OK, So I Am Going To Have To Try That Again

March 26, 2008

Hi folks,

I realize how much of a pain it is to try and view those photos… blame the high resolution of digital cameras these days! I am currently working something out so that looking at our trip will not be such a painful experience. So have a little patience with me and I will have the photos up in an actually consumable form ASAP.

Thanks,

Mike

Finally! Pictures! As promised!

March 24, 2008

Sorry for taking so long to start getting photos up folks, but Chris and I just returned to the country on Thursday, and have been doing a bit of decompressing in the meantime.

So I am not sure exactly how this process will go… especially in regards to organization, so hopefully it will get smoother as I go. Hang in there.

Inside An Ethopian Orthodox Christian Church

Ethiopian Highlands from the Simien Mountains

A Donkey Earns His Keep

Briefing with Haro Dibe PCAE staff.

The Village of Haro Dibe

One of the Microfinance groups in Haro Dibe.

Past recipient of oxen team.

Dad says Hello and Goodbye to Lunch

That’s all for this go, but I will be working hard to get all the photos up fast now that I am home, so check back often.

Cheers,

Mike

Apiaries, toilet traps, and stubborn SeaCans. Oh my…

March 6, 2008

Hello Faithful Tag-Alongs,

So without much fanfare, I am going to take up the story where I left off, with Dean and Jim still laid out in the hotel.

Unfortunately, Abdi had gotten through to our shipping agent here in Ethiopia on the telephone and received the news that there were continuing problems with the SeaCan paperwork, apparently this time on the part of Ethiopian customs. This in turn meant the containers were still sitting in Djibouti, and forced us to come to terms with the reality that there was no possible way that the containers would reach Negelle before we departed on the twenty ninth. It was a sad moment for the whole team as until then we had remained optimistic that we would at least be able to witness the containers arrive, if not help unload them like we had planned. The paper work was sorted out on Thursday the twenty eighth, but would not be loaded onto a truck until Saturday, March first, as Fridays are the day of rest for Muslims. As of now we still have not heard if that came to pass or not, but we should know tomorrow after we meet with PCAE again.

Ok, enough of the bad news and on with the saga of the aSEAT team.

After checking in on Dean and Jim the rest of climbed into two of the three Land Cruisers (one driver got some time off), and headed for Filtu along a cobblestone highway built by the Italians all the way to the coast of Somalia during their short occupation of Ethiopia in the early 1930s.The fact that the road is still there and that you can still clearly make out the centerline and in some places the shoulder lines is a testament to their engineering and most likely the Ethiopian laborers which built it. All of the bridges are still in places as well. However, just because the road is still intact does not make it a comfortable drive. In many of the rougher stretches there are dirt track roads that run parallel in the ditches. They are currently laying about 100km of water pipe along the highway with intermittent massive water towers to serve as distribution points. The pipe will run into the town of Filtu and will be fed by a permanent river supplemented by a few boreholes, including one thirty year old, nine hundred meter deep well which is still producing. To appreciate the scope of the project one must remember that they dig most of the pipe trench by hand, work on the water towers from wooden scaffolding held together with single nails at the joints, and work without the benefit of a crane, meaning they haul all the concrete up the scaffolding by hand. Along with the pipeline, hydro power is being run into Filtu from Negelle, so as to run all the pumps required for the towers and pipeline. Currently Filtu’s only electrical power is a large diesel generation station which runs only in the afternoon until midnight.

We made it into Filtu just ahead of the sunset, which is good news as most traffic, including our hired cars, do not drive after dark. PCAE’s first field office is located in Filtu and is the largest field office they have, I believe. When in Filtu we sleep in the compound in a sort of residence used to house guests and other NGO workers while in the area. While the flush toilet in the compound was not working due to the water shortage, we were shell shocked when they told us there was water (albeit not heated, but warm enough due to the hot Ethiopian Sun) for a shower if we wanted. After we got cleaned up, the women of PCAE had prepared us another absolutely amazing dinner, cementing their reputation as the best cooks in Ethiopia. After gorging ourselves the ladies also treated us to the local version of the coffee ceremony, which does not include coffee in the strictest sense, but heated camel milk with honey, coffee beans, and pop corn in a cup. It was actually quite good. Speaking of popcorn, I have to pass along this tip. Next time you make air-popped popcorn, skip the salt, go really light on the butter, and shake sugar onto it. Sounds ridiculous but is actually really tasty.

After dinner we spoke for a bit with local officials and planned the next day before heading to an early sleep.

The next morning we woke up and had breakfast and went to visit the women’s microfinance group, which is the oldest in the South at six years. Without getting into the protocol and details of it, this group has actually left the direct supervision of PCAE, and is now a legally registered savings and credit group, administered entirely by the women themselves. PCAE now acts only a consulting and training resource. They are doing very well for themselves and have an office and a charter, and membership in the cooperative is now at 143 women. Talking with those women was a very positive experience and was probably a highlight of the whole trip, as it demonstrated the potential of all the younger finance groups across the country. We all gained a much better understanding of how the micro-finance/savings and credit co-operative system works and the tremendous impact it has from talking to these women. After that we drove out to what is normally the livestock watering pond and the major water supply for the town of Negelle, but which is currently only a dusty depression outside of town. This is not the first time that the lake has dried up completely, but it does so rarely. Luckily, in other years of drought dozens of wells have been dug in the lake bed. When the rains begin again the wells are covered well to prevent them from filling back in and are marked with stout sticks driven into the ground next to them, so they can be located again when they are needed next. The area was an absolute zoo with hundreds and hundreds of camels, cows, goats and donkeys all milling about the area waiting for their turn at the wells. The herders tie about an eight meter rope to their foot with a bucket on the other end, straddle the well, and pull water up one bucket at a time. Mary Ann tried to lift a bucket of water up and couldn’t do it, yet these men were probably doing three of four or even more, buckets a minute. The water was poured into large bowls for the animals to drink. The locals say they hope the wells will hold out for another three weeks, however the number of animals being brought in is increasing as the drought wears on and the three week figure is probably very optimistic.

We learned that there are 38 villages in the Filtu district, of which only 8 still have water. Some of the others are receiving partial supply due to a tanker truck effort underway, but many of the other 30 villages have been abandoned as families and their livestock move to the river some thirty kilometers away.

After that we were on the road again back to Negelle. We made it back to the hotel in the middle of the afternoon to find both Jim and Dean feeling significantly better and with stories to tell.

Apparently, after left the day before, it had not taken long for the bees to find the honey that had been washed out of the truck onto the driveway. Deciding there were slightly too many bees taking part in the frenzy for his comfort, Jim decided to retreat to his room, only to find that someone (either purposely or innocently) had put the honey container itself, still covered in honey inside and out, into Jim’s room. “It was like walking into an apiary,” was Jim’s description of the situation upon our return, with more bees in his room and outside. One of the hotel staff bravely went in to retrieve the container and wash it down outside, and the bees eventually cleared from his room, but he was without shelter for a few ours after that event.

We were supposed to have a meeting with the Mayor and some district officials that night, but thankfully it was cancelled as the Mayor was stuck in another meeting. So we had dinner at a place near the hotel as group to say goodbye to the South, and then hit the hay at a reasonable hour.

The next morning somewhere in between the getting ready stage and the waiting around stage, Mary Ann, Jim, and Bruce could hear a loud banging coming from places unknown.

“What’s that sound?” Mary Ann asked.

“It’s just construction, don’t worry about it,” Jim replied.

“They aren’t doing construction here. I think it’s coming from over there,” Mary Ann said and trotted off towards one of the rooms.

It turns out Darren is the anti-Houdini of our group, and had managed to get himself locked into his bathroom. He had started out knocking politely on the door which gradually progressed into all out two fisted pounding. He seems to have a real knack for getting locked into places that aren’t supposed to be any kind of problem to egress from.

After rescuing Darren we learned that our mayoral meeting had been rescheduled to a breakfast parlay, so we all headed over to a restaurant to talk with the mayor.

Then it was the long hard drive out of the South and back to pavement. The last day is always when the rough roads seem worst, as all excitement and energy has deflated and all there is to do is tolerate being shaken like a can of beans. So it was great pleasure that we arrived at the Aregash Lodge near Awassa in the late afternoon and settled into soft beds and warm showers. The Aregash is a lovely place which even our resident critic, Jim “Sheraton” Boccioletti, agreed that he could stay at quite comfortably, with great food, good location, excellent detached traditional “huts,” which all made for a Shangri-La like experience after so many grubby rough days on the road.

And that folks, is the end of the Rotary experience in the South. We all had a great time and I hope that it was at least slightly entertaining and informative to ride along with us. A lot of what we experienced is nearly impossible to describe, so after I return back to Canada I will work on posting a select few of my multiple-thousands of photos that I took on the trip, as well as maybe a choice few from some of the other near half dozen cameras that were toted everywhere on this trip.

Until then, I leave you as your humble guide,

Hope to see you back here soon after we arrive home,

Mike

P.S. On one final note, we did receive the good news today that the containers have left Djibouti and are on their way to Nazaret for final customs inspection and clearance and then onwards to the South. If we hear anymore news I will update you here.

 

Post P.S. For those of you who are as hazy with the details as I am already, Chris has kindly constructed this helpful reference timeline of our travels:

 

BRIEF SUMMARY AND TIME LINE OF EVENTS:

 

Feb. 18 – Bruce and Chris do day trip to Fantale and meet with students supported by ANSO

– Take in quarterly meeting of the 14 Savings and Credit co-operative (micro-finance groups) operating in the Fantale area.

– Last of group arrives in Addis Ababa

 

 

Feb. 19 – Shopping and preparation for trip south

Mary Ann, Delayne & Jim return from tour of parts of northern Ethiopia

Feb. 20 – Pack the vehicles for trip south

Attend Rotary meeting with the Rotary Club of Addis Ababa

Travel south as far as Awasa – a five hour trip on paved roads

Feb. 21 – Travel to Goba – only 250 K., but takes seven hours on very rough roads

Feb. 22 – Travel to Haro Dibe.

Met with local officials and discussed local issues which centered primarily on the current water crises.

Met with many of the fifty women now involved in the Haro Dibe micro finance initiative.

Feb. 23 – Spent the day in Haro Dibe.

Met with 10 women who are just starting into micro-finance program

Toured the school and took part in presenting 13 scholarships as well as sports equipment.

Hosted to a traditional lunch by a local family

Presented 160 goats as well as numerous cows, oxen. camels and donkeys to recipients of the ANSO initiative.

Met with village and clan elders and were awarded a sheep, a goat, a cow and a camel for the work we have been doing in the area.

Feb. 24 – Traveled back to Goba

Did a side tour to visit the Sof Omar Caves

Feb. 25 – Travelled to Negelle – approximately 8 hours to cover 270 K. of rough roads.

Diner with local dignitaries.

Met with four of the eight students supported by ANSO in Negelle

No water anywhere in entire city of 45000 people

Feb. 26 – Toured women’s hostel (234 women) for which furnishings and utility hookups were supplied by Rotary.

– Toured three “watering points” all located at schools and currently supplied by Tanker truck as the drought has dried up traditional sources of water.

Visited a still functioning traditional well.

Toured the Negelle hospital and met with the director to discuss the logistics of dealing with the container when it arrives.

Were hosted to diner by the Darara Orphanage which is supported by ANSO and others

Feb. 27 – Traveled to Haroqallo

Talked to our shipping agent on the phone and came to the conclusion that the containers would not arrive in time for us to assist with unpacking.

Visited the school at Garbi where the Swan City Rotary Club will be assisting with furnishing a new school and building a water cistern. Found construction well under way even though no Rotary funds have yet been disbursed.

– Visited the school in Haroqallo and had a lengthy discussion with staff there around the logistics and politics of dealing with the educational container when it arrives.

– Toured women’s hostel (eighty women) furnished by Rotary, with water collection system and sanitation also supplied by Rotary

– Treaded to lunch consisting of a “whole goat” barbeque.

– Traveled back to Negelle to check in on Dean & Jim and then on to Filtu which took 3.5 hours to travel 130 K over incredibly rough Italian cobblestone roads.

– Dinner with local PCAE staff and dignitaries with the water crises again taking up the majority of the discussion.

Feb. 28 – Met with women from the local Savings and Credit co-operative (micro-finance group) which was extremely informative.

Presented sports equipment to local high school

Visited livestock auction

Toured the dried up lake bottom of what had formerly been the town’s water supply

Traveled back to Negelle.

Feb. 29 – Traveled approx. 300 K. to Yirga Alem – and showers again.

March 1 – Traveled back to Addis. Dinner at the Sheridan – what a contrast.

March 2 – Lunch and debriefing with PCAE.

March 3 – Chris & Mike of to Lalibela, Rest of the group leaves for Egypt

March 4 – Met with 13 of the 14 students ANSO supports in Lalibela

March 5 – Returned to Addis

Spent the afternoon with PCAE finishing up and finalizing various

pieces of business relating to this tour.

 

And that pretty much sums things up.

 

Negelle, Harekello, Garbi, and a Whole Roasted Goat.

March 2, 2008

We arrived in Negelle in the middle of the afternoon on Monday, checked into the hotel, and had a little while to let our teeth stop rattling in our skulls after the long drive. Kote met us at the hotel shortly after we arrived, and after a brief chat we headed out to what we thought was a planning dinner with the crew, Abdi, and Kote, but what turned out to be a full civic reception with local, district, and zone officials, elders, friends, and assorted others at a large gathering at one of the hotels in town. Surprise number one. To make things even more fun the power failed almost immediately after we arrived, so we ate dinner under the stars in the hotel’s courtyard by candle light. Many many speeches (an Ethiopian specialty), we returned to our hotel very full and very tired. Due to the extreme drought situation in the south, we were showerless, toiletless, and relying on the use of the waterless squat toilets. Darren managed to get locked in his room that morning as apparently the inner door handle was not connected or something… we are not quite sure how he managed to do it to this day, as someone else later stayed in that room and had no troubles…

After freeing Darren we went to visit the girl’s hostel in Negelle, which was a wonderfully uplifting experience. All of us on the trip have agreed that it was an excellent investment for the Rotary club. The regional administration had decided within the last few months to make the facility an all girls dorm, and currently there are 234 girls living in the hostel. The rooms were very clean and organized, even after a year of occupancy, the grounds were well maintained, and the girls seemed to have organized themselves into some sort of administrative and social structure. While I do not know the exact figure of the Rotary contribution, I am fairly certain it was around twenty thousand dollars, making the per capita investment approximately one hundred dollars a student. And that figure only applies to the first year of operation. Spread that even over a very few years, and the hostel is an amazing bang for the buck.

After that Kote took us for a tour of the rural areas around Nagelle, to villages that his organization has been trucking water to in the last few weeks as most areas have lost their water supplies this dry season. We got to see the water truck he is running in the area, as well as one of the distribution points, a school in one of the villages, which not only allowed them to dump water into the large cisterns there, but meant the school would stay open as well as they would have water for the staff and children. We also got to see a traditional well, which is essentially a hand dug hole down to the water level. The water is brought up by a chain of men slinging 5 liter buckets up and down the side of the hole to a trough built at the top to water the livestock.

When we returned to Nagelle we met with the medical director of the hospital for which the medical container is destined. We toured the facilities which are spartan and ill equipped, discussing what was in the container and what challenges the hospital was dealing with. On a more positive note, they is a lot of construction on the hospital grounds of new wards being built, including a just finished AIDS support ward that should be opening in a few weeks.

We had a small breather back at the hotel after that before we all headed out again to dinner at the Darara Orphanage, a private project of Chris and Kathy Andersen. We were greeted by all 15 children lined up outside their home in their best clothes singing a welcome song to us in near perfect english. Then we were all presented with a flower and big hugs. The people who work there, the children, and parents are all amazing people and the whole evening was a very heartwarming experience.

The next morning we went through the ritual which Bruce simplifies into these major steps: the getting ready phase, the sitting around phase, the milling about phase, and the waiting in the car phase, which proceed every departure. We have found that once things stop in Ethiopia, it takes an especially long time to get them moving again, which leads to planned schedules being mostly useless. Jim was not feeling well and making frequent trips to the toilet, while Dean had started having stomach cramps and other issues during the night, so both opted to stay put at the hotel. Unfortunately we were going to be spending the night in Filtu, so this meant that they would be spending the night alone and missing out on some activities, but they were in no state to travel, so they made the right decision. The rest of us headed West and North out of Negelle to visit Harekello and Garbi that morning.

We met with JemJem in Harekello at their compound to sort out the plan a bit, and then had breakfast in one of the restaurants in the village. After that we headed out of Harekello to Garbi school, a remote site out in the bush about thirty minutes away. It’s a community funded school built in order to keep their children closer to home instead of having to walk into Harekello everyday. When we arrived they were busy digging a base and crushing rocks in to gravel for a cistern that would collect water off the new tin-roofed structure they were constructing. As of now all they have is the frame and the roof on it, but there is already a class using the structure. They also have two other classroom buildings built with thatched roofs, but one especially has a wicked lean to the whole building now. They also have a female teacher there, one of the few small community schools to do so. The community there is working very hard to improve their school’s facilities, and we were very impressed with them.

After that we went back into Harekello to visit the large school there and discuss the arrival of the education container as it is intended that the container will be dropped there to be sorted and distributed, and that they would keep the container afterwards. We also visited the girls hostel at the school there, which, while much smaller than the Negelle facility, has been in operation a year longer and houses between fourty and fifty girls. The extra time the girls have spent there was apparent in the decorations they had furnished their rooms with and all the personal touches they had made, whereas in Negelle it still had quite a strong institutional feel to the rooms. Here too the girls have formed their own support groups and networks as many of their families do not support their decision to move away and attend school, so they have a second family of sorts in their peers.

After that it was back to the compound in Harekello to have lunch, which turned out once again to be the Harekello signature dish, a whole roasted goat. The consensus is that it was the best tasting goat we had in our entire trip south. Most of us ended up with whole legs on our plates and much more than we could ever hope to eat. After that we were presented with traditional clothing, as well as the two women received traditional honey containers full of traditionally collected honey. The short coming of these containers, we were warned, is that the tops do not seal, so they must be kept upright. Bruce was entrusted with Mary Ann’s container, as he was up front in our car and had more room to keep it. We then headed back to Negelle as we had to pass back through town to go to Filtu, which is East of Negelle. We also hoped that Jim and Dean might be feeling better and decide to join us. There is a checkpoint on the road outside of Negelle which monitors commercial traffic, either for taxation reasons or to prevent smuggling of contraband, we aren’t quite sure. There is a chain that is put across the road so that all traffic has to be let through by the police. When we pulled up to this stop, the conversation was something like as follows:

Mary Ann: What’s this stop here for?
Bruce: Probably to tax commercial traffic or monitor the flow of goods.
Mary Ann: (Jokingly)  Don’t tell them about the honey then!
Mike: I think I smell honey…
Bruce: Oh damn!

As you can probably tell, Bruce had just recently forgot about the canister of honey at his feet and it had fallen over, spilling its contents onto the floor of the truck. Our driver shot Bruce an evil eye, but said it was Ok. Luckily, the truck has vinyl floors, not carpet.

We got back to hotel and our driver quickly washed the sticky soup out of the bottom of his truck. Keep this fact in mind, as it becomes more relevant later. We were disappointed to learn that neither of the guys were feeling much better or up to any traveling. So we saddled back up into two of the three trucks (without two of our crew three trucks would have been overkill), and headed out to Filtu. As usual, we were running later than we had hoped to and we had a serious drive to complete before sunset, so we were in a bit of a rush.

I am almost out of time on the internet here, so I am going to have to sign off here. I hope to have the rest of the trip written up and posted within the next twenty four hours though, so stay tuned as a lot of the best things on trip happened in the waning hours of our adventures. Until next time,

Mike

I see your Imodium, and raise half a roll of toilet paper…

February 25, 2008

Yes folks, we’ve degraded for gambling for hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and stomach remedies. Brain child of Jim “Mr. Sheraton” Boccioletti, as he has become known among the ranks, today was spent in the back of one of the Land Cruisers, three in the back, one up front twisted awkwardly around, exchanging toiletries at the whim of the cards.
Perhaps I should start nearer the beginning. So you can accompany us on our spiraling descent into madness. So you can understand that none of this is our fault, really. We didn’t choose to be like this. Or so I wish I could believe.
We left Goba, heading across a landscape that could just as easily be found in Southern Alberta. Large, slightly rolling fields of gold with mountains in the distance surrounded us in all directions. The main characters in that chapter of the saga were played by the donkeys with “Dumb Ass” and “Donkey Dustball” both making mentionable appearances. The first being a deep and multilayered character who couldn’t seem to figure out how to get out of the way of oncoming Land Cruisers, bolting further into the road instead of off of it, and the latter being a lovable n’er-do-well who spent all his screen time wallowing in a dust pit on his back.
Then we passed through an area of grazing land, where we met our first camels of the trip. Two of Ugas Mohammed’s clan members were bringing two camels up from the lowlands to buy grain from one of the towns we had passed through. Abdi also pointed out his “paradise,” a place where he would like to retire, tucked into the border of the grass land and the forest. Then it was over the edge of the world and down a switchback road that dropped us about 5000 feet down into the lowlands. What appears to be foothills from the highland turns into a formidable mountain range from below in the lowlands. The escarpment is usually home to a few troops of baboons, but unfortunately we did not see any on this trip.
Road improvements underway have turned 30 out of the 40km track to Haro Dibe into a gravel road, leaving only 10km of slow moving bush-track to traverse. The road allowed us to cover the same distance, that two years ago took us two and a half hours, in less than an hour. Here we saw quite a few more camels, cows, and a few goats, as people moved their herds across the road, headed to places unkown. It was on that road that we flattened the first tire of the trip, but with multiple spares, we were soon on our way again.
Haro Dibe, remote as it is, is not immune to the wave of change crossing Ethiopia, as the town is significantly larger than any of us remember it, as well as having a considerable number of tin roofed houses, as opposed to the traditional thatched huts that were the only dwelling present two years ago. We can only speculate what changes will occur once the road is pushed all the way through to the town. Haro Dibe itself is home to an estimated 7000 people, and, together with a few other small villages, services an area of about 100 000 pastoralists. The town is located in the Somali region, and so, logically,
speaks Somali.
That afternoon we met with the local administration for the formal welcome and discussion on the state of Haro Dibe. The meeting was in traditional Ethiopia with many long speeches made, most rehashing the last speaker’s words. Generally, with anything official or formal in Ethiopia, it is easiest to describe the event as good practice in the mantra of “Hurry up and wait,” as timelines are rarely kept and things seem to be engineered to be as inefficient as possible without standing still.
We learned a few things about the state of affairs in Haro Dibe. The administration’s three main areas of concern are, and have been for quite some time, Healthcare, Education, and Water. Two years ago when I was here, and I  believe last year when the Rotarians visited as well, the most effort was being expended on Education, followed by Healthcare. They have made good progress with the school there, with desks provided by Rotary funds, all but grades one and two have furnished classrooms. They have finished the school building that they built with their own local funds, and have been looking at upgrading or replacing the stick and mud school rooms used for grades one and two. Enrolment has steadily been increasing, with up to eighty children in each of grades one, two, and three, and the proportion of girls in school has also been increasing. On the healthcare front, they are in the process of construction a healthcare center that would act as a hospital to the immediate area with ten suites and an administration building. Their problem now is water supply. With an erratic rainy season last year and failed “short” rains that normally come during the dry season to keep water levels up, the lowlands of Ethiopia are still in drought conditions. Some areas have even been declared disaster zones. Haro Dibe had a haphazard water supply at best in the good years, with small streams and ponds supply livestock with water, and a pipeline running from a spring in the hills to a cistern that was still under construction two years ago when I was here. Apparently, the cistern developed a crack soon after completion that allows water to seep out, making it unsuitable for long term storage of water. That, and issues with the reliability of the pipeline, and reduced and physically shifting output of the spring has left that system nearly useless. The only source of water for the 7000 inhabitants, the surrounding area, and all the livestock is the spring itself, 2km out of the town up the mountain side. The spring puts out an estimated 5-15 gallons per minute spread over two to three points. The bulk of the livestock has been sent to a river about 20km away, but there is still a distinct shortage of water. Furthermore, school attendance has been falling as families keep their children home to fetch water in jerry cans, and if there is no water available when the clinic is completed, it will be in every practical sense useless.
After that we walked into the town to meet with the ladies of the Micro-finance program. We were greeted with a coffee ceremony (slightly deviated from the full traditional method for the sake of brevity; namely, the use of a thermos was involved)and then heard reports from each woman’s fortunes with their loans, one collective at a time. Most seem to have done quite well for themselves reporting both complete repayment and profits to boot, both cash and capital.
On Saturday we met with past recipients of animal donations through ANSO, awarded this year’s critters, handed out this years micro finance loans, visited the school, and half drove, have hiked to the spring. That evening we were presented with the next stage of our induction into the Gorro clan, in which the Goro-Swan sub-clan was presented with a gift of livestock. We were given a sheep, a goat, a cow, and a camel, all females, which are to be kept by one of the Elders in our absence. Last year a camel was sacrificed and they had a feast to celebrate the induction of the eighth Gorro sub-clan, its name sake being Swan City. Next year we will be presented with a piece of land to finalize our ties in Haro Dibe.
We left the next morning and made a detour to visit the Sofomar Caves, a huge cave system through which a river runs under a mountain. This is also the day where when Delayne wondered aloud what they could use to bet on cards (as gambling is frowned upon by the muslims), that Jim dryly said from the seat, “Imodium and toilet paper.” And thus an entire system of worth was established in toilet paper, pills, and hand sanitizer. The caves are traditionally a religious place through which the devout would walk and then swim the 8km to the exit of the caves. The scene there is amazing, as there are a series of pools before the cave in which the children swim and sunbathe, the women do laundry, and the men bring livestock to water. The combination of all three make for a very busy, yet idyllic scene which was made all the more potent by the time spent in the dry and harsh Haro Dibe. We did the dry portion and spent about an hour in the caves.
On the way back to Goba one of the trucks, whose AC had already quit on the first day of driving, blew a leaf spring right out of the wheel well. Thankfully, we had already made arrangements to have that truck switched out as the lack of AC is a pretty serious situation when all the roads you drive on throw up huge clouds of dust that make open windows a dirty situation. So that vehicle was swapped and we have a new one.
This morning we headed out early and headed up to an altitude of about 4.4km, or 14470ft, as we passed through the Bale Mountains National park. We even were lucky enough to spot a Simien Wolf, a strange fox/wolf-like creature that lives in the park and is considered rare after the local dogs got rabies and spread it to the wild-life. Then it was another switchback down into near-tropical conditions of the midlands, and finally into the dry lowlands. There is a section on the road that only lasts for a few kilometers that is home to a strange giant white tuber that grows on the surface which seems to be a water reservoir for the plant. They are a stiff shell with a spongy interior full of water. The locals sometimes cut a piece out and chew on it for moisture if they do not have any water. The strangest part about these “space mushrooms,” as I like to call them, is as far as anyone knows, including the PCAE staff, this is the only area in Ethiopia in which they grow. We crossed many completely dry stream and river beds on our way into Negelle, giving us an idea just how serious this drought really is. We made it safely into town, but I think this is enough for one entry, plus things really ramp up tomorrow, so stay tuned for the Negelle saga.
Until next time, thanks for your patience during the long silent periods,
Mike

I’d also like to thank Tab Pollock at HiTech for loaning us this laptop for the trip, as if I had to write all of these entries on the local computers, it would be a completely infeasible situation. It’s made my life a lot easier.

Into the South

February 21, 2008

Welcome to the South, my cyber-travelling friends!
We are now two days outside of Addis, staying in Goba tonight. Goba is only about 400-500km from Addis. In two days. Oh sigh. Less traffic would help, as well as to a lesser extent less livestock and peoplestock on the roads. But mostly, we could really use some pavement right about now. Haha. Actually, we are lucky in a way, as the Chinese are hard at work building a new, will-be-paved highway, that when completed will mean that you could leave Addis in the morning and have an early supper in Goba. But for now the construction makes from a mix of slightly better and slightly worse road conditions that used to be found on this stretch.
Yesterday we packed up the the trucks at about eight in the morning and went to have a meeting with the staff of PCAE (Pastoral Concern Association of Ethiopia, our main ground force for projects in the country) to talk about our plans for the South. Then to the Hilton for the local Rotary meeting where we had a good lunch and talked about our involvement, and presented Tehout, our local Rotary contact, with her Paul Harris Fellow certificate and medallion, which pleased her to no end. After that is was straight on the road South, fighting the maddening Addis traffic. There were three Land Cruisers in the caravan, the eight of us, the three drivers, Abdi and another PCAE staffer.The Rift Valley was rife with dust, something we haven’t seen in our other trips here, and is most likely indicative of the severe drought in the areas we are headed to.
We stopped last night in Awassa, our end-of-pavement for the trip. While we ate dinner we enjoyed three power failures and a rainstorm. We also picked up another PCAE staffer and Ogust, the Haro Dibe chief at this point. Which means all three of our trucks are now at capacity with five passengers. Ogust is an interesting fellow as he is one of the youngest chiefs here. I am not sure exactly, but Chris and I peg him at about 30. Traditionally, Oromo chiefs are between fourty and fourty-eight, and become Elders after that age. For someone this young to have enough wisdom for a position like this says quite alot about Ogust.
Awasse is located on a lake, and the hotel we stayed at is a lakefront property. Awasse also has one of the highest bird counts in the world. There is no shortage of birdcalls at any time of day. Some of us woke early to walk along the lake and see the birds that stop there. I awoke to a monkey sitting on my unit’s roof eating all the pretty flowers. Then we said goodbye to the comfortable pavement and headed East into the wild blue.
There is nothing in the world that facilitates intellectual debates, political fist-fights, indecency, and general insanity like a long, slow car ride. Let me tell you, it’s a good things these Land Cruisers are tough, because they have to contain the maelstrom of our gravel-road-fever.
Actually, I myself have not had the world altering experience of riding in the Bruce, Jim, Mary Ann, and Delayne truck. But the stories that come out of it everytime we stop for a break make me prepare for the sensory onslaught it is sure to be when I inevitably do.
Darren is very nice, the mystery traveller no more. Him, Delayne(for the stint that she spent in our vehicle today), and I had very good talks about politics, religion and agriculture during our time together.
We spend tonight in Goba, and tomorrow finish the last four hours or so to Haro Dibe, our first stop. Goba is in the highlands, and Haro Dibe is in the lowlands, so tomorrow we drop off the face of the world when we reach the meeting of the two as the differentiation is physically clear. Adbi’s favorite spot, possibly in the whole country, is at the top of the escarpment, an elevation change somewhere in the range of 5000 feet. We may also see more baboons there.
Unfortunately, one of our Land Cruisers has had its airconditioning quit, and may be developing serious suspension problems, which most likely will mean that on our return from Haro Dibe, it will be switched out for a new truck and driver (the drivers are tied to their vehicles to promote good maintenance and responsible driving) that will be sent down from Addis.
On the SeaCan side, things are not looking so awesome at the moment with the estimated delivery date sliding back to the twenty-ninth, which is the day we are slated to leave the South. But we have not given up and there are a lot of people very hard to make something happen a bit faster.
At dinner Dean and I amazed and disgusted Abdi with the physical attributes of Coca Cola (corrosive properties, sugar and caffeine content) and made him wonder why anyone in North America would want two litres of the stuff, or drink Super-Giant-Big-Gulps with a meal, as the largest format you find it in here is 300mL. Also the information that Coke costs significantly less than milk in North America left him shaking his head abit about the intelligence of what us North Americans put in our mouths.
I can hear the Delayne, Mary Ann, Dean, and Bruce crew getting rowdy at a card game through the wall, so I better go hammer on the wall before we get evicted.
Until next time, when I will have much more interesting stories than two days of slow driving yields,
Mike

Getting Back On Track

February 18, 2008

Hi Folks,

I am slowly returning from the grave, so I am going to make an attempt to catch up a bit before things start heading forward full steam again. I am currently at my cousin’s house in Addis recovering from a nasty bout of Giardia. Am doing much better now just dealing with dehydration and three days without food. The water is out here, unfortunately, so I stink and a shower is out of the question at the moment.

Bruce arrived yesterday and seems to be in once piece (as well as a guy who was mostly in pieces could tell for himself can say). He and Chris are in Fantelli today. I was supposed to be with them but alas, I am in no shape to be anywhere but bed for the most part. Fantelli is home to an NGO school and is quite impressive in its scope, success, and impact. I believe the dynamic duo will be handing out some scholarships on the ANSO front while they are down there. I will give you a real update when they get back with news.

Dean and Darren are due into town sometime today I believe but I won’t be seeing them until tonight at the earliest, perhaps tomorrow, depending on where I end up tonight, here or back at the Ghion hotel with the rest of the crew.

So, as far as narrative goes, I really only have the first two days in Ethiopia to tell you about. Chris and I arrived in Addis around eleven in the evening on Wednesday, and Delayne, Mary Ann, and I left the hotel to pick up Jim from the Sheraton at four in the morning to fly up to Gonder.

Mary Ann’s bags did not make it to Addis, they decided to stay in London as well. Thankfully, my cousin has the same shoe size, and she was able to dip into some of donation supplies to keep her clothed until her bags arrived, which they did on Saturday. She will be reunited with her belongings when they return from the second half of their early adventure, two days treking in Lalebale (lalee bala). She sends special thanks to the Calgary soccer teams to donated the jerseys, they have been getting good use already!

Seyoum, our guide and family friend, met us at the Gonder airport and whisked us away to a day of sightseeing. The tourist catchline for Gonder is “The Camelot of Africa,” as it is home to an absolutely amazing array of castles and ancient churches dating back about 400 years to when it was the capital of Ethiopia. Words can’t really do them justice, so you will have to wait for photos, which we have no shortage of.

Day two was another early start with us leaving the hotel at six to head North to the Simien Mountain National Park. Three and a half hours on dusty, rock roads had us ready to climb out of the Land Cruiser at an elevation of 3.2 kilometres for a two hour hike along the edge of what is referred to by the locals as “The roof of Africa.” Without photos all I can say is the vista puts the grand canyon to shame. Of its famous wildlife, we came across only the Gideon “Bleeding Heart” Baboon, but I can’t complain about that as our opposable-thumbed friends are my favorite critters in the world. The moniker comes from a crimson red fold of skin on the baboon’s chest that gives it the look of a bleeding wound when viewed head on.

Upon arriving back in Gonder just before six, we were very glad to be off the road and able to shower and relax a bit before being picked up by Seyoum again and going to his house to meet his two children, Btania and Raymond, as well as his wife, for a home cooked meal.

Jim has found his new love, Saint George Beer, which I wouldn’t be surprised to hear if he ends up investing in, or buying the North American rights to, and the golden nectar has soothed all the trials of rough days for him.

Saturday morning I flew back to Addis, and immediately fell ill, and Jim, Mary Ann, and Delayne flew to Lalebale to continue their adventures. Tomorrow, the entire crew should be together for the first time, and preparation for our trip to the south should begin in earnest.

For those of you who have been following the SeaCan saga, the latest news is that they should arrive in Nagelle on the 24. Later than we hoped, but still within the timeframe of our stay in the south, so we will most likely to be revising our schedule as so which area gets visited when, but we will be able to be present for the arrival, unloading, and distribution of their contents, which was until this weekend, still up in the air as to being a possibility. We thank all the people involved on the  NA side, as well as here in Ethiopia, who’s hard work has made this a reality.

Until next time, I’m going to lay down,

Mike

Sorry Everyone!

February 17, 2008

Sorry for the long delay everyone, but Jim, Mary Ann, Delayne, and myself have spent the last few days up North in Gonder, with no internet. As well, I managed to come down with a very nasty bug yesterday morning that has laid me out. I am already feeling better today, and I promise I will have a real update for everyone as soon as I can manage it. Until then, we send our best wishes to all at home and to all of you who have commented, your messages have been passed along and appreciated.

Mike

Frankfurt

February 12, 2008

Hello North America!

Chris and I have made it to Frankfurt! As far as I know, Delayne, Mary Ann, and Jim made their rendezvous at Heathrow and now happily jetting towards the African continent.

Not much to report at the moment except upon the nightmare that is Heathrow airport. Heavy fog this morning kept our flight in the air for an extra hour. It also totally destroyed every airline’s schedule. My layover was supposed to be just shy of two hours, but turned into five and half as all flights bound for Heathrow were told not to bother taking off yet. This also meant that Chris’ intended 3 hour wait for me at the Frankfurt airport turned into a 7 hour marathon. An hour of my wait was spent sitting on the plane sitting at the gate for some reason. And despite the large window, when I arrived here my bags seem to have decided to stay in London. Maybe they liked the weather or something. So that was lovely. The good news is that as I write this, they have just arrived at the hotel, so all is well. A trip to Ethiopia isn’t really legitimate until a bag is lost. And I would rather deal with it here than in Addis, so keep those fingers crossed that I am the first and last.

I have no idea about the actual status of Jim, Delayne, and Mary Ann, as when I left, the weather was definitely much better, but of the 23 flights the airport’s information screen displays, 16 were delayed, and 7 were cancelled.  Hopefully the airlines were able to mop up the mess before their flight was due to leave. Of course, if they were delayed, Mary Ann and Delayne would happily just return to the Duty Free for yet another visit. My only question is where they are finding room for all their goodies. I hope we are not mysteriously short a few textbooks when we get down there.

Chris and I just had a lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant, with German beer, of course, and now he is soundly asleep on the bed behind me, sudoku book splayed on his chest and pencil in hand… I don’t think he got even the first number sorted out.

Tomorrow we fly out early and arrive in Addis somewhere between nine and ten o’clock. For those of you who are curious, the time difference between Ethiopia and Alberta is +10 hours, for our readers in B.C., add another hour onto that. If the wonders of emails and the interweb have granted us notoriety beyond those areas, I leave it upon you, good readers, to do your own math.

And with that, I think I am going to go wash the airplane off of me, and then join the ranks of the snoring dead. Until next time,

Cheers,

Mike

And We’re Off!

February 11, 2008

It’s official! As I write this I am sitting in the Calgary airport waiting for my flight to London. It’s quite nice really, as Delayne, our business class flyer, did what Delayne does, and ‘talked’ us all into the first class lounge. Five hour wait doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

The logistics of getting the entire crew to Ethiopia is an interesting one, as Jim left yesterday already, Delayne, Mary Ann, Chris, and I fly out today, but Chris flies straight to Frankfurt, while Delayne, Mary Ann, and I fly to London. From there, I fly to Frankfurt to overnight with Chris, while the two ladies continue on towards Addis. Jim, Delayne, and Mary Ann arrive at about the same time, followed by Chris and I late in the evening. Bruce flies in to join us on Friday, and Dean and Darren will not arrive until Monday. Oh the joys of group travel.

We have already dodged our first trouble spot. Chris and I got ‘busted’ (as the Air Canada lady put it) with overweight carry on bags when we were seated in the front row of the airplane and thus had nowhere to stow our bags. Forced to skycheck the bags, we had to hand our bags over to the staff. Let’s just say it was quickly apparent that we weren’t within regulations. We gave her the puppy eyes and the ‘but they are textbooks for Africa” line, and we got away with it. Success!

I would like to welcome you to the blog once again, and ask for your involvement. Comments are open to public use, you do not need to sign up or give away information. If you would like to leave your name, that would be great, as it’s nice to know who is saying what. I would love comments, greetings, questions, and requests. If you ask something I don’t know I will do my best to find the answer, and sometimes people a little more detached than us have really unique and valuable queries and thoughts. As well, all of us are carrying cameras, and I am packing a serious equipment bag around. I would love to be posting photos as we go, but I fear that may not be possible. Ethiopia runs entirely on dial-up internet (gasp!) which is not entirely reliable. Between the slow connections speeds and common dropped connections, I feel the most realistic situation will have me posting photos when I return home while attempting to cross reference them with what was discussed in the blog. I’d love to get requests for photos you would like to see, and will do my best to get shots for you. Anything you would like to see to give you some insight. As well, any messages you want to send to the team or any team member will be passed along promptly.

I am tracking the the visits to this site, and am pleased to say we are already off to a healthy start. It’s a personal challenge of mine to see how many people we can get to follow along on our adventures. It will be educational, but I hope very entertaining as well. Once again I invite you to pass the site’s address to anyone you feel would be interested at all in following us in our adventures and follies.

And now I am going to lean back into my leather seat and listen to the clink of fine china as I enjoy a drink and a salad. Complimentary, of course. Cheers.

Until next time, yours in electronic correspondence,

Mike