Archive for March, 2008

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

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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