18 September 2010


My mom hates that word, pee.  I don't know why--probably b/c she is far more proper then me. And, I have this thing with words not carrying any value--so what some people consider insulting, I don't see.

But, that is a topic for another day--language I mean. Today, I want to talk about being Pee Shy.  If you are unaware of this concept, it is when someone is afraid to pee in public.  It takes slightly different forms, but for me--i have this thing with people hearing me pee.  Its not about the public restroom, which a lot of people take issue with, its about the sound. I CAN NOT pee in a quiet bathroom.  If it is a loud bathroom, or my favorite, they have those hand dryers,  I can pee as soon as someone turns it on. But, the dreaded quiet bathroom is my nightmare. Its the weirdest thing; but knowing that someone is listening to me pee, really freaks me out.  I have sat and sat waiting to be alone so I could pee.  And, when you REALLY have to pee--it just about kills you--sitting on the toilet, muscles clenched, waiting and waiting.  In fact, I credit this fear with my amazing ability to "hold it" for insane amounts of time.  I NEVER used the bathroom in primary school, never.  I would go all day--holding it. The later years i learned to go during class, when no one else was there, or to go to the less often used bathrooms.  But, if i went in and someone was there, or they came in while i was getting ready, it was over--I'd walk out. Hold it, that was my motto. And, I can!  

This leads me to "group trips." What is it about girls that they all like to go to pee together? In  my office, the two women ALWAYS go together. And, if they see me grab the key (its a locked bathroom) they say, "Hey, wait for me."  It's weird. Why would you want to go pee with me? Why? Can someone explain that? What a strange way to bond.  I mean getting tea together, or lunch, or whatever--i think would be far more pleasant.

My mother asked me about pee shyness the other day.   She wanted to know how I was dealing.  For this reason, it has been on my mind.  I was happy to report, I have evolved. I am MUCH better these days.    It dawned on me--i have moved past it. I still prefer to go alone or the noisy bathrooms, but I can pee with someone else listening.  How, you ask? How did I conquer this fear that has plagued me since grammar school? Public outhouses.  Living abroad in various places and at various times, I have had to pee in public outhouses.  I don't mean fancy American Port-O-Potties, i mean a large cement walled room, with slabs of cement for the floor and as many as 10 holes.  You pick a hole and squat.  Some of these outhouses had walls to separate the holes, but those are long gone-so its like a big room with a bunch of holes.  In these situations it was either never go, as I have lived in these places a long time in some cases, or learn to literally drop trough (or lift skirt) and squat with a bunch of women or girls you've never met.  Squatting there, eye to eye with an old woman, both of you peeing or "other things;" its liberating.  Once you've hung your butt in front of strange women and peed, peeing in the clean and private stalls of America doesn't seem all that daunting. 

On that note--have a great weekend!

13 May 2010


Hi all--sorry been so long.  My brother sent the link below to me.  Some of you have kids, some of you I have actually had a conversation about this with, and some of you i just thought might be interested.

Living in the US brings such contradictions to my life, it never ceases to amaze me--i, along with others, spend millions of dollars desperately trying to get vaccines to people around the world who walk miles in the hot sun carrying their young kids just to get the shot, and here people are refusing and now bringing back that which was once eradicated. Its going to get ugly if this tide continues. I have seen a child die of tetnus and measles. It is a horrible death. 

This is a frontline documentary on the anti-vaccine war. There has been such a decrease in people vaccinating in Oregon that the hospitals have developed a training program for doctors about recognizing and treating vaccine preventable diseases since most of these doctors have never seen polio or pertussis before.


06 April 2010

More Malawi Photos

Got a request for more photos--Here you are.

This is the INCREDIBLE lodge I stayed at in the middle of a huge huge farm at the foot of Mt Mulanje. It was stunning. 

This is some local food--Nsima, beans, spinach, and cabbage.  Its VERY VERY good. Hmmmm.
This the 4 hour line at the health facility. The people are sitting on cement benches in order, back and forth winding through the room. It is VERY hot and humid.  This sickest people are laying on the cement floor.  Despite all of the issues, this is a great clinic. They have good motivated staff  who show up, and for the most part have functioning equipment.

This last picture is of our "counseling corners" at the health facility where we teach families who have an HIV positive member, usually the mother--and we are teaching how to prevent transmission to her child and how to properly feed her child. The two people in front are our teachers.  They do a great job.  We've had amazing success with this program.

Malawi Part One

Hello--sorry it has been such a while, again. I won't bore you with an apology, rather just jump straight into my latest adventure, Malawi.

Malawi is a small sliver of a country in Southern Africa. Malawi has 118, 484 sq km, making it just slightly smaller than Pennsylvania (for reference, Utah has 219,899 sq km and the US is 9.8 million sq km).  Malawi borders Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania to the North.  It is an absolutely stunning country, though I only saw a small bit mainly the South and didn't really get to see any of the "tourist" destinations, including the major location Lake Nyasa.  But, I did get to see the third tallest mountain on the African continent, Mt Mulanje at  3,002 m (or Mulanje Massif).  Why you might be interested in Mt Mulanje, aside from its stunning beauty, is that Tolkien credits Mt Mulanje and its mysterious appearance and the folklore surrounding it as inspiring "The Hobbit."  For your reference, Utah's highest peak is Kings Peak at 4,126 m and Timp's highest peak is at 3,582 m.  

For me, Malawi was my first work in Southern Africa, and my first trek firmly in the Southern Hemisphere. Though I have hovered around the equator in Uganda and Kenya, this was my first trip south.  It was a wonderful experience and a STUNNING country.  Below you will find notes on all I saw and did--

Different things about Malawi
  • Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi is a relatively new capitol, being designated in 1974 (moved from Zomba).  Lilongwe is a gorgeous fake city.  I call it fake, b/c when you leave the airport to go there, I challenge anyone (whose never been) to be able to tell when you have arrived.  You just keep waiting for the "city" to appear, and it never does.  The city is laid out in "areas."  And though, many people find them annoying b/c they are numbered as part of your address and most certainly NOT numbered in order, as 10 and 32 can be next to each other, this lay out creates what I consider one of the most stunning capitals I have ever seen. Between each area is a LARGE green area.  Some of these areas are large groomed gardens of local fauna, sometimes over a kilometer long, others are just wild trees and orchards of various fruits.  It is absolutely beautiful.
  • The unofficial official hierarchy of people, which can in general be found everywhere, but in Malawi is somehow stronger in certain environments. For example I went to a meeting that had people from around the country representing Ministry of Health, USAID, UNICEF, many different NGOs, and district health officers.  The meeting was a presentation of a mid-term evaluation of the project I am working on.  The tables were set up in a huge circle with the presenters on one end, and the top three from USAID and MoH at the other end.   Extra chairs were placed against three surrounding walls.  In most places I have been, all the other chairs not taken by the “important” people would be up for grabs and it would be a mad dash.  People generally want to sit there, possibly trying to seem more important than the wall flowers or perhaps for the convenience of a table to write on.  But here, no one was sitting.  NO ONE. I asked why, and was told no one wanted to insult others by sitting at the table but being deemed by others as not worthy or high up enough to be at a table, so they were sitting against the walls with the chairs at the tables empty.  It was very very strange.  It took quite a while for those chairs to be taken, and needed prodding from others for people to take them.
  • One of the most annoying things in my work is when I am in a meeting with high up people from the government and/or an international organization and someone wastes countless minutes of everyone's time by talking just to hear themselves or be heard, not necessarily add to the discussion.  I know ,this is not unique to my field--but it still REALLY bothers me.  People tend to give verbose speeches rather get straight to the point.  Often in high level meetings, in the US and abroad, when people ask questions or make comments they end up being long winded trying to show off their smarts or make sure everyone knows who they are and what they do. Or, even more annoying and READILY done in the US,  they talk in circles to avoid answering a question they don’t want to admit they don’t know (or worst case scenario, both, ick). It’s the most annoying thing in the world.  These meetings go long enough anyway—talking in circles just to hear your self talk is nauseating.  In my meetings here in Malawi, however, I have yet to hear that.  Each meeting, people have been direct and all business, it was a breath of fresh air. Granted—I have friends here that say that they have heard plenty of self-important people talking to hear themselves talk, so perhaps I was just lucky to get the MoH people who aren’t that way. 
  • One very VERY fascinating fact about Malawi that is more rare then people would like, is that in modern history, they have had no wars.  None.  I am sure if you go back far enough you'll find something, but their independence from the British and the splitting of Rhodesia all happened for them without bloodshed.  An amazing feat.
  • I wish I could say they had no major political issues, but as in many places--with power comes money and corruption, and the current leaders of Malawi are no exception.  The current president--gave 700 Toyota Corollas to specific village heads to assure votes and recently just bought a private jet.  Never mind he has people who are living on less than a dollar a day in his charge--no no, it's hard to see that living in a palace.  "Let them eat cake," attitude rings throughout many of these countries.
I will be returning to Malawi later in the year and will let you know of more adventures.  I learned a long time you can laugh or cry, I prefer to find humor and laugh though my husband generally thinks I am nuts. Below is a list of joys I find in traveling in general and some are specific to developing countries.  Some could make you cry, but again--you just choose to laugh:
  • You must learn that just b/c something is in a fridge does not mean it is cold.  This will come in handy on very hot and humid days when you pull into a little cafe or restaurant. You'll see Coke, Fanta, water in a cooler and practically drool at the thought of a cold liquid in your hand--but beware, plugging in those coolers can be expensive and is not always done. 
  • One of my favorite things that I had completely for gotten about, but that always makes me smile are buckets of sand.  You'll find these randomly placed throughout offices.  Why, you ask? Ash trays? nope--there is no smoking.  Planters? nope, there are no plants in them--these my dear friends are for fires.  :)  I don't know why it entertains me so much, but each time I see one I smile.
  • One thing that you will find fascinating and disturbing is the reach of Coke.  Coke can get to the most remote mountain villages--its everywhere.  Though you would never catch me drinking Coke in the states (I don't believe in liquids with calories with the exception of milk), often it is the only "safe" drink.  Its Coke or river water.  Yum.  another is finding local soft drinks--in Malawi they had the following flavors: Cocopina (coconut and pineapple), Granadilla (passion fruit), and CherryPlum. 
  • Something else I find outside of my home are people (usually men) who have the audacity of jumping in line b/c they feel for some crazy reason they are more important or superior and don't need to wait to order their food or check in or whatever.  Then, what is even worse is watching women let them do it.  In the Kenya airport at a small cafe, i was third in line--a man was ordering when I walked up, followed by a business woman from Kenya, then myself.  Just as the man was finishing, along came some loser guy who felt he didn't' need to wait. I waited to see what the woman would do.  Nothing.  NOTHING.  I caught her eye and gave her the, "um, aren't you going to say something" look and she gave me back the, "what are you going to do" look.  Well--let me just show you what I am going to do!!!  Literally, as soon as that man finished the woman started to order, had just one syllable out of her mouth and another man came and started ordering. I'm done being patient, so I jumped in--"Excuse me, there is a line. We are all waiting our turn."  I try not to have a huge smile on my face as I say these things, as they give me great joy putting people in their place.  The man was stunned, the woman even more so and the guy behind the counter seemed to have seen it before.  I pointed to the end of the line (there were two men behind me patiently waiting), then gestured to the woman to order.  She smiled and did so. The guy just stood there looking at me.  The woman ordered, then I did, and not to surprisingly, the guy just jumped in after me. No one behind me said anything.  What are you going to do?
  • A fun part of my field is that it is a small world. For me, i don't' understand why not everyone joins us in our work as it is so fascinating, rewarding, and fun, but in the end its a small world.  So, when you travel you generally get to run into people.  This trip I was in the country at the same time as two  of my friends from my days at Tufts.  Sarah and Laura.  We had another great friend (well many, but specifically one) in neighboring Zambia we tried to meet up with, but it didn't work out.  The way of the world--the last time I saw Laura (who lives in Boston) was when i was living in Ethiopia and she came through for work.  That was over 2 years ago!!  Awesome.  Sarah, who embarrassingly enough lives in DC, i haven't seen for over a year.  I also had the opportunity to meet up with some new friends--a former student of my good friend and professor Jim Levinson who now lives there Hope Thornton, and an RD (Registered Dietitian) who is famous in the RD world and has lived and worked in Malawi for 13 years, Stacia Nordon.  They are both working in perma-culture and Stacia also works in School Feeding and Nutrition programs.  It's a small small world.
  • Another great part about traveling to "exotic" places is breakfast.  Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and I am VERY picky.  The hardest time I ever had was in Ireland.  I was staying at a B&B in Dublin and the proprietor proudly brought out a traditional Irish breakfast and I almost fell off my chair. FYI--this Irish breakfast consisted of Fried eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, sausage, and I am not joking, black pudding. Shudder~~~. When I told her I was vegetarian, she almost fainted at the thought of such a travesty.  In horror she asked what in the world she should feed me.  But, when I go to places like Malawi, though they often have all kinds of meat available and you can pick out the Brit's and Irish by who chooses sausage with toast and beans for their breakfast, they always have a fresh fruit bar. This particular trip for breakfast each morning I had fresh pineapple and guava, rice pudding made with ground nuts, and Guava juice.  YUMMY.  I could live on fresh guava. 
  • Within country travel takes you to VERY small little airports.  These airports have very entertaining attempts at security.  Often equipment doesn't work at all, e.g. X-ray machines and metal detectors.  Once (not this trip) i put my backpack on the belt at the entrance of the airport.  Once it had entered the machine I realized I hadn't taken my lap top out, and quickly told the technician I was aware of my mistake and would run it through again with the laptop out. He looked at me, shrugged, and said "It's okay, the X-ray isn't working anyway."  So why then--are we sending them through? I am not sure. Often they just ask if you have anything bad. You say no, and move on.  I was flying back from Blantyre to Lilongwe when my flight was “Delayed due to programmatic issues.” Delays are par for the course, and can last hours to days.  But this time, it was only 1 1/2 hours.  They announced the delay when we were already an hour late, then 30 minutes later "the programmatic issues" became clear when the pilot showed up.  Yes--that is a "program" issue.  Whatever.  Then, when we arrived at the "domestic" terminal at the Lilongwe International Airport (domestic being key, as the international arrival terminal meets international standards) I had the most entertaining experience with a baggage claim ever.  Often, the system is some guy who drags a cart out to the plane, unloads the luggage onto the cart, then drags it back toward the building and you grab what's yours.  By the time we were walking into the building, our bags were already there--sitting on a cart by the entrance. I went to grab mine when I was rebuked and told that I needed to get it from the actual luggage belt.  Okay.  I looked ahead to see a hole in the wall where a belt started and went straight ahead about 20 feet then ended and promptly dumped bags on the floor.  It was awesome. I walked through the doors to wait for my bag.  The loud buzzer sounds and the belt jerks into motion.  The man begins to load the bags onto the belt and the 15 or so of us waiting for our bags just stare out the hole watching for our bags.  The first suitcase reached the end, plopped to the floor (not sure where the owner was) and the belt promptly stopped.  The luggage man (guy who was loading them) climbed up onto the belt and through the hole and tweaked some wires in a box, then pounded on a large red button.  The belt wasn't budging.  So,  he climbed back through the hole, grabbed a bag, climbed through the hole again, walking on the now defunct belt, and placed the bag on the belt near the end. He then returned and carried out the process all over.  He did this until all of our bags were out.  Awesome.   
  • And lastly—usually they are long flights so I get to catch up on all the latest movies. I never go to the movies in the states--Henok and I have seen one movie since we moved here.  So, from living abroad and never going out, I'm always behind.  This trip I have seen:
  1. the second Twilight movie (I didn't read the books, and am not too impressed--but really wanted to see this one for the cool man to wolf scenes),
  2. the cartoon Up--very good.  I hadn't really been interested, but my sis said it was good so i gave it a shot. 
  3. Frog Prince--loved it
  4. Up in the Air--again something I hadn't really wanted to see and I wouldn't have bothered except when George Clooney does something it must be decent and it did get nominated for many things.  I really liked it, and was very caught off guard by the ending
  5. The Ugly Truth--funny.
  6. Whip-It--good. 
  7. G-Force-I know, I was ruthlessly jet lagged at this point--excuse the choices
  8. The Time Travelers Wife--very good.  VERY good.
  9. Funny People--much better then I excepted
  10. And lastly the one I cried through, yes sitting on the plane in my chair next to some random stranger crying, --This is It (Michael Jackson's).  It just about killed me.  The poor man had one of the worst life's ever.  Thankfully his mother seems to be a good person--at least one parent was good to him. I never got to see him--though i consider him to be in the top three dancers ever.  Amazing.
  11. On top of that, they often have TV shows to watch. Old and new--I watched several including How I met your Mother, The Mentalist, MASH, and my favorite of the trip, an episode of Magnum PI!!!  It was awesome!!

It's not all fun and games, and below are some of the not so joyful things;
  • For those of you who are not new to the list, you know I generally get ill.  Diarrhea and vomiting are generally par for the course in my field.  But, I am happy to report not on this trip!! Yea. A nice change--granted you have to wait a good 2 weeks after you get back to see if you brought anything home, but so far so good. :)
  • Layovers.  When you are traveling long and far layovers get longer and longer.  I am used to having layovers in Amsterdam. Its a nice airport to be in, they are well set up for this fact.  I once had a 16 hour layover there.  I know, i can just go in--but that trip i was with Henok and he has to get a VERY expensive visa ahead of time if he wants to leave the airport. So we stayed.  This trip the worst was a 10 hour layover in Kenya.  The Nairobi airport, though decent, is not meant for this long of layovers.  So painful.  SO SO painful.  Nothing to do. They have added a nice little restaurant at one end--huge improvement from the first times i went through there.  But, still--not a good time 

For now that is all-- I have more but will post that in a few days to give you a break.  Below are some photos---GORGEOUS country.

This is what you would ride in to the health center when you are in labor.  Except its broken, so you have to deliver at home or ride a bike.  The next photo is of some women in Phalombe distract, and lastly a very large Tea Plantation in the South.

02 November 2008


I know—seems too soon to be hearing from me, now your expectations are low—just where I like them. It seems i have found my voice again, so be prepared, this is long.

I am currently in Nepal, after a seriously treacherous journey. Eek. I hurt my back while in grad school, and so when I take long flights (and a 15 hour flight from NY to Delhi, India is long in my book) I like to take something to make sure I don’t go into total spasm. This time, I took this muscle relaxer. I generally have the amazing ability to sleep anywhere for any amount of time. My main talent in life, it serves me well on long flights. So, I was out, as usual, drugged on this pill. While I was sleeping, I was not drinking the requisite water (for those of you who don’t know, flying is very dehydrating to your body. This is why they offer free liquids) and for the first time ever I was NOT snuggled under a blanket and huge sweater I usually bring on planes, I was actually warm/hot. Well I woke up in the weirdest state. I was dizzy, a bit nauseated, and total disoriented. I knew something was wrong. I grabbed an ‘air sick’ bag and got up to go stand in the back of plane. As soon as I stood I knew I was NOT well. I decided I needed to find a flight staff member. I started walking toward the back of the plane, which from my point of view looked to be miles away. The plane was swerving back and forth, back and forth (or maybe I was). At some point during the journey backward, I lost consciousness, if only for a moment, but long enough to land me on some guys lap. He was none too pleased; as I am sure he had been sleeping. I apologized, I think—and continued my journey down the aisle. I remember people staring at me—and trying to hold onto the seats as I walked. Looking back, they were probably all nervous I was going to vomit on them, as I was carrying the air sick bag, but by then I was no longer nauseated, just dizzy. I had total tunnel vision, and could just see the crack of light between the curtains of the galley in the back. I remember falling to the floor in the galley and hearing the flight staff, “ Oooh” “Catch her” “Watch out.” Next thing, I am sitting on the floor surrounded by Continental uniforms. They put a cold rag on my neck and forehead and gave me Coke to sip. Wooo Weee. In about 20 minutes I was fine. They told me that some muscles relaxers actually raise your body temperature, and further dehydrate you. Thus my issue—I sat back there for a while, drinking water and trying to get my land legs back. Finally I was okay enough to walk back. I was SOOOOOOOOO embarrassed to walk by the guy I totally landed on, but luckily he was fast asleep. J The rest of the flight the staff were very very nice and checked on me regularly and brought a lot of water.

Oh do I wish that is where the bad part of the journey ended, but alas—I am not that lucky. So, do to some mix ups with visas (long story) I was unable to leave the New Delhi airport, rather got the distinct pleasure of hanging out in the “transit lounge” for 15 hours (keep in mind “transit lounge” is the official title of the room, I feel it is used more comedically or to trick you into thinking they are taking you somewhere comfortable and nice). I was not alone in the ‘lounge’. Many other travelers were waiting it out, and some with small children—so I felt I had it okay. Normally, this wouldn’t’ have been a problem for me (remember the sleeping talent), save two issues. 1. The first plane ride had left me still very dehydrated and exhausted as I didn’t sleep as much after the incident. And 2. It was FREEZING in the ‘lounge.’ They had the AC cranked and we were all shivering. My plan had been to just sleep the hours away, especially with how tired I was, but my talent of sleeping is no match for shivering and the overwhelming desire of water. So—I dozed in and out, read, people watched, stared at the food and more importantly water for sale (I didn’t have any Indian money, so no go for me) and chatted with people. It was a LONG 15 hours. Finally, they came and got me. The very short flight (I think 2 1/2 hours) from New Delhi to Kathmandu was painful. I fell asleep within seconds of sitting down. I curled up with a blanket and was gone, but the short transit time and the fact that they woke me for both a snack and meal—really proved the flight to be less help and more pain. I was picked up at the airport by my new colleague, Macha. He is the country director for Micronutrient Initiative in Nepal. We had to fight off the viral taxi drivers vying for our business, and make our way to the car. All I wanted was a hot shower and a bed. Actually, I didn’t even need a bed, just a space that wasn’t freezing. But, no such luck; I was taken to a meeting right away at WFP (World Food Program). I tried my darndest to stay awake and be productive, but I wasn’t fooling anyone and with in 15 minutes of the meeting starting, they dismissed on account I was useless. Thank heaven!! I got to the hotel (Aloha Inn). Showered (I had prayed all the way up 3 flights of stairs they had hot water), hit my bed and slept for 12 hours without moving. Lovely. About the Inn, I asked one of the staff members why it was called the Aloha Inn. He said it was an old Hotel that was named with a word from some “European Language.” I giggled a bit, and told him that was wrong. Aloha is from a Pacific Island language, and that island is a state in the USA, Hawaii. He looked at me like I was crazy, told me I was mistaken and laughed. Okay. We’ll just let that one slide.

So, Nepal. I have absolutely no idea where to start. It is an amazing place that my writing will never do justice. I’ll get some demographic facts out of the way before I delve into my experience. Nepal is in South Asia sandwiched between India and China. Though Nepal make look small on maps next two the two 1 billion plus countries, it is slightly larger then Arkansas. It is 100 miles (160 Km) wide and 553 miles (885 Km) long! 29.5 million people call it home. The highest point, and the reason I am guessing most of you know of Nepal, is Mt Everest at 29, 035 feet (8,850 meters) and, what will surprise many of you, is a lowest point of 230 feet ( 70 meters)!! Yes—a VERY diverse topography which leads to VERY VERY difficult transportation issues. Kathmandu, the capital, sits at 4,445.5 feet (1355 meters), which is lower then where I grew up in Utah Valley. You will be VERY surprised to know it is quite warm here. Today I walked around in a skirt, sandals, and a t-shirt and got hot. Because the Himalayas, which are on the border with China in the north and home to Mt Everest, are so high—they block the cold cold winds from the north, making Nepal very pleasant. Now, Tibet on the other hand, is very cold and windy. Tibet is the region just on the other side of the Himalayas, another spiritual hotspot. I could talk a lot about Tibet, as I am passionate about their plight for freedom. But, once I start I won’t stop—so I will simply say that I support the Free Tibet movement and if you want more info go to: www.freetibet.org.

Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world with almost one-third of its population living below the poverty line. Here are some quick facts at a glance

1. One way to look at a country is with the GNI, Gross National Income. It’s like the average income for citizens. In the US in 2006, the GNI was $44,970; in Nepal in 2006 it was $290.00.

2. Average walk to a market, 11.5 hours ONE WAY!!!

3. In some areas, 79% of the children are stunted; meaning they have been malnourished consistently month after month for so long they stopped gaining height and are short for their age.

4. Religiously they are: Hindu 80.6%, Buddhist 10.7%, Muslim 4.2%, Kirant 3.6%, and the only official Hindu state in the world.

5. They have one of the most unique flags in the world (see attached).

6. They have five seasons Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Monsoon. You may have heard they are having flooding problems as well as the state of Bihar which borders Nepal and is where a large chunk of the water from Himalayas ends up. Bihar is the state in India where I lived in 2005.

7. Nepal has only been open to tourists/foreigners since 1949.

8. Is home to many refugees from Tibet and Bhutan.

9. The Himalayas are visible from certain points in Kathmandu, when the sky is clear. Pollution is horrible here, and the sky is often grey. Those of you living along the Wasatch front can imagine--they have the same problem Utah does with trapping bad air in the valleys.

Hopefully, I’ve peaked your interst. There is a lot more I could tell you, but it’s all available on line or in your local library. I arrived here just in time for one of the biggest Hindu festivals. Tihar, the festival of lights is one of the most dazzling of all Hindu festivals. The festival is for worshiping the Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth. During the festival all the houses in the city and villages are cleaned spotlessly, decorated with flowers, and finally adorned with lit oil lamps. Thus during the night the entire village or city looks like a sparkling diamond. You do this to attract the Goddess, and thus wealth and prosperity for your family. I was able to walk around and see many gorgeous homes. The people create a flower or pattern in front of their homes from different colored powders and flowers. Then foot steps and a path are created to lead the Goddess to the home. It’s beautiful.

Lucky for me, I was here when a good friend was also passing through, Louise Cochran (Jim’s wife for those who know him). We were able to spend all day Saturday together and I learned so much from her. She has been to Nepal many times, the first time 30 years ago. She was on her way to the city of Pokhara for a meditation retreat, slightly jealous. She took me to the largest “Stupa” in Nepal, Bodhnath. Stupa’s are built to house Buddhist relics and are holy sights people visit to worship and meditate. It is a large dome, with the “all seeing eyes of Buddha” on top (see picture). Around the dome are 108 images of Buddha (108 is a holy number in Buddhism), and 147 insets containing 4 prayer wheels each. You walk around the dome turning the prayer wheels. It’s one of the most powerful places I have ever been. The energy takes your breath away when you walk through the gate, it’s overwhelming. I hope to return before I take off.

Upon arrival to Nepal, I was given a security briefing (no worries mom, they are standard. I am sure when foreign staff move to NYC they get one too). I met other UN staff there and we each shared what brought us to Nepal. I was the only ‘short term’ employee in the room, as the rest of the crowd had all moved to Nepal for work. They asked if I had made time to sight see in my short time, and I told them I had no time for trekking just a few Saturdays to see close by sites. Almost in unison they groaned apologies for my ‘horrible situation’ of not being able to sight see. I was quite shocked at their reaction, and wondered, why wasn’t I as upset as they obviously would be in my shoes. Then I realized, I will be sight seeing—not their version of sight seeing, rather, my version. When I visit a country, I don’t want to just tour the sites and trek where others have, I want to really see the culture and people. For me, this is what my field trips are. Lucky me, seriously, LUCKY ME I get to go to Western Nepal for 7 days. I will be traveling to the three ecological zones, low lands, hills, and mountains, to see the area. I will speak with local leaders in villages about crops they grow, problems they face, and undoubtedly get to play with some kids. I get to see real homes with real people. That is sight seeing to me. I will of course tell you all about it later and post pictures on my blog.

Lastly I want to comment on my love of Tea. My first tea experience came from my Gram (my mom’s mom). Gram was an extraordinary person, one of the top 3 people to ever live, and an amateur herbologist. I have had stomach issues my whole life, and when I was young Gram recommended raspberry leaf tea, I was hooked. Yum. When I served in the Peace Corps my host mom would make home made mint tea (from mint leaves grown in our garden) and home made hibiscus tea (the berries grow wild in Moldova). NOTHING was better then coming home to a hot pot of tea and fresh home made bread. Then, I got the amazing opportunity to live in India and the world of Chai was opened to me. In the UNICEF office in Patna, Bihar, India we had a Chai Walla. The man whose job it is to make tea. He was a sweet old man, so cute—and would come around several times a day with a tray full of cups. He made the tea fresh each batch, with fresh herbs/spices and milk. Yummy. Back in the states I cultivated my love of green tea and the various herbal concoctions you find in the US. While living in Ethiopia, all my housemates were from England, Ireland, or Northern Ireland. Serious Tea drinkers. I learned how important the process of making the tea can be. One housemate was particularly picky and wouldn’t drink any tea I made until he had shown me how to make it properly. I myself have become VERY picky in my tea drinking, and certain brands are a NO GO. I feel their flavor is insulting. However, I have discovered the oddest phenomenon. I had meditated on this fact before this trip, but my voyage to Nepal confirms it. Tea is about the experience. I rarely if ever have good tea in the US. I thought we just had poor brands, poor style of producing it, I was doing something wrong, or something—but I have come to the conclusion tea tastes better in Nepal, India, Ethiopia, and Moldova because you are there. It’s part of the experience. I am excited for new countries, so I can try their style of tea. Nepal was no let down, with their version of Chai. Though, it is depressing to realize I will never have good tea back in the US, it makes my trips abroad so much more exciting b/c I can look forward to good tea.

One last comment, really. After writing the above on tea I had a wonderful conversation with Louise. She pointed out America has never been a Tea drinking society, so perhaps we really don’t know how to make tea! Who knows? Tea is becoming more popular in the states, and I can’t say that EVERY cup I have had has been awful, but the percentage is very high. I am assuming with time my tea experiences will be consistently good in the US, as they are abroad.

Okay—I am exhausted and need to pack for my big adventure. Hope you are all well!!

21 October 2008

I am alive

No, I am not dead. I know many of you think so, and with good reason. But now you all know I can never be a professional writer. The fact is I don’t really enjoy writing; I know shocking to hear after the lengthy emails you’ve gotten in the past. However, I write not because I like writing, but because I have this primal need to get something out of me. That sounds a bit crazy, but I mean when I have seen something, experienced something, or learned something that I just can’t process without sharing it. My husband gets real sick of my talking (and to be honest for those of you who have met my husband, you probably wonder if he ever talks—but trust me when it’s just us, I BARELY get two words in a night!!). So, I write when I need to get things out. That said, the reason you haven’t heard from me is there has been NOTHING going on. I have one story—then there were months of nothing but boring life. I’ll tell the one story, that unfortunately is from back in March, then a few random tidbits that will bring you up to October.

Many of you will be surprised to learn Henok and I are now living in the USA. We made the “migration” at the end of March this year. Henok and I decided we wanted to move to the US, and we applied for his visa. We were told it takes an average of 1 year—we put in his application in December (07). We assumed, best possible scenario we would get his visa in September 2008 (9 mos later). However, much to our surprise—it came in January!!!!!!!!! That’s right, one month!! I was working for Micronutrient Initiative and World Bank, so we needed to stay a bit. I called my sisters in shock and while Henok and I tried to figure out when to come over. On the phone with my sisters, we quickly came to the conclusion it had been too long since we had attempted to give our mom a coronary, and the scheming began. My mother should be happy her children are so close we talk so much. Long story short, we decided to not tell my parents we got the visa and have Henok and I just show up to dinner!! 

March in my family is a big deal—there are 1001 birthdays. To simplify things we started having just one birthday party. This year, it was decided (with the influence of my sisters) to have the bday dinner on the last Sunday of the month. Then, unbeknownst to my mother we arrived in Utah and stayed with my sister Kristi in Logan for a few days then rode down to Orem. We spent Saturday night at Lisa’s house, and then came over with them to my mom’s house for the ‘birthday dinner.’ Henok and I waited in the car, while we waited for dinner to get on the table and everyone to be sitting. This is VERY hard as my mother never really sits during dinner, but we really wanted her to be sitting down. My brother-in-law called me and left his phone on speaker so Henok and I could listen in and try and time it right. We snuck around the back of the house and up the back steps, to the patio doors. We opened the doors and yelled “Surprise!!” Unfortunately, my mom was of course not in her seat, but she quickly appeared and we got a photo of her face!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ha Ha Ha. She hates us girls—but surprising her is what keeps us going!!

Well—I can sum up April to October in just a few sentences. We hung out in Utah while processing Henok’s paperwork. Getting him his first American Driver’s License, Social Security Card, and introducing him to places other then McDonalds!! We decided to come to the DC area, as it would be easier for me to find a job, there are schools for Henok, and we have a support system around as I have family in Maryland as does Henok. We found an apartment in Alexandria, and to be honest absolutely love it. We came here at the beginning of June. Things haven’t been all smooth –I haven’t’ been able to find a ‘real’ job (translation something with benefits) and we picked the worst time in history to move to the US as unemployment is at an all time high!!!!!! I have continued consulting for the World Bank and random other things. Henok has a job, not in his field of IT, but something to keep him busy while we look for work in IT for him.

Life in the US has been crazy. Henok is fascinated by the elections. He has watched all the debates, something I refuse to do. They just annoy me. I’d rather read them later. Two blowhards blowing hot steam at each other; like two bullies in the school yard seconds from a fist fight but dressed in suits. Annoying. The only positive in all of it is SNL. This is the season SNL shines (Saturday Night live for you early to bed folks). It has been quality.

Most moments, to be honest, I want to bolt from the US and never look back (sorry mom). You’ll be surprised to know I find America to be a very very depressing place. Sometimes it’s overwhelming the amount of sadness here. Truly, some days I will see such sadness in the streets I have to hibernate in my home to get away from it. I know I have a different perspective, but things here are hard. I, along with my husband (after a few months of life in the US) agree that life in Ethiopia is much happier. Not just Ethiopia, many countries around the world have far easier and happier lifestyles then the US. Most Americans, especially those who have not been able to travel abroad, probably can’t imagine it. But, life in Cuba, Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Romania etc can be better, easier, and less stressful. You can very joyful wonderful lives. Don’t be confused, I am not delusional, and would never claim the US is the saddest place—if you recall I worked in South Sudan a bit, you don’t know loss until you’ve worked there. But, that said, America is a hard and sad place to try and survive. I don’t mean because of the current economic woes, that is just worsening an already depressing situation for so many.

I will try and explain why I see this, but probably won’t do too good a job. There are many any reasons for this, but I’ll point out a few today. I am in a rush to get this email out—so I’ll do my best. America is the golden ticket. Getting a visa to move to the US is like winning the golden ticket, someone gets that once in a lifetime opportunity to save their entire family. When someone gets that golden visa, this means the lives of their brothers and sisters, mom and dad, nieces and nephews, aunt and uncles, grandma and grandpa, and cousins far and wide will change forever (not to mention friends). It is assumed that this person will arrive in the US, get a great job, start making money, and send it back home. Now—everyone will get better roofs, indoor plumbing, new clothes/shoes, school fees and supplies, medical care and medicine, television, etc etc. However, reality is, this person no matter how educated or qualified they were in their home country, arrives to the US and must take a minimum wage paying crap job and have to pay for living in the US, which we all know is not cheap, and STILL manage to send money home. Regardless, he/she will be making more money here then they could back home. This is how you find teachers, doctors, even nurses in our incredible nursing shortage working at Taco Bell or Target. Now the issue of professionals having to work WAY beneath their potential is one thing, and a topic for another day; I want to focus the money and their homes. So, they send money home. I can not express to you the overwhelming pressure to send money home. It is your duty, if you don’t you are abandoning your family. Your family is shamed in their community, because one of their own has abandoned them. IF the family of a “golden ticket” holder doesn’t start having a higher standard of living, it is assumed the ticket holder has 1-been a failure, 2-become selfish and forgotten about their ‘home,’ or 3-Become American: meaning getting into drugs, alcohol, etc and wasting their money on these things. There are other assumptions of course, I don’t pretend to know all the cultures and beliefs—but these are reasons I have experienced or heard from others. So, with all this pressure, the person must work at least 2 crappy jobs or even three. Sleeping just a few hours a day—trying to send as much money home as possible. For some countries, the entire economy is highly dependent on this money coming from the US (and other ‘developed’ nations) called remittances.

The down part, what I see—are exhausted disappointed “children.” It’s like waiting your whole life to go to Disneyland, FINALLY getting there and finding out it’s a work camp. These people come here with such high expectations—they grow up ‘learning’ that Americans are always happy; we have few problems, no stress and money to burn. They get here and discover a cruel reality. Where, like my husband, they are treated like second or third class citizens. People assume they are uneducated and illegal and say outrageously prejudice, racists and down right malicious things. Their families assume they are happy as they are in the land of Gold and Honey, but they suffer away here with only each other to confide in. They cling to each other for support and to figure out our crazy system. They need to learn how to use the buses and subways, how to use a debit card, and, as my husband is learning, for many it’s their first time dealing with winter. If you suddenly had to move to a foreign country, by your self, would you seek out the locals whose language you haven’t totally learned or others like you? Then, people blame you for not ‘integrating’ into your new country—I dare any of you to move to a new land with a new language and to ‘integrate.’ I LOVE challenges, new languages and cultures, I love getting to know only the locals and not the other ‘foreigners,’ and even I have to hang with Americans once in a while. It’s just natural, birds of a feather.

I could say so much more on this topic. Way too much, and possibly I will in the future—but for now you get the idea. Life is hard here, harder then you can imagine. But, you need to realize that even despite all the hardships these people face, it’s better for many then going home, especially the illegal immigrants. Think how bad your life must be to force you to cross a desert and swim a river, with a huge chance of dying—just to come and work for like 3 dollars an hour. I know the drain illegal immigrants have on our system, especially in certain areas. But, I am just asking you to 1—Please do not assume b/c someone has an accent they are illegal, 2—Do not assume all immigrants are uneducated. ON top of all that—those who got the golden tickets, can’t return home if they want. To turn down the opportunity for advancement of their families, the happiness of everyone back home—they must stay here and trudge on.

It’s a crazy world—and getting crazier. Treating people poorly does not help anyone.

I need to close, b/c I have a ton to do---believe it or not, but tomorrow morning I will be flying to Nepal!!! YEA!! Nepal is on my top 10 places I want to visit, and tomorrow I get to go. I am doing a consulting job with Micronutrient Initiative and World Food Program. I’ll actually be there for an entire month!! It’s a bit long, but I am very excited. I am sad to leave Henok. This is his first fall, and I will miss it. His first Halloween, and I will miss it. However, Nepal will be great and I will have much to say when I get back.

Okay—glad to be in contact with you all. Hope you are all well---


28 February 2008

Lalibela and Donkeys

Greetings all—I hope you are all well. Most of you are still in winter right now, so I imagine you are chilly. Here in Ethiopia, it got cold last night—I had to use all the blankets on the bed. Ha Ha. Actually, I miss winter. I know, only someone living in a climate with no snow or cold could say this, but it’s true. Winter and spring are my favorite seasons. It started out as a child there were less spiders (they all die in winter, thankfully and in spring haven’t quite replenished to their full glory like in summer). But, living in ‘warm year round’ climates I have realized I really like winter. I like a season of bundling up, hot cider, yummy soups, shoveling snow (really I like it, though I hear I wouldn’t have liked it this year—too much), playing in the snow, the gorgeous white covered trees and mountains, etc etc. I miss it. I think I also love winter, b/c it reminds you how good spring and summer are. It’s the same reason why I live abroad, I like the daily reminder of how blessed I am to keep me in check. Winter, keeps you in check—lets you really enjoy spring and summer. When it’s summer and/or spring all the time, you take it for granted. Thus, in short—I am jealous of your suffering. J

So, somehow, my new husband tricked me into going to a wedding with his sister, mother, and a neighbor. The sister speaks broken English and the other two, nothing. Suddenly, I am sitting at a table, the tallest (some how I ended up with the tall chair, which adding to my height as I am tall here was a bit conspicuous), the only white person, the only non-Amharic speaker, and the only one not knowing what is going on. The priest comes in to the sit down dinner, sees the odd looking white giraffe at one table, and makes a beeline for me. I was hoping the man spoke some English, as several priests I have met do. They travel and meet with other Orthodox priests, and the common language is of course English. However, this was not the case. He joined our table of mainly retirees, my sister-in-law, and the neighbor. Everyone stared at me, I smiled back. Awkward!
I have gained this talent (I think while in the Peace Corps) of TOTALLY entertaining myself no matter the situation. I can just drift away in my mind and I don’t know, just entertain myself in the big dark space up there. I can do this for hours—meditating and thinking (often of what to tell you). It has come in handy on cold days in Moldova when I was stuck in my house, long train rides in India, long bus trips in Romania, boring seminars, etc. So—here I am in an ideal situation to drift away, with one exception—a stubborn priest. When I am spoken to, I of course come out of my little daze, back to reality and try to rejoin society. The priest, despite knowing I spoke no Amharic and he spoke no English, wanted to talk with me. He repeatedly made statements at me (I put it that way, b/c they were just a blur of sounds. I didn’t know if they were questions or observations). Everyone would turn and look at me, waiting to see if I could/would respond. I would either just smile, or randomly say, yes or no, to which the retirees would erupt into laughter. Possibly, I had agreed to marry his son, or even him (he was a young priest). Who knows? Randomly, my sister-in-law would translate bits of what he had sad, but was unable to translate back my response. This fun time lasted 2 hours, as my husband lay home watching TV (to be fair, he had gotten a wisdom tooth pulled out that morning, but why did I have to go to the wedding?!?!?!?)

Speaking of the wedding, I learned of a tradition I find interesting. The Ethiopian Orthodox church (EOC), due to Ethiopia’s role in the Old Testament, focuses heavily on the OT compared to other Christian Faiths. Members of the EOC know their Old Testament forward and backward. So, it makes sense that at weddings to celebrate they sing a song about Abraham and Sarah. It was a beautiful song with a lively chorus of shouting and clapping. Not that I understood the words, but wonderful nonetheless.

One thing I have noticed in my travels, and Ethiopia is no exception, that those in ‘developing countries’ tend to cherish life more. I mean they are more cautious and even in the teen years when most of us throw caution to the wind, they make wiser safer choices. I think when there is no real tragedy (losing life or limb) in your life, you don’t understand the finiteness of life. When you grow up with poor health care, no immunizations, lots of dangers in the road, etc you lose family, friends, and neighbors more often. People die from simple accidents and diseases we would consider of no consequence. You cherish each day God lets you have. Being raised in the environment where we are practically encouraged to throw caution to the wind, I find myself less cautious then my husband. For him, you never ever make a decision that’s puts your life or health in possible jeopardy. Sounds reasonable enough, yes-but I guarantee many of your daily decisions would not pass his (or that of his friends and family) criteria for being safe. In the US when you see a ‘hole in the all’ restaurant, if you are like me you are eager to try it as it could be really good. But Henok, if he sees any sign of uncleanliness will refuse to step foot in the place. Another great example is salads. I know, you are thinking—what is so dangerous about lettuce? First, we don’t have lettuce here, but that isn’t important to the story. Second, if you are going to pick up some bug or get any form of food poisoning it’s far more likely to come from something raw then something cooked, thus the danger of salad. Truly, many of my Ethiopian friends will NOT eat salad outside of their home. In Lalibela (more explanation on that later), I got my fork remotely close to the cabbage and Henok would panic. Another great example is water. My mom, lovely woman that she is, bought me this fancy schmancy water bottle. It has a filter inside it so you can drink whatever, and it kills bacteria, viruses, amoebas, and filters out toxins. It’s a great thing. My first trip into the field with it I was excited to try it out. I didn’t jump into the first river and start drinking, but after 8 hours of walking around to different villages in a VERY mountainous area on a very hot day, I was out of bottled water (I had had two 2 liter bottles with me). I grabbed my fancy schmancy bottle and headed to the nearest stream. My team, Henok was one them, FLIPPED OUT!! Why in the world would I consider putting myself so close to death!!!??? I explained the nature of the fancy schmancy water bottle, thinking with the explanation they might want to try it too. It is fancy! The explanation didn’t change their minds, and the fact that I tried to rationalize my ‘unreasonable’ choice, made things worse. . Henok removed the bottle from my hands and handed me some of his water. I was stunned (and to be honest a bit sad, I wanted to use the bottle). To this day, Henok is still upset that I even considered drinking that water. Truly, he brings it up whenever he feels I am about to make a stupid decision, he reminds me of the ‘stupidest thought I ever had.’ Another example is just kids playing in the streets here. I know my nieces and nephews (and me when I was younger) would go CRAZY with all the adventure they see here. There are discarded cars, deep holes dug for who knows why by who knows who, random chunks of pipes, construction sites with no fences, etc etc. But, the kids here stay clear of anything that is remotely dangerous. It’s fascinating to watch them ‘parent’ themselves, as I know American kids (the adventurous ones) would bound right up to danger.

I got off on a tangent—my point is I see kids and parents far more cautious here. There literally are hundreds of dangerous points within 1 minute of my house. Large holes (really random large deep hidden holes that even I want to crawl into just see what’s there), random things poking out of the ground (pipes, barbed wire, metal chunks), exposed electrical wires, crazy cars with no brakes, and if none of those things get you-the Hyenas will. Okay, not so much where I live, but on the outskirts of Addis and in much of the country, Hyenas are a real danger for small children. Many children do not survive the dangers and random disease outbreaks. With this, there is a better respect for life and it’s fragility here (and many other places). As Henok always, and I mean ALWAYS says, “Why would you mess with your health?”

Next I would like to reflect on my absolute all consuming ignorance. It’s true the more you learn, the more you understand how much you don’t know. I was reading over some of my old emails from Moldova and India. I am stunned at how na├»ve I was, and what idiotic things I wrote. I mean, its one thing to be ignorant, its another to essentially advertise it in a mass email and on a blog! Many of my ignorant comments (generally random observations) come from the fact that I am “country” and didn’t know it. I mean, I generally tell people I am country because relative to other Americans my upbringing was. We raised most of our own food, we had cows, trees, garden, etc and my town had like 2-3 thousand people in it when I was growing up (people from developing countries find this FASCINATING as they kind of assume all Americans live in NYC or something). So, most people call my upbringing country. BUT, and this is an important distinction, I never EVER thought I was country. I mean, I lived 15 minutes from Provo, Utah, a thriving metropolis in my view and just an hour from the capitol, Salt Lake City. To me, to be country there are two requirements: 1 you are people from towns smaller then mine AND 2 your town is in an isolated areas. So, 1 hour drive to the nearest grocery store type stuff. Towns more similar to where my sister Kristi lives in Trenton, Utah (not to be confused with the metropolis of Tremonton which is large). Even as I write this, I know you real city dwellers are laughing that I called Provo and SLC cities.

Many of you may remember my friend Mark from the Peace Corps. We used to fight over this point, as he had been to Salt Lake City, and said it was a town not a city. He was from Minneapolis. At the time, I thought he was just teasing me to annoy me—but now I realize he was serious. I am from the country. I am a country girl. I am sure my sisters and brothers don’t feel they are country, like I did, but I am here to tell you we are. Now, being married to a CITY kid, born and raised in a city of 4 million, I am seeing more and more that I am country. AND, referring back to me going through my old emails, I am starting to see that many of my observations were not ‘different country’ observations, but rather a country bumpkin living in big cities for the first time observations!! It’s crazy and down right embarrassing. Why didn’t any of you city folk tell me I was so hick (that’s an adjective for people from the rural areas for you non-American readers)? It’s like when someone has food on their face, and everyone at the table can see it but says nothing and lets the person figure it out later and feel very embarrassed. I hope you’re satisfied!! (a random note, as I do those best, is one leftover trait from my ‘country’ dwelling I have yet to get rid of is my estimates on travel times. When I think about going from point A to point B, I think about the actual distance. If it is 2 miles, in a car that should take 2 minutes [if you have stop signs or the road isn’t paved!]. But, in the city, 2 miles can be 2 hours with traffic and lights. Its crazy and gets me EVERY time. I get so upset when Henok tells me he’s at “Meskel,” which is like a mile and a half from where I work, and it takes him 30 minutes to get there. What is he doing?!?!?!?)

I want to point out the fact that I don’t like city dwelling, but it is a necessary evil. I think some cities are worse then others (um, no offense, but New Delhi comes to mind—Ack!), but in general the country is more livable for me. Perfect examples are found in Ethiopia. I would LOVE to live in a rural Ethiopian town, teach at the school, work at the health clinic, work with youth, tons of stuff—but Henok, no way. He could barely handle being in Lalibela for 3 days (again, more info on this later). I’ve married a city kid, who when he visited my town of Mapleton (now a whopping 6 thousand people) was bored! We have 3 gas stations now and 2 restaurants, that’s hopping!! In fact, he felt all of Utah was boring, even Provo was too small (his first introduction to the US was Maryland and DC area, I’ll give him they are more populous). It was a serious shock to my system. I told you how when we went up to our cabin near Kamas (Park City) Utah, he about died of boredome and we left early. I could stay there for days with NO problem, he could handle about 2 hours as long as he knew he would be leaving in 2 hours. On top of that, the career I have chosen doesn’t lend itself well to living in ‘rural areas,’ unless I want to earn like 10 thousand dollars a year. The organizations I want to work for, the projects I want to work with, the action is all in big cities. DC (the worst, after Delhi), NYC, Atlanta, San Diego, Seattle, London, Rome, Paris, Addis, Nairobi, etc etc etc. I’ve cursed myself.

Back to my ignorance, I got off onto one part of my ignorance, but want to come back to the fact that I am ignorant. I know so little about, well most things. It fascinates (and depresses) me. I won’t go on on this topic for now, I’ll move on or this could be 20 pages of embarrassing revelations of my lack of knowledge!

Okay, enough whining—on to exciting topics, the anticipated Lalibela. I am going to venture a guess that most of you have never heard of Lalibela. That is a shame and you are in luck as today you will learn. Lalibela is in Northern Ethiopia. It is a small town, just 9000 residents (yea that’s a town!). It is known as “Africa’s Petra,” and is Ethiopia’s number one tourist destination. In fact, ‘tourists’ have been visiting Lalibela since the 16th century! Lalibela ranks as one of the greatest religio-historical sites not only in Africa, but the Christian World. (previous few sentences, and some more to follow compliments of Lonely Planet Guide, Ethiopia and Eritrea).What I, and many others who have visited, find fascinating is that the people of Lalibela live largely the same life today they did 900 years ago. So you as a tourist stop to see the incredible sights, but that can include the houses made the same way as 900 years ago, food processed the same way as 900 years ago, etc (key difference, coke bottles).

So, what is so special about Lalibela? 11 churches to be exact. 11 churches commissioned by King Lalibela who had spent time in Jerusalem. After he returned to Ethiopia, he wanted to build a new Jerusalem. Lalibela is HIGH in rugged rocky mountains (2630 meters or 8630 feet). So, with few trees available—they carved these churches directly out of the mountain. It is stunning. Absolutely, 100% amazing. The churches have been declared a UNESCO heritage site and currently the European Union is in process to build protective coverings for them as some are cracking and showing their age (fun fact for you, Ethiopia is the African country with the MOST UNESCO sites). The churches are named for 11 saints who are important for EOC and vary in size and design. They are in 2 main groups of 5 with an 11th one, the most famous of them, slightly south of them. The churches are amazing for three reasons (Lonely Planet): 1-the churches are mostly not carved INTO the rock, but carved FROM it. Meaning, they are free standing with rock cliffs around them. It’s hard to explain, I’ll post some pictures on my blog. 2-B/c the buildings are so detailed and refined, considering they were carved 900 years ago, and Lastly because there are so many in such a small (ten minute walk) space. The churches in the different groups actually connect to one another with corridors. Outside the town lie even more churches, though not as glorious or famous most still have monks or nuns living in them Two of the churches, are connected by what the Ethiopians believe to be an example of hell. It is a 25 meter (85 feet) tunnel with no windows. It is PITCH black. It is of course not smooth ground and drops down sometimes, and you must feel your way through. It is a harrowing experience to say the least.
It was so interesting—and beautiful. The majority of the doors are the original doors from 900 years ago. Large old wooden doors with the original nails. The churches all have the original crosses which were created for each of them (unique for each one). These crosses are very famous, and you’ll often see them depicted on Ethiopian memorabilia. The most famous church, is that of St George. It is said he showed up when Lalibela had finished the other churches and was bitter there was not one for him. King Lalibela, built him the one that is a bit south of the others. You can still see the hoof prints ‘left’ by St. Georges horse. Scholars say it must have taken like 40,000 men to build the churches, but locals believe the locals worked in the day time and angels took over at night, completing the bulk of the work. In many of the churches you can still find original murals depicting bible stories, and in one an original book of history from 900 years ago. It is fascinating. I actually can’t put into words what an amazing experience it is to walk through these caves and come out into these intricately carved rooms with pillars (the largest church as 82 pillars), statues, murals, etc. The churches are all still used, meaning they have services for locals and are a major site of pilgrimage for Ethiopians. I can’t really explain, so I’ll just put up pictures.

Lastly, on Lalibela—there were of course many foreigners there. It is common, when foreigners are done with magazines or books they will give them to locals who have helped them. These are often youth, who know English from school. The books and magazines serve as a great teaching tool for these youth (in Moldova I knew a woman who had some gossip magazine from the UK that was a decade old someone had given her. Her kids read it). At the airport, there were some ‘Texans’ saying good bye to their guides. One man reached into his bag and pulled out a “Fortune” magazine to give the boy, funny enough as this boys fortune I am sure is less then 10 dollars. But, when I got a closer look the headline was “What to do with 100,000 dollars.” I am sure the boys could figure something out.

In closing, two short stories. First, just to make me pay, fate dealt me a hand in favor of Henok. Translation: I did eat some salad in Lalibela, and when we got home found out I had brought some Amoebas with me. Henok was more then overjoyed to say “I told you so.” And, for you uninitiated, Amoebas aren’t so bad themselves, but the medicine to kill them just about kills you. The guaranteed side effects are severe nausea, exhaustion, dizziness, and a metallic taste in your mouth. It is awful—you truly consider keeping the little guys around just to be rid of the medicine.

And lastly, a small laugh for you. I had to take a taxi home today. I HATE doing that, b/c I have to negotiate with taxi drivers. They see white girl and dollar signs light up in their eyes. It just annoys me they feel they can rip me off. I once considered the fact that I am haggling over just a dollar difference sometimes, and maybe I should give it to them-but, since I already pay double what locals pay, I refuse to pay triple. Anyway—so I go up to the taxi driver and tell him I need to go to Gofa (my neighborhood). He says 50 birr. The day before, I had paid 30 birr from a spot just further up the road. I said no. We argued for a brief moment, where I stated over and over, I would just pay 30 and he slowly dropped by 5 birr the amount he would charge. Finally, he came to 30 (still double what a local would pay for the same trip) and I went to get in the car, then it happened. I had spoken no Amharic during our short debate, and he assumed I knew none. I do know very little, but I knew right away when he said the following in Amharic, “This girls a donkey.” It’s a major insult. He was expressing his bitterness he couldn’t get me to pay more.
I turned to him, and in English said, “Did you just call me a donkey?” Stunned, he and the other taxi drivers looked at me in silence. I then said in Amharic, “I have an Ethiopian husband.” At which point they all busted up laughing realizing they had been caught. Jerk. I SOOOO wish I knew more—so I could say what is on my mind, for example, “Does it say stupid on my forehead?!?! Just because I’m white and a girl doesn’t mean I’m an idiot or should pay more!” After which I would storm off. I can say that in Romanian, but unfortunately it doesn’t help here. I’ve tried out of mere frustration.

jess (see pictures below)

Lalibela Pictures

I have a hard time figuring out how to load these photos onto this page and keep with the text i write when i publish the page--possibly internet challenged, but in my defense i have lived abroad where computers don't abound for a LONG time. Anyway--a montage of Lalibela pictures! Enjoy!!

This is a typical home. I am fascinated how they get it two stories! It's rocks, sticks and mud.

This is my husband Henok in front of the most famous church, St. George. You can see they just carved down into the mountain to create this church.

14 February 2008

Happy Valentines Day

I am trying my best to write more often so they are shorter—so here goes. I am starting this on Feb 11th, we’ll see when it is finished and sent!!

First, an apology on the last email. It was not really quality. Sorry, generally I sit down and write these things in one sitting. Then, I sit on it for a day go back and make sure it actually makes sense out side of my head; however for that one there was no time so I just sent it. Having skimmed it, I am not too impressed with my stream of consciousness writing. Hopefully some of it made sense.

I have commented before on how quickly things become normal to me. I realized the other day nothing seems out of the ordinary in Ethiopia. I wondered, what would you, the virgin eye, see and find odd or exciting if you came here. I have been concentrating on that for a few days and have come up with a list. It is short—I am sure there are 1000 other things, but I just can’t see them.
1. Construction workers in flip flops, standing on scaffolding made of branches, laced together with homemade rope, 6 stories above the ground. No safety belts, no helmets, and rocks as hammers.
2. (This cracks me up) Men riding motor cycles with construction helmets as their ‘helmet.’ These are not modified, so no chin strap, just a bright orange helmet perched on their head—I am not sure the purpose. Possibly, it has nothing to do with saving your head, rather with being more easily spotted as construction helmets are generally bright. But, I just wonder—they obviously exist, so why don’t we give them to the construction workers? But, really how important is a helmet when you have no shoes?
3. (This is common in many many countries) Buses SO FULL, there are literally body parts hanging out the windows and doors. Legs, arms, even upper bodies that just don’t fit into the bus and the doors shut—but just hang on, its better then walking. Can you imagine buses being used to extensively in the US? I know in the East they are (not to that degree, but more so), but out west if there is someone on the bus, it’s a good day! Sad.
4. EVERY time someone important comes to town (anyone from government positions from almost all countries, plus UN people, and rich people) the roads are shut down as they zoom buy in their limo’s to the hotel. The roads are laced with armed military, including ‘sharp shooters’ on top of major buildings or really big gravel piles. It’s as annoying as things come here. You can be stuck for 30 to 45 minutes for one loser to zoom buy. Annoying.
5. Donkeys. I love donkeys. I don’t like working with them, that’s maddening, but watching them just cracks me up for some reason. Here donkeys are used everywhere everyday for moving just about everything: mail, furniture, food, water, people, etc etc There has not been one day (aside from those spent sick in bed or in generally inside all day) that I haven’t seen a donkey. And, for that matter sheep—but the sheep aren’t generally ‘working’ so much as being hauled away to be dinner. Yum.
6. Lastly, this comment goes out to all the women. Here, in Ethiopia, if you see a size 2 or 4 woman, she will most likely be in baggy clothes, and walk with shame at her ugliness. However, if you see a woman size 12 to 18—she will be in tight fitted clothes, and be strutting her stuff proud as can be to be gorgeous. Women are supposed to ‘jiggle’ and have bellys, it’s natural. They are not supposed to have visible muscles, or bones (scandal!!). It’s so ironic and well ludicrous how much time and money is spent on ‘beauty’ for women, and yet cross the border and it’s a whole new definition. The same companies that produce and sell self tanning creams in the states or Europe, sell skin bleaching creams in Africa and Asia. It’s all so creepy. But, my point is—here women who are skinny are made fun of, and laughed it (my poor sister-in-law is teased endlessly by her brothers for being skinny). Whereas, large women, are revered and generally considered to have a higher status in life, be better educated, and probably richer. So, when you are having a bad day in the US—just come on over here, we will boost you I promise!

My last topic is the eternal debate in my head: should I give to beggars or not. IF you haven’t been abroad, then you don’t understand how many there can be. It’s not just one guy sitting on a corner with a cup. If you give to one, there are AT LEAST 10 more in the area and they come running up to see if they can benefit. Do you just keep dolling out money until you are out? What about ‘not giving’ on principle?

I want to share a story with you, not my story, but I have permission to share. However, I must let you know to hear it from the primary source will always be far better then anything I write. I KNOW I have mentioned my friend Jim Levinson. This is an experience he and his wife, Louise had in Calcutta. Calcutta is a profound experience. It is permanently imprints on your soul. There is such overpowering sadness, but moments of pure charity and hope. I won’t go into it too much, but I promise you if you get the chance to go, it will change your life forever. This was Jim and Louise’s first ‘long’ trip to Calcutta. The time had left them down and feeling overwhelmed. To quote Jim, “Going through the shattering experience of seeing the very worst of human degradation in Calcutta, and then, going to that church service and hearing that sermon...” It was a Sunday, and they decided to attend church services. When they arrived they learned a Bishop was visiting from England. The Bishop got up to speak and told the following story: He and a local Priest had gone out into the country for a visit. They were both sitting in the back of a taxi. The taxi driver stopped at a railroad crossing and inevitably, a beggar came to the window. “Out of principle” neither the Bishop nor the Priest gave the beggar any money, but the tax driver handed him some coins. The beggar then said something to the driver, and walked away. The Bishop, curious what he had said, asked the driver. The driver told him the beggar had said, “I will remember you when I am in the kingdom.”
OUCH!!—I mean to say that to the taxi driver with a Bishop and Priest in back, this man truly believes the meek, poor, and lowly will inherit the kingdom. And, he will not remember the Priest or the Bishop when he gets there. During his speech, the Bishop commented that even though neither he nor the Priest had given ‘out of principle,’ neither could define that principle either. Can you?

A colleague of mine in Ministry of Health is a nice, caring, giving man. However, he refuses to give to any beggars b/c he doesn’t want to encourage people to beg. He tells me the government has asked people to stop giving to beggars. He says it is encouraging people from rural areas to leave their families and come to the city and beg. My question, if the government doesn’t want us to give to beggars anymore, what are they doing instead? I can guarantee you the government of Ethiopia is not in a position to start a welfare program, WIC program, or anything like that—so what is their option? You say, or some of you may say, work—their option is too work. It’s true; some of them may be able to get a job—but just a few. Remember my husband with his diploma in Computer Programming took a job as a driver, it was his only chance for a job. Imagine if you are illiterate, crippled, single female with kids, etc—the options are extremely limited. If someone is crippled, in any form mild to severe, more then likely they never attended school. This greatly limits their capabilities, as they might not even be numerate. Women are less likely to be educated, especially if from rural areas, so again might not have skills outside of their physical labor. This is a step above a cripple who can not, for example, work construction. You see many many women working construction jobs. They do the hard work, literally. I see this as greatly ironic as they are considered ‘weaker’ here, yet at ANY construction site you will see women hauling the gravel with home made buckets. Or hauling the cement in a bucket on their head, walking up a home made ladder three or four stories to bring it to the men whose job is to simply dump it into the mold out and hand it back to them. But there aren’t enough of those jobs to go around, and what about child care? What about those who have children? What about homeless children, for that matter? They should be in school, but they don’t have the fees. Plus, without a home to go to, and food you can count on, you must be out seeking your existence daily. But, I must admit, I am far more likely to give to a child then a teenager, for example. Somehow their vulnerability seems higher. And to a degree it is, but that doesn’t mean the teen is any less hungry. He or she technically has higher caloric needs, thus needs more—so should I only give to them? (Yes, I am the kind of nerd that considers caloric needs of beggars. I often wonder which vitamins they are most likely to be deficient in and what I can buy them to make up for it) But, most teenagers are relatively strong and could start doing hard labor, so should I discourage teens from begging by not giving and encourage them to get a job? What if they can’t find a job?? I could go on and on. I have this dialogue in my head daily as I walk the streets. Assessing each person I see, should I give or not? Give or not? It’s enough to give you an ulcer.

So, my point in bringing all this up is to tell you about today. I warn you, the following story does not show me in a good light—it shows how quite selfish I can be. Today, I had a bad day. One of those days where you sit at your stupid computer all day, you have a HUGE to do list, and suddenly its 6pm and you have crossed nothing off the list. You feel completely impotent and wasted. Somehow you are tired, but you didn’t do anything. Plus, you had to sit in a gray walled cement room with no windows at a stupid computer desk ALL DAY (well I do). So, I left work and started my walk home. I walk about ½ a mile or so to catch a mini-bus to my street. On the way I cross a REALLY polluted river, and pass many beggars. I have talked before about some particular beggars, the kids. There are 4 kids I see almost daily on my walk. I often buy them bananas, milk, bread, oranges, whatever. I bought them candy once, and they were not happy—so back to healthy stuff. Silly me. Well, I had seen them yesterday and had told them on my way back, I’d get them something. But I ended up going home another way, and didn’t pass by. So, as I approach the corner where they will inevitably be, I started having fairly negative thoughts. I wasn’t in the mood to give—I was afraid they would be mad b/c I didn’t return the day before as promised and they would demand something from me. Then, I became indignant—they have no right to demand from me. I am pretty sure 3 of them are siblings and have a mom, I am sure they are fine. Giving to them is most definitely encouraging bad behavior, I need to stop. Today I will stop. I don’t care how sad they look, I am not giving today. Not. I mean, I don’t have to—there is no law that says I have to, and there might even be a law that says I shouldn’t. They can’t demand things from me, I can give when I choose and today I do not choose. So, with these thoughts and many similar ones running through my depressed mind, I came around the corner. I braced myself for them to come up with their practiced sad faces and ask me to buy tissues. But, they didn’t. In fact, they did something that made my day—rather made my week. The moment they saw me, theyh starting cheering!! Their faces literally lit up when they saw me. First the boy saw me, then as he started cheering the others turned to notice what he was so happy about and joined in (they are 10, 10, 6, and 2 years old) Loud boisterous cheering, and they started chanting “watet, watet watet watet” (Milk). It was like Santa Claus had shown up—they were doing a little dance going around me in a circlecheering and laughing. Everyone at the bus stop (where they beg) was staring, and I couldn’t help but start laughing! My mood immediately changed and we set off for the corner market just down the street. The girl said, “Yesterday you say “come back” and today you come. Thank you.” I mean, made these kids day and all I did was buy them each a ½ liter of milk for 2.50 birr or 25 cents. That’s it. But it made their day. Milk. I don’t care if my whole day was a waste, I got to buy those kids milk. Yes, had the privilege of buying for those darlings. Is it wrong? I don’t know. Is it right? I don’t know; I do know, selfishly, it makes me happy—so I will keep doing it, regardless of principles.

Okay—have a beautiful day.


01 February 2008

Feb--2008--who knew?

My mom has been begging me for a description of what I do. I have been putting it off because it’s kind of hard to explain. But, after my 100th email request I decided to give it a go. For starters, it’s like I have 3 jobs; which explains the lack of sleep and lack of seeing my husband. This means I have many bosses, but in reality I only have one—the one in control of my pay check! Currently I am being paid by the Micronutrient Initiative (MI). They are a Canadian based NGO that works to end ‘hidden hunger’ aka micronutrient deficiencies like Vitamin A, Iodine, Zinc, Iron, etc. They are paying me to do three jobs:
Work with Jim Levinson and in country staff to create a Long Term plan for them in Ethiopia.
Serve on the Project Preparation Team for the National Nutrition Program of Ethiopia—ensure micronutrients are well served and taken care of in the program. This is a HUGE HUGE amount of my time. I work with the Ministry of Health, and spend most my hours doing something related to this program. We are essentially designing a country wide answer to the problems of malnutrition. It includes programming for the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ministry of Water Resources, and Ministry of Education. So, I go to a lot of meetings. How to get the whole thing harmonized and functioning, this is my daily task. I also meet with donors—hoping people will pay for it. For the first 5 years, it will cost 250 million dollars. The Government of Ethiopia is putting in 90 million—a substantial chunk. Many developing nations put little in, when donors are going to be paying for things. Either way, we have to raise the rest of the money. CIDA, USAID, WB, SIDA, Italian Coop, DFID—these are the acronyms of the meetings I go to. Plus, meeting with the minister of health. I have become good friends with the State Minister of Health, Dr. Shiferaw. He is a very funny guy, and has an EXTREME amount of patience with my American ways. I often talk too much in meetings, give lots of opinions, ask very blunt questions, etc etc—He generally just laughs. To be honest, I was unaware I need to act different around him—I blame being American. However, other Americans in his presence treat him differently—a level of respect. It’s not that I don’t respect him, in fact I have the utmost respect for him, but I just don’t feel calling him ‘your Excellency’ gives respect; it just makes me giggle. It doesn’t help that the topic we discuss day in and day out is one I am VERY passionate about, nutrition. So, if someone is saying something or proposing something I think could damage this precious beautiful national nutrition program I have put my blood, sweat, and tears into, I get bitter and speak up. It’s that simple.
The third job they are paying me for is to be part of the Lancet’s Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition. This is REALLY exciting. The Lancet is a world famous medical journal. It’s been around over a 100 years. Once in a while, they do a special series, outside the regular publications. Before they did one on child survival, for example. A week ago they launched the latest series, from DC and London. They are now going to launch the series from 5 countries, Vietnam (done), Ethiopia, Peru, Senegal, and India. The launch happens to coincide with the launching of Ethiopia’s National Nutrition Strategy. It has b/cm a HUGE thing for Ethiopia—a time to shine. We have 4 days of events planned, including a launching ceremony. I actually will be speaking at the ceremony. It’s not the crowd of 500 that will make me nervous; rather it’s the fact that (as alluded to earlier) I, by nature, am not a ‘professional’ person. I am very casual, in my writing, my mannerisms, my speech, etc. I don’t care about the crowd, actually the bigger the better—you don’t have to focus on eyes. But, me rambling or inserting some personal insight, or . . . The list goes on with my ‘unprofessional’ acts. I’ll let you know how it goes. The MOST exciting part is on day 3 and 4. The BBC filmed a documentary here entitled, “Biblical Famine in the 20th Century.” If you have seen video of Ethiopian kids with large swollen bellies, little stick legs, in a desert setting—it’s from their. This documentary cemented Ethiopia’s reputation as the land of famine, hunger, and desert. Though Ethiopia has had its share of tragedies, this reputation is not deserved and ESPECIALLY not deserved today. So, we are returning to the site of the original documentary, in the North, and filming again with the media. This time we’ll start out in a cemetery, mass grave, featured prominently in the documentary and show where we were (we being Ethiopia) and then show where Ethiopia has come. Ethiopia has come a LONG LONG way. They have some revolutionary programs achieving astounding affects in event he most remote and rural areas. It will be so exciting!

Well—that in short is my story for now. The presentation and whole launching thing happens on Feb 7-10th. After that, with just 2 projects to work on – I’ll be free as a bird!!

Well—onto the regular dose of random observations, complaints, and stories—

I like to keep up with the rest of the world. I am by no means some political guru, nor a great source for all news—but I feel I do my best to keep up. I read the BBC and CNN daily. Many of you ask, why CNN if I read BBC. BBC has a better reputation, and likely has the same stories if not better ones—well, the truth be told—I like random American stories. The random little stories in the US section of the CNN web site entertain me, scare me, and intrigue me. I follow missing persons, robberies, cars that fell in frozen lakes (surprising many this winter), etc etc. I like knowing what’s going on, not just ‘national headlines’ but state by state headlines. However—2007 was a strange year, and 2008 isn’t shaping up to be better. All websites have a place somewhere where it indicates which stories on the website are being viewed most. They generally rank the top 10. Can anyone guess the number story of the year? I am sure you can—as you all (most of you on this list are in the US) are living it daily. It starts with a B and ends in Spears (Britney Spears for those of you living under rocks). It was SOOOOOOOOO disturbing to me to log on and see over and over, stories about Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, etc etc being ranked as viewed more then say, the crisis in Darfur, the crisis in Kenya, the WAR in Iraq, etc etc. What happened to America? When did we stop caring about ‘real’ people and start preferring ‘fake’ people? By fake, I mean it’s not like any of these stories really represent the real person—it’s all hype, and often lies. But, the truth is, the top stories repeatedly are about ‘famous’ people. Do you want to know what you missed? The stories, some that didn’t even make the top ten viewed lists, have a tremendous impact on your lives and lives of millions of people. Well, I will list a few for you (FYI—the following stories are sad, gut wrenching—you were warned)
1--There were NUMEROUS stories of families attending the funerals of loved ones who died in bomb attacks, and then bombs were set off at the funeral. For example, there was an interview with a man who had been attending his father’s funeral. The father had died in the market, where he worked, when a bomb went off. At the funeral, another bomb was set off killing his sister and best friend. This story was told over and over, different characters places, but the same. Can you imagine? I can not. I think the losses people are facing these days are beyond human capacity to handle. However, you would be driven to tears by the absolute humanity of the people who survive. Many of them building again, moving on—holding onto hope. It’s beautiful.
2—Darfur. I can’t even begin to explain the atrocities that have happened in Darfur over the past year—and that continue daily. The people are being killed by their own government, who of course denies this, and the UN does nothing about. They are being funded by China (don’t get me started on China), and the killing, raping, and maiming goes on. Homes looted and burned, people literally fleeing on foot for their safety. Arriving in over crowded refugee camps. Given a tent, enough food for 4 of 7 days. They sit in these camps—they can’t go out, they could be attacked. They sit and sit and sit. Can you imagine? Sitting in 90 to 100 degree weather in a tent. You have nothing to do, not enough food, your kids are bored out of their mind and starving—what would you do? Well, for these people, there is little they can do until the international world puts a stop to the chaos there. Puts pressure on China on Sudan—etc.
3—I got started on China, so I’ll let ‘er rip!! HOW DID THEY GET THE OLYMPICS?!?!?!? I have written on this topic before—and will again. How can the world stand by and let China, who blatantly violates the international human rights laws, host the Olympic Games? Doesn’t that undermine all they supposedly stand for? Even in the construction of the Olympic buildings—seizing land from the poor, making promises of new homes and lives for them and NEVER coming through. Then, what they are doing in Africa! Eeeek. I mentioned Sudan—they essentially will send their people anywhere other oil companies won’t go due to insecurity. The countries are desperate to sell their oil, to fund their wars (e.g. Somali, Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria, Burma, etc etc ) So China funds their genocides. And, we are all going to celebrate ‘humanity and good sportsmanship’ with them this year?!? Are you freaking kidding me?!? It’s insane. INSANE. I truly can not figure out how it happened? Did China give the Olympic committee lots of money? What?!? And, how can people actually be supporting this. Do they think it’s bringing good things to China? It is not. Not even close.
4—Kenya. If you don’t know that there is a story in Kenya right now, and only know that Britney Spears is back in the hospital—I am worried for you. Post election violence has turned into what some are calling ethnic cleansing; with different tribes fighting each other; maiming each other, raping each other, and killing each other. Are you surprised? I was (possibly b/c I knew little of Kenyan politics pre this election, but I think I would have been surprised by the outcome regardless) When is the last time Kenya was in the news—something about increase in Americans going on Safari? Kenya was a shining jewel of democracy in Eastern Africa, in all of Africa. Their economic growth, and steps forward in development were astounding. If you visited Nairobi, the capital, you would be hard pressed to know you were in an African nation (most consider this a sign of development. My self, I LOVE that in Addis you still see sheep, donkeys, pastoralists in traditional dress, etc). But now, so much of their progress is lost. A major part of their income, tourism, has essentially dried up. This leaves thousands without jobs—and no where to turn. What would you do if 80% of the people in your town all lost their jobs, in one day; the government is in chaos so no food stamps or welfare; and now your neighbours have started fighting with each other for food and supplies? What would you do? Really—stop reading for a moment and think, what would you do? It’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it?

I DO NOT want to paint a picture of Africa in Chaos or anything. And please, to my Kenyan friends—know I love your country (I like Ethiopia more, mind you, but it’s for personal reasons) And, it is NOT like things aren’t going crazy in the US. How many public massacres happened in 2007? People, who for known and unknown reasons going crazy and shooting and killing innocent victims, is that so different from suicide bombings? I don’t think so. These people start out their rampages knowing they will be dead in the end. What about the fuel crisis? Can you afford gas? How do you think very low income families feel? What about Bush’s cutting the budget to WIC? What about all the HORRIBLE racial, religious, and other slurs being thrown around in this election?!? It’s insane. What about the weather? What about the STILL homeless people in New Orleans? What about the Farm Bill? What about the bridge collapse in Minnesota? Stories like that used to come ONLY from developing countries. Now, the US, ‘the strongest nation in the world’ has bridges collapsing? What about the collapsing housing market (I’ll be honest, as I know VERY little about financing, house buying, banking etc—I understand little of it)? How many families have been made homeless? Where do you think they are going?

I’m not trying to depress you—its just, I can’t believe that Britney Spears is more important to read about then peaceful demonstrating Monks in Burma being beaten by police and arrested. I can’t.

Okay—I will change topics. Forgive me for ranting—it’s what I do best, I suppose. I wonder if someone can make a living off of it. I think you have to be extremely intelligent in your ranting, not just very passionate like myself.

A good friend and colleague of mine is here in Ethiopia, Jim Levinson. He was my advisor in grad school, and I greatly admire his work and well, most everything about him. Whenever we are together, we get into fairly random conversations. For me it is nothing new, it’s like family meal time. My family, unbeknownst to me, is weird. We often discuss very random, historical, political, agricultural topics over dinner. Later in life, I learned that is ‘weird.’ But, back to Jim—we got into an interesting conversation about the ‘kinds of people who live abroad.’ I don’t mean Americans in France or Germans in Austria, I mean when people moved from what are described as ‘developed’ nations to ‘under-developed’ nations; like myself. We were creating different categories to put these people in, yes stereotyping and being overly simple—but nonetheless it was interesting. The first category was military and business people vs NGO/UN people. So, in theory those abroad to make money and those abroad to help. However, as beautiful as this might sound—I know this not to be true in MANY MANY circumstances. Often, business men are who can accomplish the most for a country with their savvy business skills and different approaches to unique problems. AND-the one I know more first hand, and the one that disgusts me the most, are many NGO/UN people did NOT take their job to ‘help.’ Rather, they took it for power and money. If you are willing to live in rural places, you can be given a disturbing amount of power and money to do it by NGOs/UN, and you don’t necessarily need any credentials to do it. I know high school dropouts with 30 employees under them. Its b/c they are foreign. I have met people who worked for NGOs, in charge of people’s lives, health care reform, agricultural projects etc—who merely took the job to get out of debt. See, when you live abroad—your living expenses are covered, your pay check just goes to the bank. So, if you get yourself into too much credit card debt—just sign up for 2 years abroad, make 50,000 dollars EASY (profit) and get out of debt and buy a new car!! It’s very hard for those of us not here for money to work with said people. To do this work to really do it right, you need passion and commitment. These people often don’t have it. We came up with other categories—Those interested in money and those interested in power (as described above). Also, something I doubt you would expect is those interested in integrating and those interested in shielding themselves. I think you would be surprised, but I know American, British, French, etc who live and work—possibly have for years and have NO Ethiopian friends. They know minimal amounts about the culture, religion, and politics—and they don’t care to learn anymore. IT fascinates me. How can you move to a new country and NOT want to delve into their culture, language, religion, history—etc? How? These people go to specific restaurants that are too expensive for 99% of Ethiopians, shop at expensive stores, spend the weekends at each others embassies or private schools with their kids—it is truly possible to live in a country and not be of it. Ironically, some of these same people will complain about immigrants in the US not learning English or not ‘joining the melting pot,’ per se. Yet-they live in a bubble. Somehow, they feel their culture, habits, methods are superior to this country—so why bother integrating. And, to be fair—Jim and I talked about those in that category who don’t integrate out of fear; afraid to feel. Yes, you see hard things here—you see cripples, homeless children, and death daily. If you put yourself in a bubble, possibly it won’t hurt as bad. If you just ignore it—it doesn’t exist. Then, there are those of us who could probably use a bit more of a shield—but fling are selves full force 100% into our newly adopted homes feeling the pain and joy of all of it. I prefer being this second one, and really can’t understand the others. Why they would choose that—it seems it would be more depressing. I mean, can you imagine leaving a country you lived in for a year or so and knowing nothing about it? Wouldn’t you feel bad? I mean, I feel bad I didn’t enjoy Boston more while I was there (I was in my bed, class, or the library generally). I feel I need to live there again so I can really experience life there. However, possibly I’m crazy—in the end, it was a great discussion between Jim and I and his wisdom still astounds me.

Along this same line, the concept of integration. In my limited travels, I have found the US to be the only country where one can become a citizen. What I mean is, in many countries—around the world, Europe, Asia, Africa, S.America---you can’t ever really be accepted as a citizen. You are granted rights by the government, but you are always viewed as an outsider. I know, there are people in America who treat other Americans like this-but mostly, b/c America began as a diverse country, diversity still defines us. When you have neighbours who look Asian or African, you don’t assume they are immigrants—you assume they are American. Possibly they immigrated, possibly their parents, possibly their great great great great great grandparents. It doesn’t matter. For me, I love Ethiopia. I loved India and I loved Moldova. But, no matter how long I lived in any of these countries, I will always be considered an outsider and treated differently. I could become fluent in Amharic (unlikely, but miracles happen), know the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Islam backwards and forwards, and know all my Haille Selassie history—and STILL be an outsider. It really bothers me, and I think on it a lot. I will never understand what it’s like to be Ethiopian, but Henok will be able to experience life as an American. It’s something I can’t really change—but I have always tried to ‘walk in others shoes’ as it were, as my method of understanding. But, it has its limits. I can’t understand – here I am treated very differently b/c I am white. I get priority over Ethiopians, often when I didn’t even know they were ahead of me inline or that there was a line. People just see white skin, ask the inevitable (Are you American?), and then boom—special treatment. To be honest, and very embarrassed, it’s hard to turn down. Sometimes I don’t realize it’s happening until after its’ over. For example, I went to the bank to withdraw money from my account. It was my first time withdrawing. I filled in the form, and was given a gold coin to hold. VERY confused by the coin, I went up to another window and asked a woman about the procedure. She asked me to wait a moment. Then I realized there was a number on the coin, and there were about 25 people sitting or standing around holding coins. A red sign beeped, and I saw the number change on the sign and someone come forward. Okay, I get it—it’s my place in line. I realize I have a long haul, and start reading some of the posted material. However, shortly after the woman motioned me over and gave me my cash and sent me on my way. I was done—ahead of all those other people. Why? Probably b/c I was a lost looking foreigner. Another time, I had to get a report from the police that I have no record here. It’s a LONG process. I finally get all the paperwork done and paid, and they tell me to come on X day to pick it up. I show up to the designated area and see a line of about 100 people (it’s 8 am). STUNNED—I ask around to find someone who speaks English and learn they are all there for the same thing, making me number 101. Problem—I had a meeting one hour. As I stared dumbfounded at the crowd, a woman came from the office and took my hand. She led me to a chair and I sat down. She then processed my paperwork and let me go. So—should I have taken the moral high road and said, “NO! I am number 101. I will wait!” Or taken the kindness of this woman to a confused foreigner? Well—I took the kindness and made it to my meeting—but I think about it a lot. If Henok had been doing the same process, he would have been number 101. Is that fair? Most definitely not—but what do I do to change it? And, embarrassingly enough to admit, do I want to change it?

Okay—I know this is very long—just two more items of business and I’m done. It’s been a long time, and I saved up a lot of words for you. So—life is dirty. I mean REALLY dirty. You can’t imagine how dirty my life is. You can’t imagine the amount of dust that exists in my daily life. You can’t imagine the air I attempt to breathe daily, filthy. Think how bad the air gets in the US and THEN realize there are laws regulating that air. I know, companies break the rules etc, but it’s nothing compared to developing nations struggling to enforce environmental laws. Add on top of that fairly constant wind (not strong, but constant) and the bulk of the cities roads are not paved, rather dirt roads (or dust when it’s dry) and you have yourself a dirty dirty existence. I am FASCINATED when I wash my hands how black the water will run, when I have done nothing but walk home. The film on my face when I get home it disturbing and trust me my face is not happy about it. And, when you are standing on the side of the road, or even in your car—the literal black, thick, tangible smoke coming out of the truck in front of you is enough to induce vomiting. You see it travel, like a thick black rain cloud straight for you—waving your hands madly (as I have tried) will not dissipate it—just suck it up and breath it in!! No pun intended. This is the reason I try to NEVER be without a scarf—in these instances, I pull it to my face and breathe through until the blackness has subsided. Many people wear their scarves over their noses and mouths whenever in the street. And, this is what has driven me to conclude I need a burkha. A burkha is a type of clothing worn by some Muslim women. It is generally all black, though this is not the case in Ethiopia (I don’t know if that makes it not a burkha to be honest). It covers the women head to toe. The hijab covers their head/face and the niqab covers their eyes. Often you will see just the yes of women through slights in the hijab, but some will wear a thin niqab that covers their eyes as well. I want one. I have decided these must be the ONLY women in Addis with somewhat healthy lungs (lets not get into Vitamin D, I’m focusing on lung health). They also have healthier skin then the rest of us. I am assured by my brother Jonathan, the genius of the family and one who has studied Islam and Arabic that for me to wear one would not be offensive, just weird. As I am already considered weird, this would be no loss for me!! You think I am joking, but I am not. I would LOVE it. Aside from the health benefits, no one would know I was ferenji—thus no one would annoy me. I LOVE to walk, but walking here is not as relaxing as in the states. People see me and want to talk to me—practice their English or harass me, depending. Sometimes I just want to walk alone and be left that way—with the full burkha I could do that. Plus, I SERIOUSLY want to walk down Main Street in Salt Lake City (capital of Utah) in one. Ha Ha Ha. There, I would NOT be left alone—So, FYI you might see me in a burkha one day! Its in the name of health and sanity!!

Lastly, yes the final topic. Food. I am a nutritionist, thus food is always on my mind. I am fascinated by the culture of food; the history of it, and development of regional diets over time. How different plants came into use—how different herbs are region specific, meaning even though the herb existed in another area, it was the staple of ones diet and not the other. Why? Fascinating stuff. The nerd in me comes out when I think about it. Specifically today I want to talk about corn, coffee, and cake.
First corn: corn is the staple (corn flour) in most sub-Saharan African countries. Many countries eat the same thing, what the Italians call polenta –corn flour in hot water made thick, each country or region has its own name for this food. However, there is one big exception—Ethiopia. NO WHERE is corn in the diet (with one exception to be talked about momentarily). You go to Kenya, Sudan, etc and you see corn as a staple. Zimbabwe is the same—so why did Ethiopia NOT use it? Where did enjera come from? They grow corn here—they eat roasted corn on the cob when it’s in season, but corn flour—not happening. Why? Does anyone else find that odd? I mean, the surrounding nations rely on corn, why did Ethiopia deviate? The exception with corn is popcorn. Ethiopians LOVE LOVE LOVE popcorn. If you go to an Ethiopian restaurant, fancy or plain, big or small, they will have a large bowl of popcorn by where they make their coffee. Coffee, originating from Ethiopia is a sacred drink—don’t get between an Ethiopian and his/her coffee. Coffee beans are roasted freshly over a little charcoal stove, right there in front of you. Often, the woman in charge of this-will carry the hot pan around the restaurant to let the fragrance of the fresh roasted beans fill the air. It’s delicious. You can’t beat the smell of fresh roasted beans. No, it does NOT smell like Starbucks. Not even close. The beans are then ground, either by hand or with a little machine, and made into coffee. It is thick and strong. Most foreigners can NOT drink it straight, and must have it with milk. I have had coffee in my life, early college years I gave it a go a few times. It often tasted bitter to me. I tried coffee here—the straight black stuff. My employees had performed the coffee ceremony for me when we found out I was being deported (which was almost a year ago now!!). AS the ceremony was for me, I decided to take a sip. Amazing. Not bitter in any sense of the word—but smooth. Nice. I was very shocked, as I had prepared my tongue for what my memory had from my college days. Anyway—when you have a coffee ceremony, you make popcorn. I have asked around, and no one can tell me why—but it’s standard. So, every restaurant you go to has (free) popcorn to snack on! It’s nice.

Lastly cake: Again, another piece of Ethiopian food culture that fascinates me is their complete lack of desserts. In my VERY VERY limited knowledge (so anyone correct me if I’m wrong), Ethiopia is the only culture not to invent some dessert. They have NOTHING. NOTHING. Historically and still today, the number one dessert is fruit. You can get cakes, cookies, etc in the country now—but they are all European imports (the idea, not the actual product). It’s completely intriguing they didn’t come up with something outside of fresh mangos or pineapples for their sweet tooth. Isn’t it? I don’t know why I am so absorbed in this particular trait of the culture, but I am. Possibly b/c I have a MAJOR sweet tooth and just can’t believe a culture lived without sweets until the Europeans, Arabs, Asians, etc came and brought theirs!! The most commonly liked cake here is Black Forrest and they also love Baklava.

Well—I need to go. I have bored you enough with my randomness today. I am pretty sure this letter is choppy at best, sorry—just no time to smooth it over.

Wish you all a great February!!