Saturday, February 28, 2009

Addis Merkato

So this afternoon I took a trip with a couple friends (and a local guide) to the Addis Merkato, the biggest outdoor market in Africa.

Below are some pictures.

The market was a great cross-section of Ethiopian life, culture, and commerce. According to Lonely Planet, you can buy everything from coffee to Kalishnikovs there, although we saw none of the latter. Even still, it was a memorable experience. I realized that the Bole region of town (where our hotel is) is pretty posh compared to the rest of the city - but even still, Addis is pretty booming.

Tomorrow morning I will be flying north to Mekele, the capital of Tigray province. From there, over the next few days we will have meetings in Mekele, and then go to the village of Adi Ha for 2 days. For me, personally and professionally, this will be the highlight of the entire trip.

Not sure if I will be as connected in Tigray as I have been here the past few days, but if not, I'll be sure to update you on March 8th, when I return to Addis.


My colleague Chris and I had to help our driver push our cab into the parking space.

The market was crowded today - Saturday is the biggest market day of the week.

Many different types of people (and donkeys) come to the market.

The spice market. This type is used in traditional coffee ceremonies.

Different types of beans.

Potatoes, onions, and garlic.

A guy carrying a lot of mattresses.

These girls sold me a pack of gum, and then followed me around for the next hour, smiling and waving. They were pretty cute, so I overpaid.

Our lunch was Pepsi and cake. Not too traditional, but still good.

Somewhat scary mannequins.

Ancient bibles, church scrolls, and prayer beads for sale. Probably illegal. Or at least unethical. (Wouldn't a museum like to have them?)

Silver jewelry and old coins.

An interior part of the market.

Heading home - there were still a lot of people out.

Some goats.

Dinner last night, and the super market

So in my previous post, I wrote about our traditional Ethiopian dinner we shared last night. Here are some pictures - which are super small due to bandwidth reasons, but you might get the idea. On the way home from dinner we stopped in a small supermarket close to our hotel. Markets like this I think are a window to the inner workings of a place.

Today I hope to wonder around town a little bit (with my big camera) and prepare for the flight to Tigray and the week of meetings in Mekele and the village, Adi Ha. More stories and pictures soon.

p.s. it was SO nice to sleep in this morning!


Sunset after our last meeting last night... the moon and stars were so beautiful.

The musicians at dinner.

The lighting inside the yurt-restaurant were traditional clay lamps hung from the ceiling.

Our candlelit table.

The staff gathered around a table in the corner, chatting.

Our food... there's a small glass in the corner for scale.

"Dat Super Market"

Some soap.

Some noodles.

Some coke.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Some photos so far

Below are some pictures I've taken over the past 24 hours (it seems like about 3 days! since I landed last night)... I had a 13 hour day today, 5 long meetings, 3 coffees, some amazing food, and a lot of progress. Marjorie called it an unqualified success - but I wish I would have had a day to de-jetlag and get some thoughts together before going straight into full-out miked presentations to a room full of 30 Ethiopian businessmen and women in suits, including the CEO and the General Manager of one of the largest insurance companies in the country. But on the other hand, we probably got more done today than in my entire trip to Malawi last summer. The coming days should calm down for a bit, but we just scratched the surface today of the potential partnerships that will be formed by the time I'm on a plane back home. It's definitely exciting, but my brain needs some sleep to process it all.
Addis is without a doubt one of the most impressive cities I've seen in a developing country - clean-ish, friendly, safe, and beautiful. I can see how some people can get addicted to it. The coffee equipment is way advanced (and although I don't drink coffee, I think its impolite to refuse something when someone offers), there's a great diversity of people, weather is pretty nice (although a few times today i was burning up in my wool suit) and a lot of times (this was the most unexpectedly exciting thing so far) when you walk into a restaurant, they have insense burning in the corner - full out burning logs in a small open brass pot and smoke that reminds me of the middle ages. And Marjorie says this is nothing compared to Tigray. Can't wait.
Tonight for dinner we went to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant in a large dimly lit yurt with candles and insense (of course) and grass on the floor and beautifully carved low wooden stools and tables (and staff in traditional dress, and a live Ethiopian band - a mix between middle eastern and chinese and african music - AND two little Ethiopian girls dancing by themselves on the dance floor). As you can guess, it was a lot of fun. Like I told my friend at dinner, my camera can record video, but it can't record smell too...


Flying KLM was pretty nice. Good movie selection, really good food, and I had a lot of room for most of both flights. And, Dutch people are funny.

Amsterdam was fun too. They sell wooden shoes in the airport.

And fresh tulips. Very stereotypical.

We flew over the Sahara Desert from Amsterdam to our fuel stop in Khartoum, Sudan.

Sand dunes in the Sahara over Egypt.

Crossing the Nile.

Landing in Khartoum. One of the driest cities I have ever seen - everything is the color of the desert.

A small patch of irrigation where the White Nile and Blue Nile join.

My Ethiopian immigration card.

Landing in Addis Ababa.

Our taxi from the airport to the hotel.

Check-in notice at the hotel.

We were starving.

My first Ethiopian food.

Ready for meetings in my new suit!

The Oxfam office.

Mother and child on our way to a meeting.

Breakfast (with incense in the background)

Insurance company CEO.

Roundtable meeting with insurance company branch managers.

Ethiopian beer at our lunch meeting.

Busy Addis street and Coke sign.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Hey everyone, just a quick note to say I made it about 3 hours ago to Addis, got my visa, made it through customs, picked up my bag, changed money, found the driver that was supposed to pick us up, got a ride to the hotel, and already had a strategy meeting with one of our Oxfam partners over dinner (which I can't wait to show you.... you guys know how I like to take pictures of my food!)  It's 1am here right now, and Marjorie (the Oxfam partner that I'll be traveling with almost exclusively over the next two weeks told me at dinner that the two of us have 3 meetings lined up for tomorrow - the first one at 9am across town, so she's meeting me at 7:30.  Jetlag, shmetlag.  But really, I'm looking forward to getting right down to business, and trying out my new suit! (Thanks Sarah!)
The airport, the roads, the cars, the restaurants, etc are actually all pretty nice.  I'm impressed so far with Ethiopia.  There was even a flat screen plasma tv mounted on the wall of the little restaurant at dinner.  But I have had my first heartbreak already - the road from the airport to the hotel (which is mid-range Africa all the way, stained offwhite bed, blank walls, and flip flops for the bathroom) was lined with people sleeping on the sidewalk, mostly women it looked like.  And also there were 4 or 5 suspiciously well-dressed women leaning by lightposts on our walk to the restaurant.  It's hard knowing that these things exist here every day - even yesterday, last week, and last year - when my thoughts are safely elsewhere and I'm riding laps on my bike around Prospect Park at home.  I'm sure I'll have more similar stories as my visit progresses.
For now, I'm gonna head to bed.  The internet here is old-school dial up - I even heard the modem, waited for the "verifying username and password" message, and connected at 28.8kbps.  So I don't know how soon pictures will come, but I'll try to do that as soon as possible.
Good night for now from Ethiopia.

In Amsterdam

Just landed in Amsterdam an hour or two ago... I smiled as I walked past the kiosks selling fresh tulips in painted wooden shoes. Internet is 3 Euro per 15 min (do the math) so the 3 of us that are traveling together are doing a few super quick mails before we get our next flight - to Ethiopia. I was thinking on the plane that the last time I was in Europe was for my study abroad 8 years ago - in spring of 2001... a lot has changed since then, in the world, and in my own life. There was no Euro then, pre- September 11th, and pre-Emery.

See you in Africa.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To Ethiopia!

Hi everyone... I'm about an hour or two from taking off for the airport, but I wanted to let everyone know that I'm planning on updating the blog as much as possible while I'm gone with pictures and stories from my trip to Ethiopia. So, You'll all be there with me in spirit.

I've gotten a lot of little shocks over the last few days and weeks that remind me of the reality of my situation - that someone growing up in a small town in Kansas would first of all end up living in New York and second of all travel to Ethiopia for work on poverty and development issues. I guess it seems a little unlikely to me, but on the other hand, maybe it's just as likely as anything. Each of us in the end must take what we are given - sometimes I just feel a little (a lot) guilty that I have been given so much.

In the past month since I have written here, my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy - Emery Oliver. I got to meet him when he was just 10 days old, and now I know what they mean on the commercial when they say "a baby changes everything". Emery really changed the lives of our family - but he changed mine in a special way too. When I was holding him for the first time, I had a feeling like I've never had before - that holding this baby, that caring for him was the most right thing I've ever done - that he would give purpose to my life. Now, I'm guessing those of you that have had your own baby, or that have had someone very close to you have a child have felt something like this. But it was new for me, and has really changed the way I think about things, even weeks later, and I'm guessing probably for the rest of my life. So, I'm really looking forward to my next visit with Emery and the rest of my family for his baptism, just 2 days after I return from Ethiopia in March. Check my sister's blog for updates on Emery, if you haven't already.

While I'm in Ethiopia, I'll be working with our development partner Oxfam America to help them explore strategies with local partners on managing drought risk for poor farmers in the region. We'll be meeting with local banks, government officials, local NGO's, and farmers about the possibility of using insurance tied to local rainfall to help offset some of the cost of using more advanced drought resistant farming techniques (like improved seeds and fertilizer) to help local farmers better adapt to the changing climate and break out of the poverty traps caused by existing climate variability. Here's a recent PDF presentation from my boss on our project with Oxfam in Ethiopia, presented at last year's COP in Poland. Specifically, we're going to be working with teff farmers - teff is the grain that's used to make injera - the main type of bread in Ethiopia (which I'm sure you've had if you've been to an Ethiopian restaurant!)

Also while I'm there, I'll be putting together an audio slideshow similar to this one and this one about our work in the region. The second slideshow above was taken in a region only a few miles from where I will be, almost exactly a year ago - so much of those views will be similar to what I'll be experiencing. I'm really excited about taking an audio recorder along with my camera and being creative - telling our story as best I can.

While I was looking for the map below, I experienced another of those little shocks I've been having lately - as I'm trying to culturally prepare myself for my trip. Average lifespan in Ethiopia: 42. Per captita income: $700/yr. Life in this place is completely completely different than in the United States. How do I reconcile their lives with my own? How do I honor the injustices they face on a daily basis - while zipping around their country on jets and staying in hotels at no cost to me? Is the small amount of good I may accomplish on this trip ever going to amount to anything?

More to come.