I wrote this a few days ago, but the internet has not be cooperating, so you are just now getting it. As of SundayI will have been here 2 weeks! I can not believe it. It feels like so much longer, just b/c i have been so busy. Anyway--enjoy
Greetings from Addis. I have been here 8 days now, and am not sure what to write. There is much to say and nothing to say. I believe the bulk of you would be very surprised by my experience here thus far. It is not too far off from what I expected, which is city life. Monday through Friday I go to work from 8 to 5. My work is a 25 minute walk from my house. My house is a five bedroom three bath home I share with other Goalies (employees of Goal. They call them Goalies). Anna is from London and works in the RRP program with me (Rapid Response Program). She manages sub-grants. Claire is from Northern Ireland, and is an accountant for Goal. Karanja is from Kenya and is also a nutritionist. He is managing the emergency feeding programs that GOAL has here in Ethiopia. Lastly is Brian from Ireland. Brian is logistics for the RRP office and is great. In general I am very lucky, great people and a great place. And, for those of you who had been with me in my PC years—you will understand how important the next statement is; I have hot running water. Beautiful. One very apparent side effect of life as a Goalie thus far is my changing accent. Being surrounded ALL DAY (I am the only non-British Isles ex-pat) by accents I am changing. My colleagues take it as an insult when I say I sound Irish or British, as they think I sound ‘American’ (said with disdain). But, the one American I have run into here as well as a few Canadians have thought I was Irish!!!!!! My colleagues claim they don’t know what they are talking about. I do not saying I have a full accent, rather just a few of the characteristics that tip me toward an Irish accent.
For those of you interested, safety and security is not an issue. It is standard for the NGO/Organization you work for to provide for you. Standard is a guard at your home 24 hours a day. There are guard shacks/rooms at all homes and most homes have someone there 24 hours a day. The gates are locked; you can’t get in without the guard letting you in. It’s a good chunk of the economy here. Plus, of course the house has a large fence around it. The office is frightfully more secure. Not per GOAL’s request, rather the proprietor has built TWO fences around our compound. The GOAL offices here in Addis are in three different locations. The main office, then the RRP office where I work, and the programs office. It’s just happened over time as the project has grown. Our office, the RRP office, is the most fortified. It’s insane and of course we have 24 hour a day guards also. It is international policy at GOAL that Goalies DO NOT DRIVE. The country directors and maybe a few others may get exceptions, but in general Goalies do not drive. The number one way humanitarian workers get hurt or killed is in car accidents. Thus we are provided drivers and MUST wear seatbelts. We are not allowed in cars without seatbelts and NO motorcycles/scooters. Twenty-fours hours a day there is someone on call to drive you where ever, to restaurant, grocery store, friends house, work, whatever. We generally walk to work, but if you are carrying any thing of value, i.e. a lap top or camera you are required to get the driver. The GOAL office here is huge. We have 350 employees, 13 of which are ex-pats. This is larger then UNICEF’s presence here, and we have less ex-pats. The bulk of the Goalies live out in the country, not in Addis. Our budget is about 7.5 million a year, a fraction of UNICEFs. This is normal for NGOs vs UN budgets/work.
To further explain how the situation is not like you would imagine, the most poignant point is that I have yet to eat Ethiopian food (which I love). I find this upsetting, but have not been able to get any. My first night here I had ‘American style’ pizza, the next day Italian food. I’ve also had Korean, Lebanese, Greek, Indian, and Mexican. Addis is the headquarters of the African Union thus every African country, plus every other country interested in African affairs (pretty much everyone) has an Embassy here. On top of this, it is Ethiopia, meaning that there is a lot of emergency/relief work here as well as development. Most of the NGO’s you have heard of and hundreds you have never heard of have offices here, bringing in a lot of ‘ferenji’ (foreigner in the national language Amharic). Because of this, a social life for these ferenji has grown up around here. Restaurants, clubs, bars, shopping markets, etc. Thus—my life. For those of you who know me well, you can probably deduce I am not really a fan of all of this. I recognize, that these things are necessary to a degree. It may sound crazy to you, but when you leave behind your culture and life to live in a new country that has suffering all around you, you need a break once in a while. It is not really about the food, it’s about the mental break of getting something you are used to, like quesadilla’s. However, I currently have not been here long enough or experienced enough to really need the ‘break.’ I am getting antsy to get out in the field and experience Ethiopia. For now, I can’t really tell that is where I am. I just feel like I am living some major city, it could be in almost any developing country. The only thing that reminds me I am not in the US is that when I go to the store labels aren’t always in English, and the workers don’t always know what I am asking them.
However, yesterday, Saturday, I finally feel I got to see a piece of Ethiopia. Saturday morning, I volunteered for a non-work assignment. Several people here in Addis started doing the Vagina Monologues a few years ago. For those of you unaware, Vday as it is called, as morphed into a way to educate about violence against women. The Monologue is performed on Valentines day—and generally there are several other education and advocacy projects done around that time. Last year’s performance was well attended and they raised a lot of money. This money was then given as grants to three different local organizations who work to end violence against women. This meeting I attended was these three groups reporting back. The first group to report was the Ethiopian Children’s Circus. I know, not what you were expecting, but it was amazing. For their report, they performed a portion of their act for us. It includes skits, both spoken and non-spoken/non-verbal, about sexual harassment at school, rape, and HIV/Aids. It was INCREDIBLE. They wore traditional outfits and danced and sang. There was a live band and they performed acrobatics as well as juggling acts and traditional dancing. It was amazing. It was great to see a glimpse of Ethiopian culture. Rather, it was amazing. Amazing. That hour and half has been my favorite time thus far. It was great. Listening to what work these people have done. These people from rural areas, with a small amount of cash and a lot of passion and charity can accomplish more then I would ever hope to accomplish. Listening to their stories, their trials and successes reminded me why I am here, why I love this work and why I sacrifice to be here. It was something I desperately needed after a week of living the ‘ex-pat’ life.
At this point I want to further report on the grant recipients. However, the work they do is of a highly sensitive and disturbing manner. I, as in the past, have saved the disconcerting part of my letter for the end. Do not read on if you don’t want to hear about Female Circumcision.
The other two NGO’s work in two areas I am not allowed to go to, due to possible security issues (meaning they are near the borders with Somalia and Eritrea). In these rural areas, Female Circumcision is still practiced. The term used in general is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I have very little experience with this issue, and know little about it, but this meeting was very educational. There are four grades of FGM. I do not know the exact physiology of them, but have requested more information. Grade four is the worst, and entails cutting all external genitalia off and sewing the girl shut. This is normally done in childhood. Grade one is clitoral-ectomy, with 2 and 3 somewhere in between. Some organizations are trying to get the rural areas to change to grade one while others are going for complete eradication of the practice. For those of you unfamiliar with the practice, as well as the reasoning and history behind it, it is easy to be quick to judge a mother and father who would allow this to happen. I am still in the infancy of my understanding of this issue, but I can tell you it is not as simple as all that. I had planned to try and explain it, but don’t feel I have enough understanding yet. So I will leave you with this small amount of information, with a promise of more to come.
I hope you are all well. I have a full week of work ahead of me, and possibly more stories.