Friday, August 02, 2013

A Top 10

Today marks the end of my tenth week in Addis, which also makes it a little over three months since leaving my previous job. On this non-momentous occasion I started thinking about what have been the highlights of my time here so far, and have put together a brief, more-or-less chronological list.

Few of these are life-changing milestones (and some I've written about before) but I think they capture the texture of my time here:

Introducing myself in Amharic:

My first trip to the field (meeting union managers in Hawassa) had me sitting in day-long meeting entirely in Amharic. Learning two sentences the night before, so that I could at least introduce myself and where I was employed, made me feel just a slight bit less out of place.

Seeing the emperor's rooms:

One of my first weekends in Addis -- back when I still had the appropriate combination of ambition and the hesitancy toward decoding the public transport situation -- an hour long uphill walk eventually landed me at Addis Ababa University. The Ethnographic museum of different cultures within Ethiopia (itself an interesting experience) sits inside a former imperial palace on the grounds. And inside, the emperor's bedchamber remains more or less undisturbed, with a guard who (I'm told second-hand) served the man itself. It also opens onto his preserved imperial bathroom (which somehow I didn't get a picture of!)

Watching the Ethiopian soccer team win, and the subsequent celebration:

My second trip out of Addis, in Adama, coincided with Ethiopia's victory over South Africa in World Cup qualifying. Before they learnedthe next day that a disqualification in a prior match meant that this win had not actually sent them forward to the next round, celebratory Ethiopians swarmed the street and danced through and on traffic.

Credit for this photo (taken in Addis) goes to Hayoung

Meeting Haile Gebrselassie:

The two-time Olympic gold medal distance runner came to give a lunch talk at my organization within my first month. He spoke about his potential political ambitions, his burgeoning business empire, and made several witty jokes (at least judging by colleagues responses--that part was in Amharic). The experience of seeing possibly the most famous living person in Ethiopia (whose face appeared on a giant billboard next to our office) within my first month in the country is best summed up by the response of the distance running former coworker I shared the story with -- "Holy Shit!"

Drinking with the analysts:

While I've often lived a much more "ferengi-fied" life in Addis than I'd care to admit (if only because it makes boring stories), one evening a few weeks into the job I ended up drinking after work with a group of local coworkers that gradually shed expats until only I was left. We ended up at a fairly stylish drinking establishment that was all locals, and while nothing particularly noteworthy happened the rest of the night, I at least got to feel I was living this Economist article.

Moving day:

Four or so weeks ago, on a Thursday after work, I finally completed the move from my second temporary place into my long-term home. It carries the nickname "International House, though it's actually an apartment), since it used to include coworkers from four continents. Now it's two Americans, a Canadian, and a Brazilian. But still a pretty nice set up (minus the drying clothes).

Busing across Amhara:

My trip onward from Lalibella -- the most talked up tourist site in the country, and perhaps deserving of its own slot on this list -- was another opportunity to feel I'd gotten at least some minimal depth below the surface of the country. The 5 AM wake-up, two hours standing up bouncing over unpaved roads, hasty transfer in a road junction town, and five more hours passing along hillsides in a minibus with curious university students generated the satisfying sense of other-ness present in travel. (Ultimately, I was traveling to a work destination, and while I could've chosen a more comfortable means, it's fortunate that I didn't come into this thinking that travel would be easier logistically than at my older job).

Taking a boat trip in Bahir Dar:

The destination of my bus journey, Bahir Dar, is a city I wrote about in my last post. I arrived with nearly a full-day to devote to site-seeing -- enough time, as far as I've heard, for just about any individual city in Ethiopia. The city sits on the edge of the sizable Lake Tana, and I spent my free morning on a boat journey to a few of the monasteries that dot that lake's islands. While learning bits and fragments of Ethiopian Christianity, I saw centuries old books, dusty crowns given by long-ago kings, and an incredible depiction of Biblical scenes.

Meeting farmers:

Another experience described in my last post, getting into the field and meeting the farmers of Ethiopia, gets to the root of why I'm here. To be honest, the communication barriers are high (even with translation) and anyway conversations with a few farmers shouldn't replace decisions driven by data, recorded outcomes, and expert sources. But individual farmers in the fields are fundamentally my "clients" in this job, and to have even the most superficial exposure to their day-to-day life and efforts is better than having none at all.

A surprise ending to a hiking trip:

Bringing it back to Addis, I'll tell (mostly for the pictures) a story from this past weekend. A pair of friends and I contracted a taxi one morning to take us to a hiking spot outside Addis, and return by midday. The driver, unfortunately, didn't realize he had no idea where we actually wanted to go until he was well past the turn we would have needed. Instead, whether intentionally or by accident, we ended up at a wildlife refuge with a "no visitors allowed" sign, wondering whether we'd have to just give up and head back for Addis. Instead, one friend's brief chat by phone with the British manager of the preserve led to a personal tour. Just your typical day where you mean to go hiking and end up hanging out up close with leopards, Ethiopian lions (distinguished by their dark manes), and baboons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

8&9 were my favorites. Spent more time than I expected in churches in Paris being awestruck. Though the lion should get an honorable mention for being regal.