5 cents

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa (Reading Ayi Kwei Armah)

November 4, 2007 – Addis ababa, Ethiopia

We arrived in Ethiopia after 24+ hours of travel. The last entry details our journey getting here. By the time we got our visas and went through customs, which was like a 5-step process, and to our hotel it was close to midnight (left our apartment at 2 PM the day before). The airport is nice and driving through the wide streets in our shuttle to the Hilton, Addis Ababa seems fairly well to do (so says Jess, compared to other countries in Africa). We were pretty beat and nothing was open, so we got room service. Even that was really good. We had some Doro Wat (chicken with red chili sauce) and a Assa Wat Key (Nile Perch) with some St. George's beer. And of course mopped up with injera, a sour spongy flat-bread. It was nice and spicy.

Addis by Night

Addis Ababa by night

Woke up late, like 11 AM. By the time we ate breakfast and we vegged out by the pool it was time for a late lunch. Everything takes a long time here. Jess was trying with little success to track down some of her colleagues. Our internet (that we paid over $20 per day for) sucks and her blackberry doesn't work.

Addis Ababa (Under Construction)

Addis Ababa under construction

The NYC Marathon is going on as we speak. Obviously the Ethiopians are excited about it. On the woman's side, the Ethiopian Gete Wami is easily keeping up with Radcliffe. And of course, there's Haile Gebrselassie, the world's fastest man (at Marathon distances). He's a rock star in these parts. Though I don't see him in the lead pack (despite what someone downstairs said). The men are an hour into it. Radcliffe and Wami are on first avenue with no one else in sight behind them.

On the plane I finished reading The Beautyful Ones are not Born Yet by Ayi Kwei Armah. It took me a while to get into it, it's so descriptive, especially after reading Tutuola. And it's in the third person about a guy with no name, besides one chapter, a rant in the first person. The descriptions were so vivid that they attached themselves to a person's interior. He obsessed a lot about latrines, and smells and bodily excrement.

Sounds of moist fish frying in open pans of dark perennial oil so close to the public lavatory. It is very easy to get used to what is terrible. A different thing; the public bath, made for a purification that is not so offensive. Here there is only the stale soapsuds merging in grainy rotten dirt from everybody's scum, a reminder of armpits full of yellowed hair dripping sweat down arms raised casually in place of public intimacy.

This unnamed man has dialogue with a teacher who wonders "whether the rot and weakness were not after all the eternal curse of Africa itself, against which people could do nothing that would last."

Ayi Kwei Armah is from Ghana. I know, I should be reading books by Ethiopian authors, but I couldn't find anything before I left. And there's probably not a lot in common with the countries our cultures. The one thing unique about Ethiopia is that it is the only African country to never have been colonized by a European country, besides a five-year stint by a Fascist Italy. Armah's tone is disillusioned and cynical, and the underlying root of it is colonialism, or post-colonialism. It's about one man's struggle against corruption. How to honestly break out of the poverty cycle.

Anything that could justify their condemnation to pain when all that was required was the sacrifice of something which would turn out in the end to be merely a fraction of life? After all, the people's acceptance of all these things was from a certain knowledge of what life itself is. Was there not some proverb that said the green fruit was healthy, but healthy only for its brief self? That the only new life there ever is comes from seeds feeding on their own rotten fruit What then, was the fruit that refused to lose its acid ad its greenness? What monstrous fruit was it that could find the end of its life in the struggle against sweetness and corruption?

But it's the existential expression of these details, as they manifest themselves to the core of the senses, that are the book's strength.

His mouth had the rich stench of rotten menstrual blood. The man held his breath until the new smell had gone down in the mixture with the liquid atmosphere of the Party man's farts filling the room. At the same time Koomson's insides gave a growl longer than usual, an inner fart of personal, corrupt thunder which in its fullness sounded as if it had rolled down all the way from the eating throat thundering through the belly and the guts, to end in further silent pollution of the air already thick with flatulent fear.

By the end, the unnamed protagonist goes from general apathy to more of a forceful head-first penetration into the inner depths of this latrine, necessary to escape from the oppressive burden.

Hopefully by the next entry, I'll have real observations to make rather than based on books! It appears we've settled into a pattern of rolling blackouts.


Ethiopia: Addis Ababa to Hawzien

November 5, 2007 – Hawzien, Ethiopia

I didn't get to sleep til 2:30 a.m., still jetlagged. Had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to go to the airport. Getting to the plane was a lengthy process of going through checkpoints and holding areas: though one metal detector, cramming into the main area, queuing up to get our boarding pass, waiting in a holding area, going through another metal detector into another gate, to have our boarding pass checked and signed, into a stairwell where we stood for a long while, loaded onto a mini-bus, loaded off of bus, and finally onto the plane. As we were flying to Mekelle, we were realizing that we were screwed on our return trip as we only had an hour and a half to switch from our domestic flight to the international terminal to get our plane to Rwanda. Everyone was saying we'd miss it. So when we got to Mekelle we switched our flight to come back to Addis a day earlier. We met up with Jess's colleague Nikki in Mekelle. We both had arranged rides, but neither was there. We waited at the airport a while, then finally got a hold of somebody and they sent someone out to pick us up, but not for 2 hours. We took a cab into Mekelle to wait at some hotel. The driver finally showed up.

On the Road from Mekelle to Hawzien

on the road from Mekele to Hawzain


Montage Driving From Mekelle to Hawzien

The drive from Mekelle to Hawzien got more and more beautiful as we went along. Most of Ethiopia is highlands. Addis Ababa is at 8,000 feet. Mekelle was at 6,000 feet or so, and here in Hawzien is close to that. We skirted up and down escarpments, with cactus and sheep-herders, and long-horned cattle, people threshing wheat, camels, people walking on the roads, etc.

Donkeys and Sheep

Ethiopian Donkeys and Sheep


Landscape on Way to Hawzien

Ethiopian cactus


Tigray Girl Walking on Road

girl walking on road


Chicken Hitching a Ride

Chickens Hanging Off Minibus

We got to Hawzien and nobody from the site team could be found. We checked into our hotel, the Gheralta, which is this really series of circular stone huts in this rocky remote location.

Our Room at the Gheralta

Gheralta Lodge

I'm ready to move here permanently. We had lunch, spaghetti (evidently the Gheralta is owned by an Italian). I was hoping it would be this notorious Ethiopian spaghetti, but it was glorified chef-boy-ar dee.

We went out to the cluster office and the site team was all there. It was pretty interesting for me, an outsider. Jess and Nikki caught up with stuff with the various counterparts, and then we went to meet with the minister of education for Hawzien and we learned all about their school system. Afterwards, I stopped some kids in 9th grade coming back from classes. They showed me their books, physics, biology, mathematics and chemistry, all in English. They were also learning English, Amharic, and Tigray, the more local dialect. At first I was impressed that they were using these rigorous science books, but I started asking them questions and none of them spoke English, and considering all the books were in English, I can't imagine how they would be able to learn from them.

Had dinner at the Gheralta, a repeat of what we had for lunch, pasta and salad. Pretty tired now.


(c) 2007 Derek White & Jessica Fanzo

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