Archive for the ‘First Impressions’ Category

I remember when I first saw his work in a gallery on Bole Road in Addis about 2 years ago. His unique montage technique using photographs and acrylic paints on canvas intrigued me and I took his card. Later  I saw his work at the Artisan’s Bazaar and it stuck in my memory. Preparing to go home to Vancouver I decided to buy one of his paintings with me as a reminder of my time in Addis.

Abiy Eshete Gizaw artistAbiy Eshete – Artist

Then I got another idea – why not ask him to use my photos to create two paintings for me, one for my year in the northeastern highlands in Woldia and another showing Addis Ababa where I have spent the last two years?

Happily artist Abiy Eshete agreed to this collaboration and we agreed to meet the next week. I chose several hundred photos from my collection for him to consider. After my initial selection, I said the rest was up to him – I trusted him as the artist to decide which to use. A month later, when he brought me the finished products, I was ecstatic!

studio shot

The son of a dentist, Abiy Eshete was born in 1985 in Ziway in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia.  He attended primary and secondary school in Ziway and then joined  Addis Ababa University School of Fine Arts and Design in the Department of Industrial Design, earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in August 2007. He has worked as a full time studio artist since 2008 and has exhibited his work in both group and solo exhibitions in various Ethiopian art galleries. Today at 27 years of age, Abiy supports his widowed mother and 3 younger sisters, who still live is Ziway, with his art.

Program notes for a recent group show “Perception” March 23-April6, 2013 at Mama’s Kitchen in Addis state:“Abiy Eshete is an Ethiopian painter, based in Addis Ababa. His unique artwork portrays cityscapes through a creative montage of photographic cutouts merged with acrylic paint on canvas. Each of his “paintings” is a juxtaposition of assorted snapshot elements from diverse parts of the city, presented as a meaningful recreation of unified neighbourhoods, events and activities.”

small painting

Last Saturday I returned to Abiy’s studio, a small space atop a condominium building near the Gurje area of Addis, to ask him a few questions.

two women paintingAbiy also works in acrylics and had several large paintings on display

abiy and paintings

What influenced you to become and artist?

At age 7 I was selected to take part in a Ministry of Culture special art class 2 days a week and given art supplies and tutoring along with about 15-20 other children.

Abiys viewView out his studio window

Which artists have inspired you?

Julie Mereto, Afewerk Tekle. I also like African masks and the work of Picasso and Monet

large painting

A large work about one square metre, recently completed

How did you develop your technique?

A few years ago I took a course in photography and became interested in the old buildings in the urban landscape of Addis. I had learned collage technique using magazines, etc. and then my own idea was to use photos. Through my experience I have used different media and content such as a creative montage of photographic cut outs merged with acrylic paint on canvas.

 market “I am fascinated by the city unity in diversity, surrounding daily lives of people. the loves and sorrows, challenges and celebrations, dreariness and vibrancy”

Why do you want to make this art?

It is my vision, documenting day-to-day life and old houses. I want to contribute to documenting Addis urban life as it changes. I am fascinated by the city’s unity in diversity; and draw inspiration from the surroundings and daily lives of ordinary people. The loves and sorrows, challenges and celebrations. dreariness and vibrancy, etc. I believe I am documenting the urban transformation as I see it happening around me every day.

abiy with fresh canvas

How do you do it?

I start with my vision, think about the front, back and side views from many angles and perspectives. Photos are glued on the canvas and then acrylic paint is used around and on the photos.

smal but detailed

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

To study and learn, develop my art. In the future I want to be a famous painter.

Abiy delivers painitngsThese two paintings created by Abiy using some of my photographs will hang on my wall back home in Vancouver, becoming my “Visual Tizetas”, evoking memories of my three years in Ethiopia. They will just fit into my suitcase!

Ethiopian Tizeta music is said to evoke memory, nostalgia or longing and has been compared to the blues in the western tradition. Listen to some “Ethiopian nostalgia music” to get the feel…

woldiaMy Woldia painting: Gonderbar Road, Adago, Merchare Hotel, giant Poinsettia tree, donkeys, women with injera baskets, jerry cans of water, St George sign, tin roofs, crops after harvest, sun breaking through cloud over mountains after torrential rainstorm…

detail from Wolida paintingDetail from the Woldia painting

addisMy Addis painting: crowding onto line taxis, anbessa bus, shoe shine guys, Arat Kilo, sheep, scaffolding and construction, shops, shanties and skyscrapers, Ministry of Education building, old piazza house, people everywhere…

what he sees when he goes out his doorAddis transforming – this is what Abiy sees as he leaves his studio

 Abiy currently sells his work through the Makush Gallery at the Hilton Hotel and can also be reached at eshete02@yahoo.com

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The loud knock on the door brought me stunning news. I had been expecting my two guests from Australia, who had arrived the previous day, to come for pancakes and coffee.

arrival!Renee-Claire and Vanda just arrived and anticipating a lovely two week vacation in Ethiopia!

ballerina girlThe first afternoon we spent a lovely time absorbed in the wedding scene at the Ghion Hotel

Ghion pool wedding musicReligious wedding ritual by the pool

on stpes for wedding photosDuring “wedding season” many affluent Ethiopian couples have their wedding photos taken in the beautiful hotel gardens and it is fun to see the parade of traditional and modern fashions.

That first evening Vanda and Renee-Claire met my VSO and Cuso colleagues at a dinner party and we spoke of our plans to visit Harar and tour the famous sites in the north. Renee-Claire was to hike in the Simien Mountains while Vanda and I relaxed by Lake Tana at Bahir Dar but that all changed overnight…

Suddenly I found myself racing across Addis by taxi to the Yekatit government hospital where the Veronika Hotel manager had transported them and then had dispatched a guest who spoke some English to tell me the news. En route, I called Dr Brian, a Cuso International volunteer to alert him something seemed to have gone terribly wrong. When I leapt out of the taxi I was so relieved to see Brian, Katharina, a VSO volunteer mid-wife and trained nurse from Sweden and Hanny, a Dutch volunteer’s partner already on the scene. Vanda lay on an emergency room bed having seizures, her daughter Renee-Claire by her side and everyone trying to assist. Dr Fekadu from Yekatit Hospital was doing exactly what was needed and Brian and Katharina began assisting while Hanny and I rushed to the hospital pharmacy to buy a prescribed pill. We quickly reached consensus that she needed to be moved to the private Myungsung Korean Hospital as soon as possible, so once she was stabilized, Renee-Claire and I careened across town with Vanda and an attendant in an ambulance, sirens wailing.


Dr Bereket greeted us at Emergency and professionally assessed the situation, ordering blood tests and determining that she needed a CT scan. Since the hospital scanner was broken, we crossed town again in another ambulance to a private clinic. The news was good – no signs of damage on the brain. But the seizures continued and we raced back to the Korean Hospital where Vanda was moved to the Intensive Care Unit.

Korean finance man mr leeRenee Claire spent a lot of time with the very helpful hospital finance manager Mr Lee

sent to the pharamacty to buy drugs!A visit to a pharmacy to fill a prescription

That first worrying night Renee-Claire joined several Ethiopians whose relatives were also in ICU in an overnight vigil, kindly befriended by Biruk who let her use his mobile to keep in touch with me and found her a gabi (traditional cotton blanket) to keep her warm.

Meanwhile, I got their belongings from the hotel and set up the small spare bedroom/bathroom in our compound that was fortunately vacant and my landlord had agreed they could use. The network of VSO volunteers mobilized to help; most had met Vanda and Renee-Claire the evening before at a dinner party and several texted to offer support. My neighbor Judy loaned me her folding cot to put beside the bed plus sheets and a pillow. My landlord offered to drive us around. His sister Adanech is a nurse at the Korean Hospital and was able to reassure us about what was going on throughout the time Vanda was hospitalized.

Adanech and babyI had met Adanech months ago, she is my Landlord’s sister and regularly visits our compound when relatives gather on the weekend – here she cuddles a cousin’s baby, born last August! It feels great for me to have this family connection and support here!

Marian, Biruk and Rness ClaiereHere I am with Biruk and Renee Claire. Biruk’s brother Teshale arrived at one point and invited us for coffee in the hospital canteen. He pulled a copy of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine out of his briefcase when he found out I was Canadian and started a conversation about neo-liberalism and Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics. You just never know what surprises are in store in Ethiopia!

the lineup outside ICUThe lineup outside ICU where family members sit vigil day and night

New firnds in the waiting hall who shared their matress with ReneeWhen Vanda felt better she paid a visit to the ICU crowd…everyone was pleased she was feeling better

Mike and Anjeli, a husband/wife team of Canadian Cuso volunteer doctors texted me to say they would come to see Vanda the next morning. They met with Dr Tadesse in the ICU and reassured us that Vanda was getting the best care possible and that the doctors were doing exactly what they would have done back home. Dr Fisseha the internist also was following her case and on call at night.

At ICU with DR Tadessa and nurse to say thank youA thank you visit to Dr Tadesse and a nurse in the ICU. Dr Tadesse is still in touch by email!

Vanda’s seizures lasted 12 hours on Monday and thankfully, by the time Mike and Anjeli saw her, she was recovering and had no more from then on. The puzzle of why this happened continued. Vanda spent 2 nights in ICU and then 2 more nights on a ward in a room with 4 other patients. The first night we were surprised to discover that a family member is expected to stay overnight watching the patient so Renee-Claire, exhausted as she was, sat vigil. The second night we hired Natneal from a private nursing company to stay with her.

Renee, Vanda and Natneal the night nurseNatneal the night nurse!

On Friday after lunch, we were at last able to bring Vanda back to my compound where she spent the rest of her Ethiopian “holiday” resting and recuperating. Our original plan to fly around Ethiopia to visit the tourist spots had long been abandoned and, while we talked of taking a small trip out of Addis by car, as the days went by, it just did not seem feasible to be too far away from medical care. Arrangements were made for Dr. Bereket to accompany them on the long two-flight journey back to Perth via Bangkok.

Vanda with emergency room Dr BereketER Doctor Bereket accompanied Vanda and Renee-Claire home to Australia and enjoyed meeting Vanda’s husband Peter and touring the Perth Aquarium and Zoo and King’s Park. He also had a city tour of Bangkok on their stopover en route!

In TahialandStopover in Bangkok between flights allowed time for a city tour

Bereket and woma pythonTouching a woma python!

Bereket and koalasIn Perth Zoo with Koalas behind in the tree

The day Vanda was released from hospital was the start of 3 days of Timkat, the biggest celebration of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian calendar. Luckily for us 2 churches were congregating in the football field two blocks from my house so we could easily partake in the festivities and Vanda was able to see some events and take rest in between.

early morningFestive flags decorated the streets and processions from Ureal and St Michael’s churches made their way to the park with priests in colourful garments and sparkly umbrellas carrying the sacred Tabot, symbolic of the Ark of the Covenant to the park where it rested overnight before a return procession. In the early morning baptisms took place.

arrival of processionProcession

umbrella and tabot

priests and crossesPriest and elaborate crosses and gowns

tabotTabot in procession back to the church

beautiful child at timkatBeautiful baby!

laughing girl at timkatHappy children!

sweet girl at timkat

baptism sceneEarly morning baptisms

grass sellersWomen selling grass and herbs for traditional coffee ceremonies

donkeys in the laneDonkeys grazing in my lane

On Saturday volunteers Hans and Katharina took Renee-Claire on a day hike to the Entoto Hills above Addis, encountering about 6 more Timkat processions along the way.

electrician on roofThat afternoon, while Renee-Claire was on her hike, her mom napped on my bed and did not even hear this electrician on the roof above the bedroom. The power had been off for about 48 hours and he managed to restore it…we were not so lucky with the water which was off and on much of the time and did not have enough pressure for showers so we ended up boiling up pots of water for sponge baths during the rest of the visit…

Over the next 8 days Vanda rested and we made small excursions around Addis to see some sights. Volunteer friends invited us for dinner and we had some over as well. Low key and friendly, supportive affairs. Another VSO doctor, Jo was in Addis en route home to the UK after completing her year at Gondor Hospital, and kindly offered advice and reassurance to Vanda over coffee at my place.

Not the vacation that had been much anticipated but a unique experience to be sure! And despite the terrifying start to their time here, there were many memorable moments of kindness and compassion of Ethiopians and VSO/Cuso volunteers. To complete the picture here are some images of what else we saw beside the interiors of hospitals and ambulances…

ethnographic museumThe Ethnographic Museum at Addis Ababa University provides an outstanding overview of Ethiopian history and culture

renee with dogsRenee-Claire made friends quickly with Titi and Pico and I am sure if they could talk they would tell her they are missing her attention!

kifle and almazAto Kifle and W/ro Almaz al dressed up for a wedding!

st george church

A visit to the 2nd oldest church in Addis, St Giorgis in Piazza was well worth the effort. A guided tour of the museum and church highlighted more history for us…

inside st george church

Playing with traditional musical instruments

afework tekle paintingFamous painting by Afewerk Tekle in the church

tiatu hotelA visit and lunch stop at the oldest hotel in Ethiopia – the Taitu

taitu hotelThe Taitu Hotel is a lovely place for a visit

makeeato and cake at the the good times cafeTime for cake and makeato on the Good Times Restaurant and Bar balcony in Piazza. Nice to see Vanda looking more perky on the last couple of days…

RC at good timesRenee- Claire enjoys the good Ethiopian coffee and view

taxis from good time balconyI imagine she won’t forget all our rides around Addis in these old blue and white taxis!

etam cleaning chilis for berbereTypical scene back home – preparing chilis for berbere near my front door

at Haile Selassie's tombThe next day a visit to the beautiful Selassie Cathedral in Arat Kilo where Haile Selassie and Empress Menem are entombed and where the grave for recently deceased Prime Minster Meles Zenawi is under construction

Sylvia Pankhurst grave in AddisBritish suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst is also buried here

small selassie churchDetail from the small round church on the property

marian and henokI was pleased that we were able to have lunch with my young friend Henok who managed time off from his medical studies at Black Lion Hospital and was able to accompany us to the Selassie Cathedral

old baskets at national museumTraditional woven baskets at the National Museum

tedjA taste of Tej, honey wine served in special flasks, capped off our day of exploring

coffee potThe last morning. landlady Almaz invited us for a traditional coffee ceremony and served her delicious tibs and firfir for breakfast

IMG_3022Kifle, Almaz, Etenu and Amazon join in the ceremony…and then we headed off to the NGO Bazaar for some last minute souvenir shopping

VSO group at mallOn their last day we met up with some of the volunteers who helped us. Dr Brian is the tallest one standing in front of Dr Anjeli. Katharina is on the left beside Hanny.

The good news is that the flights home were smooth and uneventful. Vanda’s doctors are still puzzling out the causes and the current theory is it may have been a reaction to the yellow fever vaccination she had 11 days prior to arrival in Ethiopia. While the whole experience was very shocking and frightening and it was such a disappointment that they did not experience the beauty of the Ethiopian countryside and the richness of the cultural sights, they did have an in-depth insight into the kindness and caring of Ethiopians that most tourists never know. So despite the dramatic turn of events, I hope they retain some good memories of the people they met here and that Renee-Claire will return to hike in the spectacular Simien Mountains some day soon.

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Out of the blue, my phone rang a few weeks ago. “Hi Marian, a VSO program manger suggested you might be willing to come to Awash to assist me in faciltating a training on gender based violence” said Dr Khasmin. “Tell me more”, I said.

Once I heard the plan I readily agreed to travel the 250 km to Awash on the edge of the Afar region to assist in the project. Dr Khasmin Ismael (aka Khas) is an enthusiastic young doctor from the Philippines and a sister VSO Ethiopia volunteer. She’s spent the past ten months in Semera, a very hot and dusty town in the remote Afar region, working on maternal health at the Afar Regional Health Bureau. An increase in reported rapes (12) had recently shocked the community; girls as young as 5 and 7 had been raped and a 12 year old girl had died after being gang raped. Khas decided something needed to be done to assist local health providers to develop a comprehensive and coordinated response and prevention plan for gender based violence (GBV) and had applied to VSO Ethiopia for a small grant.

In her grant application Khas stated “These survivors need assistance to cope with the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of this violence. They need medical and psychological care, social support, protection, security and legal redress. At the same time advocacy for prevention and monitoring in the community must be put in place for immediate response and effective interventions.”

The resource package  Caring for Survivors of Sexual Violence we adapted was developed in 2010 by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on Gender in Humanitarian Action (IASC) and the Global Protection Center (GPC), both part of UNICEF and UNFPA. It couples excellent content with participatory activities and emphasizes a multi-sectoral approach. Printing these resources for our training was supported by UNFPA.

So early last Sunday morning VSO driver Derije collected me and we headed out, picking up another facilitator, Addisu from the UNFPA, along the way. We immediately found we had lots in common to talk about so the hot and dusty trip sped by quickly.

awash road tripAs always, I am amazed at the number of long haul trucks on the roads and saw at least two overturned in the ditch. These trucks often carry cargo to and from the port of Djibouti on the Red Sea and travel aggressively fast, passing in places I would never dare. I was thankful Derije is such a great driver and that I was nit stuck on a scary mini-bus!

We got to Awash and settled into the Genet Hotel; Awash, located in the Rift Valley, is very hot and I was pleased my room came with a fan and cold water shower. Over lunch, Addisu, Khas and I had some discussions about the workshop plans and then I headed out with Derije since he had invited me to tag along for a visit with his cousin in a nearby town of Awash Arba. We crossed a couple of  bridges (photos strictly forbidden) one of which had an interesting bust of Haile Selassie’s father a mid-point.

St Gabriel gatheringOrthodox Christians celebrate St Gabriel’s day with a coffee ceremony

Derije and small girlDerije and a small girl who really wanted her picture taken!

Derije's cousin and her small boyDerije’s cousin and her baby boy

Khas had selected modules from the training package and throughout the week we juggled and adapted these resources to suit the needs of the group. Addisu is based in Semera for the UNFPA and has done a lot of effective work with communities to decrease female genital mutilation (FGM) in the region and so was able to facilitate several lively sessions on multi-sectoral approaches and community activation.

planningKhas and Addisu consult on the plans.  The Genet Hotel was a great venue with reliable water and power, thanks to a generator so we could use our laptops for Powerpoints…organizing

A full day was facilitated by Khas on the medical aspects of GBV that had the doctors, nurses and mid-wives asking many questions and offering examples from their practices. Khas has had experience in this area, working for Doctors Without Borders in other countries so has a wealth of experience to share.

Khas had also arranged for  Kidist, a lawyer from UNICEF, to speak to the group about legal issues and the justice system and they sat riveted as she presented a thorough overview and answered their many questions.

Khas facilitated several activities that got at myths and realities of GBV and we were able to provide a global picture of the issues with our own examples from the Philippines and Canada as well as Ethiopia. One of the most emotionally charged sessions of the week was viewing the film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, a heart breaking documentary with women survivors of rape sharing of the horrors of their experiences and some rare footage of soldiers in the forests justifying their raping. The problem is global and while it may manifest differently in local contexts, the impact on survivors is universal.

Marian and Hiwot session

Hiwot from the Ethiopian Mid-Wives Association was a participant, but when it emerged that she was a trained counselor, the two of us agreed to collaborate and lead a participatory session on communication and counseling skills to aid survivors for the group.

Our participants were doctors, mid-wives, nurses, staff from regional health bureaus and university lecturers on gender. Its expected that future trainings/meetings will occur involving representatives of other sectors in order to develop an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for GBV response in the region and some participants in this workshop will also be involved in delivering training to others in the health and community sectors. The newly established Afar Regional GBV Working Group is seen as a potential coordinating body. All of these initiatives, have the potential to do much to improve response to GBV and also to support prevention programs that address the underlying causes.

Group day 2On day 2 we gathered for a group photo after tea break – a few were missing though…

tea breakTea breaks broke up our days as we enjoyed lentil sambussas (called samosas in Canada) with our delicious Ethiopian coffee while whisking away swarms of pesky flies. It was obvious the hot season approaches as each day got noticeably hotter. The Afar region is known for the Danakil Depression, called the “hottest place on earth” and some hardy tourists en route there in 4 wheel drive SUVs loaded with gear stayed a night at the hotel.

organizing Khas facilitated an in-depth day on the medical aspects of GBV that had the doctors, nurse and mid-wives in particular asking a  lot of  questions and sharing their ideas on current practice and what else is needed

designing workshopsGroup work was lively and productive

role playRole plays gave the chance to practice skills

flow to multi sector illustrationUsing string to illustrate the flow of services. Medical, police, family/friends,legal help, counsellor – who to turn to first? While this is ideal. in reality many services are difficult to access or may not exist.

discussionsI was impressed by the active involvement of the participants and the quality of their contributions

soeting out financesAn evening spent sorting out the finances – a team effort!

goat arostoThe very yummy goat arosto with hot sauces made our hard work easier to swallow though!

Teamwork!Our  “facilitation team” Hiwot, Khas, Marian and Addisu, along with mid-wife Meron who is also an expert trainer

presenting workshop draft plansI facilitated the final morning on facilitation skills that culminated in drafting training workshops in small groups. It was refreshing to have 6 women amongst the 15 participants – usually in Ethiopia the trainings are 95% men and while most are keen and compassionate, women’s voices really do need to be included and heard!

workshop draft planThis workshop is designed  for women community members. Others were for educators and health professionals

completing final evaluationsFinally,  participants completed feedback and evaluation forms and got certificates and CDs with extra resources

final group pictureEveryone made it into the final group photo, taken by the hotel manager!

Friday afternoon I headed back to Addis and collected some images of the long and dusty road home. As we enjoyed the countryside, I reflected on how blessed I was to have had the opportunity to contribute to this work in some small ways and learn more about the lives of Ethiopian health professionals dedicated to working hard for their country’s development under challenging circumstances. I also appreciated the efforts of Dr Khas to make this happen and VSO Ethiopia for funding it. Gender is a cross cutting theme in VSO Ethiopia’s strategic plan and this was an example of health and education volunteers working together. Teamwork, collaboration across sectors and involvement of Ethiopian facilitators is a wining formula.

Here are some scenes of Awash and the road back to Addis…

awash from balconyA view of Awash from my hotel room

balcony view girl and goatMy bird’s eye view into life in Awash – doesn’t that goat look yummy!

rift valley gorgeThe Awash Gorge in Awash townroaside camelsNear Awash there were plenty of camels grazing along the roadside

lake sceneThe road home involved crossing through a watery causeway in a saline lake

washed over road and trucksHere we go!

near matahara volcanic rock woman walkingThe area has much volcanic rock and it is said at night one can see flashes of activity for the mountain tops

small boysFriendly kids always like to pose- this was a pit stop to get some charcoal

charcoalCharcoal sold along the road can be bargained for a much better price than in the city

metahara cafeA stop in Matahara for a brief lunch

mounds of cropsI always love seeing the harvested crops

villages along the roadAnd traditional villages along the way…

donkeysDonkeys are so stoic under their heavy loads

awash orangesOranges were in season so I bought 4 kilos back to share with everyone!

In 2005 I remember my friend Jane returning for a UN Women’s meeting at the New York headquarters and telling me that the world’s women had agreed that gender based violence and the issues of trafficking and prostitution were top on their list of concerns. There has not been a full global gathering of the world’s women since Beijing 1995. I really think it is about time we had another United Nations Women’s Conference and I certainly plan to advocate for one and to be there, wherever in the world it might be!

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To the fish, the water is invisible is a proverb I’ve often used in teaching. Now I am living it myself as I dive back into my Canadian life for 9 summery weeks. Since last September I’ve been living in Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa, population around 3 million, adapting to a very different world half way around the globe. Overall it has been an enriching and positive experience; enough to make me decide to return for my third and final year as a CUSO International volunteer after taking this summer break back home to catch up with family and friends. After swimming for months in quite a different stream I have been transported back into familiar Vancouver waters and I get to view my homeland with new eyes. This shift in perspective is causing me to take less for granted and deepening my appreciation for this beautiful province of British Columbia and for the fact that I was fortunate enough to be born in Canada.

For the record, here are ten precious things about being home this summer that have surfaced for me.

1. Family and friends

To be met at the airport by my dear sister and friends, welcomed by so many for coffee, dinners, lunches, walks, BBQs, invitations for trips to islands and lakes is such a joy. The interest people have shown in my experiences and the many who have come along with me vicariously through reading this blog and sharing their comments on what interested them the most truly gratifying. It has also struck me this trip how even perfect strangers here are so nice and polite. The stereotype is true – Canadians are generally very nice people, helpful and kind, even if we do tend to have an obsession with complaining about the weather.

My sister Kat at our friend’s wedding, wearing a traditional Ethiopian silver necklace I brought her

The wedding couple – Nancy and Ivailo celebrating in a gorgeous setting by the ocean

Afternoon tea with Marcy and Anne in a Paulette’s pretty garden

2. The fresh air

Locals may complain but trust me, this air is more fragrant and lung friendly than most places in the world. Walking in Stanley Park and hiking around Mayne Island in this rainforest of cedar, pine, fir and other trees, I couldn’t stop exclaiming about the deeply satisfying forest perfumes. Deep breathing this sweet air is a basic and simple pleasure, not to be taken for granted.

3. Big trees

So many shades of green in our temperate rainforest to soothe the soul. Being in the forests here reminds me of the 12th century German abbess Hildegard of Bingen who coined the word Viriditas  a Latin word, literally “greenness,” formerly translated as “viridity”, meaning vitality, fecundity, lushness, verdure, or growth. She used it to symbolize spiritual and physical health, often as a reflection of the divine word or as an aspect of the divine nature.

4. The Pacific ocean and the coastal mountains

The many blues of the water, wave textures varying from glassy smooth to wild and white capped, the ever changing outlooks created by the light on water and mountains inspire me to experiment with my new camera. The big talk this summer is of a possible pipeline from the Alberta oils sands that could potentially devastate this coastline. Don’t they see that nature is too valuable to ever allow this to happen?

Trying out the fish eye setting on my camera for a shift in perspective on sky, sea and mountains

People lounging in the sand on Third Beach in Stanley Park

Sea lions lounging on a tiny island off Mayne Island

5. My neighbourhood

I must live in one of the most creative places on earth. Commercial Drive bustles with quirky, imaginative, opinionated and fascinating people from a multitude of cultures. It is a terrific mosaic of multiculturalism, political activism, social justice advocacy, acceptance for different lifestyles all enriched by artistic expression though music, visual arts and drama.

The view out my window this evening

Yes indeed there is a jazz trio playing lovely music beside the giant coffee cup that recently appeared in the park

Freedom of expression is visible everywhere. Not every place on earth is so open…

6. Unlimited food choices

Of course I had been salivating at the thought of tasting all the foods I cannot get in Addis, especially fresh salmon,  seafoods, mesclun greens, fennel, endive and arugula, exceptional cheeses, extra crispy bacon, multi-grain breads and fruits like raspberries, lemons, blueberries, peaches, cherries and apricots. My daily challenge is to not go overboard!

I prefer to shop in the small stores along my street. Right now the plethora of choices in giant supermarkets seems both overwhelming and shockingly excessive – I suppose this is what could be called culture shock…

7. Nice wide roads, flat and even sidewalks and an excellent bus/Skytrain system

Getting from A to B car free is a breeze here with the efficient transit system that often is under appreciated by those who take it for granted. Walking a lot too, I cannot help but be amazed at the stunning view corridors that are everywhere in my city.

Ocean and mountain views pop up often even in the heart of downtown

Bicycle friendly buses expand commuting options

Efficient Skytrain and bus systems make being car free pleasant and easy

Inside a spacious bus

Another “peek a view” from the bus; this one of the downtown skyline. Yes there still are a few spots of snow on the mountains

8. My home sweet home

I am delighted to have my own apartment back for the time I am here. The sheer luxury of a nice bed, a good stove, kitchen appliances, soaking in a deep bath tub, an excellent shower with totally reliable water have been experienced only in my dreams for the past year and are now appreciated tenfold. Not to mention electricity you can count on all the time and high speed internet – zoom zoom!

My morning journal writing ritual with a great cup of Ethiopian Harar coffee allows me to reflect and merge my different perspectives in this “in-between time” for a couple of months. I am loving my home while simultaneously looking forward to returning to my Addis life.

Cozy Addis home. My morning journal writing takes place to the right in a VSO issue “comfy chair”,with a good cup of Ethiopian coffee of course!

9. The public library

Yes, the day I got back to my place, I walked the two blocks to my public library and checked out 6 books absolutely free of charge! Hard to fathom this when books are so few and precious in Ethiopia that even medical students must pay to photocopy chapters of texts previously copied by their professors and then share them with several others to cut costs.

What a treat to borrow a new Canadian novel from the fast read section! The Cat’s Table by Canadian Michael Ondaatje is proving to be  a very good read

10. Gardens

This is an exceptional year for roses in Vancouver and they are everywhere, overflowing from people’s gardens into the streets in all colours and sizes, some divinely scented. I am thankful for all the home gardeners and parks garden staff who add such beauty to the city.

Count your blessings Vancouverites – I know I am. What is so clearly visible to me this summer is that this is a great place to live, rain or shine!

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The leopard was spread seductively across my duvet as I returned from my morning shower and I yet again thanked my lucky stars that I had made this investment last year en route to Woldia. Settling into my new home in Addis Ababa over the past month, I have really been appreciating what I like to call “the Leopard”, a rather hideous but warm and cozy fake leopard fur housecoat that I have come to love dearly.

Many people assume that because I am in Ethiopia on the African continent that it is always hot. At 2400 hundred meters above sea level, Addis Ababa is the 3rd highest capital city in the world and, during this time of year, it cools down pretty fast when the sun goes down around 6:30-7 PM. Though it is usually sunny, now that the 4 month long rainy season has ended, cool breezes ruffle the trees even at mid-day. The high altitude also means one gets out of breath at first from exertions that would normally not be a problem. Oh and altitude affects the cooking too…

Along with the altitude, I am finding I need to adjust my attitude to make the most of my new living situation in this city of over 3 million plus people. Here are a few examples:

Attitude adjustment #1: The Addis commute (aka My Addis triathalon)

1. Walk over stoney dirt roads to the main paved street to catch a “line Taxi” exchanging friendly greetings with folks along the way

2. Jostle my way onto the taxi to “Arat Kilo” the area where I work, squeezing in with a cast of dozens (well a dozen and a half at 18) onto an old Toyota mini-bus that should hold a maximum of 10 persons! Keep alert so that my feet don’t get trampled or my pocket picked. Cover my nose with my scarf when the surrounding vehicles pass spewing black fumes or we get stuck behind a bigger bus that makes me gasp for fresh air

This charming postcard by , Ethiopian artist Zerihun Seyoum called Addis Ababa Taxi, 2002 , decorates my wall

3. Say “Woraj aleh!” at the right spot to spill out and walk to the massive Ministry of Education edifice and climb the 70 stairs to the top floor where my office awaits. Repeat 3 more times a day as I go up and down for buna (coffee) breaks and lunch for a total of  560 steps. Yes, the muscles that went all squishy over the summer break are firming up!

4. Repeat process to get home – each way is about a 35-40 minute journey. Working hours are 8:30 – 5:30 with an hour for lunch – two hours on Friday to allow for Muslim prayers

5. The best part – no one gets upset, there is a rather pleasant flow to the whole process and, with a positive and friendly attitude, it can actually be fun. Already I have met some nice folks and had interesting conversations with a cross section of Addis citizens. And, as a bonus, I get to practice my Amharic while negotiating the fare!

This young woman was wearing a T-shirt that said “Demand world leaders to keep promises made to fulfill the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) by 2015!” She was pleased to pose for me on the line taxi. By the way, MDG goal #3 is Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women.

Attitude adjustment #2 : There are Ferrenji all over the place!

As well as about 18 or so VSO volunteers, Addis has a multitude of foreigners living and working at various NGOs, aid agencies, government offices, embassies and the African Union so one could live in a rather artificial bubble. It makes me feel even more grateful for my year in Woldia where Shelagh and I were the only foreigners and we were able to experience more of the life that 80% of Ethiopians still live in the rural areas.

The big city is a very different world – full of amenities, crowded with people and many more opportunities to socialize at cafes, bars, concerts, movies and special events like the upcoming Great Ethiopian Run, a 10 km extravaganza coming up November 27th. Here, as I walk to the main road to catch the line taxi I enjoy seeing the children in their uniforms being escorted to school by parents or older siblings holding the hands of younger brothers or sisters. These kids are much more accustomed to seeing foreigners and while some shyly venture a “hello” or “good morning”, most are just carrying on with their day. There are occasional small clusters of sheep being herded about and a lot of donkeys seem to live in our neighbourhood, but certainly there are not as many animals about as in the countryside. Still it is possible to be followed down the street by a bleating sheep as it is unsuccessfully tries to rebel against the prodding of its’ herder.

Sadly there are also many more people begging on the streets and it breaks my heart to see so many people with disabilities, women with tiny babies and old men and women sitting on the sidewalks, hands outstretched, pleading with people to give them money/food. I notice that many Ethiopians respectfully give a few coins as they pass. The city, with its in-your-face poverty juxtaposed with astonishing opulence in some quarters, forces a lot more questions about inequalities.

As in other parts of Ethiopia, religion is omnipresent both visually and on the airwaves with Christian chanting and Muslim calls to prayer providing soothing backdrops throughout the day and night.

An Ethiopian Orthodox cross decorates a gate in my neighbourhood

Mosque in the distance seen from Ethio-Alliance grounds in the Piazza area

VSO has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of like-minded people and Addis offers the bonus of a lot of new people to connect with. This weekend one of these new VSO friends, Terry, joined me on an adventure to the Piazza area. We had planned to attend a music concert at the Ethio-Alliance Francaise but it was cancelled. Instead we enjoyed touring the beautiful gardens…and I took photos of some fabulous flowers in the peaceful grounds.

Flowering cactus

Gigantic birds (kites I think) hovered in big trees while others gracefully soared above

We found a contented cat in front of an interesting relief sculpture that surely tells an interesting story!

Terry spotted this miniature of the Lalibela St George church

Next we left the oasis of the Alliance grounds and joined the hustle of Piazza

Piazza has a number of intriguing cafes that are worth some exploration!

There are so many unique neighbourhoods to explore in Addis and I plan to research, document and share what I learn about them during the year.

Attitude adjustment #3: A higher altitude requires a new attitude toward food preparation

Cooking so high above sea level takes some adjustment. Most obvious is the boiling of eggs; since water boils at a lower temperature, they must be cooked for much longer in order to be done. I’ve found too that it takes forever to get dried beans and split peas to soften.

Checking online about high altitude cooking I found some good advice about baking that may come in handy once I figure out how to work my gas oven. Meanwhile though, I recalled a recipe from my old counter culture days in the Kootenays called Bliss Balls – a no bake item that satisfies the sweet tooth, is quite nutritious, can be made with ingredients easily available here and requires no cooking whatsoever.

Bliss Balls in all their glory!

Just throw peanut butter, milk powder, toasted oatmeal, honey if you want them sweeter, dried fruit like raisins or dates, chopped peanuts and any spices you fancy and squish together with your hands until well mixed. Form balls, roll in coconut or sesame seeds if you have any and let set. I think they may be called Bliss Balls because back in the day, other dried leafy substances may possibly have been added…

On that note, I’ll close for now and head off to the Shola Market to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables and some new curtains. Expect a market tour in coming blogs – the place is massive and amazing!

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The email from an Ethiopian friend (Subject: Well come back to our homeland) was a very welcome greeting that rang true on so many levels. I am well and I have come back to Ethiopia! It was touch and go for a couple of weeks back home in Vancouver, Canada this July when I had to have an emergency procedure on my left eye for a detached retina. Thanks to the excellent health care system, what could have been a catastrophe was a small discomfort and disruption to my time at home. I flew back 10 days ago, am now settled into my lovely new home and have begun my new CUSO-VSO volunteer position at the Ministry of Education as a gender adviser.

On the flight from Vancouver I met a brave nurse from Vancouver who was heading to the Dollo Ado refugee camp near the Somali border to volunteer with Doctors without Borders (MSF) for several months. As we shared a cup of tea during our “intermission” in Frankfurt, she told me what little she knew of her placement; she would share a tent with 8 people and expect to work 16 hour days. I was filled with admiration for her willingness to take on such a challenge. And I was also glad I had chosen to make a donation this summer to MSF for famine relief in the Horn of Africa. This devastating famine is affecting many Ethiopians as well as Somalis, though we get very little news of it here. I hope she will call me next time she gets to Addis to fill me in.

Our plane arrived about 9 PM and, after a sleep in a hotel, I walked over to the VSO office to find out about my new home.

VSO Ethiopia Program Office – less than five minutes walk from my new home.

After a warm welcome back, Mamo and Derijie collected my luggage from the hotel, along with the boxes I had left at the office store room, and we drove to the compound.

Our compound – those windows are my bathroom and kitchen windows. Within are two other volunteer homes and the landlord’s family home.

Landlord’s children Meron, Eyob and Sami (holding Pico) with Titi posing sweetly in front.

My front door – welcome in!

The living/dining room, tiny but just right for one! The whole house is panted a pale lemon yellow with white ceilings, nice and clean. Someone called it the “lemon meringue pie” colour scheme!

Looking from the bedroom steps down into the living room.

Kitchen with gas stove and fridge!!I bought the fridge and the gas cylinder for the stove that the landlord is letting me use. That’s my water filter in the foreground;we filter then boil all water here.

This kitchen is absolute luxury compared to the Woldia kitchen, but without the nice window and view of the mountains and the action in the back yard…and of course Baby, the kitten. It is decorated with a pretty poster sent to me by Henok, our Woldia Amharic teacher who got the highest grades in North Wollo and is now waiting to hear about his university placement. He hopes to study medicine at Addis Ababa University.

Here’s my bedroom. I am very glad of the warm sleeping bag I brought to use as a duvet. It gets very cold at night here right now as the rainy season draws to a close.We’ve had some torrential, sporadic rainstorms.
Bathroom with flush toilet, shower, sink and water heater.Yes, I am very pleased with my tiny house!

To get to work, I walk down out the front door down a dirt track

Turn left at the bottom and pass the tip (always a good idea to wear a scarf to cover the nose!)

Turn onto the paved road after the tip. These donkeys are a regular part of the landscape.

Pass the perpetual football game in the park

Enjoy the displays at the fruit and vegetable shop.

All purchased within a minute’s walk from my place! 

Head to the busy Haya Hulet intersection at the bottom where I catch the line taxi to get to work.

All told the commute is 35-40 minutes. A far cry from the gentle fresh air walk to the college in rural Woldia. Nevertheless, I am happy to be back in Ethiopia and to have the opportunity to work in the bustling capital city of Addis Ababa.

My new office, on the third floor of the  Ministry of Education at Arat Kilo.

No doubt there will be many new stories to tell and experiences to share as the year unfolds…and I feel settled and welcomed!

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Gentle chanting from the Imam at the nearby mosque, backed by the twittering of small birds, announces the Woldia Saturday morning symphony. Sheep baa as they pass nearby and a cow moos, coffee is pounded for the morning ritual, followed by the whisking of brooms and splashing of water in plastic basins. Happy children start their playing. Thus begins my weekend as I lie in bed, luxuriating in the rhythms of life in rural Woldia. The beauty of the landscape surrounding us entrances me and I am grateful that we live only 5 minutes walk from our college on the outskirts of town, free from traffic noise, apart from the putter of the occasional 3-wheel Bajaj a block away on the main road.

Spectacular Woldia scenery

Three wheel Bajaj have replaced donkey carts as the main transport around the town

This week found us interacting with several other institutions as we become established here. Registering with the police involved 3 trips to the station, as we apparently had to see a certain official to register. The second time we waited about half an hour goofing around with the officers as they tried to teach us some Amharic. Third time lucky, the main man was there and he laboriously copied down the information from our VSO ID cards in what appeared to be a small diary. Smiles all round, we are now official, having also put the police number into our mobiles and been assured that we are safe.

Visiting the police – with our Dean,  Ato Bihonegne smiling on the right

Three seems to be our magic number this week as we had 3 trips to Woldia’s only hospital. First it was simply to make ourselves known and put the name and number of a doctor into our mobiles in case we needed one. A few days later, when Shelagh’s infected ant bite continued to fester and her lymph glands began to swell, we went back to seek treatment. She was given antibiotics, a nurse dressed her wound, and we were told to come back in two days. Luckily she is on the mend. A curious cast of dozens peered into the hospital room as she was treated alongside a man with what appeared to be a severe head wound. It was a touching moment when Shelagh’s counterpart in the English Language Center, Ato Maru, who had come along to translate, answered the doctor’s query about who we were and why we were in Woldia by saying “They are ours”, meaning we belonged to the Woldia College of Teacher Education community. The whole college of course knows about Shelagh’s infected bite and there have been many asking about how she is doing. I am crossing my fingers that we don’t have any gynecological problems!

On Thursday I was able to introduce the first session of the Higher Diploma Program to 19 of the College staff who are candidates for certification. The two-hour workshop session was a success by all accounts and I am thrilled to have begun. We were so involved in the process that I neglected to take photos but will remedy that in about ten days when session two happens. Yes, there is a week off before my next class because the instructors are off to other towns to test and interview potential students for the next intake. Meanwhile I get to practice “pausing my impatience” as I adapt to the rather slow paced and stress-free rhythm of working life in Ethiopia.

The scene from our classroom – kids playing after school soccer in the distance

An engaging and idealistic grade 12 student has been visiting us at our office, anxious to practice his English, as his dream is to become a doctor. He invited us to a special school-wide HIV/AIDS   event at his preparatory school (about 1300 pupils in grades 11 and 12) and we enjoyed touring the school and watching the performances.

Our new friend Hanok, on the right, shows off his preparatory school

Dancers with a message at the HIV/AIDS performance at the preparatory school

This morning we had our first unsupervised shopping expedition and celebrated our successful acquisition of toilet paper (called “soft”) and the oatmeal, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, onions, avocados and papaya that will be our food for the week, by sharing a lunch order of kai wot (spicy sheep meat in sauce on injera with bread rolls) on the patio of a local hotel. All is well.

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