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Archive for the ‘Ethiopian cuisine’ Category

Three years ago  when I was new to Ethiopia I hesitated, somewhat fearful of the options before me – a line of blue and white taxis heading up the hill on Togo Street from the Haya Hulet (22) intersection on one side and a line of donkeys in tandem as I made my way to the VSO office. Should I risk getting kicked (I had read that donkeys can kick really hard) or brushed aside by a moving vehicle? In truth, there was nothing to worry about. Over the past two years I have come to enjoy these neighbourhood donkeys as they peacefully and stoically go about their work of carrying heavy loads – they are for hire and people order x number of “donkeys” of sand, wood, etc. When they have free time they lounge about, frolic in the open spaces or peacefully graze along the ditches.

donkeys in laneAfrican proverb: “If a donkey kicks you and you kick it back, you are both donkeys!”

My Addis Ababa neighbourhood has transformed drastically since I moved here two years ago; currently it has become a massive construction site along the main road and intersection due to construction of a light rail system for Addis. A reminder that nothing stays the same. Still, Haya Hulet has retained a sense of community for me as my small daily/weekly routines reassuringly continue. As I bid farewell to my volunteer life in Ethiopia, I want to appreciate the ways I have been nurtured by my neighbourhood in Haya Hulet (22) over the past two years by providing some glimpses of my routines and the people who enriched my life.

Amasha bread bakeryThis bakery sells tasty pita-like breads called ambesha, that toast up nicely for breakfast or sandwiches

flower shopBread and roses! This year I decided I would treat myself to fresh Ethiopia grown roses all the time – why not when they cost 10 cents each and are so fresh they can last for up to ten days?

black and white hair studioThe Black and White Hair Salon near St Gabriel’s Hospital of Djibouti Street where Dereije took good care of my hair

hairdressersBlack and White is a hive of activity on a Saturday afternoon!

breakfast with AnkeThe Mesti Cafe is a good quiet spot for breakfast in the sunny courtyard

Here I enjoy scrambled eggs in tomato sauce with a new friend Anke, who came to visit from Mombassa during the recent Kenyan election. She opened a nursery school there but lives most of the time in Vancouver so the next time we meet will be back home for a buna on Commercial Drive I expect! Anke and I met online in a discussion group last September while taking a UBC course on Culture, Communication and Development that is part of the International Development Certificate we are both completing.

construction at getfamThe Getfam Supermarket, my “go to” place for whole wheat pasta and other products not available in the smaller shops, is having a massive new building attached to the side

getfam constructionEucalyptus scaffolding is a common sight with so many buildings under construction 

The main drag near my place at the Haya Hulet intersection is Haile Gebre Selassie Street (after the Olympic runner). Over the past few months all the shops have had to move back about 10 meters to make way for the road construction. It is amazing how quickly they de-construct and re-establish themselves in a couple of weeks. All this moving makes walking even more hazardous, and really, really mucky now that the rainy season has arrived!

ditch at 22 It began a few months ago with roads being dug up and new pipes laid; some people say that also accounted for power and water cuts and internet cable problems…

Fruit and veg shopUp Togo Street and along the “middle road” closer to my place things are a bit more tame. This small shop has become my favourite shop for  fruits and vegetables – the sunny smiles of the helpful friendly staff  could brighten even the most overcast rainy season day. They will tell you not to buy the papaya if they are “not good” and are expert at selecting the best pineapple or avocado

inside fruit and veg shopThere is a lot packed inside this tiny shop!

fruit shopColourful produce brightens up many corners of the neighbourhood

golugul tower and donkeysThis building, the Gollugul Tower, was unwrapped about a year or so ago – when I first arrived  it was swathed in blue plastic and we used it as a landmark to find the VSO office, which has since re-located about a 20 minute walk away, down off the Getfam RoadBasket weaving manBy the park along Togo Street is this man who weaves baskets – I got my laundry basket and tiny side table from him and he has never given up trying to sell me more

veronica hotelThe Veronica Hotel is another landmark on the way up the hill to my place, right next door to the Pride Bar that was a gathering place before the VSO office moved out of the neighbourhood. Togo Street has become even more crowded and hazardous since the construction began

hole in the wall sewing centerLiterally operating a “hole in the wall” shop, this guy magically appears and then puts the fence back up when he closes;no one would guess he has his sewing machine inside!

haya hulet intersectionThis is what Haya Hulet intersection looked like a few months ago before the start of construction…on the right are the contract taxis that make Haya Hulet their base

daniel taxi driver and daughterHere is Daniel, an excellent taxi driver based at the intersection, taking his daughter to school!

The past few months I have gotten very expert at negotiating reasonable taxi fares due to my painful knee ligament flare-ups. I am hoping that my knee will heal up nicely once I am home on solid and even pavement.

new years day at haya huletAll these shops had to move back about 10 meters and many disappeared altogether – this is what it looked like in January

haya hulet from gollugulAnd now, in the midst of the construction, people dodge heavy equipment and shield their eyes from the dust

haya hulet under constructionThis is what Haya Hulet looked like this week!

haya hulet juztapositionA sign showing more construction to come as the vendors “carry on regardless” amidst the construction dust and noise   mitiku phone card manAto Mitiku is always cheerful, efficient and fun to visit – his shop is where I always bought my phone cards to top up the phone and the laptop

When the shop disappeared a couple of months back we were worried but my nearby neighbour and sister volunteer Judy found out from the guy selling newspapers on the sidewalk that Mitiku had relocated kitty corner and down a bit under the Chicago Pizza place. We were delighted to find him again and to learn that his 3 Birr discount on a hundred Birr card was still in effect!

judy and Lamaz at Ato Negash shopAcross from the Mesti Cafe is Ato Negash’s shop where we go for local gin or wine, Ambo mineral water and sometimes candles, eggs and laundry soap.

Here Judy is trading in some bottles and Ato Negash’s grand-daughter Almaz is in charge. Ato Negash has a perplexing system of noting down the bottles you have taken in a large notebook and then leafing though pages and pages to locate your name to see if you owe him or he owes you. He scolds me because he cannot find my name for the gin bottle because it was two  months ago – why not drink faster, he suggests!

mpo and brrom guyI will miss the distinctive and loud cry of the mop and broom guy who plies the laneways and never gives up trying to sell me his wares

mrs and Mr Hope electricThis has to be the nicest couple in the world

We call them “Mr and Mrs Hope Electric” with their side-by-side shops. She sells pajamas and clothes while his electric shop is jam packed with everything you need – and he can fix anything! Often they give you a cup of traditional coffee when you come by. He rigged up a creative three piece extension cord system so I could have a bedside lamp;for this I am eternally grateful. Then when the front of my iron fell off, he screwed it back together – no charge. Same thing when the dial fell off!

Nahuta MarketNahuta Market became a favourite soon after it opened this past year – it’s where I go for candles, olives, soft (toilet paper), coffee and imported wine, local cheese, eggs, yoghurt and butter- they also sell party hats!

outsdie NahutaAnd gas canisters

ditch at 22Walking around the neighbourhood has become more challenging each day, especially with daily rains that create thick, goopy mud

snesible shoes (not!)So when I saw these platform shoes for sale on Djibouti Street I had to laugh out loud. Imagine wearing them in the muck!

wini in cafeHere is Wini at her Gourmet Cafe about a block from my house

This amazingly popular place, open now for eight years, serves very tasty high quality “ferenji” food. Wini’s friend Mimi creates fabulous cakes, including carrot cake, and her strawberry tart is the best ever! Wini also has build a school near her home town and over a bowl of her chicken soup yesterday she told me she plans to be back in the US soon to raise funds to support it.

me and wini at gourmet cafeThe cafe patio is a great place to meet friends on a sunny day

Yesterday Wini inherited the remains of my truffle oil and vanilla beans since she is the only person I know who would actually appreciate and use them! A few months back she came over to my place to learn how I make biscotti.

marian and henok last ful mealHenok and I met for a final lunch at Tedy’s Snack off Djibouti Street near the Awaris Hotel- one final bowl of Ful. Amazing how different the Ful is in every cafe!

road runner jamboThe Road Runner Cafe, scene of my last jambo (draft beer) last night with this gang of volunteers, come to bid me adieau.

I was happy to hand over my leopard housecoat to Brian and the non-stick frying pan with glass lid to Sun and Howie. It has been a busy few weeks of giving away most of the worldly goods I’ve accumulated over the past three years.

Immediately after, I had a final feast of Almaz’s famous tibs (she knows they are my favourite and surprised me with some – how sweet). Soon after, we had a round of tearful hugs, I scratched Titi and Rocky behind the ears but Pico was uncharacteristically elusive and refused to say good-bye; I think he was punishing me for leaving. Earlier in the day he snuck into my packing madness and peed on the floor! Ato Kifle and Sami took me to the airport and after hours of check-in, two security checks and immigration fingerprinting I finally flew off about 1:30 am on one of Ethiopian Airlines other (not grounded) Dreamliners to London – I must say that despite the troubles Boeing is having with these planes, they are lovely, spacious aircraft.

Almaz and coffeeAlmaz served one last cup of traditional Ethiopian coffee just before I left for the airport

I hope to be back in a few years for a visit. Shelagh and I have talked of coming to see Henok graduate from medical school and I will want to see how Sami, Meron and Eyob have grown up as well as  connect with old friends from Woldia and in Addis. It would be fun to see the transformation of this city; by then there should be a functioning light rail system to ease the traffic problems and many more completed buildings. In the meantime, thanks to email and Facebook we can stay connected, as they like to say here, “from time to time”!

rocky and pico sleeping in sunSon and father sleeping in the sun – yes, I will be missing these guys!

But for now it is ciao to Ethiopia and my good neighbourhood as I head home with a pit stop in London to see VSO friends and relatives before the big wedding in Nelson, BC of my niece Lea and a chance to reunite with the whole family at a joyous celebration at the August long weekend.

Thank you Ethiopia – you have taught me a lot! Over the next few months, as I transition to  life back in Vancouver, I’ll be reflecting on how I have been changed by this experience before I close this blog following the Cuso International RV (returned volunteer) weekend in Ottawa next November.

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The Ethiopian Airlines flight landed smoothly and on time and as we stepped out into the sweltering heat of Dire Dawa a man with a sign saying “Welcome Marian and Howard” immediately packed us into his minibus and drove us up into the much cooler mountains lush with crops and intricate stone terracing. I was pleased that “Howard” aka “Howie” decided to join me on this expedition – he is a Canadian volunteer who’s been here for about 3 months now. He has lived in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean so it was fun to share this experience with a seasoned traveler who also happens to be a “foodie” like me! He and his housemate Mingfei Sun, a young IT volunteer from China, will be inheriting a lot of my kitchen stuff later on this week when I leave Ethiopia and I have no doubt this will advance their culinary adventures…mountain road  to hararMaize, coffee, khat are the major income generators in this area

hillside terraces en rout to hararHarar is located in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, about 525 km from Addis Ababa and 43 km from the lowland and very hot city of Dire Dawa. It take less than an hour to fly and 8-10 hours by road

lake along road to hararCloser to Harar we sped past a lake that is apparently great for bird life

narrow streetBiniyam, our terrific guide, met us at the gate to the old city of Harar, know as Jagul and led us down the narrow labyrinth of streets  to Rewda Guest House to drop off our backpacks

rewda's basket wallI had seen pictures of this traditional Harari house from other volunteers, but you really have to see it to believe it!

There are about 100 of these family houses still in operation in Jagul and each one has the same configuration with platforms at different levels for various household members to sit ( we won’t dwell on the male superiority embedded in this…). The walls hold the treasured baskets of the family, made by the women, some of the largest taking months to complete. A girl needed to make a certain number of various types, including” Mother-in-Law” baskets prior to marriage. A more recent addition is the colourful enamel ware from Asia that seems to blend in perfectly.

orignal harari carpet weavingThe carpets are imports from the middle east but Biniyam flipped one up to show us an original woven carpet underneath

pot "banks"The four large black containers on the shelf are the family “bank” originally containing coins, jewelry, incense and seeds

fine basket workWe flipped a coin and I got the upper room in the main house and Howie got one in the courtyard next to the shared bathroom

Rewda’s Guest House has about 3-4 rooms for rent within the family compound. Normally she serves a delicious breakfast but because it is now Ramadan we paid a bit less and ate out in the new town. Harar is considered the spiritual heart of Ethiopia’s large Islamic community and the fourth holiest city of Islam. Almost the entire population of Jagul is Muslim, although there is one Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church and one Catholic church in the city. We were treated to late night chanting (with a bit of excessive drumming in my opinion) but it did add to the authenticity of experience!

late afternoon lightEvery one of the hundreds of narrow streets offers fascinating views – it felt like going back in time (if one blanked out the electric wires and satelite dishes!)

making tibs at hirutTime for lunch at the atmospheric Hirut Restaurant where the chef puts on a good show in the open kitchen

special tibs at Hirut restairantVoila – Special Tibs, made with goat meat served with awaze paste and a basket of bread.injera to scoop it up

wall from aboveAfter lunch we took a tuk-tuk above the old town to get a birds eye view of the wall built in the 1560’s

big mosqueBiniyam estimates about 40,000 people currently live in Jagul

meskel flower close upOn the hillside I was pleased to get close up to some meskel daisies; these are sold for the September 27th Orthodox Christian Meskel celebrations all over Ethiopia but I had never before seen them growing in the wild

gateThen we proceeded down to the Buda Gate, one of the 5 main gates of the old city

downhill from gate marketHarari women dress very colourfully so every view is a visual feast

biniyam and berebere at marketShiro and berbere among the many tasty blends available by the kilo – when I asked for a small handful of Danakil salt and a bit of tikur azmut (black cumin) to bring home, they didn’t charge me because they consider these amounts too small!

bird on grain sackFire finches enjoy free samples too!

oily beans goolow for greasing injera makerBiniyam squeezed some beans (goolow) to show us how these oily beans are used for their greasing the traditional clay injera griddles. I was able to finally understand what Dirib had tied to explain to me in Woldia when she showed me how to make injera; at the time I had been confused when  she indicated that the grease she had in an old tin was from a bean!

woil containersThis market is huge – here a whole section is dedicated to re-cycling the ubiquitous yellow oil containers

man sleeping in marketWhen you are fasting from sun up to sun down an afternoon nap can be very tempting!

women carying woodWomen carrying heavy loads of wood

women walking past green buildingI saw many more women carrying things on their heads here than anywhere else I had been in Ethiopia

woman with large plastic bag loadHow heavy is this?

wall coloursLovely colourful walls presented themselves at almost every turn

blue mosqueHarar has 90+ tiny mosques as well as several large ones and is said to have the largest concentration of such shrines in the world

turqoise top mosqueEach one unique

upper level indian influenceThe Indian influence is seen on a number of houses with interesting balconies and roof finials

rimbuad museumThe Rimbaud Museum in a building restored with funds form France to celebrate the 12 years French poet Arthur Rimbaud spent in Harar in the late 1800’s

rimbaud museum stairsRimbaud poetry on the walls!

rimbuad top floor ceilingFrescoes on the ceilings

rimbaud artSketching journals

old photoAn interesting collection of old photos

view from rimbaud houseGreat views of the old city

bird of preyIncluding for the massive kites that circle overhead!

blacksmith shopThis is the Blacksmith area closed now for Ramadan

wall buildersAn old wall being restored in traditional fashion

Harar is a UNESCO World Heritage site and awarded a Peace Prize in 2002-2003 for being a role model of different cultures and religions living in harmony

UNESCO cities for peace prize

main  gateThe main Harar gate with the UNESCO and Peace Prize plaques

stiars and mosqueAncient stone steps lead to a mosque

coffee raoterIsn’t it time for some coffee?

roasted coffee spinningDivine aroma!

coffee packingGrinding and packing the buna  by the kilo – yes there is some coming home to Vancouver with me!

nure coffeeNure Roasted Harar Coffee – famous all over Ethiopia!

mosque detailTraditional basket replica outside a mosque

hyena guyAs night falls the hyenas come out. This has been a tourist attraction of Harar since the 50’s or 60’s

howie "kissing " hyenaHowie is kissed by a hyena!

howie with hyena on his backHowie and hungry hyena with meat in his mouth

feeding hyena with stickI decide its not that scary but ask for a longer stick

me feeding hyenaThen get braver and make him do tricks

hyena on my backBut realize that hyenas are really heavy (males weight 80-85 kg and females 85-90) and I don’t want it pressing on my back so say “Get this thing off me – beka (enough) and woraj (stop)” Hey but I DID it! His name was Willie I think – all these hyenas have names!

hyena place by dayIn daylight we see the site of the hyena feeding – a shine to a Muslim saint – these often are build with sycamore trees planted on top that eventually merge with the shrine as this one has…

harar fulNext morning Biniyam picks us up to go to eat ful at his favourite spot and I down a double makeeto in anticipation of another big day of sight seeing

khat buildingsWe hop a line taxi to Aweday about 5 km away and the site of Ethiopia’s largest khat market – that’s a typical khat bundle being carried on her head. The khat is wrapped in wet leaves to keep it moist…I decide the architect of the building on the left must have been chewing!

khat market entrance womenEntering the khat market into another world!

khat bouquet on headKhat must be consumed within 48 hours and this place bustles 24-7 with trucks speeding off to Djibouti and Somaliland with top quality khat. The fresh green leaf is a mild stimulant that is legal in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen and Somalia

girl who wanted her photo takenWe climbed up the stairs for a better view of the massive scene and this girl asked me to take her photo

men in room sorting khatRoom after room is full of chat being sorted and bundled by men

biniyam and top quality khatBiniyam displays a bundle of the best, costing about 1000 Birr ($60 CDN)

scene from above khat sortingWe were told that khat is a big income generator for Ethiopia and because it grows faster than coffee and is worth more it is taking over coffee production in the region. And no, I did not try any – my metabolism is already speedy enough!

rooftopBack in Jagul we continued to tour. This is a house that future Emperor Haile Selassie is said to have lived in until age 18

selaasie home detail rooftopNow being transformed into a museum to preserve/display the history of Harar

small mosqueFor lunch we met a couple of fellow volunteers, Helen and Mark Anthony, from nearby Haromaya University for a leisurely lunch at a local ferenji spot called Fresh Touch in the new town, then meandered back to Rewda’s to relax a bit in the courtyard and watch the kids playing.  When we got there a goat had just been slaughtered at the gate so we had to wait for the blood to be hosed away before we could get in…!

future hyena tamerA future hyena tamer practices on the cat with the freshly slaughtered goat meat!

Later on we wandered back to Hirut for dinner and conversation with Biniyam – since he knows every detail of his city and the history of Ethiopia and has become very well aware of many parts of the world from his interactions with tourists from all over, he is a great conversationalist. At 25 he has a bright future ahead of him I am sure. Every aspect of our visit was a delight; he seemed to know exactly what tell us and what to show us, tailoring the walks to suit our interests and ensuring we did not miss any highlights that if we were simply wandering about on our own we would surely have missed.

flour millLike a peek inside a flour mill

making fetireOr where to find the expert who makes fetira in this giant griddle

howie and breakfast fetire and chechebsaSunday morning we set off for another cafe to sample fetira with egg and honey and spicy chechebsa, both very tasty!

donkey basket with mangoesThen took a walk through the peaceful early morning streets to the mango market – it is mango season and donkeys are the main transporters using these attractive leather saddles

mango marketMangos galore

braying donleyThis donkey had a loud opinion!

wall sceneBack inside the old city past another one of the gates near the mango market

colourful houseInside a well known Harari  family compound attached to a mosque

tomb wall creatorFinally we arrive at the tomb of the man who built the Harar wall – Ibn Nur al Mujahadeen

Domes can tell you if the person was a warrior, politician, scholar or spiritual protector. They have 99 protrusions to indicate the 99 names of Allah and also for practical reasons to maintain the structure by allowing climbing for upkeep and painting.

tomb of wall creatorI had a scarf to cover my head and took off my shoes to see inside – this tomb is surrounded by other graves

boy inside tombThis little guy came in with me!

Late morning we hustled back to collect our bags for the drive back to the Dire Dawa airport and the flight home to Addis after a great weekend in Harar.

ras mekkonen on horseStatue of Ras Mekonnen, father of Emperor Haile Selassie and the man appointed by Emperor Menelik to rule Harar after defeating Emir Abdullah at the Battle of Chelenko in 1887

Final photo of us on HararFinal photo as we head back to the airport – thanks Biniyam for an absolutely perfect Harar tour!

NOTE: Anyone wanting to contact tourist guide Biniyam can email him at feresmegala@gmail.com or call 0911 076 059

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On March 15, one week after International Women’s Day, I was amazed to receive an email from Atota Bedane announcing that a group of 5 teaching staff at Mada Walabu University had put together a gender proposal and were seeking the support of our Gender Directorate.

atota me and kedir at M oEWe would like your overall support, at least professionally, your knowledge, skills and expertise/experience on the issue. As a result, we want to recruit at least 2 experts from the Ministry Gender Directorate, including Marian Dodds, as trainers.”

Atota had participated in several gender workshops I had done over the past couple of years in his role as a Higher Diploma Leader so that’s how he knew me. A well thought out proposal was attached to his message outlining what they had already done – amazing! I replied that I would be pleased to assist and asked when would they next be in Addis to discuss the plan.

half the sky signAtota told me that he had some students pose and computer science students made this design to include on their proposal; later it was made into attractive banners

A week or two later Atota and Kedir arrived at my office to discuss their plan. Why do you two guys care so much about gender issues? I was simultaneously amazed at their initiative to draft an ambitious proposal to “Engender Higher Education Curricula to Ensure Equity and Quality of Education” and curious at such passionate concern for gender equality by two well educated young men (both have Masters degrees). One said he had attended a lot of gender workshops and had realized how important an issue it was for the country’s development. Both had seen female relatives suffer from lower expectations and opportunities. As University instructors they also wanted their female students to be successful.

Robe shopYoung women outside a shop in Robe, Oromia

The statistics speak volumes. Imagine the uphill struggle for an Ethiopian girl to make it all the way to grade 12 graduation, then be assigned a faculty and university, not necessarily her first choice of studies and likely far from home, only to be put on “warning” due to low grades and in some cases dismissed after the first semester?

Currently the MoE Gender Directorate is preparing a new Gender Education Strategy for the Education and Training Sector and the issues have become all too familiar to me after months of discussions and feedback sessions with educators working on the ground. The entire education system from policy level to the academic environment to physical infrastructures (think segregated hygienic toilets with locks and water available – only a dream in most schools here) present extra challenges for female students and staff.

abigiya and key message signMWU Gender Officer Abigiya poses in front of a banner that reads “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenges of reducing poverty, promoting sustainability and building good government”

The slogan “A country cannot develop without the full participation of all its’ citizens, both females and males” appears to have become the rallying cry and since about 96% of the academic and management staff are male, it is men who are often leading the way. The World Bank estimates that if Ethiopian women were fully integrated into the economy the GDP would rise by 1.9% per year, contributing much to poverty reduction. For universities, the key challenge is to make all campuses “Female Friendly” despite resource shortages.

madawalabu sign

Twice Atota and Kedir made the 800km round trip from Mada Walabu University to Addis to meet with me to share their ideas and gather resources as their plans evolved. I helped connect them with others in the Ministry, including my director Mekdes Eyoel who offered advice, encouragement and support to move things forward. Their flash drives were filled with gender resources from my computer. Despite Internet challenges they managed to email me drafts of their plans and I sent them feedback. Their university president was fully behind the plan and the requisite bodies approved enough of their proposed budget to allow them to complete the gender sensitization process and begin action planning for students and staff before the end of the academic year.

At the 11th hour the MoE could not supply a car and driver so they overcame bureaucratic challenges I don’t even want to imagine to arrange for a car from their university to collect me and my MoE colleague Zaid and to bring us back! Kedir even made the trip to Addis with a terrific driver named Daniel just to ensure it all went smoothly.

black smoke pollution

On June 17th I was happy to be on the road and moving away from the pollution of the congested highway out of Addis…!

breakfastBreakfast stop at Mojo – Zaid, Daniel the driver, Getema and Kedir (L-R)

camelsAlong the Rift Valley lowlands we encountered a huge group of camels, likely on their way to the market

3 onion boysEthiopian road trips invariably involve a stop or two to buy some of what’s in season – in this case onions!

After our buna break at Shashemene the landscape began to shift to narrower and more winding roads and the mountain climbing began, a suitable metaphor for the work ahead. I don’t imagine many people are invited to assist an entire university in “Engendering the curriculum” and I felt fortunate to be invited to help. Weeks earlier I had wondered if we would overcome the assorted challenges to pull this training off so, as I inhaled the fresh mountain air, I was especially pleased to be on this road trip 430 km southeast of Addis to Mada Walabu University in Robe, a town of about 70,000 in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

baboons ahead!Suddenly a baboon family appeared on the road ahead

baboonsUnexpected delights of the journey

agora betTraditional houses dotted the roadside

big nyalaWe saw nyalas off in the grassy areas

nyala close up

high road and valleyAnd climbed higher and higher into the mountains

lush crops patchworkAbundant fields of wheat, barley and maize – delightfully lush patchworks of colour

gari donkey and mosqueMany more mosques in this part of the country

man standing up on gari

Standing up on garis seems to be common practice here – must have pretty good balance!

looks like rain aheadLooks like rain up ahead as we get closer to out destination

park sign

Warmly welcomed by Atota and Kedir, Zaid and I settled into a great hotel they had arranged for us in the nearby town of Goba and the team met over dinner to finalize the plans for the next day’s session, planned for about 10% of the 400 instructors at the university. Mada Walabu is newer university with about 5000 students. It is 6 years old and most of the construction is complete – they are fortunate to have a large ELIC/HDP building with offices, open space and a classroom.

2 signs outside the meeting hallNext morning we arrived to see the key message of the events announced on a giant banner!

the team with bctf buttonsThe planning team: Kadir, Tesfaye, Kefale, Abigiya and Atota (L-R)

This dedicated team has a plan to educate and activate the university community (600+ students,150 instructors,450 administrative support staff and 50 top managers)  to effect changes that will advance gender equality and make MWU a model for others to follow…

Atota opening speechAtota opened the training day for the instructors with an outline of the project stating that the gender issue is a burning issue that is on the global, national and institutional agenda. He said that gender equality is a key to poverty reduction, sustainable development and good governance in any society. Next he introduced the university president who is very supportive of this work

Dr Ketma Meskela MWU President

University President Dr Ketema Meskela spoke clearly and directly about the importance of gender equality to the university community and noted the key role played by instructors in moving things forward. I later learned over dinner that Dr Ketema spent four years in China doing his doctorate and can speak Mandarin!

tesfaye

Tesfaye presented data on attrition rates of female students to provide concrete examples of the current situation

Then we got down to a series of mini-sessions aimed at highlighting both the issues and actions that are needed to address gender equality at their university with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction. Three enthusiastic young Peace Corps volunteers working in the region were also invited to participate and may be able to offer additional support, especially for the female students as the project moves forward.

yes or no?A yes/no survey warmed things up. Do you prefer a son to a daughter?

women instructors yes-noDo you think it is possible to achieve equality? Of the 400+ teaching staff, only 17 are female

Abigiya with proud to be teacher buttonTeam member Abigiya is one of them! She has a Masters degree in Biology

equal oppotunity but not equal access on the real issues on the ground

Equal opportunity but not equal access on the real issues on the ground – lesson learned about the difference between equity and equality from group discussions using the story of the fox and the crane

Zaid, Tesfaye and Kedir at lunch cafeLunch break in Roba town at their favourite cafe – serving raw meat and shekla tibs (beef cooked over charcoal)

instructors develop action plansGroup work on language use – a discussion on proverbs was especially popular

action plan

The afternoon ended with action plans being drafted and evaluations completed. The day was rated highly and many needs for further training were identified by the participants

While I summarized the evaluation forms and we further refined the plan for next day’s managerial staff training, my colleague Zaid took time to discuss the work of the MWU Gender Office

Abigiya and Zaid in gender officeAbigiya and Zaid discuss her work in the gender office – the MoE Gender Directorate offers support and encouragement for such initiatives to increase the success of female students. Abigiya explained the sign designed  to celebrate high achieving students

top students displayThis sign, initiated  by the Gender Office, is displayed on a library building to celebrate the highest achievers at the university; there are a number of female students in this category to be role models for others who follow!

The gender office has a plan to add a photo banner each year of the highest achieving students to be seen as an inspiration to all the students on campus.

On Thursday we conducted the training for the managerial staff

panel presenters

The morning training for managerial staff began with a panel presentation by the team explaining the results of the student training the previous week and a sobering analysis of the data on females students at Mada Walabu University. Higher attrition rates for female students, the issue of Gender Based Violence (GBV) identified by students on campus and the lack of gender responsive pedagogy set the backdrop for the managers to begin a deeper analysis of the issues and identify opportunities for actions to improve the situation within their respective portfolios.

managers listeningManagerial staff listen closely

My PowerpointI presented a “gapped lecture” titled “Gender policy background, gender issues and gender mainstreaming at higher learning institutions in Ethiopia” with time for mini-discussions after each topic

managers discussingDiscussing information presented as it applies to their area of responsibility be it finance, clinic, support staff, public relations, etc.

managers at work on actionsDrafting some initial action plans to mainstream gender into their work. The feedback was positive and hopeful with a request for further training at the end

team in front of signA final team picture!

By the end of June this part of the project will conclude with a training for administrative support staff on the issues and the roles that secretaries, guards, cafeteria workers and others can play in creating a safe and secure environment for all. No doubt the team will be submitting a proposal to further the initiative in the next academic year.

A surprise on our last afternoon was a trip up the Bale Mountain National Park to the Sanetti Plateau where Kafale, Abigiya, Zaid and I enjoyed the fresh air and awesome views at around 4000 meters.

hareCan you spot the hare?

Described in the Bradt Guide as “The world’s largest expanse of Afro-alpine moorland…renowned for supporting the most substantial extant population of the Ethiopian wolf … other mammals are the Abyssinian hare, the endemic giant molerat, and a number of other endemic small burrowing rodents.” I got a fleeting glimpse of a wolf, managed a snapshot of a hare and side stepped many rat holes while wandering around exploring the plateau.

KefalePsychology instructor Kefale was thrilled to have his first visit to this plateau and I delighted in his exuberance as we hiked past giant lobelia trees

me hugging lobelia in wind:coldAs a true Canadian, I couldn’t resist the urge to hug a tree! It was very breezy and bracingly cold.

dead lobelia trunkDead lobelia trees make lovely sculptures

lake at senattiI was surprised by how many small lakes there were…

Kefale at senattiA painters dream landscape…

ground cover plantsThe ground cover presented fascinating miniature worlds and the air was filled with birdsong

blue flowers close up Lovely wildflowers lichen on rock close upLichen covered rocks

red foxLook hard and you’ll see a couple of the endangered Ethiopian red foxes – this was a rare sighting, thanks to the park guard in the back of the truck who spotted them as we headed back down the mountain

red fox painting in President's officeThis is what they looked like in the President’s office!

I wish I could have hiked there for a few days. Other parts of the park can be enjoyed on horseback and rough camping is available with several simple mountain shelters with guards. Tourism in this area is in its infancy with huge potential for growth. The university offers Eco-Tourism and Tourism Management degrees. I met the Director and hope to connect him with counterparts back in BC who might be interested in sharing ideas.

The road home on Friday was another delight with an abundance of warthogs, some baboons, plenty of nyalas and even the surprise of a very large spotted hyena loping along the roadside in broad daylight as we traveled through the Rift Valley lowlands.

warthogWhy did the warthog charge across the road?

2 warthogsMaybe to meet up with his friend?

agora bet and cavesWe passed this dramatic rock formation full of caves at Sebesebe. The region also has the Sof Omar Caves to explore, reputedly the largest network of limestone caverns in Africa

mraket carts on way homeIt was market day in some small towns along the route and as the journey progressed we passed many donkey carts loaded with people heading home

horse riderThere are a lot more horses and riders in this region than I have seen elsewhere in Ethiopia, including women riders

deribe driver at lunch in shashemene

We took a lunch break in Shashemene and great driver Deribe had some tasty skekla ground beef with injera

MWU logoMada Walabu University – an inspiring place to visit!

I have to say this was one of the best weeks of my time here as a gender adviser; I felt I was doing what I had dreamed I would be able to do when I signed on and, as I promised the group at MWU, if they email me when I get back home to Canada in a few weeks, I will do my best to continue to offer technical/academic support based on what they identify as their training and research needs.

Though their climb is steep I believe they are fit for the challenge and I wish them all the best. I deeply appreciate the hospitality and enthusiasm they shared; this will be a lasting great memory of my Ethiopian volunteer experience!

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The preparations began weeks ahead with the setting of the date (Saturday, June 15th) and invitations issued. This past week involved a flurry of provisioning and baking. Meron and Eyob offered to decorate and Sami appointed himself the music man. Peter kindly agreed to let us transform his larger salon into the indoor party place since the rainy season is early this year and the forecast was metfo (bad) with thunder and rain predicted.

meron and etob decoratingMeron and Eyob get into decorating mode

kifle eyob and almazCooking up chocolate cake, pumpkin pie and lentil curry in my kitchen! Even Ato Kifle came in to watch – he is the expert sheep selector!

decorations

The decorating started early and continued all afternoon, using up all the balloons, ribbons, candy wrappers and tape I had squirreled away for the occasion of my last hurrah!

eyob and meron at work on watermelonSaturday morning we get down to serious preparations. Here are Eyob and Meron – the watermelon team!

meron and I with our art!Meron and I show off our creations!

a touch of canada olives and cheddarCanadian content – olives and cheddar on flag toothpicks.

night sheepWhen I got home from having a pint at the Pride after my last (yipee!) Volunteer Committee meeting on Friday evening Sami immediately introduced me to our sheep!

very attractive sheepNext morning I thanked the sheep and assured it that it would be memorialized on the internet  for its contribution to the party

dogs wait from a distanceMeanwhile these three waited from a safe distance in hungry anticipation! I am happy to say that they behaved very well at the party, no one was nipped or even threatened – I think they were too full! Rocky the pup seems to have had a positive effect on his parents!

sheep and butcherThe butcher arrived late morning

slaughtered sheep hangingBloody business…but close to the bone;after all, if you eat meat, this is as close to the source as it gets

cutting up sheepAlem, who is staying with us now and has been working in the middle east off and on for the past 8 years, assisted with the meat cutting. She is an awesome cook and helped out a lot this week! I think she should open her own cafe..

amazon and alem with lots of meat!Amazon and Alem have plenty of chopping and cutting on their hands!

adding more meatAlmaz, Amazon and Etenu ( and Alem) all got involved in the tibs preparation

goodbye signPeter’s walls made a good backdrop for goodbye messages in both official languages

table and decorations in  peters place with me and eyobSami decided it was time for a photo when we began setting out food

sami the music manMusic by Sami. Peter decided he has a future s a DJ!

sami's pumpkin pieSami proudly shows off pumpkin pies squares he has decorated with Canadian maple syrup cream and walnuts and then says to me “I think it is time for you to change”…

me in woldia dressSo I put on my Woldia party dress!

sizzling tibsMeantime the tibs continued to simmer and scent the air wonderfully

cooking the tibsI recently found out that Almaz had a cafe before Sami was born – no wonder she is such a great chef!

sandwiched between 2 peters!Peter K was first to arrive so we decided it was time for a glass of wine with me sandwiched between the “two Peters” in Peter’s salon (he is on the left). Peter K told Sami that all British men named Peter come with beards and glasses!

peter and endashaw - my neighboursThis past year Peter Cheer and Endashaw have been my friendly compound neighbours

anjeli mike and endashawCanadian doctors Anjeli and Mike along with Endashaw, also Canadian, are all heading home soon

suzie and judySuzie and Judy share a moment!

tucking in to appetizers and conversationThe crowd grows and the skies threaten but hold off so we can enjoy the open space

food is served by almazTibs, gomen and lentil curry are served with injera!

howie abiy and samiHowie, Abiy Eshete (artist) and Sami share ideas

henok and meronHenok and his sister Meron arrive!

lovely smiles - merson and edanWonderful support staff from VSO Meron and Eden enjoy the scene. Missing Selamwit in this picture – she is a true gem and was off elsewhere enjoying the party – so glad they all could come!

Selamawit receptionHere’s a picture of Selamawit!

These three young bright talented women deserve gold stars for all the hard work they do for volunteers!

liz and biruk reunion!More arrive and greet old friends – lots of out-of-towners came too!

kate barbara helen and danKate, Barbara, Helen and “Big Dan” enjoy the  buffet

eating tibs!

howie and shvetaFriend Shveta who works at MoE as a consultant arrives to join the fun!

me and difo dabbo!I must pose with the special Difo Dabbo Almaz made for the occasion

judy with lit cakeSurprise – a birthday cake because on Sunday I turn silsa arat. Thanks to Judy!

trick candles again!Oh no  – its those same candles from last year that keep re-igniting no matter how hard you blow them!

sami and sun light fireworksYes Sami, it is finally time for the fireworks! Sun from China (where fireworks were invented)  helps him get them started

difo dabo on fire!Good show! There were small sparklers too handed around by Eyob, just for fun

dr brian meets henokCanadian Dr Brian finally gets to meet Henok who is a student at Black Lion Hospital medical school where Brian is working to set up a family medicine specialization program

edith and danielEdith and Daniel, Kenyan volunteers sharing a laugh!

eyob me kifle shveta and almazTime to pose with Eyob, Kifle, Shveta and Almaz

mary may move into my houseMary is from the Philippines and also works at MoE; she hopes to end up with my tiny cozy house when I go in a month!

meeting the artistThe rain held off till quite late and then we were indoors. Abiy had brought some of his small paintings to show people and they were much admired and some were sold!

crowd sceneThe rains ended quickly and we were again able to enjoy the compound atmosphere. Many others leave Ethiopia very soon; about 30% of all the current volunteers are finishing up so this moment was a time of farewells for many of us

eyob's tributeEyob decided to do a tribute to me -so sweet!

I feel blessed – thanks to all who came and others far away who sent good wishes.  Good memories of my time in Addis center on the sense of shared community; the VSO/Cuso volunteer community and the amazing support in our compound community of Kifle, Almaz, Sami, Meron, Eyob, Amazon, Etenu, Alem and Peter to pull this off! Not many 64 year old Canadians can say they’ve celebrated their birthday two years in a row with a sheep feast in Ethiopia but, thanks to Cuso International and VSO, I am one who can!

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“What is this?” I asked Kamira, owner of the small shop below my Vancouver apartment about 3 1/2 years ago. A 500 ml plastic container with some orange powder had caught my attention. “Oh that’s berbere from my country, Ethiopia”, she said. And so I learned that Berbere, pronounced Burrburray, is the spice of life in Ethiopian cuisine. Little did I imagine that day that I would become so immersed in all things berbere.

From the highland countryside of Woldia to the urban landscape of Addis, with its population estimated at 3,5 million. and everyplace in between, one is never far from the  sight is chillis drying in the Ethiopian sun.

drying chilisImmersed in berbere production with masses of chilis sun drying in front of my door!

chili close upChilis are the major ingredient of berbere. They give a medium level heat to spice up many Ethiopian wots (stews). It is also used as a condiment

sacks of berebere ingredientsPurchased at the market in giant sacks

berbere chili wholesalersWeigh scales in a wholesalers shopberbere loading Loading up chillis to be weighed

preparing chilisMeticulously cleaned and sorted

sorting dried chilsThis. like much of Ethiopian food preparation, is a time consuming enterprise

red onionRed onions peeled and ready for sun bathing

peeling garlic and onionGarlic by the kilo patiently peeled and dried. Almaz, Etenu and Amazon = women’s teamwork in action!

berbere ingredients garlic,herb mix and gingerGinger, garlic and herbs all chopped up

besobilaBesobila (basil) ready to pluck from the pot in the yard

tenadamTenadem (rue) with its unique flavour goes in the mix. The Amharic  translates as rib of Adam

berbere herbs blendedAlmaz spreads out ground up herbs ready for their time in the sun

the prepared bowls of ingredientsEverything set out ready to be pounded into a paste. There are various recipes for berbere in cookbooks and online but in fact  every woman has her own special mix that may be a well guarded family secret!

pounding the mixture for berbereAmazon lives up to her name with a massive effort of pounding with a giant wooden mortar and pestle

pounded chilisReady to sun dry for 3 days now that it is pounded

berbere paste ready to dryAlmaz admires her special blend!

grinding millA grinding mill where berbere, shiro and other special blends are ground to fine powder. The fumes when the chillis are being ground are overwhelming!

berbere closeupBack from the grinding mill and ready to use!

amazon and berber bacl from millAn Ethiopian family will use many kilos of berbere each year. Many recipes call for a cup or more of berbere!

berbere by the kiloBerbere can be purchased in the markets by the cupful…

berbere for sale in shopOr you can buy berbere by the kilo is small shops in every neighbourhood. I am lucky enough to get mine from Almaz – made in our own compound!

pepper berbere and salt dishI have added berbere to my salt and pepper tray. However for me, a few hundred grams a year is plenty!

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The bus touts swarmed us at the Woldia manaharia (bus station) but we were experienced enough to play it cool. Whenever foreigners appears in Woldia they are accosted by shouts of “Lalibela, Lalibela”. This is the main reason anyone passes through Woldia – to visit the 11 rock-hewn churches of this famous UNESCO world heritage site and likely accounts for a large percentage of Ethiopia’s tourism income. But that was not our motivation to visit this time.

My travel strategy involved seeking out a bright looking English speaking young man who appeared to be trying to get on the same bus

“Hello, are you going to Lalibela?” I ask

“Yes I am”, he replied in good English

“Great, so are we, can you help us out?”

“Of course”,  he volunteered.

True to his word, he made sure we got seats and then helped us negotiate the second bus once we arrived in the chaos of small town Gashena. Turns out he is working for a German NGO that is involved in saving the endangered endemic Ethiopian wolf.

stradling 2 vansWe squeezed onto a mini-bus going to Gashena  on the ashphalt road (aka the “China Road”) and hoped for the best…after all, these roads were more straightforward with fewer hairpin curves up the mountainsides

The last time Shelagh and I had done this trip we had taken a bus that diverted to a “short cut” gravel road where we had to ford a “small river” washout with 50 others on a 24 passenger bus. This time this one proved a better option…the road was good and the ride not bad, only a couple of stops to ditch extra passengers prior to the traffic police check and then collect them again a few kilometers ahead – they appeared to have sprinted through the fields to catch up. Well, Ethiopia is famous for its’ runners after all!

next bus to lalibelaThe second mini-bus from Gashena to Lalibela, fated to be stopped twice by the traffic police and once for onions!

buna breakTaking a buna break in Gashena while the mini-bus gets a tune up, Steve and Shelagh are anticipating meeting their Plan foster girl the next day in a small village near Lalibela

My motivation was to cut down travel time back to Addis by taking this route and flying back the next day. At the same time I would get to see our Scottish friend Susan who now has a flourishing restaurant, Ben Abeba, on top of a mountain in  Lalibela. Shelagh and I had seen it half built two years earlier and I had been back in January 2012. Since then I had sent countless other volunteers there to be nourished by Susan’s good home cooking and always got happy reports of her superb hospitality. I wanted to spend one more evening on the top of the world with good friends!

minibus from woldiaLooks like there’s room for a few more in here…

lowland townTypical scenes along the way

two goatsSometimes it is just easier to sling a defiant goat over your shoulder!

dirt road to lalibelaYes the woman (and the donkey) usually carries the bigger burden here…

boys looking at us in busWhenever a bus stops children instantly appeared to stare in at us and beg for pens, money and candies. I tried to get a good photo of girls but every time I made an attempt boys would jump in front of them with a grin. Yes indeed there is much gender work left to do here…

Heartbreaking as it is, when confronted by these kids, to hand out trinkets would result in literally dozens more appearing out of nowhere and demanding more. In Ethiopia there is never enough and, especially where tourists abound, the children have learned that begging often yields results. As development workers with concerns about long term solutions to poverty the challenge always is to balance compassion with pragmatism. I find that smiles and jokes, asking them some questions (what grade are you in?), some attempts at broken Amharic and showing them their photos on the camera screen works for me…

In the Bradt Guide author Phillip Briggs makes a good point  in his piece on responsible tourism: ” The thread that runs through my opinions is that you should never give things to people who ask just because you are a foreigner. The give-me, give-me, give-me attitude is prevalent enough already in Ethiopia;responding to it will only reinforce it.”

In Lalibela town itself the kids are trained to say “Welcome to Lalibea” and not to beg overtly. A favourite scam though is the one that goes like this: “I really want to learn English – would you please buy me a dictionary?”  The naive tourist is taken to a shop, pleased to support some poor kid’s education. The same dictionary has been sold hundreds of times, the shopkeepers are laughing all the way to the bank and the kid pockets few Birr as well! He could have been in school instead.

boys with ballShowing off their hand made ball

loading onionsRed onions skins drifted past my open window and scented our luggage as five sacks of onions added a weight to the roof that I though might cause it to cave in!

Our bus had several long unscheduled stops on the gravel road from Gashena to Lalibela. While it is only 60 km we spent time loading 5 sacks of red onions at one point and a hour long pause while the traffic police issued the driver with what looked like several tickets and smacked him in the face while half the passengers stood around and weighed in on the situation. Someone took an air filter hostage so the bus could not take off. In situations like this, the only smart move is to stay put and quiet and allow things to resolve. Eventually a fine was paid, the filter returned and we were on the road again.

looking downFinally at about 4 PM we chugged up to the top of the mountain in Lalibela. 175 km, two mini-buses and 7 hours travel time. Oh well – it took Thomas Pakenham 4 days on a mule from Dessie to Lalibela so things have certainly developed since 1955!

me and susanAfter a deliciously decadent hot shower at the Top 12 Hotel set on the nearby cliff, we finally met Susan for our reunion at Ben Abeba –  Salut!

During her 6 years living in Lalibela Susan has opened a school and a restaurant and shows no sign of stopping with plans for accommodation in the works – not your usual retirement! Ben Abeba employs 32 cheerful young people who are being taught hospitality industry skills in cooking, serving, finance, management and customer service. I have no doubt this initiative will ripple out for years to come and improve the lives of many more Lalibela citizens.

kitchenThis is likely the most beautiful kitchen in the country! The girl in the foreground in scrubbing out giant pan for the film set…

Ben Abeba gets great reviews on Trip Advisor and has made it into the new 2012 version of the excellent Bradt Guide to Ethiopia – only problem is they raved about her Shepherd’s Pie so now they are obliged to make it every day; one night they served 20 portions! Steve and I enjoyed it too while Shelagh opted for the meatballs and pasta.

movie set and habtamAnd here’s a surprise – we are on a film set!

Susan’s Ethiopian business partner Habtam shows off the film set – turns out an Irish-American co-production is being partially filmed at Ben Abeba and the new flowers and plants will remain as a garden legacy. Titled “Wild”, this Lalibela love story is expected to be in theatres in about a year.

ben abebaMore railings and a glassed in area have been added since I last visited

wifi at ben abebaAnd yet another surprise – Susan has Wifi!

down pool ben abebaGardens and future sites for some small tukuls to rent out

dining on top at sunsetBen Abeba at sunset – a destination well worth the effort!

sunset with railingAfter a long and lovely evening reminiscing and catching up, we said our farewells and headed off to the Top 12 Hotel where I sunk into a decadent mattress with springs – foreshadowing what’s to come when I get home in two months after three years of VSO foam!

lalibela quiltTucked under a heavenly Lalibela angels quilt for a great night’s sleep…

Next morning Shelagh and Steve were collected by Plan officials to meet their foster girl and I chatted with two couples staying at our hotel en route to the airport who had enjoyed hiking in the mountains. The Swiss couple plan to visit Vancouver in the fall so I invited them to look me up there! He has been working with Medicins sans Frontiers in the Somali region for a while with interesting stories to tell. You never know…

fields from planeFlying home over freshly planted fields

ploughing with oxenAll these fields are still being ploughed by oxen – I was reminded of this as we walked past the Woldia Primary School on the way to the college

airiel viewBright green teff fields and small rural villages

simien mountians entrancePassing by the Simien Mountains our Ethiopian Airlines flight touched down briefly in Gondor and then smoothly took us to Addis Abeba

view from planeDeep gorges. No doubt about it – Ethiopia has stunning landscapes and rich potential

diggy welcomeHome sweet home to the usual welcoming gang and then back to work the next morning after my 5 day adventure packed journey with good friends and two destinations that touched my heart.

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“Oh” said Shelagh “I think he is holding that air filter hostage!” We were enjoying a return visit to Woldia and Lailibela and the usual bizarre and at times hilarious adventures along the way reminded me of our ten months sharing a volunteer life at Woldia College of Teacher Education in 2010-2011.

steve and shelagh at selam busSteve and Shelagh ready to board the Selam Bus at 5:30 AM to go to Dessie. They had come from Nottingham for a visit and I joined them for the Woldia-Lalibela part of their trip since it was my last chance to see the folks I know in Woldia and Lalibela before I leave in July

My companion at the window seat turned out to be an interesting fellow. A Protestant, he explained his work as a religious educator and I got some insights into his world view that helped me better understand the rising trend toward Protestantism in Ethiopia. I also felt refreshingly able to share my own perspectives with this obviously intelligent and committed man. We talked about the work they are doing to help the poorest members of their congregation and those infected with HIV, using the government 1:5 model that also is used in workplaces. In this model people are organized into small groups of 5 with one being the leader. In his context he felt this  model helped them not only teach religion but also identify those in need. He seemed appreciative of my suggestions on how to infuse some critical thinking into their work..quite an stimulating 6-8 AM conversation indeed!

debre sina vendorsDebre Sina! When Shelagh and I were en route back and forth we usually texted each other when we reached this half way point to Dessie, that is the usual 30 minute stop. Persistent sellers offer a wide range of specialties including kollo (roasted barley with a few peanuts), dried oregano, sugar cane, fruits in season – this time small plums, oranges and mangoes.

We had our traditional makeeato and looked forward to the second leg of the journey, thinking we were making such good time we might get to Woldia by 4 and could certainly make it to Dessie with having to visit the infamous Debre Sina toilets. But we were in for a surprise…

collecting luggae from selam busThe bus had broken down and they started unloading luggage off the disabled beast – and we had paid extra for this relatively luxurious and safer vehicle!

Amidst the chaos we eventually got onto a minibus arranged by the bus company but our tickets were taken from us and not returned and, as is the tradition, no one explained anything. Certainly no chance of a refund. Taking a bus in Ethiopia is never simple.

camel and manHowever we headed down the mountain into the lowlands, passing plenty of camels

donkey road hazardDrivers must watch out for donkeys and lorries – all part of the journey

road cattleMore typical road hazards

shop along the road near kombolchaDropping off a Peace Corps couple near Kombolcha I snapped this colourful vignette

winding road to DessieThen we headed up the long winding road to Dessie

dessie bus stationAt last we reached the Dessie bus station, stopping at a cafe first to use the “almost as awful as Debre Sina” loo…

arab and weyela on minibusNegotiating our final minibus ride of the day

Me “Is this driver going to chew khat”

Man  “Of course not, he is fine”

Me : “Are you telling me the truth?”

Man “Yes of course, I am taking this bus myself'”

crowded bus in gashenaLets see how many we can squish in…

dessie main streetOn the way out of Dessie – the main street

khat stopFirst stop out of Dessie near Hyak the same passenger who had assured me about the khat insisted we stop and proceeded to purchase a large bouquet of khat which I later watched him sharing with the driver

My experience is that it is not possible to travel from Dessie to Woldia without going in a minibus driven by a driver who is chewing khat, despite the fact it is illegal for drivers to chew. Like so many things here, the law has been written but the enforcement steps have yet to be taken…though there are a lot of traffic police checking for overcrowding these days…

sunrise at lalibela from top 12 I foolishly chose the worst seat and spent the next 2.5 hours bracing myself so I would not be tossed out as we careened up the mountain curves, while several of my fellow passenger proceeded to discreetly vomit into plastic bags and toss them out the windows. As Lonely Planet accurately states travel on Ethiopian buses can be “Butt-clenching”!

past dessie up highBest to focus in the scenery and visualize a safe arrival – in times like these it IS the destination, not the journey that keeps me going!

a small river..The final hurdle – a small river to charge through where the road had washed out

animals heading home at duskAnimals heading home at dusk, a lovely pastoral scene

freshly ploughed fieldsWoldia at last! Total time from 4 AM wake up to arrival = 15 hours to travel 520 km!

shekla tibsWe met the Woldia volunteers and headed out for beer and skekla tibs with injera, about all that’s on the menu right now with all other items being “not available” as usual. Luckily no vegetarians in the group or they would have been out of luck

cow outside aisling's bedroomAisling the new volunteer had kindly invited me to stay with her. We awoke to discover a cow had arrived overnight and settled in under the bedroom window.Well these things happen…it’s owner recovered it 24 hours later

chocho in woldiaThat morning I headed into town in a bajaj for breakfast and there he was – ChoCho the one horned pet Afar goat lives! Though he did seem pretty old and frail I was pleased I got to see him one last timecute bajajOne thing I really love about Woldia is the easy way you can get a bajaj anywhere for about 10 cents

special ful at wawNaturally I had to have Special  Ful for breakfast at the Waw Cafe balcony and enjoy the passing parade

chechebsa at wawAnother tasty breakfast option is chechebsa – small chunks of fried bread soaked in a honey-spiced butter-berbere mixture

cinema advertising vanOh yes, I had forgotten how these buses troll the streets with really loud speakers blaring out the cinema on offer at the municipal  hall

woldia view from wawConstruction continues to boom with skeletal scaffolds above already open ground floors

beer with zelalemThat afternoon we met up with Zelalem, who had been in my class, for a beer and to catch up on all the gossip. Aisling on the right is the new young Irish volunteer working with the Woldia University Higher Diploma Program

zerefa and her sisterLate afternoon we met Zerefa and her sister dressed for the Mels of their nephew Tamrat. We were honoured to be invited to attend this event that coincided with our trip to Woldia and Zerefa was thrilled that her match making had worked out!

aisling jim and tekluWe were all graciously included – Aisling is joined by Jim, another Irish volunteer who was passing though town on a Ministry of Education road trip with his colleague Teklu on the right

wedding welcomeExcitement mounted as candles were lit and a sheep was herded into the center of a jubilant circle of people clapping, drumming and singing

wedding sheep and drumI wondered if it was to be slaughtered on the spot but then I saw the buffet so I think it was given a reprieve…

bridesmaidsBridesmaids!

grrom and brideGroom Tamrat helps his bride Feven out of the car

wedding scene with briede and grrom and basketsA Mels happens after the wedding and is where the family of the bride welcomes the family of the groom or vise versa. The groom Tamrat is from Canada and his bride is from Dessie

buffetThe wedding party enjoys an impressive buffet

I was an honour to be included in their celebration and I wish Tamrat and Feven many blessings as they begin their married life together.

Next day I visited the new Woldia University

woldia university tea houseWoldia University is up and running in two years with 6 faculties and first and second year students, an impressive accomplishment. This round tea room is gorgeous!

woldia universityIt is astounding how fast this university went up. Two years ago it was only a plan. Last year they started using a temporary facility nearby and now they have enrolled 2nd years students amid the construction on campus – a work in progress!

sharing a laugh with balianeshIt was fun to meet old friends from our time in Woldia CTE who have moved on to work at the university. Balainesh is now secretary to our former college dean, Ato Bihonegn

friend from woldia CTE now at universityBalianesh, Tesfaw works in Finance and Ato Bigonegn is Vice President – Administration

countryside n=and jeery cans near universityWomen  with jerry cans of water near the university campus, a reminder that 85% of the population still exists on subsistence farming alongside this rapid expansion of tertiary educational facilities and that only about a quarter of adult females are literate and half of males…

Later I visited my old workplace, and was amazed at the transformation

Woldia CTE buildingsThe new Woldia College of Teacher Education is almost complete. Next step will be the landscaping

I enjoyed some brief reunions with many of the instructors who had been in my HDP class though about a third have transferred to other institutions, as is common here. Still it was lovely to sit and catch up with several in their new offices and share a thirst quenching laslasa (soft drink) in the hot sun with others. The next day I spoke to several on the phone that I had missed seeing, including Nejashi who said, “Please don’t forget us”. “I promise you”, I replied, choking up a little, “I will never forget you” How could I?

goofing around in the old HDP ELIC roomAt the College we enjoyed some silliness with masks in our old classroom, scheduled to be demolished in a month since the new buildings are all  but complete

with grads and yokosoIt was a delightful surprise to see a group of 3rd year students about to graduate – when we were there they were beginners! And the boy called  Yokoso in front with the drawings turned up too – he used to draw me a lot of lions on scrap paper I provided and he is still at it!

woldia VSOs past and presentTea time with the soon to graduate students – here you see all the volunteers in Woldia past and present lined up. Alain and David replaced Shelagh and me and have now almost completed their two years. Aisling arrived two months ago to teach HDP at the new university

Marian serke and shelaghAnd Serke has a new Shy Bet (tea house) near the primary School so we had another reunion

future teachersFuture teachers brimming with confidence!

passin scne shopI enjoyed a visit to the Adago area and said hi to a few shop owners I knew

makeato fancy cup with sayingPaused for a makeato at the Hamar Cafe – it came is a most surprising cup!

The message on the saucer read: “In the taste you may do as much as you like to enjoy an elegance and leisure. Even if there is a leisure time for awhile you still can expel sadness and oppression.” Indeed!

All too soon it was time to say a final farewell to Woldia and tackle a day of bus travel to Lalibela to visit our friend Susan at her Ben Abeba restaurant, the one Shelagh and I had seen two years earlier when it was still under construction. Stay tuned for part two, including the fate of that air filter…and a visit to a movie set…

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