MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

One month down, five more to go

One month down, five more to go
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It's been already a month since arriving for my 6-month internship with MEDA Ethiopia. Times flies by! The past month has mainly consisted of adjusting. Adjusting to the climate, adjusting to daily living habits (using bottled water for everything, sanitizing produce, expecting unexpected power outages, and the list goes on), and adjusting to a new work environment and culture. Overall, I am enjoying life in Addis and am looking forward to getting to know the people and city over the next 5 months.A few things I've been able to do over the past month have included...City Tour: It was great to see more of Addis a few weeks ago. We saw different parts of the city (mainly from the car), but got to see a nice city view from Entoto Mountain, and visited Lucy at the National Museum. Addis is a pretty big city, compared to where I'm from (Waterloo, ON). But it's not as overwhelming as somewhere like Seoul, South Korea. I have yet to ride a 'blue donkey' (16-passenger vans) or they call them taxis, but am hoping to soon. They're way cheaper than cabs, but obviously less comfortable. I used to ride them all the time when I spent 2 months in Uganda (they call them matatoo), so I'm guessing it's pretty much the same thing here. That way, I feel like I'll get to know the city more, if I get familiar with local transportation.Traditional Dancing: Jillian from HQ was in Addis for a few weeks, so Steph and I had the chance to go to Yod Abyssinia for Ethiopian traditional dancing and food. It was a fun night! I got pulled up on stage to dance, and while dancing isn't my forte, I gave it a shot. My brother is an amazing dancer (he dances competitively), so I did it for him. He would have been proud! The dance moves weren't too difficult, but I still probably looked so bad compared to the Ethiopian dancers.Meskel: It was Meskel a few weeks ago. 'Meskel' means cross in Amharic, or the holiday is also known as 'Finding the True Cross'. Steph and I went to Meskel Square with our colleague, Wondwossen. There were thousands and thousands of people there. It was quite the experience. We managed to find a place to stand at the way back, and heard several people speak, along with many songs. Once it was dusk, people started lighting these little wicks. It was really amazing how the place just lit up so fast! And after much anticipation, the huge tower of wood and grass, was lit on fire. We waited about 2 hours for it to finally happen. Everyone was singing and cheering once it was lit, and there were fireworks too! Leaving the ceremony... was crazy though! We were squished in a sea of people, and eventually managed to get out. For the rest of the night on our way home, you could see and hear people celebrating in their neighborhoods.

Life in Addis is really starting to grow on me. Since I don't have that much time here, I want to do more exploring. Already, we've been to Bole a few times, checked out Piazza for shopping and the Stadium for great leather. In the midst of poverty/begging being very in your face, there are things that make me laugh and remind me of why I'm here. Whether it's the smiles and laughs of little kids when I wave, or when people are pleased to hear I'm Korean (Ethiopia and Korea are friends – I just learned recently that Ethiopia sent troops to South Korea's aid during the Korean War), or getting to know my colleagues at the office, these are all things that make it fun and rewarding to be here. I definitely feel like the next 5 months are going to fly by, so I don't want to waste any time!

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Arrival in Addis Ababa

Arrival in Addis Ababa
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Two months ago I had no idea what my next step was going to be as a new professional in international development, not alone what part of the world I was going to end up in! It only really hit me once we landed. All I could see outside the airplane window was large green rolling hills. I knew then that I had definitely left Toronto! I was so relieved that we had arrived safely and was very eager to get off of the plane as I had been sitting for 13.5 hours straight! After exiting the airport, I felt like I was in a completely different world. One thing I automatically noticed is the drastic difference in wealth among the people. Ethiopia has a population of approximately 94 million, making it the most populous landlocked country. Ethiopia is also one of the world's poorest nations. According to the UNDP's 2013 human development index, Ethiopia ranks 173 out of 187 countries and 40% of its population lives on less than US $1.25 a day. Roads are shared with livestock and due to the fast growing economy there is construction in every possible direction. It was especially busy the day we arrived because it was the day before Ethiopian New Year. Even though it is a very busy city, I consider Addis to be very beautiful. There are lush palm trees and when the clouds clear, the view of the hills is beautiful.Once we arrived at our house our lovely landlady, Tsedey had a coffee ceremony for us. I knew that coffee is a staple in Ethiopia but what I did not know is that the coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian social and cultural life. An invitation to a ceremony is considered a mark of friendship and represents great hospitality. The process consisted of roasting the coffee beans over a tiny charcoal stove, with incense burning. Tsedey then took the beans and let us smell them from the stove before grinding them with a pestle and mortar. After, the grounded coffee beans were put in a special boiling pot called a jebena that strains and boils the coffee and water. Once the coffee was ready, Tsedey served it to us with homemade popcorn (which I later realized is a common part of the coffee ceremony). Some coffee ceremonies may be slightly different from the one I experienced but for the most part, they follow similar steps. One thing is certain, Ethiopian coffee is fantastic!It is a lot cooler here than I expected. September is still considered to be a part of the rainy season so it rains on and off daily while also dropping in temperature, especially at night. In the evening of the day we arrived, the other intern Clara and I woke up freezing and with no electricity (also common). So we had to improvise and make oatmeal over a gas stove and eat it out of mugs while huddled in our blankets. Our first day in Ethiopia was definitely an adventure, to say the least!When I applied for the Communication and Program Support Intern position for MEDA's EDGET program, I had no idea that I would be where I am today. I am very pleasantly surprised that I was offered the position! I am very excited to start this new chapter of my life and to be a part of the amazing work MEDA does. I am truly passionate about working towards sustainable development, creating hope and giving people the skills, resources and opportunities to create positive change for themselves. I hope to not only develop my professional skills but also take this time to reflect on my personal development and growth. This will be one whirlwind of an experience and while it may not be all sunshine and roses, I will give my all and take everything in.
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Salam from Addis Ababa!

Salam from Addis Ababa!
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Steph and I arrived safely last Wednesday and are enjoying our first few days here in Ethiopia. Upon our arrival at our place in Sarbet, our landlady prepared a coffee ceremony for us. Both Steph and I love coffee, so it was a really nice welcome. After resting up for a few hours, we had lunch with Doris (our country manager) and had our security briefing. Then we went to the MEDA office, met our supervisors and other staff members. It was a 13.5 hour flight, so I was pretty exhausted by the end of our first day.While it wasn't intentionally planned, we arrived during the major holiday in Ethiopia, New Year. It was Ethiopian New Year last Thursday, so it is now the year 2007 in Ethiopia because their calendar is 7 years behind the Western calendar. We were invited to spend an afternoon with Balay (Steph's supervisor) and his family, had lots of food, and was welcomed warmly. I've been really touched to experience such generosity over the past few days from our staff here, including Doris and our respective supervisors. We also went to Lafto mall on New Years with my supervisor, Meron, to bowl at the bowling alley. I've never had to manually keep my score, so that was a fun learning experience. The following day, we were invited to have a turkey lunch at Doris' place. We had a wonderful afternoon, heard stories about adjusting to life in Ethiopia and enjoyed really amazing food.If I were to sum up a few initial thoughts and impressions, here they are:Rain - Lots and lots of it. We arrived at the end of the rainy season, so good thing I brought rain boots and a rain jacket!Prices - Some things like eating out, bread, vegetables, and fruit cost very little, while household items like a kettle or strainer, have turned out to be much more expensive than we thought.People - Our landlady and MEDA staff have also been so generous and welcoming. And most people we walk by and encounter have been very friendly. Since I haven't been in a country where people tend to notice you and seem to be talking about you, it's something I'm still adjusting to. However, for the most part, when we walk around, there are folks who say 'Hi' and mean no harm at all.High altitude - I didn't notice it at first, but when walking up hills, it was hard to breath. So it's going to be a few days to get adjusted.Today, will be our first day at work! I'm really excited to be here and be part of the E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) team. It's been fascinating reading about the program, which makes it even more exciting to start this week. I am a little bit nervous, but also ready to take on new challenges and lessons that I'll gain through this internship with MEDA. Stay tuned for more updates soon!Ciao,Clara(We've picked up on how Ethiopians say "Hi" and "Bye"
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Country Living in Ethiopia

Country Living in Ethiopia
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This weekend I was invited to the family reunion of my colleague Mekdim. She grew up in a small farming town called Asgori (50 km west of Addis Ababa) where most of her family still lives to this day. I was eager to witness how life is for farmers in Ethiopia, especially because some of the E-FACE clients are farmers themselves. So I accepted her invite and we arranged to meet on Sunday morning.The day began very early as Mekdim and I met at 7am to begin the drive to Asgori. As we drove along the countryside, we would stop every 15 minutes to pick up a cousin, aunt or other family member to accompany us on the trip. When we arrived to the farm, I was amazed at the amount of land they owned. This was also my first time on a farm so I couldn't contain m excitement seeing the horses and cows up close and personal. Before too much time had passed, I was ushered into the main guest house. Having travelled to the south of Ethiopia, I was familiar with the traditional huts but I had never had the opportunity to go inside. Well, that day I was lucky enough to enter one and a coffee ceremony was being prepared. It is customary in all Ethiopian households to perform a coffee ceremony at least once a day; however, Mekdim informed me that the family had never had a Canadian guest before and this ceremony was especially important for them.After the coffee was poured, I was introduced to the patriarch of the family, great grandfather Abenezer. We shook hands, pressed our cheeks together three times and then he asked if he could give me the tour of his property. Hand in hand, he brought me to each of the fields he owned (i.e. teff, wheat and chick pea). He then had a demonstration of the grinding process. Finally, he took me to see his cattle field where I was offered fresh yogurt. As the day progressed, more uncles, aunts and their children continued to show up to the reunion. At one point, a wedding party showed and dancing broke out during lunch.The day was extremely exciting and as the sun went down we all gathered outside and drank Kineto (a traditional fermented drink that tastes like Pepsi and chocolate). I said my goodbyes and promised to visit again before I left for Canada. As we headed back to Addis, the family sang traditional Oromio songs, clapped and just enjoyed the little time left we had together. It was the perfect ending to an amazing day.
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Just Another Tourist Trap

Just Another Tourist Trap
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I have to be honest. I am a sucker for "tourist traps" and more often then not, I get pulled into these even though I have already spent 5 and a half months here. I usually end up leaving feeling as though, I didn't really get to see a whole lot and spent ALL my money. I am learning that I'm not very good at bargaining and terrible at saying no to buying whatever little knick knack is being sold to me. I get way too flustered in these places and never really have a lot of fun... until the last time.Last Saturday, I was asked to join a group of new comers to Dar to the Woodcarvers Market, which I had been to a few times before and again usually walked away with something else I didn't need and paid way too much for but for some odd reason ended up accepting the invitation. So, I emptied my wallet to only carry minimal change, we piled in two bijajis and headed to the market.As we arrived at the market, I immediately started to head for the main shops when I was pulled another direction by one of my new friend's. She had a contact of a friend of a friend of a friends that wanted to show us the whole carvers market. This meant we got to go to the back behind the shops and see the countless number of men hammering, chipping and staining away at the most gorgeous pieces of artwork. On average they could make one medium sized woodcarving a day, some more some less. Some men would even spend more then three years carving one extravagant piece of wood art. Behind the men carving magnificent artwork out of any piece of wood were many beautiful women working incredibly hard cooking food for all the workers over a terribly hot fire. After the long day of carving wood and making food, many of these individuals would attend an English class led by different people in the community.In the middle of the large field was one stray brown cow try to look for any thing to eat in between the garbage and would be dirt. As a worker noticed me looking at the cow he offered me the story of how this specific cow came to be, telling me that they had won it in the previous weekend during a futball match. It was a tough match but they were able to pull ahead by one goal and win dinner for their community. Now all that was left to decide was what night their feast.It was an extremely welcoming group of people, everyone willing to sit and talk or teach you how to carve these beautiful pieces, even offering encouraging words like, "It's easy anyone can do it, I'll show you!" as they point to a structure that has taken them all year to carve. I had an unforgettable Saturday, listening and learning from this incredibly hardworking group of people who welcomed us into their everyday lives. I was definitely not trapped this time.
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A Muslim Nikah (wedding)

A Muslim Nikah (wedding)
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I was lucky enough to be able to go to a coworker's Nikah (wedding) ceremony. I had met his wife-to-be a few months before when I travelled across the city by two dala-dalas and a piki-piki to his 'ubaluzi' home. They seemed like the perfect couple, very happy together and caring for one another.Later on in mid-December the day finally arrived – the '19th' was here. It was held on a Thursday before Christmas and a few other co-workers attended with me. Once I got to the area by the mosque where the ceremony was taking place, I was greeted by the man getting married, Matuku. He had brought me a traditional Dashiki (gown) and Kufi (cap) to be worn. I met the official of the ceremony, the Maulvi (priest), and other members before they entered into the mosque.Since I am not of the Islamic faith (Muslim) I was not able to go into the mosque for the pre-ceremony and jioni (afternoon) service where the family of the man getting married gives their permission to have the ceremony afterwards. So I sat with another Christian co-worker while we waited for the ceremony to finish taking place.It was a very large crowd coming and going outside the mosque, plenty of older men with canes and younger children dressed in traditional wear entered. They came by piki-piki (motorbike), dala-dala (bus) panda gari (car passengers) and walking. They all did one thing before entering though, no matter how they arrived at the mosque.They took off their shoes (mostly sandals of all shapes, sizes and colours) at the doorstep and walked in bare feet. After the ceremony was over, I met up again with the man to be married, Matuku, and his brother. A Muslim rafiki (friend) of his managed to bring us some food from the ceremony. We enjoyed traditional Islamic sweets of nuts and jelly called halwa. We got in the car and drove to the next location where the bride to be was waiting.I was again lucky enough to take the hand of my co-worker friend and walk him through the large crowd of guests and into the building where the Nikah ceremony was taking place. Lots of loud and happy people yelling and singing and pushing their way through to piga picha (take a picture) of the groom's entrance.Once we got to the back of the building, there was a small room to enter. It was however crowded by plenty of people who were friends of the bride and family. After finally making it through the door, and into the small room, Matuku was finally able to see his beautiful wife-to-be. The bride was dressed in the traditional outfit with jewels and hijab (head cover) and henna artwork on her hands, while sitting with her sister on the bed. The Maulvi preformed a short sermon on the importance of marriage and declared the two married!Afterwards was the Walima (wedding reception), which ran well into the night. All in all it was a different experience from a Christian wedding, but a unique and exciting experience that I will never forget.
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Tamale Transpo Part II – Is it safe?

Tamale Transpo Part II – Is it safe?
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From Part 1: Last month, after weeks of being frustrated by immobility, I bought a moto, because of Tamale's understandably imperfect public transportation.I wish I knew more about Tamale's public transportation past, but most things I've heard is fuzzy and anecdotal. I do know that in fast-growing cities infrastructure problems like public transportation abound. Cities can't easily accommodate an extra 300,000 people overnight. (Tamale has grown from 200,000 – 500,000+ in the past 12 years).Ineffective public transportation and congested cities produce a number of problems – pollution, higher mortality rates, lack of mobility, and diminishing economic productivity. For example, Bangkok loses a third of its gross city product each year (US$4 million each day) and the U.S. is estimated to lose US$43 billion each year from metropolitan congestion (as cited by this paper, PDF). Traffic affects everybody, but in countries with inadequate government regulation and limited funding it creates larger problems with greater consequences, e.g. higher mortality rates and immobility of the nation's poorest.Personally, I'm not too concerned with diminishing economic productivity day-to-day. Instead, I'm a little more concerned about getting from house to work with my head intact. I checked around and while I couldn't find much Tamale-specific data, I did find a list of countries ranked by road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles.You can see the list isn't exactly a who's who of high-income countries. What's slightly unnerving is the strong West African representation. But where's Ghana? A pleasantly middling 69th (with 233 traffic deaths for every 100,000 vehicles).My first thought was that it had to with the fact with that Ghana's a middle-income country – like that of its low-income country neighbors (Togo and Burkina Faso) – but a graph pulled from this WHO report indicates that middle-income is typically more dangerous.The theory here might be that middle-income countries are undergoing intense development – they're forced to deal with the boom of cities without lack the government systems and other infrastructure designed to keep these emerging cities safe. Tamale, the hub of Ghana's developing north, is experiencing this swell of business and infrastructure – and is rapidly joining the South's ranks of middle income. So is it more dangerous compared to other cities in Ghana? Perhaps, but we don't have the data.Other interesting facts from the report:The African Region has the highest road traffic fatality rateHalf of all road traffic deaths are among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclistsAlmost 60% of road traffic deaths are among 15–44 year oldsSo it seems all of the odds are stacked against me – I live in a middle-income country, in the African region, ride a motorcycle, and am between 15-44.I guess I know my risks now.
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Tamale Transpo Part 1 – How I fixed Tamale's public transportation problem

Tamale Transpo Part 1 – How I fixed Tamale's public transportation problem
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I got a scooter.Ok, that's more personal transportation problem fix. Tamale's situation might be a little more difficult than throwing down a fat wad of Cedis at the local used moto dealer. Tamale has the all the transportation issues that you would expect from West Africa's fastest growing city. It's ballooned from 200,000 to a half million plus in about 12 years. It's the hub for northern Ghana and it's changing fast.This has, unsurprisingly, led to less than ideal in-town transportation. During the day, you connect on all the main roads through shared taxis. These cost about $.40 for a 10 minute ride downtown and fares bottom out at around $.25 for the shortest of trips. But, as I noted, you can only get them during the day. "Drop-in" taxis are more expensive – a 10 minute ride might cost you $2.00-$4.00, depending on where you're going. That may not sound like much, but it Tamale, it's really expensive and if you have to do this frequently for work, it can add up. Also, I am a cheapskate.The cost of taxis isn't bad, but the travel times are limited. Evening travel becomes an event with coordination and cost. More than that, taxis aren't an efficient use of road space. At this point, you're probably curious about the buses. Well, dear reader, there are none – at least not for in-town transportation. For public transportation in Tamale it's a taxi or nothing. (Unless you count that one time when a couple of friends hitchhiked on a tractor.)Though Tamale is revered by such sources as Wikipedia and A Man's Life for its "progressive bike lanes" and "bike-friendly" culture, I am skeptical. As a pedestrian I've often seen bikes swerve inches from getting clipped and brake split seconds from being plowed into by overzealous moto riders threading through the bike lane mix of bikes, peds, trikes, and motos. A couple weeks ago, my friend Peter had to get stitches when a moto cut him off him in his bike and ran over his foot... in a bike lane. Anecdotal but unsurprising. I suppose terms like "progressive" and "bike friendly" are relative. It is better than nearby cities such as Bolgatanga and Wa and there are spots of the city where I would feel 100% comfortable riding. It's better than most West African cities.I'd love to encourage a bike culture in northern Ghana. But could it exist in a developing context? In my co-worker's opinion, "it's for people of lower-class," which is what I've heard and observed in most developing countries. If you're interested, this study (PDF) seeks to address that issue (and others), but that's a discussion for another post.The fact is, it's not easy to get around Tamale unless you live and work within a tight area of the city or you have your own private vehicle. As the city expands, more roads will have to be built or public transportation will have to adapt to meet citizen demands.In a conversation with longtime Tamale resident/my co-worker we discussed her disappointment with the current state of Tamale transportation. She then abruptly ended the conversation by dropping a stat: one moto rider was killed each day in Tamale. Hmm.(Don't worry mom, I fact-checked this and it's actually less than that in the whole of Ghana.)
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Hockey is a Little Different in Africa

Hockey is a Little Different in Africa
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The most popular question I heard before moving to Tanzania was always, “Mary, how are you going to play hockey in Africa?” At the time, I always regretfully applied, “I think it will be the first year since I was 4 years old not playing hockey.” Little did I know that I would have the chance to experience hockey in so many different forms.After 4 months in this country, doing very little physical activity and eating way to much wali na kuku (Rice and fried Chicken) I decided it was time to get back at it. I came across a posting online for underwater hockey. I was intrigued. Ice hockey and swimming have to be two of my favorite things and now they are being blended together. Most of the Tanzanians I spoke to weren’t even aware of what hockey was; I usually had to show them a video for them to understand. So I curiously inquired about this underwater hockey via the ever-useful Google search engine. I learned that underwater hockey is a large phenomenon across the world that is petitioning to become an Olympic sport. So that Sunday, I headed to the International School Pool where I would have the opportunity to try out this new sport with a few others.The concept of underwater hockey is quite simple just as ice hockey get the puck in the net.The difficulty comes from the many different elements. The players of each team start on the their side of the pool, the game is played length ways in both the deep and shallow end of the pools. The puck is placed in the direct middle of the pool and you hear the ref yell, “Sticks up, GO!” From that moment it is a mad dash for the puck in the middle, both teams trying to reach the puck first.The key is timing, knowing when to dive down to the bottom, knowing who is running out of air and speed.Underwater hockey equipment is a little different from ice hockey. Instead of skates the players wear flippers, players only have one glove on their shooting hand. The stick is a lot shorter, about the size of one’s forearm and only used with one hand. The final pieces of equipment are the goggle and snorkels, which believe it or not are the hardest items to get used to, I have taken too many breaths before I have quite surfaced and swallowed way too much pool water.The players snorkel on the surface of the water until they see a play they would like to make or defend. When they see an opportunity they take a deep breath and dive to the bottom of the pool and work hard to get the puck to another teammate of the net before they run out of air. When looking to pass to someone it is important to watch both the players on the bottom of the pool but also the players at the surface who may be able to dive down. When defending your own end it is systematic, your teammates begin to learn how long one can hold their breath and try to dive down shortly before that moment.The game is incredibly difficult but a phenomenal sport to learn. Since then I have also joined a ball hockey team and an ultimate Frisbee team and soon to join a Canadian football (soccer) team. Playing on a sports team has always been something I took for granted; not until I had not been apart of a team for the first time in 18 years had I realized how much I missed it. Sports have taught me so much from teamwork and leadership to drive and passion. The difference that can be made simply by wanting the puck more is phenomenal.  It is a mindset, it is training and it is confidence.  I believe so much of what I have learned in life has come from sports. I never made it to the Olympics for Ice hockey…maybe underwater hockey 2016?

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It’s Our Problem-Free Philosophy

It’s Our Problem-Free Philosophy

Hakuna Matata. A phrase we all learn from the beloved Disney movie, The Lion King. The first phrase people often teach you when trying to teach you Swahili. A phrase that is used multiple times a day here in Tanzania.Sitting on the rooftop terrace having dinner with my parents and listening to some beautiful melodies played by the local Zanzibar band, I had my first ‘Ah-ha!’ moment. Hakuna Matata is more than a phrase, it is a way of life. Hakuna Matata literally means ‘no worries’ but truly means ‘take it all in!’ It means don’t rush through every second of every day rather enjoy the small moments. It means don’t stress about the problems that arise instead deal with them and move on. It means look into the eyes of the one next to you and share a smile over the communication barrier because that sign of happiness is universal.With Christmas approaching it’s hard to not think about what I would be doing back home right now or the beautiful snowfall. I try to stay busy to keep my mind off of all that I am missing back home but this is not completely the answer. Rather I should take it all in, every single moment, every single smile. I need to focus less on what I am missing and more on what I am gaining. I need to learn to live in the present. Live in the now.Life in Africa moves at a different pace, it’s African Time! This is my worst enemy, I value punctuality and efficiency so I don’t understand why every African minute equals five regular minutes. The first few months I let this bother me quite a bit, I found myself getting frustrated when others were late to meet me or stressed out when I was late leaving for a Swahili lesson. I now see, it is not about the exact time but the quality of life we are living. Many of these people face much bigger problems then I could ever imagine so why let such a small thing as time bother them? People are fighting for their lives and I’m worried whether I will be there five minutes early.Now, don’t misunderstand me, I still value punctuality and if I make plans with someone at a certain time I try my best to be there at the time but I realize that it is not something that should cause me stress. I am realizing that life is a beautiful playground. We often make our problems seem so much bigger than they actually are and let that get in the way of our fun. We only have so much time at the playground before we must move on so why not capture every moment to it’s fullest. Smile over everything even miscommunications because Hakuna Matata.In this exact moment, sitting on this rooftop with the cool breeze flowing through me listening to these musicians put their heart and soul into the songs they are singing, I not only feel the moment but am living it. I experience Hakuna Matata to it’s fullest. I breathe all the way in until my lungs are full, close my eyes, and with the release of all that air I recognize all the blessings I have been given in life. I have nothing to be but thankful. So to that I say….Hakuna Matata

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When you are the only forenji…

When you are the only forenji…

This is the path I walk up and down every morning and every evening. Despite the personal trials I have dealt with as of late, I still find humour and amusement in this daily walk. I’ve become familiar along this path, and as a result have formed the most unique relationships. And to put it bluntly, it’s because I’m the only “forenji” (aka white person).When you are the only forenji… your name is no longer Emma, it’s “forenj!!!”When you are the only forenji… it is easy to become friends with the local injera maker, who just happens to be a very sweet, old lady who invites you for a coffee every evening.When you are the only forenji… the woman selling vegetables and herbs, who also happens to be old and sweet, insists you take some herbs for free, even though you have no idea what to use them for.When you are the only forenji… the beggars who you give to begin to depend on your donation, which isn’t good.When you are the only forenji… the woman who sells corn, once again old and sweet, kisses your hand when she sees you after the work day has ended (and it’s really adorable!).When you are the only forenji… you are kind of like a local celebrity! I better not get used to it.

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I expected the worst but found the best

I expected the worst but found the best
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First things first: Elderly Ethiopian ladies are truly the cutest human beings. They ALWAYS say hello to me and they ALWAYS laugh hysterically when I respond in Amharic. As I walked home from work tonight, I noticed a group of four ladies sitting around a shop and smiling at me as I passed by. I waved, said hello, and asked them how they were, and they chuckled in delight at my broken attempts at their language. I walked up to them to introduce myself and ask their names, and we had a brief conversation about my purpose in Addis. Turns out one of the women was selling injera (a local food), which I had been trying to find for weeks at the supermarket. What a coincidence! I picked up a week’s worth of injera for 6 birr (30 cents!) and said goodbye, and the ladies told me they loved me! Like I said, the cutest.Speaking of injera, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Ethiopian food. Prior to my departure, a friend and I decided to try an Ethiopian restaurant back home, but to be honest, we were so turned off by the menu that we walked away. Many people warned me I wouldn’t like the food, when in fact, the traditional food is one of the best aspects of life here! I expected the worst but found the best - just another example of why preconceived notions are typically never useful.99% of the Ethiopian food I’ve tried thus far has been delicious. The only thing that turned me off was goat tongue (thankfully Sege, my landlady, understood my aversion!). Utensils are rarely used, as Ethiopians eat exclusively with their right hand. If eating a communal dish, a special pot is used to clean your hands before and after the meal.Last Thursday I enjoyed a special dinner at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant with three other people visiting my organization. One was a volunteer, one was from our headquarters in Canada, and one was from an external organization – and we all had yet to experience a traditional dinner and dance ceremony.The base of all meals is normally injera, a flat, gluten-free bread made with teff, a local grain:We ordered a serving of doro wat and shero wat; doro means chicken, shero means chick pea and wat simply means dish. In Amharic, wat is always added after the name of the food if you are serving it as a meal. Each dish was a bit spicy, and the texture is similar to that of a stew.In addition to the food, we were completely entertained:A few weeks ago, Sege, my “Ethiopian mother” honored my arrival with the killing of a baby lamb. Although I must admit I was a bit sad about the poor lamb’s fate, it was imperative to respect the local culture and demonstrate thankfulness and appreciation for her generosity.When an entire animal is killed, the meat is often cooked over a traditional Ethiopian stove:I must say, the lamb was fantastic, and combined with injera and some rice this was a traditional feast I’ll never forget.

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The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
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As you may or may not know, Ethiopia is known for fantastic coffee. I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to return to Tim Hortons in Canada, because this stuff is liquid gold. There’s nothing “instant” about it – coffee beans are roasted over fire, ground up (traditionally by hand), and then brewed – it doesn’t get any fresher than that!I mentioned we had Eid al-Adha off work a few weeks ago. Well, my gracious colleague Soliana invited me to spend the day at her home with her family. Not only was the lunch amazingly delicious, but I was honored with a coffee ceremony as well! Soliana explained that the non-working women in Ethiopia - the older generation in particular - often enjoy a ceremony three times per day. Most women now work, however, so coffee ceremonies normally occur for holidays or when welcoming a guest to your home. The coffee should be surrounded by grass and served while incense is burning with sides of fruit, nuts, or even popcorn (which is very popular here!). Also interesting is the fact that one pot is brewed for three “rounds” of coffee, no matter the number of guests. Each round is weaker than the former because hot water is added to the mixture each time (therefore, the more people being served, the weaker each round of coffee).This process isn’t for the impatient – it takes about 30 minutes before the coffee is even ready! How many of you at home would be willing to give up your instant for this?! (none, I’m guessing…). But when it’s done – the TASTE! Indescribable. Well, perhaps it’s best described as pure happiness…I know a few people – including my mum & I – who definitely can’t wait 30 minutes for their morning coffee to be ready. But experiencing this part of the Ethiopian culture is just another reason why moving here has already been such an enriching experience.I already know I’ll be bringing a truckload of beans and a traditional Ethiopian coffee pot back to Canada – who’s up for a ceremony at my house?! :)

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Life in Ethiopia

Life in Ethiopia
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I have slowly fallen in love with living in Ethiopia, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the most challenging change I’ve ever inflicted upon myself. Ethiopia is a fantastic example of societal harmony. Despite an equal divide between the Muslim and Christian population, each religion offers complete respect to one another. The working calendar respects each set of holidays, which means the employees of Ethiopia essentially receive double the time off work! Last Tuesday was the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha, so my gracious colleague invited me to her home for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.Another aspect of life in Ethiopia: the culture. Ethiopians are proud to be who they are. Whether through generous offerings of food, supporting the local soccer team, or just general friendliness, Ethiopians want to welcome any “forenji” (foreigner) to their country, because they hope you’ll love it just as much as they do (and yes, I do!). For example, I didn’t make it home from an after-work commitment tonight until well past 8 pm, but immediately upon my arrival my landlady offered me a delicious Ethiopian dinner, plus a glass of wine!Other incredible perks of living here include the weather!! Ethiopia has a reputation for offering “13 months of sunshine”, and I can see why! Every day is sunny and hot, but the nights and mornings dip down to about 10 degrees! I love grabbing my fruits and veggies from the local huts on the way home from work – picking up a kilo of avocado for 80 cents is pretty great ;) . Oh, and then there’s this guy:So yes, there are many positives to life in Ethiopia, but this doesn’t make it perfect.  Moving here has undoubtedly been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I’m not yet “immune” to the extreme levels of poverty I witness on a daily basis. I must get asked for money at least 15 times per day, and when I do open my wallet to offer a few birr (1 Canadian dollar = 18 Ethiopian birr), I am like honey to bees and am surrounded by others, who are only hoping for a few birr themselves. The health issues are widespread, serious, and gory to witness, and the most disadvantaged are always women, since they normally end up carrying the burden of unwanted children.While my “issues” do not compare to those facing such poverty, I cannot say it’s easy to adapt to life without a source of continuous power. It is not unusual to be without electricity for a few hours per day, or to lose an internet connection. The internet is my lifeline when it comes to keeping in contact with those back home.Speaking of home, part of my evening is often spent Skyping or emailing with someone in Canada. When I moved to The Netherlands, I was able to meet new people constantly, since we were all in the same business school together and all spoke the same language. Here, English is a rarity and connecting with people outside of work is much more difficult. Thankfully I have my fellow Canadian here with me (and we enjoyed a great weekend downtown)! For the first time in my life, it’s not unusual for me to experience sleep issues, whether due to my own mind in constant motion, or the outside roosters/dogs/wild animal making noise. I’m always able to make a phone call home and be back to bed within the hour, though :) .

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Why I need to make mistakes

Why I need to make mistakes
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It’s been one week in Tamale, Ghana. (Here are some split seconds of the week. And yes, it has gone that fast.)I’ve been lost (and found… a key part to the story), gotten rained on, tested out my gag reflex, sung karaoke with a very drunk Japanese man, haggled, been bitten by mosquitoes, visited the office a few times, and celebrated Thanksgiving. To which you might say, “wait, isn’t Thanksgiving in November?” To which I respond, “not if you hang out with Canadians.”So I’ve been trying to do a few things — one of them is to accept my current state of cultural inefficacy.When you arrive to a new place, there are things you are not going to know — language, customs, where to purchase eggs at the best price, etc. You can try and act like you’ve eaten Tuo Zaafi and soup with your right hand your whole life (when in fact you’re left-handed and are a big fan of flatware). You smile and nod as your friend/host carries on the conversation. Suddenly, with all of the elegance of a newborn giraffe, you miss your face. Soup drips slowly down your chin. You pause, pretend that nothing is wrong, reach for a napkin casually, glance up at your friend, and notice that he awkwardly looks down at his plate. Errr.*Embarrassing things happen to most people, but with a much greater frequency and certainty in a foreign context (So I’ve found). As the old Polish proverb goes, “a silent fool will always remain a fool.” Or something like that.So if I’m going to learn some phrases in Dagbani (one of Ghana’s 79 local languages), I’m going to have to be ok with a little butchery of the language. If I’m going to learn the layout of the city I’m living in, I need to run that errand even though I’m not 100% sure where the building is. If I’m going to make my experience in Ghana valuable, I’m going to have to ask some obvious questions and make mistakes. To mistakes!* - the following story is not as hypothetical as the author would like to suggest, but rather a fairly accurate account of a recent Saturday outing.

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First Impressions of Addis Ababa

First Impressions of Addis Ababa
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After stepping off my 14 hour flight from Ottawa to Addis Ababa, I am in utter amazement. I cannot believe I have finally arrived.  I am immediately overwhelmed by the stark contrast between rich and poor.  Shiny skyscrapers housing international organizations of all kinds are scattered throughout the city. At the same time, impromptu fruit stands and tiny businesses operate only steps away.  The roads are filled with foreign vehicles but must share with the locals and animals that are walking to their destinations. Construction is going on everywhere –signs of a city quickly developing. I could go on about the disparities surrounding me, but I am content to just take it all in and revel in the fact that I am in Addis Ababa. The weather is colder than I expected for an African nation (a curt reminder to never assume). I was told at the airport that the Ethiopian rainy season is in the final weeks. I am extremely excited for the sunny weather as it is pretty dark and damp. However, I am still impressed with the palm trees and overall tropical feel to the city. I am ready to explore but I have to keep reminding myself that I have six months to do this. At the moment, I just need to get settled and collect my thoughts. When I applied for the position of Business Development Advisor intern, I never imagined I would get this far. Despite my lack of confidence, here I am, ready to see what the next six months has in store for me. What do I want out of this experience? First and foremost, I want to leave Addis knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life, regardless of how small of an impact. I want to bring hope to people and change their outlook on life.  I want to make great friends, discover this side of the world and take the time to get to know myself better. In the meantime, I will try and figure out how to get around using the minibus taxis and communicate with my limited Amharic vocabulary.

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Ninapenda Kula Chakula!!

Ninapenda Kula Chakula!!

Chakula time! My favorite phrase of the day…food time. For any of you who know me, you know I am handicapped by any foods that are too spicy… or that have any spice at all really. All of you would be so proud. Although, not all the food here is spicy, hardly any of it really but they always have an option to make it spicier. Here at the MEDA office we are fed lunch everyday. We are given 3 or 4 options the day before; mostly the same options everyday with one new option, that again… I usually stay clear from. I have been sticking in my comfort zone with wali ne kuku (rice and chicken). Now this rice isn’t the same as rice in North America though. I never really enjoyed rice back home, I would only eat with some delicious sauce on top to let me forget about eating the rice but here it is a whole new world. I am told it is because this rice is whole and does not go through as much processing, whatever the reason may be… I can actually say that I crave rice. I enjoy my comfort zone, I feel safe eating that but my roommate/fellow intern Curtis thinks I need to be more adventurous. He often encourages me to try the new things on the menu that even he doesn’t know what they are. This is why… I have a strong suspicion that he changed my order one day. Sitting at my desk, I finally here “Chukula (food) is ready for all!” I was starving that day and could not wait for my wali ne kuku… only when I open up my container I find a whole samaki (fish). When I say whole fish, I mean whole… head and all. The little guys eyes were just staring at me! We are fortunate enough to get food every day, so I didn’t have the guts to say this isn’t what I ordered instead I just had to eat it. I was forced out of my comfort zone! I used the lid of my container to cover the head, I just couldn’t eat it with those eyes staring at me. It just felt so wrong. I looked around to see how others were attacking this meal. No forks and knives, just their delicate hands peeling the meat of the bones and then throwing it into their mouths. Oh boy… unfortunately Nichols College etiquette dinner didn’t prepare me for this. I forced down as much of this fish as I could. Wasting over half of the meat on the fish that apparently is in the head. I felt so awful but there was no way I could put any more of that fish in my body and I have a feeling my face gave off every ounce of misery I felt during that lunch. It is not all bad though, I have found quite a few foods that I enjoy. There is this wonderful sauce that I put on top of my rice; a sort of salsa that is not spicy but has the sweetest most flavourful addition to my amazing rice. As well as a form of rice called, Pilau. It is brown rice cooked with different spice that gives it an amazing flavour! Being in a big city though, we have a lot of selection such as Indian, Ethiopian, Thai and even Pizza. I can certainly find something to here that is not the problem. Also, I am lucky enough that Cutis, anapenda ku pika chukula (likes to cook food). I try to repay him by doing as many dishes as possible. Maybe one day I’ll make him an amazing grilled cheese sandwich!

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Present Bus System (Dala-Dala’s)

Present Bus System (Dala-Dala’s)
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With the future D.A.R.T. project underway comes the limiting of the Dala-Dala (mini-bus) licenses. These buses can still be used for getting around on the smaller road routes but should stay off the main throughways if the city is going to have a reliable bus system in the future.Being a geographer I wanted to get a look at the dala-dala routes before using this method of public transportation system. This information is hard to come by as I’m pretty sure it doesn’t really exist! These dala-dala drivers have a specific route they take, but the routes have never been mapped and it’s pretty difficult when the streets they take are not named sometimes. The closest thing I have found to a route map was done by Anson Stewart (an American who specializes in engineering and urban studies). While not perfect, this map is a good tool for anyone venturing out in a new city, and trying to make their way around using public transportation. These types of maps should be public knowledge, and distributed. When I showed this map to co-workers and even a dala-dala driver they were intrigued, and wanted a copy for use.For now, the dala-dalas are the main bus transportation system in Dar. However, in the near future the D.A.R.T. bus system will hopefully ease traffic problems. It is a major construction project and in order for it to be completed soon the contractor Strabag needs to pay its workers on the project. The workers are demanding up to two months in back pay. The over 1000 road construction workers if not paid could lay down their tools bringing the Morogoro Highway construction project to a grinding halt. The workers are not only demanding wages owed but are also complaining of ‘poor working conditions’ and are requesting the government to secure them a safe and more humane work environment. Thus, cooperativeness between the Dar Es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Strabag management, Tanzania Mining and Construction Workers Union (TAMICO) along with the construction workers need to happen soon to fix transportation in Dar!

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Urban Planning and D.A.R.T.

Urban Planning and D.A.R.T.
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I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to go out with some of the field staff within my first week at the MEDA office in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.  On the way to the dukas/clinics I was greeted by the traffic in Dar. It is a city which could benefit from a few changes to its current roadway and highway structure layout. The larger highways (Morogoro road, Mwinyi/Bagamoyo Road) have a smaller side road along it for bikers (boda-boda), walkers, people carrying items, sometimes motorbikes (piki piki), bajajis (3 wheeled vehicles), trolleys etc. Then, there is a large ditch, 2 lanes of traffic, a very large centre area (not often fully used, where you could easily fit in another 1-2 lanes) and the same setup on the opposite side of the road.  This is a city with a traffic problem. There doesn’t appear to be a time during the day when the roads are not clogged. I haven’t yet seen a highway in Dar which has more than two designated lanes in one direction. Adding more lanes would ease congestion in this large city of over 4 million people. A similar case is in Nairobi, Kenya (population of 3 million) where they recently worked on building the Thika Super Highway away from the city. With 4 lanes of traffic (on each side), it works well at dispersing people to and from work within the city centre. This combined with the bypass system for the north, south, and east should further ease congestion.Although I’m not here for Urban Planning, I am very interested in it! The ambitious Dar Es Salaam Rapid Transit (DART) project will first be building a bypass with dual four-lane carriage ways, which seems like a great idea for the city and its transportation future. The project is expected to save billions of shillings lost daily in traffic jams and provide relief to at least 300,000 Dar Es Salaam commuters (I work with many of them!) Completion of the project would result in shorter travel times for motorists, decongestion of surrounding roads, improved security, safety and convenience for pedestrians and cyclists due to construction of footpaths and bicycle lanes. The roads will form major alternative routes bypassing the downtown business area and as such would ease nightmares motorists encounter while navigating through the city.

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Two words: snail soup

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me make something abundantly clear, snail soup is probably one of the best street foods out there! The moment I stepped foot in Morocco, my thoughts were haunted by the delectable gooey critter. During orientation week in Waterloo, we were taught to examine our surroundings the second we arrive in our residencies; I am a tad bit ashamed to admit that I went snail cart hunting instead, though I promise I promptly scrutinized my environment afterwards. Once I unpacked in Casablanca, I went for an evening walk to get acquainted with my new neighbourhood, and of course track down the “bebouch” (snail) stand. I was able to smell the tempting broth from miles away; sweet scent of herbs and spices such as thyme, oregano, tarragon, mint, peppermint, liquorice roots, anise seeds, and the list of ingredients goes on, and on…and on. For those of you who have an adventurous gastronomic side, I suggest you try some snail, click here  for the recipe or hop on a plane to Morocco.After checking off “bebouch” from my bucket list, my real adventure started: interning as an impact assessment agent with MEDA, in the city of Casablanca. The team here is great! Everyone is eager to help and love to share different information about the area. YouthInvest is the project that MEDA Maroc is currently working on, it’s truly catered to the Moroccan demand; unemployment being a heavy burden, this project facilitates youth access to micro financial services as well as the work market. Next on my bucket list: sheep brain.

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