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: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6433935.stm

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Day in the Life...in 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.