MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Packing for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

It’s under a day now until my departure to Addis Ababa. My goal had been to “frontload” my packing for fear of any unwanted popups. I believe I’ve done a semi-successful time of planning ahead. I have moved some times before – to London (Ontario) or Vienna – but preparing for Addis Ababa has its own set of challenges. Entering a developing African country typically means bringing everything with you that you would miss. With that being said, you can probably find the majority of actual necessities in-country. The issue only arises once we have to answer the question: what is a necessity?

So below you will find an extensive list of what I decided to bring. Perhaps this could be of use to future travelers on work placements in Addis Ababa, or a similar developing city with a high-altitude climate. Here it goes!

Important Documents
- Travel Immunization Record
- Extra different sized passport photos (6)
- Proof of graduation (work permit purposes)
- Photo copies of passport, atm/visa cards, birth certificate, sin card, provincial health card, student card, vaccination record
- Bank, health insurance & emergency contact information
- Reminder cards. Since I have not earned the habit of eating safely in a developing country, I created reminder cards to store in my purse summarizing some key statements.
- Flight tickets
- Passport
- Select photos of family and friends
- US$

Technology
- Camera, memory card reader, extra memory card
- Computer
- Video camera, DV tapes (5) + cleaning tape
- External Hard drives (3)
- Wristwatch with alarm
- Chargers
- Adapters (Europlug 2-prong + India/Asia 3-prong) this was a bit of a headache
- Surge Protector
- eReader
- Ethernet Cord
- Mp3 player & headphones

Gear
- Mosquito Net (permethrin soaked nets, advised as extremely effective, are not available in Canada)
- Bed sheet
- Towel
- Microfiber towel
- Umbrella
- Hand sanitizer (2)
- Water purification drops
- Emergency blanket
- Mosquito Repellent 30% DEET
- Flashlight
- Moist wipes
- First Aid Kit (assorted bandaids, blister bandaids, tweezers, alcohol pads, polysporin, waterproof matches, clotrimazole topical cream, surgical gloves, adhesive tape, scissors)
- Diarrhea Kit (chicken & beef bouillon, immodium, pepto bismol, gastrolyte, gravol, cipro)
- Laundry Kit (Woolite detergent travel packs, clothes line, sink plug – I’d recommend Austin House, tide to go, laundry bag)
- Kleenex
- Swimsuit
- Sunglasses
- Sunscreen
- Scissors
- Pencil Case
- Double sided tape
- Bandana (for lengthy dusty travel)
- Paperback books (I brought…Richard Dowden’s Africa, Amharic Phrasebook, a book borrowed from a friend – Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, and a title I sourced in a Veinnese bookshop History of Ethiopia, Paul Henze. And of course, the much-loved Bradt guide on Ethiopia, Philip Briggs)
- Map of Ethiopia
- Blank small notepads
- One checked bag, one 45L carry-on backpack (I love MEC)

Personal Hygiene
- Facial wipes, eye makeup remover pads
- Hairdryer
- Personal medications (advil, caltrate, vitamin D)
- Contacts, solution, eye drops
- Lip balm
- Razors
- Toothpaste
- Preventative blister balm
- Favourite shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner
- Face cream, cleanser
- Sanitary napkins

Food
- Parmesan cheese: I’m not sure if this one is allowed but I’m going to claim it and see.
- Peanut butter (750g of Skippy is a true necessity for me!)
- Favourite Teas & Hot chocolate
- Lindt chocolate bars: I read a blog that the chocolate wasn’t very good so just in case I get that craving
- Spices (cumin, mustard, cinnamon, basil, thyme, oregano, salt&pepper)
- Sriracha hot sauce – only my staple ingredient in every dinner
- Soy sauce
- Protein bars (Cliff & Luna brand are great)
- Baking powder
- Almonds
- Travel mug: required for my coffee before work every morning

Clothing
Considering that most Ethiopians dress conservatively, I erred on the side of long-sleeve tops, pants and loose lightweight clothing.
- Variety of work-appropriate collared shirts (preference to long-sleeves)
- Basic tank tops for layering and casual cotton long-sleeve tops
- Slacks (3), capris , long shorts (2) and a pair of jeans
- Long skirt, pencil skirt, knee-length dress
- Cardigans (4), sweaters (4) and blazer (1)
- Footwear: boots, open-toe sandals, black pumps, tan flats, running shoes, walking shoes and flip flops
- Rain jacket, leather jacket
- Scarves (3), tights and leggings
- Gym strip (3)

This list may have been excessively exhaustive in the depth of information I provided. At the very least, it highlights what I perceive I need versus what many other people may require elsewhere.

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Carb overload

Last night I had dinner with E., the other intern currently here (C. will be joining us in September!). It was iftar, the traditional meal breaking the fast at the end of each day of Ramadan. The food was delicious, but one thing that was different was the number of bread-based food items served to us in this enormous meal! Here's a picture of courses 3 and 4:

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The Void

“The Void”- That’s the term my sister uses to describe the time of life that I am in. ”The Void” is this tricky time right after you graduate college and suddenly your future is completely open. It is an exciting time and a scarey time. It is also a time of questions, question like:

What do I really want to do with my life? Where do I want to live? Do I move to be near friends or a job? Now wait, what are my life values? How do these values shape how I live and work? What am I really passionate about? How do I even go about finding a job? How do I afford to pay off my debt and still manage to eat? How do I find a place to live and people to live with? What should I be pursuing? How do I figure this all out? How do I weigh the decisions between my dreams of adventure and what reality presents me with?

My journey hasn’t been easy. Its been invigorating at times and quite dark at times. It feels like I am in the middle of the ocean struggling just to stay above water. But, even if I manged to get above the waves, I would still be lost in the open ocean.

All that to say, this MEDA internship is a lifeboat in the open ocean of life. It is a chance to explore and define my interests and passions. It is an opportunity to learn from my co-workers and the projects they are involved. It is a chance to work for something greater than myself. And that, in and of itself, is truely life giving. Thank you MEDA.

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First week adventures: cockroaches, communications and coordination

First impressions

Pictured left: This is the view of my street from my balcony

I arrived just over a week ago in sunny Casablanca, and noticed a few things right away:

-it is hot. We're talking 28-30 degrees Celsius on a daily basis. They're predicting 31 for this weekend. And the sun is brighter that I've ever seen it. On the walk to work at 9 a.m. it is high in the sky, and on the way home, it is blinding. I even got a bit of a sunburn on my 3rd day. There's only been one semi-cloudy day so far in 10 days, and it cleared out to allow the afternoon blinding to begin.

-it is big. The city is 3 million people and you definitely can get lost if you're not paying attention. Luckily I live about a 7 minute walk from work, so that is an easy daily commute. We (myself and another MEDA intern) have a lovely large apartment, in a Moroccan neighbourhood (I think we are the only Westerners). But there is a market down the street and tons of local shops. You don't have to go far to get what you need, despite it being a huge city.

-it can be smelly. With this heat, and that many people, there is a lot of garbage in the streets. Of course, that can create a certain aroma...They do collect it regularly, and there are street cleaners, but you appreciate your recycling and compost at home more when you don't have access to either.

-there are feral cats! This might seem obvious to some people but I've seen dozens of cats all over the city. Not house cats, wild cats. A mother cat even gave birth in the hall in our office building. The kittens were adorable, but sadly, they had been displaced when we came in on Monday.

Pictured right: I walked to the Hassan II Mosque one evening, it is stunning

Communication Development Internship
The whole reason I am in Casablanca for six months is to work as the Communication Development Intern with MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) Maroc office. I started on Monday, and they've been letting me get acclimatized, but I did learn what my tasks will be for the duration of the internship and they sound both challenging and fun. I'll be writing up financial success stories about youth that have participated in the YouthInvest program (3 per month) which will involve monthly trips to Oujda, where MEDA Maroc has a regional office, to interview youth. Did I mention it is a 10 hour train ride overnight to get there? It will be a great opportunity to travel and see more of the country.

I'll also work on the English version of the newsletter, help with a study they will be doing, and help put together a document that details all of the financial services for youth in Morocco. This will be the biggest job to take on. I'll also help with additional communications work as needed, and help do some knowledge management for MEDA.

Cockroaches
Now you want to know why I put cockroaches in the title. That's because, having never seen any before arriving in Morocco, I have now had to dispose of two of these intensely gross, huge, FAST bugs. The first was pretty dopey, so maybe it was on the way out anyways, but I helped him out by tossing him out the window. The second was much more creepy as I watched it race through our apartment living room and into the kitchen. Then, while I tried to figure out how to catch or kill it, it raced to our bathroom. Crouching under the sink with the cabinets open, I managed to stun/hit it several times with the dustpan before quickly scooping it up and flushing it down the toilet. No one warned me about cockroaches before I arrived. *Shudder*

Coordination
I am quickly getting settled in to life here in Morocco. Having a roommate who is also an intern has been really helpful - she arrived before me and has helped me learn and adapt quickly to the neighbourhood. The apartment is furnished but, for my own peace of mind, I bought sheets and a new pillow for my bed. I don't know where Moroccans buy their linens, but it definitely wasn't where I bought mine! The cost me 3 times what they would have in Canada! Oh, wal-mart, how I miss you! Everything else here is very cheap. A chocolate croissant (they love bread and it seems to be the staple of all meals) is only 3 dirhams (about 30 cents) and everything else (other than American bedsheets I suppose!) is similarly priced.


Pictured left: The Hassan II Mosque from the seawall, it is one of the largest in the world, about 15 mins walk from the apartment

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Primer mes in Lima, Peru - First Impressions

CLOUDY. There is no sight of the sun..ANYWHERE!! During this past month, I have only seen the sun 3 times in total. There is a blanket of clouds that extends across the Lima skies during the winter time. The cloudy skies have even made an impression on Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, who referred to Lima as, "the saddest city on earth."

Pictured left: View from my bedroom -- This is what Lima looks at 9am, at noon and at 5pm.

I would not go to the extent to calling it the saddest city, however not seeing the sun has been THE hardest adjustment thus far. Some Peruvians have reassured me that spring should be just around the corner.

TECHNO-LINKS. I am currently working as the value chain development intern supporting MEDA's (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) Techno-Links project. In a nutshell, Techno-Links is a competitive matching grant fund promoting and expanding the access of agricultural technologies for small-size producers in Peru and Nicaragua. It is an exciting and busy time for us here in Lima, as the 16 winners of the grants will be announced shortly!

Pictured right: My cozy office at the Techno-Links office in Peru

Did I mention that I live in the same building as the office? Just 5 floors away! It makes a huge difference, especially those working days that go from 9 am to 7ish.

SECURITY. Another advantage is security. I do not have to take public transportation carrying my laptop and allows me to stay a bit later at work, when needed. However, one should not be too confident. Last week, I had a minor security incident. After work, a security guard followed me to my apartment and began an extremely inappropriate conversation. Thankfully, I received full support and guidance from the MEDA staff and the appropriate actions were taken in response.

I share this story because I want to encourage all my fellow intern colleagues to please report any security incident, even as small as you may considered it to be. As Jennifer (MEDA HR) told me, even if you are physically OK, any incident could also have a psychological impact. As a result, if something happens to you, please talk to someone about it.

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Impressions of Addis

Dusty, sprawling streets. The roads may be paved but the sidewalks give way to dirt and rubble. Bare feet to leather boots, Ethiopians share the muddy roadside, as the rainy season showers soak the ochre earth. People swathed in coloured wraps, brilliant white Arab robes, decade-worn western brands, and tattered rags swerve left and right, jumping to the discordant rhythm of traffic.

A child leaps forward giggling. Her eyes joyfully fixed on a rubber tire she is rolling forward with a metal rod.

A row of small coal fires sizzle freshly husked corn, wafting sweet charcoal smoke.

A barren plot of land where sixty sheep are lined up for slaughter. A pile of heads already await market, their opaque eyes glazed blue-white.

The sultry aroma of dark roast Ethiopian coffee. Macchiato brimming with bubbling foam.

Compounds with barbed wire fences, the paint faded down the forbidding walls. Stray dogs roam the alleys rabid, abandoned or unloved.

Cool moist mornings. Icy breath forms in front of faces.

The striking African Union building pierces the skyline. Its sophisticated architecture dominating the disorganized clutter of corrugated tin roofs below.

A skinny man loosely holds a rifle beside the ATM.

Someone grabs my arm with an uncomfortably fierce grip. I look up to see a small woman pulling me away from the aggressive rumble of an oncoming caravan.

Genuine smiles from locals.

Addis Ababa is sometimes called the City of Africa or New Flower. My boss aptly named it One Big Village. To me, Addis Ababa is a city of juxtaposition. Nothing is segregated, everything mixed into one. Poverty sits next to modernity. Authenticity beside security. Wintry mornings to sweaty afternoons. Affluence and absence. A rustic metropolis.

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What is it that you do, exactly?

I think everyone in international development has been asked that question, and almost everyone dreads it! People have an idea of aid work as handing out rations to starving children (usually the ones in those old school Sally Struthers commercials) while wearing khaki. The truth is, though, that there are a ton of different paths you can take in development. The one I've chosen is monitoring and evaluation, and the internship I'm currently doing is in impact assessment.

Impact assessment is exactly what it sounds like: A way to evaluate whether a program is working as intended. It's part of the "Monitoring & Evaluation" (M&E) (and sometimes "Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning") umbrella. Though some development firms only include M&E as required by the terms of reference in their government contracts, many are moving toward more rigorous in-house methods in order to track and improve program effects. (Since the 2008 recession, government agencies like CIDA, DFID, and USAID are also requiring better M&E from bidders on grants and contracts, since M&E can improve program efficiency.)

How can you tell if something's working? Well, in my case, data analysis is an essential part of impact assessment. The project I'm working on right now is an evaluation study of MEDA Maroc's training programs. These programs - most notably the 100 Hours to Success training course - are meant to improve youth access to financial services. In September last year, about a year into the program, they gave surveys to clients who had participated in training programs, asking about a range of topics the programs had covered, such as savings, loans, and employment. They also asked about how the clients and their families had changed in the last year; for example, had they bought a refrigerator? A car? Had their monthly household income increased? This kind of data, can tell us a lot about possible program effects.

A lot of it is descriptive statistics - anyone who's ever taken a research method course knows the drill on that one! But you have to be smart about what you run; you can't just describe a couple of variables and get useful information. One of MEDA's particular focuses, for example, is gender; when you ask, "What did people think about this program?", you also want to know, "What did girls think about this program?" and, "Compared to boys, how did girls perceive this factor?" You want to know what girls in urban areas thought versus girls in rural areas; you want to disaggregate the data as much as possible so that you know as much as possible. Part of data analysis is turning over rocks in the data set, looking for results that are unexpected or interesting.

(If you're super nerdy, like me, that's the fun part. Other than making beautiful graphs in Excel.)

Numbers can tell you a lot, but you also need the other side of the coin - qualitative data in the form of open-ended questions, focus groups, and case studies. It's really important to get as much depth as possible; although I believe in the power of quantitative data for giving a big-picture overview of a population, I also think that letting clients speak for themselves, and offer suggestions and solutions that work for their lives, is an integral part of delivering sustainable development solutions. Mistakes aren't always as clean-cut as delivering spoiled food to a refugee population; sometimes, experience shows us that minor tweaks or additions can have a lasting impact on program effectiveness.

Anyway, that's a little bit about my job! When we talk about statistics, just remember that they're only as good as the person doing them.

Until next time...

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Introducing the 2012 MEDA Interns

Welcome to MEDA's Intern Blog!

This fall, 14 new interns joined MEDA to take part in an international development internship. Working in a variety of capacities and countries, each intern will be helping MEDA fulfill its mission of creating business solutions to poverty.

Over the next 6 months, you will read about our experiences, learn our stories, and discover with us what it is like working in international development overseas. All of us come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences; how we react and learn from our work experience will be different. Why we chose to apply for our MEDA internships is different, yet we all hope to grow from the opportunity ahead of us.

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