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
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"!
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 4:39 PM
Friday, May 22, 2009
So, I'm declaring today my own personal unofficial first day of summer.
Spending my last few birr on an internet cafe...to 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.
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 1:02 PM
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
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.
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 11:40 AM
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 12:31 PM
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.
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 4:57 AM
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 12:38 PM
Monday, May 11, 2009
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 7:11 PM
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 5:45 AM
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 5:22 AM
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 5:53 PM
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.
Posted by Eric Holthaus at 3:43 PM