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.


zim said...

mmmm. donuts.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

great article. I would love to follow you on twitter.