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!