Thursday, May 28, 2009

Launch Day in Adi Ha!!

Tooday is Launch Day for Oxfam America's weather index microinsurance project in Adi Ha, Ethiopia! As you all know, I've been a technical advisor for this project during its development stages, and for me, this is a very exciting day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back home in my city.

I've spent the last 48 hours getting some much needed R&R in and around Prospect Park, Park Slope, Crown Heights, and a nice little coffee shop near Grand Army Plaza. I haven't gone more than 1 mile since I landed Saturday afternoon. Many smiles and much good company. As it should be.

The result, I'm already completely over my jet lag, and I'm completely happy.

As Louis Armstrong said... "what a wonderful world"!

Friday, May 22, 2009

1st day of summer!

So, I'm declaring today my own personal unofficial first day of summer.

Spending my last few birr on an internet send official word
of the official agreement of the main parties to the official final
details of the adi ha drought insurance product to be launched next
week in the village i just visited... and an impromptu international
phone conference with my bosses back in the US... ending with them
telling me "job well done"... and my last 24 hours in ethiopia capped
off by some nice warm breezes and a beautiful sunset - all fills me
with a great sense of completion and accomplishment.

it's gonna be a great summer, and the time to celebrate starts now.

next stop, new york.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wrapping up in Tigray

I'm back in Mekele now, after a long and bumpy 5 days on the road here
in Tigray. By my guess, we (the translator/facilitator, driver, and
I) covered about 1000km (600mi) in 5 days, most on rock roads -
dodging chickens, cows, oxen, camels, children, old women, downed
trees, big rocks, muddy stream beds, and probably many other things
that I have pictures of but can't remember right now. It was a great
trip - I think we really got into the heart of the drought/development
problem with our focus group questions with farmers - but I don't
think my butt will ever be the same.

I have promised myself after I return (and have a more reliable
connection!) to do a regular series of posts on some of the
interesting moments, images, experiences, and places of the trip - so
keep checking back. Tomorrow I have the last meeting here in Mekele
(a training for the field staff of the MFI that will actually be
selling the drought insurance for this season's pilot project in Adi
Ha), and will then fly back to Addis on Friday for a meeting with the
director of the Ethiopian National Weather service, before my flight
back to New York on Saturday.

Salaam to all.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Quick break from field work...

I'm copying this from an email I just sent to my favorite New Yorker... sorry for such little detail.  More to come soon, I promise!!
I'm exhausted - we just got back from 2 days in the field - driving about 6hrs a day on bumpy rock roads, and waking up early.  I got back about 3hrs ago and all I wanted to do was check my emails (and read what you had to say!) and take a shower.  The power was out however, until about 20 min ago.  So that means, no hot water, and of course, no internet.  We're leaving again at 7:30am and will be gone until Tuesday night (Tuesday noon your time) but by that time I'll be coming home in just a few days.  I have so many great pictures and stories to share with you... I can't wait.
I'm really excited about all our progress here.  It's been so great the last 2  days especially --talking with farmers under trees, seeing the diversity of the land and the people, and even getting caught in the rain and having to run in someone's house (one of those circular ones made of stones with a pointed thatch roof...) A few chickens also ran in behind us... it was quite an experience.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I just had to take a picture of the computer screen just now - cause I
was so excited that the 3 short text files I've been trying to
download for the last hour and a half (satellite rainfall histories of
the 3 villages we're considering for next year) finally came through.
Marjorie laughed. I'll upload the photo when i get some more
bandwidth. =) Sorry i'm always talking about the internet here, but
it's what's immediately on my mind when I'm typing out these posts.

I made myself feel a little bit better about the money I'm spending on
internet in such a poor country this morning (let alone carrying
around a $600 camera on my neck) - a mother was sitting on the curb
with two babies (one maybe 2yrs old), and she held out her hand to me.
I gave her 10 Birr - the same price as my ice cream at lunch
yesterday - about a day's wage.

Such a drop in the bucket in a country with so much need, but maybe it
helped her for just one day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

just when you think you got it...

the power goes out.  such is the life of a crowded corner shop with 8 people sharing one dialup connection.
but anyway, POTENTIALLY, we chose at least 2 of the new villages for our scale up plans in 2010 today... and I'll hopefully be going to visit them this weekend!
it's another warm, wonderful night. after an all-day round of meetings (and 25 hrs and counting awake!), Marjorie, Mengesha (our local lead partner) and I decided to explore a new part of Mekele (new, meaning Marjorie and I had never been over this way before), with the intent of finding Marjorie a nice colorful Ethiopian umbrella.  No luck, but we did find this internet shop that is the pure definition of chaos.  No sheep or goats this time though.
(and also, in my previous post - I meant 10 Birr, not 100 Birr.  Big difference.  And I apologize if I did actually write 10 Birr.)
Love you all.


Vetiver and Papaya Melaba.  10 Birr at the Axum Hotel.  Do the math... it's a good deal. =)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ethiopia tonight...

It's a warm, clear night.  There are a million stars out.
We had a lot of progress today.  One of our main discussions right now in finalizing the drought insurance agreement for this year with the farmers is a necessity that we use satellite rainfall estimates because the rain gauge we installed in the village has not been in place long enough to get an accurate sense of local rainfall patterns.  So, yesterday (before I arrived), Marjorie made a trip out to the village to discuss this with the farmers.
I wish I could attach her powerpoint (they all gathered around her laptop to watch) - it was amazing.
Using only pictures (and the help of a local translator from the village) b/c most of the farmers in Adi Ha can't read, Marjorie explained the concept of satellites by showing a picture of the Earth and the Moon (which some farmers had never seen, but most had) - and then showing a picture of a communications satellite in orbit - complete with solar panels, beaming TV and cell phone signals down to a picture of Africa.  According to her report, there was a lot of enthusiasm at this concept - especially as Marjorie zoomed in on a Google Earth image all the way down to the tree nursery in their village.  "Can we buy our own satellite?", one farmer asked.  "We would like to monitor our tree nursery... I have a problem with people stealing fruit from my trees!"
Other thoughts as I get ready for sleep (finally)...
I'm always thankful for perspective-altering experiences.
Not sure how I got on this sleeping schedule.  Somehow i'm 12 hours ahead of New York, and 5 hours ahead of Ethiopia.  My body doesn't know where it is.
The best selling brand of bottled water in Ethiopia is called "Life" Spring Water.  Do you think people here know how important water is?
- Sounds of Ethiopia - from my last trip here, in March.

Oh, one more thing...

To top it off, an Ethiopian priest in traditional dress just came in (think, my pictures of the churches from the last trip), asked for each of us to come up to him one by one.... to get splashed in the face with a handful of holy water!  I think he was going door to door with his little silver bucket, doing his good deeds for the day.  My face and shirt are still soaking.
Wow! =)

Back in Ethiopia.

Made it safely back to Mekele, Ethiopia, with a pocketful of Birr (willingly exchanged for dollars at the going rate from my colleague back in New York before I left) and a brand new 2 year business visa...  It was so nice not to wait in any lines at all at the airport.  Although there were some signs posted around the airport with the title "Save our country from the Swine Flu!!", I didn't have to fill out any more paperwork, because my flight was not direct from JFK - due to the stopover in Dubai.  Although I did write JFK on my immigration card, no one asked me about it.  Hopefully my "legacy" in Ethiopia will not be as the person who brought them Swine Flu.
Right now, I'm sitting in the best internet cafe in town, which actually has been upgraded since my last visit 2 months ago.  Still dialup, but it seems to be a much faster version somehow.  In the hour since I've been here, a couple of guys have ridden past on a wooden cart drawn by a team of donkeys, a very old Tigrinyan woman came in to exchange her handful of coins she earned begging, and a sheep nosed its way in the door, only to be scolded fiercely by its master.  Still, I found time to check my fantasy baseball team, and update my facebook status.
There's a lot to learn and a lot to do, but the more time I spend here in Ethiopia, the more I realize that it might be me that's going to end up doing most of the learning.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Photos from Dubai

my plane, the Emirates A380 - the largest commercial airliner in the world

it needs 3 boarding ramps! boarding took 45 min. i just sat and ate my burrito. (thanks sarah =)

the stairway to the 2nd deck (1st class seats). basically, a cruise ship in the sky... and, i don't want to think about my now super huger carbon footprint.

all the seats had a HD widescreen, cup holder, and 3 prong plug for laptops. and this was in economy class.

the stars came out during the night =)

flying over the iraq/iran border area

the compass that always pointed towards mecca

my swine flu paperwork that i had to fill out!! they also did thermal scans of each of us as we got off the plane to see if we had a fever.

the thermal scanner, and the thermal scanner guy.

dubai airport lounge

mcdonalds, the start of my taxi tour of dubai (my driver: "i eat sometimes at mcdonalds when i'm hungry and don't know where to eat") me too, Amin, me too.

Ace Hardware!!

road sign to Abu Dhabi (on the left) and the man-made palm island (on the right)

entering the palm island

one of the condo buildings on the palm island

Atlantis hotel, on the palm island

tunnel to the Atlantis hotel, with a drawing of the palm island

the persian gulf, and the rocky beach - across from the atlantis hotel

the moon and "media city" - a part of dubai with lots of skyscrapers.

making a u-turn

a floodlit sign asking people to reduce their carbon footprint... i guess they don't see the irony there...

an inlet to the gulf, and a few more skyscrapers - in the dubai marina. Amin and I walked around here for a bit, to feel the warm breeze.

more of the inlet.

amin getting back into the cab

street sign for dubai/abu dhabi

the burj al arabi - the most famous landmark of dubai. it's a SUPER exclusive, all suite hotel. fitting symbol.

another of the hotel arabi

Amin posing in front of his cab outside the Arabi hotel

ski dubai - the indoor ski slope

burj dubai - 818m tall, the tallest building in the world. (on the right)

burj dubai, with the new monorail tracks in the foreground. the burj is supposed to be finished later this year, and the monorail, soon after.

burj dubai with the moon

the grocery near my hotel. i bought some cashews.

inside the grocery

the palms along the road near my hotel

my restaurant tonight, the arab udapi - near "Osama Computers" - proud sellers of hewlett packard.

my dinner, fresh juice, aloo gobi, and cheese naan.

recycling bins on the street.

an ad for the red crescent (islamic relief charity - like the red cross)

my room. the arrow on the ceiling points towards mecca.

Live from Dubai, one night only...

Hello from hot and sandy Dubai, where (according to the pilot) it was 98F at 7pm when we landed tonight. I'm here on an overnight layover, the first leg of which was on the new Airbus 380 on Emirates. It was a fun ride. 12 hours, and I slept almost the entire way (no joke). While the staff was at best neutral on the issue of caring for all the passengers throughout the trip (all meaning all 500+ of us on both decks - it took 45 min just to board - again, no joke), the plane itself really could be called business class throughout the main deck (where I sat - waaaay back in row 78), and super duper luxury upstairs (seats folding flat, etc). There was a laptop plug at each of our seats, a wide screen with countless entertainment choices on the seat back, and more leg room than even first class on most US-carriers. No free wireless internet, but I guess you can't have everything... Oh, and it was also the cheapest option (by far) for my route. My favorite part was that little twinkling stars appeared on the ceiling of the cabin when they turned out the lights for us, and bird chirping noises played when they turned the lights back up before breakfast! Oh, and they also had a few live cameras on the outside of the plane, so you could watch what the pilot sees as he steered us along our journey. It was nighttime for most of the trip, but watching clouds go by just makes my heart happy.

As a catchup to those who may not know (since I haven't written much since my last trip!), I'm heading back to Ethiopia for another 2 week support trip for Oxfam, working on a drought insurance project with farmers in rural Tigray province, in the north of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has much more of a Middle East feel to it than the rest of Africa, so perhaps it's fitting that I started my trip off in the Middle East this time.

Dubai is not your father's (or even, older brother's) Middle East. It's super modern, and super Westernized. (This, of course, judging mostly by my 2 hour cab tour with Amin, my new friend.) Amin's family moved here from Egypt many years ago, and raised him here - but have recently moved back to Cairo in search of jobs. Amin is planning on following them in a few months, inshallah, to look for a job himself. Meanwhile, I think he enjoyed wandering around town with me tonight. I figured a personalized tour from an airport cab driver would be a good way to spend my only night here - and also an interesting look into the life and perceptions of an average modern Gulf resident. It was interesting. We ended up driving past a lot of new hotels, shopping centers, and "showrooms" - Amin's word for anything from luxury car dealerships to a new Zara that just opened near the beach. ("Good quality clothes, from Spain, I think. I would like to visit Madrid, Barcelona too someday, inshallah) Most of Dubai (at least the super ritzy parts) have been built in the last 10 years. Amin said construction has slowed around here lately - but it didn't stop him from taking me to all the newest places in town.

So, in under two hours, we got to see lots of tall buildings (mostly hotels, but also media companies and office buildings - surreally branded mostly with American names - Microsoft, Schlumberger, GE, etc), rows and rows of brand new shopping malls ("all new, only 4 or 5 months old") , and the Persian Gulf. It was a warm, lovely night... everyone was out walking around. We went mostly to the tourist areas - first to the Palm Jumierah (the Palm shaped man-made island) and the Atlantis Hotel ("where you can see many fishes, like an aquarium"), past the Mall of the Emirates - which houses Ski Dubai (the indoor ski slope), down Jumeirah Road - a palm lined boulevard that overlooks the Gulf - to Burj Al Arab - a hotel so fancy that there are armed guards at the gate. We couldn't get in. After the first 30 min or so, Amin and I loosened up a bit - broke out of the cab driver/drivee mode and into more of a casual conversation. At a couple of places he stopped the car to get out with me and walk around. The last place, he was even the one to suggest we stop for a bit. It was a beautiful night - I can see why people like it here. From afar, people think mostly of sand and oil - but there is really a richness here that of course I can't even begin to taste in only 2 hours. There is of course a lot of extravagance... our final stop on the way back to my hotel was a drive past Burj Dubai - the tallest building in the world. Now, rumor has it that it was supposed to be even taller, but the builder decided to top out early, to save some money, it being a recession and all. So for now, 818 meters will have to do... (almost twice as tall as the Sears Tower). I'm probably not alone when I wonder what will happen to a place like Dubai over the next 10-20 years or so as the world finally starts to come to grips with the vast divide between sustainability and business as usual...

Now, I'm here at the Palm Beach hotel, which is surrounded by neither palms, nor a beach... but many other cheap hotels (compared to Jumierah at least), restaurants, banks, and computer stores. My room has a little arrow on the ceiling, pointing toward Mecca. The hotel also has a Sri Lankan nightclub, and a couple other restaurants and bars... apparently (according to my friend who used to live here), hotels are the only places that are allowed to serve alcohol. But, I decided to walk down the street for dinner, to a place called Arab Udupi - thinking I would get some authentic Arabic cuisine (not really even knowing what that would be) - but it ended up being a pretty decent Indian place, which some Chinese influence. Globalization is here in Dubai, too.

Tomorrow, (later today?) I'll be getting up super early, and making the trek back across the Arabian Peninsula to Ethiopia. The place it all began.