linked with an NGO which sends groups and individuals overseas. She will “investigate the prospects of volunteering for health professionals and others interested in health issues”. I’m excited to see what she comes up with! So, we’ll visit the Alert Leprosy Hospital, HAPCSO and Mekdim self-help HIV/AIDS groups, CPAR’s rural projects, the Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association, and the Hope Enterprises Soup Kitchen.

My roommate and I are attempting to pull things together so she doesn’t experience the squalor of our house in recent months. In a stand off with our landlord over some items that went missing (cameras, ipods), we have withheld a portion of our rent. Thus, when the hot water heater broke and the propane for the stove ran out, we weren’t really in a position to argue for repairs. For a month or so we found ourselves eating out or at friends’ houses, and bringing our bathing supplies wherever we went in case the opportunity arose for a shower. Anyway, half of the missing items have been returned, we have paid a chunk of the withheld rent, and the crucial fixture in the water tank has been replaced. I’ll go in search of propane tonight, with the help of one of the young boys that lives at the back of our house, Salomon.

Welcome to Addis, Mum!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reflection after 8 months

Eight months ago, I could never imagine being at this point: two months to go here in Ethiopia. I like to think that I’ve had a unique experience, unlike anyone else, but I’m afraid that I’ve experienced the generic Intern emotions and revelations. And then some, perhaps.

Usually, when sent overseas, a young intern either falls in love with the world of a development worker in the field, or gets completely disenchanted with the process and outcomes of development. I find myself in the middle of these two perceptions. I still thoroughly believe in development- its positive impact on local communities and its importance in ending poverty. But I see my place in it more clearly than when I left. The most rewarding moments of my placement have been when I collect case studies of CPAR’s beneficiaries, when I write about my observations here on my blog, and when I prepare articles for the CPAR website and newsletters. Perhaps my role in development in the future will be in promotions and communications, rather than in programming and implementation. In my ideal world, I’ll spend the next years of my life working to get more Canadians (and others) interested in the issues I’ve become familiar with here, and helping youth to become more involved in programs like the one I’ve done.

I’m afraid of going back to North America. I feel like as soon as I get off the plane I’ll be faced with someone who will complain about their difficult life (a job they don’t really like, credit card debt, general Western frustrations) and I will react- “You have nothing to complain about, compared to my homeless neighbours, my colleagues with HIV/AIDS, and terrible public transit!”. I feel like I’ll walk into a shopping mall, shiny and orderly, and get overwhelmed by just how much we have in Canada, compared to the people that live in corrugated iron boxes on stilts, that hold all their worldly possessions, just outside my house. It’s not that I’m trying to belittle the issues and stresses in Canada- everything is relative, certainly. It will be a shock, though, to arrive in a country where poverty is not the norm. Where I’ll be able to walk all day without a single person asking for money, or bread. Where no one will say “Hello Foreigner” when I walk down the street. Where I’ll be completely normal again, and not different from anyone else.

And I dread the utterly unanswerable question, “How was Africa?”

Making Money: boys sell fuz ball games on the side of the road for 10birr cents

Woman from the Gumuz ethinic group carrying firewood to sell in the local market

School children stop for a drink at a water point developed by CPAR

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Expatriates

Some of the more “hardcore” interns and development workers here in Addis make a point of rejecting the Expat community in favour of “making friends with the locals”. Their point is, of course, “if I wanted to spend time with Canadians, I would have just stayed in Canada”.

I, however, am not quite so strict in my associations. I have many friends falling into either category, the expat or the local.

But I want to focus, for a minute, about the expats here in Addis, particularly the ones about my own age. By going through the process of finding and securing an internship or overseas job, these youth seem to have been pre-selected for terrific friends. It is thrilling to be surrounded by a group of people who have traveled all over the world, have a keen interest in international issues, and, most exceptionally, are committed to global change. How often can you say that the majority of people that you know are concerned with environmental, social and political problems rampant throughout the world, and are actually taking steps to address these issues with all their heart?

With that, I raise my glass of tej (Ethiopian honey wine) to all the locals and the expats around the world whose chosen task in life is to improve the status quo. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Human Traffic 2: Ethiopia's Baby Trade

The going rate for a baby in Ethiopia is $10,000USD, through legal channels. I’m not sure what a black market baby will run you. It’s sometimes hard for me to wrap my head around a baby with a price tag.

Pioneered by Angelina, this new wave of international adoption is in your face. Madonna is plastered all over CNN with her problems trying to adopt a Malawian baby. Spoof news magazine The Onion features a story with the headline “Angelina Jolie Coming for Your Baby” and the Jolie-Pitt family is steadily increasing its international brood. Here in Addis Ababa, a new flock of mostly American adopters takes over the Hilton and Sheraton hotels every 6 months, staying a week before exporting their new children back to the West.

Perhaps I sound overly harsh, and as an adoptee myself, I can’t be completely critical of the adoption industry. Certainly, there’s a crisis of orphans here in Africa, with the scourge of Aids leaving thousands of parentless children in terrible conditions with impoverished societies unable to care for them. And the population growth in many of these countries is causing huge developmental problems, such as environmental degradation, food insecurity and dilution of wealth, whereas in the West we need immigration to maintain our population levels. As well, adoption within the West is difficult for families who can’t have children of their own because of massive waiting lists and restrictive bureaucracy.

But it’s important to think about the overall impact of massive adoption from developing countries from a wider perspective. Take, for example, Ethiopia. One of the five poorest nations in the world, Ethiopia faces brain drain of its wealthy and educated, creating hubs of diaspora in places like Washington, D.C. or Edmonton, and undermining the country’s potential for growth. I see mass adoptions to the West in a similar light. By exporting a chunk of the future generation of Ethiopians, we are only addressing the symptoms of the problem and perhaps mining the youth that will carry Ethiopia out of poverty. I also question why the children have to be taken away to the West, when it is entirely possible to successfully sponsor a child (and its community) without taking it away from its society and culture.

I’m not advocating an end to international adoption, because it serves the urgent purpose of providing better lives for children that would otherwise have no opportunity, or worse, would simply rot in orphanages and contribute to the increasing incidence of HIV infection. I’m saying lets look at the long term and try to solve the problems that supply the babies put up for adoption. Lets invest in strategies to eradicate poverty and reduce the prevalence of orphans.

When I look at what $10,000 can do when put to good use here, I am amazed. CPAR would build a rainwater harvesting tank for a school in Ethiopia’s Dibate region that faces chronic water shortages. The direct impact of this investment would address the issue of school absences due to water-related illness and time spent collecting water, mostly by girls. By supporting health and education in this way, CPAR would be building the capacity of the community to lead more productive lives, reducing the factors that lead to HIV/AIDS and orphanhood. $10,000 could build five water tanks in five different communities, impacting approximately 1000 students directly, and many others indirectly.

I might adopt a child from Africa or Asia when I’m ready to be a mother. But if I do, I’ll make sure that I simultaneously contribute to addressing the development issues facing the country in the hopes that in the future, the country will be able to take care of its own young. And I’ll ensure that the child I’m adopting doesn’t have any other option, that its family hasn’t seen an opportunity in the demand for babies and sold its baby into adoption to make ends meet.

Until then, I will still get a little edgy when the doorman at the Hilton kindly leans over and asks me, “Where is your Ethiopian baby?”

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Human Traffic: Ethiopia's Sex Trade

Something that constantly throws me off guard here in Ethiopia is the sex trade. I have been to Cuba where there is constant pressure to contract a “friend for a day”, or on Jarvis Street near College where women of the night walk around in shoes that defy gravity. But it’s nothing like here. The Ethiopian sex trade has found itself into every nook and cranny of society, and it’s basically accepted (maybe not the individual sex trade workers, but the whole concept of sex trade). And unlike Thailand, it’s not for foreigners and UN employees, but for everyone to partake in…even the poorest of the poor.

There is no need for an Addis red light district- one can find prostitutes in clusters on virtually every corner of the city, and of course in the bars. The thing that’s most amazing is the layers of the trade: transactional sex, commercial sex, a job in a local alcohol shop cum brothel, a financially supportive week-long ‘boyfriend’…there are so many ways the trade manifests itself.

Both CPAR and CAPAIDS work against the sex trade, the first in rural communities and the latter in Addis itself, and both of them focus on the implications of the sex trade on HIV/AIDS. This weekend I visited the commercial sex worker income generation activities of CAPAIDS partner, HAPCSO. The women I met come from rural areas seeking work, don’t find it, and then end up working as prostitutes in local alcohol shops. If they have sex without a condom, they make 10birr per trick (about $1!) and with a condom, only about 1birr. HAPCSO has given them training in sewing, leather work, and construction vehicle driving. Now these women are able to support themselves in getting out of the sex trade, and advocate on HIV/AIDS to those that still remain in the brothels. Often, the organization faces resistance as so many community leaders benefit from continued prostitution, but HAPCSO has been lucky to find a Kebele (city neighbourhood) with a supportive leadership and has begun projects there. The next step is to expand projects to reach more of the massive number of sex workers living in Addis.

Third World sex trade is featured in activism, literature and development academics, but I never expected it to find its way into my work, my neigbourhood or my friend group.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In the Public Eye

One of the big differences I’ve found between the developing and developed world are public versus private acts. One could say that definitions of what should be private, or indoors, are slightly more liberal here. For example, in Ethiopia, funerals take place in the middle of the street, with a tent stretching from kerb to kerb. Peeing, sleeping and praying are also things that it is completely acceptable to do in the public eye, most often on the side of busy roads. On the other hand though, I have yet to see someone eating or reading while on public transit, and upon questioning local friends, these acts are apparently not suitable for Ethiopians. My public-private logic gets confused: it’s not okay to eat in public, but it is okay to urinate?

My favourite open-air moments in Addis are by far the times when industry can’t afford a factory, and sets up shop on a street corner. The other day I stumbled (literally) upon a tin factory in between shoe shine boys. Located on a slope, the assembly line of tin funnels still managed to function at a break-neck pace. The youngest hammered tin scrap straight, dodging pedestrians by moving to the edge of the sidewalk and facing unimaginable risks from opening car doors. After finishing a sheet, the boy would cut out circles of tin, ready to be put together by three men with soldering guns held between their toes. The marvel of the scene was how these men managed to produce funnel after funnel without distraction or suffering from burns, despite the busy street where their outdoor factory was located. They did have time to notice there was a foreigner walking by, though, and sent out the normal grins and catcalls, without breaking pace for a second.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Censorship and Kidnapping

For the first time in months, I was able to log onto my Blog today. I’ve been able to post stories and photos, but never get a look at what I’m posting. I’m not sure what the un-censoring of blogspot means, but it must be a good thing! A lot of times I don’t understand why some things are censored and others aren’t. The Ethiopian government tends to have a problem if they are being “misrepresented” in the press, but are less concerned with the information received by Ethiopians, as far as I can tell. So it’s strange that they would make blogspot unavailable, which hosts blogs of expats and locals that talk about daily life in the Cradle of Humanity, yet I can still go a press search on Ethiopia and learn about the devastating affects of cholera that still haven’t been formally recognized by those in charge here.

Another Ethiopian moment in the news is the recent kidnappings of the British ‘tourists’ in Afar region. It’s strange, because in Addis where the expat community is so small and tight knit, there is only one degree of separation between me and the people that are missing, yet the CNN coverage (the only channel I get) seems so removed. Some of my friends work for the British embassy and were called from Friday night festivities the day that the group went missing to help with the search and publicity. My roommate recognized the cars shown on CNN, with bullet holes, as being of a good friend of hers. Another acquaintance was supposed to go with the group, but decided not to. Everyone in this NGO/Embassy bubble in Addis seems not to be able to get the issue off their minds, which is expected when faced with kidnapping in a country you feel safe in! There are daily prayers at a local church, and yesterday at a production of the Vagina Monologues, the group was mentioned and wished safe return.

Something that has happened over and over since I got here is a feeling of strangeness to be in the middle of things, of something. And I see whatever it is represented on TV or the newspaper, and it feels like they are talking about something else entirely.

For more information:

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Day in the the Cradle of Humanity

It’s Tuesday morning. My cell phone alarm starts off at 7am, blaring every ten minutes as I keep hitting snooze. The electronic voice says, “It’s now 7:30, it’s time to wake up.” As it gets closer to 8am, I imagine greater urgency in the recorded voice and wonder groggily if it’s real or imagined. After a visit to our roach-infested bathroom, I throw on some clothes and lock my closet door to protect what’s left of my electronics. Plunking down a plate of food for Colin, our three month old rescued mongrel, I dash for the compound gates and hope there’s an almost full minibus waiting to take me to the minibus park where I transfer. Before I can make it safely inside the public taxi, though, I must greet the ladies in the store next to our house, respond in the negative to shouts of “Mister, shine shoes!” and “Taxi?” and dodge the beggars that have a tendency to get under foot.

Sometimes I might have to squeeze into the taxi’s back seat- made for three, but in Ethiopia fits four- but usually I get one to myself and whip out my book. At the Dildi minibus station (under Addis’s Ring Road circumnavigating the city), about five minutes later, I tumble out and dodge my way through shouts depicting different destinations in the city. Sometimes, I have an urge to get on one going in the wrong direction, just to see where it takes me. But, instead, I walk to the right place in the bustling station, and keep my ears out for someone yelling, “Gerji, Gerji, Gerji,” usually a small boy of about 9 or 10, hard at work. I used to buy a bambolino (donut) from the woman on the kerb, until my local friend explained that it was quite below my status to do such a thing. Now, I get my donuts from the shop outside the office, which is status appropriate, apparently.

On a lucky day I get straight to the office from the minibus station. Other times, the bus is empty except for me, and the driver and conductor decide to kick me out and turn around in an effort to maximize revenue. I’ve learned that you’ve got to get the conductor to usher you onto another bus, and make some agreement, otherwise you have to pay another fare. I get off at the bakery, stop for donuts, turn the corner and enter the CPAR compound. My next task is to fumble through greetings with other staff, hoping that in my poor Amharic, I haven’t accidentally called the mechanic a woman, or the gender officer a man, or worst of all, if I’ve ignored someone. Entering my office, I know whether it’s a Monday or Wednesday by the fact that my office mate’s chair is empty. On these days she attends class at Addis Ababa University for her Master’s Degree.

I switch my computer on and greedily check my emails, noting down the to-dos they hold and saving the ones from the boyfriend for last. I tackle my to-do list head on, which can include anything from editing a report, internet research on a potential donor, or writing a blog update, proposal, or something for the website. I might phone the CAPAIDS partners to make an appointment for later on in the week, or read a document as part of my thesis research. At 10am, my phone rings once on the internal line, followed quickly by a similar call on my office mate’s phone: the signal for tea time. Zergi, Abonesh, Tiringo, Haimanot and I, and occasionally Biruk and Bantirgu, meet in the lobby for tea and more bambolino. Before the break ends, I quickly pour another cup of tea for myself and escape to my office with it. Atsede, the tea lady with the giant smile, will come and collect it from me later and pretend that she’s mad at me for giving her more work to do.

Focused on the to-do list again, I work until the 12:30 lunch call. As I wash my hands in the bathroom behind the office, I hope for dishes with cabbage and kale, and not with bones or sheep’s stomach. I take my plate, choose between injera and a fork, and then take my place in the canteen. My North American culture means that I’m finished in half the time of my coworkers, and I get teased for that and the fact that I eat like a child- a product of not a lot of injera experience. Before 1:30 strikes, I escape to the back to sit in the sun with a book for a few minutes, before the jeers of the construction workers next door send me back into my office.

In the afternoon, I work out the logistics of the next day, booking a car and driver if I have a meeting. I’ll spend the last two hours trawling the ‘net for funding opportunities, creating a database of donors to approach. Don’t tell, but I sneak 15 minutes to chat with people back home as they begin to wake up, just as my workday ends.

At 5pm there’s a scramble to get out of the office to catch, “The Service,” a van provided by CPAR that drops all the staff close to their homes in the afternoon because of the prohibitive cost and time of public transportation here. The Service is one of my favourite times of the day, with everyone squished in the back, laughing and joking. I’m one of the first to be dropped off, just in front of the huge Medhane Alem Church I’ve shown in photos. Arriving at my house, I do the morning ritual in reverse- beggars/taxi shoe shine/ladies in the shop- often I’m invited into the tiny store to drink traditional buna (coffee) with the women. The sweet, strong, almost syrupy liquid reminds me every time I drink it that I’m certainly not in Canada anymore. Despite our language barrier, the group of us still manages to communicate, joke and laugh. After relaxing for a while, someone will announce dinner plans, either by arriving or calling, and we’re off into Addis again, out of the tranquility of life behind a compound door. The only requirement: anything but injera. After dinner, the evening’s entertainment might hold a documentary screening, pool, drinks, a show or live music, or episodes of 24. At about 11 or 12 I crawl into bed, willing myself to fall asleep before the loud-speaker prayers start at the church next door.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The End of Poverty?

I recently read Jeffery Sachs’ The End of Poverty. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was excited to pick up at development best-seller- not a common combination! While I usually try to avoid non-fiction when I’m not at school or working, and tend to have a fiction addiction, I think TEOP will find its way onto my 2007 top ten list.

The book does a great job of summarizing most of my four year international development degree, from discussions of absolute versus relative poverty, to the best way to address the issues of environment, health, education and livelihoods in the developing world. And Sachs does it in a way that makes development concepts accessible: he looks at development as a ladder, and those facing extreme poverty have not been able to get their feet on even the first rung. Thus, the requirements of aid can be seen as inputs to help that group reach the bottom of the ladder and begin to work their way up. He also brings down the issues to a single number: $75billion dollars a year until 2025, at which point he believes that all human kind could be on the development ladder and extreme poverty would be eliminated. Hence, the End of Poverty!

Situated, as he is, in the heart of American development politics and economics, Sachs was also able to do a good job of explaining the successes and deficiencies of his country’s aid contributions. Like the discussion in the previous post, this has helped to give me a more detailed view of America’s role in the development world, which I find really interesting. He called on a number of American thinkers and activists to give power to his arguments for the potential of the end of extreme poverty. Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr, Sach’s says “The bank of international justice is not bankrupt,” and explains how people like King, Gandhi, and Mandela “transformed the impossible into the inevitable.” While many people think ending poverty is impossible, and that we in the West can't afford it, Sachs is busy making us realize that we can, and we should.

His point is obviously more and better action, which is heralded over and over again by poverty activists like Bono, Angelina Jolie or Bob Geldof. But the good thing about Sachs is that he manages to mainstream his ideas about aid and development, and introduce them in more conservative economic circles than would usually listen to the rockstar rolemodels. In his final "to do list", Sachs calls everyone to “make a personal commitment,” something I believe in very strongly. He ends the book with this quote:

Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills- against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. -- Robert Kennedy

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"I am Canadian" from an international development perspective

In a Canadian politics class in my first year of university, my professor did a survey on the first day: “What makes us Canadian?” Of all the varied answers, the one most consistent was, “we are not Americans.” This attitude is practically spoon fed to us at birth, and leads to a slight tendency to over-assert our Canadian-ness when we’re overseas. It is a direct product of our view of Canada as a soft power, working steadily and enthusiastically towards world peace and the end of poverty. Needless to say, I was taken aback when I began to be confronted with attitudes to Canada and America that surprised me.

Based on my academic understanding of aid, where sustainability is key and more does not necessarily mean better, I felt that Canada as a donor country would be in such a poor country’s good books, and America would be chastised for food aid: dumping agricultural products in developing countries and thereby undermining markets. Yet, when I arrived and started getting my NGO bearings, I found that this wasn’t the case. Instead, Canada’s institutional inconsistencies (particularly, withdrawal of bilateral aid, but as yet no return to NGO funding) were trumped by America’s long-lasting bilateral commitment to the country, even if the aid itself wasn’t the best kind. Morally as well, America comes up number one here, as its government continues stand up against gay marriage where ours doesn’t.

Yet, within the ex-pat community, this pro-American attitude is completely reversed. Out socially in Addis, I’m shocked at the number of times my American roommate is asked to claim responsibility for all his country’s missteps. He has been faced with unsolicited shouting, finger pointing, and dirty looks as he is questioned, “Why don’t you get your troops out of Iraq,” as if a withdrawal is within his power as an individual. One Canadian even went so far as to tell him that she hated him, simply because of his nationality.

By realizing that my perception of Canada as the “ideal developer” is certainly skewed, and coming face to face with my tendency to scapegoat America for the lack of global momentum towards development, perhaps I will be able to be more constructive in finding development solutions as a North American.

Monday, February 05, 2007

To Have a Voice, To Have a Choice

It's currently International Development Week 2007. Sponsored by CIDA, universities and NGOs, there are many events going on around Canada. This year's topic is Gender and Equity, focusing on "To have a Voice, To have a Choice."

Here are some links to events going on around the country. I know I should have gotten them up earlier, but I hope that you get the chance to attend at least one throughout the week.

CPAR Canada

Ontario British Columbia Nova Scotia

I took this picture in Dibate district, located in one of the most underserved regions of Ethiopia, where CPAR has one of its program areas. This girl is the daughter of one of CPAR's beneficiaries who participates in a income generating scheme: CPAR has helped to establish a beekeeping business for this family so they can break away from subsitance and afford school and medical fees. For me, this photo epitomizes the issues of poverty, and specifically gender, here in Ethiopia. Because her family is so large- 12 brothers and sisters, including some orphans taken in- she is needed at the house to help her mother. Even at such a young age, she's in charge of her two younger brothers, which means that it is unlikely that she'll ever attend school. Yet despite the extreme poverty that she inhabits, this young girl is staring me in the face with strength and confidence.

I think about this girl when I think about the topic of this year's International Development Week. I wish she had a Voice, and had a Choice.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

World Health Day Challenge 2007

In honour of World Health Day, April 7th, 2007, CPAR is holding its 2nd Annual World Health Day Challenge . CPAR is extending the challenge to physicians and health care professionals all across Canada to donate part or an entire day's worth of their income to CPAR in support of important health and development projects in vulnerable rural African communities.

Last year, over 60 physicians and health care professionals from across Canada raised over $30,000 and demonstrated their commitment to health and development by taking the first ever World Health Day Challenge. I sincerely hope that you will participate this year and help make this year's event even bigger and better!

This year we are asking participants to register online. We have created a special website for the World Health Day Challenge which will allow you to easily recruit colleagues to join your efforts and even to ask friends and family to support the cause by sponsoring your participation. If you prefer to remain anonymous you can do that too by opting out of these options.
To register please CLICK HERE

If you have any questions about this campaign or about CPAR's work in building healthy communities in Africa, please do not hesitate to contact

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ethiopia in the Press

A week ago, CNN and BBC were plastered with news of escalating conflict in the Horn of Africa, with Ethiopia’s troops still in Somalia and the United States’ attempts to catch terrorists with bombs. But what have you heard about the county I currently call my home this week? Nothing. Yet, this week, a story just as news worthy has stormed the city of Addis Ababa: the African Union Summit. All weekend, roads have been closed off and police line the streets to ensure safe arrival to the likes of Ban Ki Moon (the new UN Secretary General), African presidents such as Bashir or Mugabe, and, perhaps with slightly less security, the continent’s policy makers.

I crave a mainstream media source that will give the same type of coverage and attention to this meeting as they have to the World Economic Forum in Davos this past week. I know it’s been said before- Africa is sidelined and pigeon holed in the media, where only stories of conflict and disaster grab the global spotlight- but it wasn’t until I arrived here that I realized just how much action is happening on the ground. I feel that without media attention, the outcomes of this type of meeting will not be supported to successful action. Put the spotlight on Africa, not just for more aid and new initiatives run by Western donors, but for support of sophisticated indigenous action that is already taking place.

CPAR is involved in this type of action on a smaller scale, working within NGO groups to increase its coverage, scale up its projects, and provide more integrated interventions. At the moment, it’s working with CANGO (a consortium of Canadian NGOs) to multiply its work around Dibate and Bullen in one of Ethiopia’s most developmentally isolated regions, contributing its experience and expertise to a project that, as a small NGO, CPAR wouldn’t have the capacity to implement on its own.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Timket Celebrations in Addis Ababa

One of the biggest celebrations of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is Timket, or Epiphany. This weekend, the streets were full of Ethiopian Christians following the march of Ark of the Covenant replicas around Addis Ababa.

Timket crowds following the Ark of the Covenant

Three women in Ethiopian traditional clothes

A little Ethiopian dressed in traditional clothes

Ethiopian Orthodox Clergy and the Ark of the Covenant

Timket Ceremony at Medhane Alem Church

Thursday, January 11, 2007

African Homecoming

It is with many apologies for a prolonged blog absence that I come back online after my East African vacation. Over the past three weeks, I've travelled through Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, making it as far as Zanzibar off the East coast of the continent. Relaxed and with visa, I am back at my desk in the CPAR office in Addis Ababa.

While my trip was a vacation, it got me thinking a lot about Ethiopia's unique development situation in the continent. Never having been colonized, the differences between Addis and somewhere like cosmopolitain Nairobi are immediately apparent. Everything from the prices, the infrastructure, and the goods available had me feeling like I was in a North American suburb. Looking farther, past the material goods and shiny billboards, even the representations of poverty and the attitudes towards foreigners were different in all three countries as compared with Ethiopia. These differences made me realize just how self-directed the action within this country is, with society and government making things up as they go along, rather than taking an example from other nations. Now that I've realized this, I'll try to think about it more, looking for the ways in which Ethiopians are innovating their own futures, both on an individual and societal level.

As the plane touched down at the airport in Addis, I found myself bouncing in my seat, happy to be home.