Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Yes, I am home.

Yes, I am teaching again.

Gem from today:

STUDENT: looking at a rough schematic graph on my powerpoint If you weren't here to explain that, I wouldn't understand it.
ME: Well, that's what I'm here for. Do you have any questions?
STUDENT: Fine, but when I look back at my notes, how am I supposed to understand this graph?

I have nothing more to say. Welcome back, SS!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Happy Ethiopian New Year

So, there was nowhere in Addis except for the really expensive Sheraton Hotel that had fast enough internet to get into Blogger. Well, apparently except for the airport, which is where I am typing this missive. Internet cafes in airports = BEST IDEA EVER.

Without further ado, I give you Even More Things I've Learned in Ethiopia.

1. Taxis are really, really scary.
Did I mention that the seatbelts don't work in most, if not all of them? Ther was a tense moment in a traffic circle the other day where I thought I was going head first into the windshield.

2. It's 1999!
According to the Ethiopian calendar, that is. And let me tell you, they partied like it's 1999. I was awoken at midnight from a deep slumber by fireworks so powerful, my floor seemed to be shaking. Also, fyi, it's a bad day to be a small ungulate generally raised for consumption. Yesterday, there were little tiny herds of the woolly critters roaming all over the place. Today? There are piles of skins. But I got a really cute leather purse the other day! Cheap, too.

3. Dan Brown is part of the evil empire.
By the evil empire, I am referring to particular American goods/stores/music/etc. that end up all over the world. I ran out of books to read the other night, so I went in search of an English language bookstore. I was not in luck. This is perhaps because, unlike Kenya and Dar es Salaam, English is not one of Ethiopia's national languages. This means that my only options were the books available in the Hilton and Sheraton hotels. Let me tell you, the selection was grim. Both hotels must be supplied by the same book supplier, because they had almost identical titles. There were a wide variety of NGO/International Development books and academic journals. (Many of the NGO folk stay at the Hilton and Sheraton hotels. Now, WHY people in international development non-profit work would stay in the two most expensive hotels in Addis - $170/night and $230/night respectively, obscene prices for Africa - is a rant for another entry. Let's just say it makes me think twice before donating.) There were also copies of books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad and He's Just Not That Into You. Obviously, there were the requiste Africa picture books for toting home as a souvenir. But the novel department was slim pickings. They had ever book that Dan Brown has ever written, and one battered copy of Black Beauty.

It's true, I bought Digital Fortress. It was not good, but better than nothing.

4. Addis is cold.
Especially when you've come from Nairobi or Dar es Salaam. Or both. Brrrrrrrrrrr.

5. Even when you think permits have gone well, they haven't.
I have a crazy day of flying today, because i had to prolong my stay here. Why? Last Friday, I was told that my permits were all in order, everything was hunky-dory, heck, you can even work on the weekends! I was happy. I booked a ticket to Nairobi for Friday (two days ago), I book my ticket home for Monday (today) and went blithely on my merry way.

On Wednesday, I was informed that I needed an extra special letter. Why this could have been mentioned on FRIDAY is beyond me. So, I scrambled, and changed my ticket back to Nairobi. That was free. But to change my ticket HOME would be another $200 that I don't really want to pay. Therefore, I've opted for a crazy travel day. Unfotunately, there are some things that I wanted to take care of in Nairobi, but I'm not going to have the chance to do that. I might talk to the KLM people once I get to Nairobi and see about changing my flight to tomorrow so I can do things properly.

I WOULD just come back through Nairobi in January when I have to go to South Africa, but those jerks only gave me a three month permit instead of a 3 YEAR permit. If I can figure out how to get that extended, I might try and do that. Then I could take a trip to Lamu. :)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Addis II

I'm feeling much better today than I have for the past couple of days. I braved leaving the DND label off of my door today, and I am hoping my sheets are not clammy and wet when I get back. I managed by buy some socks today as well, so that's good news.

I have learned a few things about Addis in the short time I have been here. I am going to enumerate them for in list format because I am lazy and this is easy.

1. Taxis are terrifying.
There are a number of reasons why this is true. First of all, I have yet to ride in a taxi that was manufactured before, oh, 1980. Some of these cars are still in ... reasonable repair. Others - I would wager the vast majority - are in really awful repair. One taxi driver had to fill his gas tank through the trunk. In another, all of the springs on one side of the front seat were sprung, so I had to sit wedged in a sort of lopsided manner. However, the one I rode in today was the worst. The passenger door didn't close quite all the way, and the car would sputter and die every time the driver had to shift into first gear. Our maximum velocity couldn't have been much more than 35 mph. I saw a child pushing a small handcart pass us on the road.

The other reason they are terrifying is because lane lines seem to be mere guidelines to be followed at the whim of the driver. My driver from the airport drove me thirty minute to my hotel, straddling the line between lanes. They weave with no apparent purpose - it's not to pass anyone, that's for sure. It's like they are impressionist painters and the road is their canvas.

2. Animals roam the streets.
One of the first things that struck me about Addis is that is seems much more "advanced" than Dar es Salaam. There are major roads with fresh, smooth tar laid across them. These roads even have multiple lanes (see #1) and have the semblance of highways as I conceive of them. Somewhat incongruously, it is not uncommon to run across someone herding a small flock of what I thought were goats. (One of my taxi drivers said they were sheep, but they look very goat-like to me. Regardless, they are definitely small ungulates generally raised for consumption.) These ungulates go tripping across the pavement, their little hooves making small clicking sounds, bleating as they walk.

3. Gasping is perfectly appropriate.
I think it must be something having to do with speaking Ahmraic and learning English, but many people here puncuate their english speech with little gasps. I've never noticed it in people speaking other languages, but in English multiple people have done this. It's used in the same way I would use the word "um", but it's vaguely disconcerting when you think you're having a pleasant conversation with someone.

Addis Ababa

(written: 8/31/06)

A few days ago, I was sitting in the Ethiopian Airlines office, making my travel booking for plane travel between Dar es Salaam and Addis Ababa. I wanted to leave as soon as possible - I tried for the 30th, but there were no seats available. The first economy class seats weren't available until September 7th. I had already been to Kenya Airways, and flying from Dar to Addis would require an overnight layover in Nairobi, which I also wasn't so keen on. I left Ethiopian Airlines sad, and defeated, and was going to go back to Kenya Airways and book the overnight flight.

But, I was right across from the Royal Palm Hotel, and I thought I might stop there and pick up some postcards. On my way to the gift shop, I spied with my little eye Rickshaw Travels. I figured I would go ahead and give it a try. Sadly, they told me the same thing that Ethiopian Air told me - the soonest I could get an economy ticket without an overnight in Nairobit was September 7th.


There was one (1) business class ticket available for August 31st. The price of the business class ticket was just over my projected price for the ticket AND the difference in the two prices was only $100.00. It would cost more than US $100 to sit in Dar for week, and I would lose time. Thus justifying the expense to myself (and hopefully my granting organization), I purchased the business class ticket.

Upon check-in today, I discovered that my seat was 1C. Now, I don't know if it's that the plane simply doesn't have a first class section, or if they accidently put me in first class, or what, but all I knows is that I have now been giving all of the perks that any international first class traveller gets.

What kind of perks, you might ask?

1) I didn't have to wait in line to check in. I just stepped into the "Cloud Nine" line and checked in.

2) overweight baggage? No problems, no fees. Everything just checked right through.

3) I could sit in front of the duty free shop with the unwashed masses. But, thanks to my "Tanzanite Lounge Pass", I get to sit in the special first class lounge. I've always sort of wondered what it was like in there, and now I can tell you that it's just this side of paradise. There are free food and drinks to be had, big comfy leather chairs to sink into, bathrooms where you aren't afraid to sit on the toilet, free newspapers and magazine, and it's all topped off by big screen television. I could even indulge in some free cocktails, should I so choose. Not bad, I tell you. Not. bad.

4) Air conditioning. And it's very very hot and humid today. I feel sorry for the poor slobs upstairs who have to travel with their own money as opposed to that of the US Government and very rich private foundations.

Note to self: become faithful to a single airline so that I can qualify for all of the perks of super-duper frequent fliers.

* * * * * * *

(written: 9/2/06)

While I was on the plane, I took advantage of their free literature. They had copies of Time and Newsweek for their first class passengers to peruse. Never one to turn down free reading material, I took one of each. I noted that the cover story of Newsweek was about the growing number of couples around that world that are making the decision to remain childless. I figured it would be a good article, so I flipped directly to page 50 and began reading.

As opposed to presenting a nice, well-presented article about the changing role of women in the family unit (greater education, unwillingness to give up a role in the workplace), the rise in the expense of having children (feeding, clothing, and educating them), the possible benefits to having a society that is operating as less than replacement (less crowding, more jobs, less strain on the environment), the article focused on ways to entice people to have more children. The article discussed possible tax incentives for families with three or more children, tax penalties on those households with no children, and the like. The article took a stand that it is absolutely necessary for us to keep having many children, without presenting any empirical evidence to support that, other than the idea that with fewer children, there will be fewer working adults paying into social security.

Disappointing. Very disappointing.

In other news, Ethiopia is rainy and cold. Very rainy, and very cold. I wish I had socks, closed toes shoes, and a heavier jacket. There is not a lot to do here, and my digestive system has been rebelling against me so I have elected to spend this Saturday inside, playing solitaire, reading my book and watching television. Permits proved to be ridicuilously easy and no one gave me any trouble, so I start work on Monday. Hopefully I'll be finished by Friday and back in Nairobi on Saturday.