March 08, 2005

Blog fans hello

Wow! Sorry people, but blogging from over here can be a serious challenge. Not to worry, I have a couple of entries stored on a word file. Have to run out the door now - things to do. The short rainy season has apparently started. The air is cool and soft. Excellent for me. Hope you are all well. Enjoy.

I'm over my morning drowsiness. This day has been made interesting on a number of levels, all of them taking place at the post office, all interconnected.

First things first. Today I received my package from my folks - reminds me of my time in the Peace Corps. Contrary to the exorbitant customs fees I was expecting to pay, I was only charged 5 Birr (60 cents). Great for me. The box was chalk full of goodies and I immediately sent my brother-in-law and sole employee away to read the two leatherworking books that came. Also in the box was some safety equipment for our leatherwork (respirator, goggles, ear protection) that I immediately made my brother-in-law try on to see how they looked - very attractive. Business is clearly booming.

Also in the package were some baby clothes. My folks sent what they promised to be their first of many installments of baby related items. Unfortunately/fortunately, my brother-in-law happened to be standing right next to me as the postal clerk and I examined the contents of the package. Although Mom had warned me that baby goods were on the way, I'd forgotten and my brother-in-law got a first hand look. He immediately knew what they were but didn't immediately assume that my wife and I are pregnant. He initially asked if we were planning to be pregnant, and at that point I just spilled all beans.

He was like a little schoolgirl (not sure I know exactly what that means, but I know how to use it). He was so excited. In fact, when he stepped out of the car to run into a shop for me, he didn't even tell me to lock the door and watch my things which is something he always does. He just kind of ambled happily down the street.

I, on the other hand, immediately sunk my teeth into the great resource book my uncle sent me - 2005 Writer's Market. It contains all sorts of information on publishers and magazines, including how to contact them and what specifically they are interested in. Since getting home this afternoon, I've been pouring over the pages, trying to think where I could find my niche. I will offer a word of caution - I'm not sure how far I'll go with writing. For now, though, it's a lot of fun to write this blog and I'm excited about submitting a few queries to magazines. Here are my ideas so far. (Keep in mind that this book lists almost any magazine I know [Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Harpers, etc.], along with a plethora I have never even heard of (Metrosource, Brain, Child, Bassmaster), but am sure were buried behind other magazines in the magazine section of Super Bear in Juneau.)

The three magazines I'd like to contact initially, and I'll appreciate any input from the galleries on any part of these, are

Golfer - a round of golf at the Addis Ababa Golf Club - actually, maybe I should narrow this to time spent in the locker room at the Addis Ababa Golf Club
Expecting - Delivery Day
Dog Fancy - Tales about my miserable pooch and my questionable dog-raising

Feel free to let me know what you think. Have a good day.


Well, Fun Zone fans, I can’t seem to pull up the “create” page on blogger, so I will write this in Microsoft Word and transfer it tomorrow morning. These are the challenges of blogging from a country with no high-speed internet connections.

Things go well here in blog land. The sun is going down on a Saturday afternoon – to me it seems darker than usual for 5:30 PM, but I can’t see to the west from my viewpoint. Might be clouds over that way. Hot day.

No major developments to report. Just a normal weekend. Actually, yesterday was fairly interesting with the whole paper development project. My American colleague and I sought my wife’s input, but we didn’t carry out the counsel as effectively as we might have. My wife insisted on “no ultimatums”, but during my conversation with our local collaborator, I kind of bluffed and laid down an ultimatum. Now I will spend a bit of next week eating crow and apologizing.

This whole arena is new to me and somewhat confusing, probably why I should follow my wife's advice. One, it’s an effort to do a study in a poor country, where little research has been done. Two, it’s Ethiopia, a strongly paranoid and fiercely independent place. I have the impression, and I may be totally unknowledgable on this, that Ethiopia is the kind of country that can turn down the overtures of big drug companies like Merck, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline and oil companies like Shell and Mobile. Why do I say this? It’s certainly a bold statement, and I obviously have no proof other than my own observations with the culture and government. I still say, though, that Ethiopia has the power to refuse outside interests, because Ethiopia is different, proudly independent.

What sets Ethiopia apart? Take the example of oil companies. ExxonMobil is one of the world’s largest companies, if I’m remembering correctly, with revenues or share capital of something like $250 billion. In many places, $250 billion can gain someone a lot of access, smooth political friction, and mean in the end that ExxonMobil gets to do what it does i.e. produce and distribute oil. If you look at Ethiopia, though, there really hasn’t even been exploration. No one really knows whether Ethiopia actually has oil or gas because few, if any, geologic surveys have been conducted. To simplify, no oil companies have been given access to Ethiopia yet as they have, in say, Nigeria.

Now, I know I mentioned this before, but returning to previous discoveries will help make the point. I read a few months back in one of the Ethiopian daily newspapers that the government had contracted out oil exploration to a Malaysian firm, something like the 12th largest oil company in the world, to find out if the country actually has any oil reserves of its own. Why pick the 12th largest oil company in the world rather than ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, or TotalFinaElf, four of the world’s leaders? That shouldn’t be a hard question, but I’ll spell it out anyway. Huge companies like ExxonMobil, BP, etc., have a poor track record in Africa and other, poorer parts of the world of using unscrupulous and often illegal means of getting what they want. Ethiopia, by picking the world’s 12th largest oil company, with revenues/share capital still probably 20-30 times Ethiopia’s GDP, can have a little better assurance that oil exploration and development will go according to its wishes.

This all leads me back to the beginning of this entry, discussing our progress on the paper. We have definitely run into some roadblocks, probably in some cases due to the fact that we are foreigners trying to extract sensitive data. Although our intentions are good, our efforts are met with suspicion. That’s not to say we are entirely at a disadvantage to our local counterparts. The data we are collecting is sensitive, no matter the party. That they are Ethiopian nationals does not entirely remove them from the bureaucratic marathon. We’ll see where all this leads. Everyone I talk to says it will end positively, but that it will take time.

What else? My wife's pregnancy is moving along. We will probably divulge the information tomorrow to my wife’s parents. Judging by my brother-in-law’s reaction, it should be a really fun, happy time. Can’t think of much else. Best to all.

Last night was “Vagina Monologues”. Have you ever seen the play? By this point, it might be a movie, so you could just check it out at home. We saw it at the Juventus Italian Club hidden behind Meskal Square. The production was put on by a group of mostly U.S. and European women from the NGO-community. The goal was to raise money for local organizations working to end violence against women, like the Somali group of women organized against Female Genital Cutting.

Well, it was an interesting show. Lots of pink everywhere. The part I was most impressed with was the level of detail that went into the entire event. Not just the stage performances, but everything else. For instance, my hand is currently stamped with three little pink hearts, something everyone got when presenting their tickets. Speaking of tickets, a heart-shaped punch was used to take a small part out of each ticket to indicate it had been used. There were little heart and hand cutouts on the back of each chair in the auditorium. At the end of the show, interested individuals were asked to put their names and contact information on the hearts or hands and leave them in the donation boxes. Overhead, there was a flower-draped trellis that spread out across the entire room.

That wasn’t all. They provided everyone with snacks and drinks at the intermission. As the lights came up for the intermission, a group of women standing behind the curtains off to the side of the venue simultaneously pulled them open to allow us access. I mean, that’s a level of detail. No male-led production could ever get there. It served to make the whole evening continuous and interesting.

There was a lot of networking, too. A lot of the NGO-community was in attendance. My wife and I were on the younger side of married attendees, though there seemed to be a number of young, single women. Other than that, the audience was mostly middle-aged couples. I recognized the man I worked with briefly at the beginning of the year from CDC. We just exchanged nods, which made me wonder if he’d somehow heard about the difficulties our group was encountering in writing the paper for the hospital. CDC is our collaborator and I get the impression/have the suspicion that my colleague and I may be personi-non-grati right now.

I also bumped into some people I’d met at a colleague’s wedding. They are a middle-aged married couple, but I really enjoyed them from the wedding, so I wanted to say hi. My wife asked me what I thought of the performance and I gave a fairly non-committal, “It’s good”. (I was enjoying it.) I’m not sure how they were feeling – maybe they had to be there for political reasons.

Just thinking about it now, I think for middle-aged people, “The Vagina Monologues” might be a revolutionary and jarring experience, but for someone my age, I guess it really wasn’t that challenging. There were moments – probably some images that will stick with me a long time. But I don’t feel like I was converted or experienced something revolutionary – just a nice evening of entertainment. But for the older men in the room, at least those who hadn’t been exposed to such work, they might have been a bit provoked and challenged.

There were also some Ethiopians in the room, including a number of Ethiopian men. There was a group behind us that was laughing at a lot of the playground humor, but other than that, I couldn’t read a real perceptible reaction on their faces. Ethiopia is so conservative sexually that I imagine a play like this would ruffle some feathers, but nobody was showing it if they were concerned. Probably, nobody who would truly become upset by such stuff would have been at the performance in the first place.

There was other networking, too, as well as some of the hard-line games I occasionally play now. I had a great opportunity to meet with one of the lady’s from USAID and she said her husband wanted to talk to me about some proposal writing work. Although it’s a little out of my sector, I’ll probably take it if he offers, just for the experience. On the flipside, I completely ignored a fellow I’d met at my colleague’s bachelor party because I felt like he was disrespectful then.

Well, I don’t know what else to say. We are heading off to church and then the gym. I remember the days growing up in Alaska when we would go to church and then head up to the mountains for a day of skiing. Those were good days. No skiing to speak of here and really nothing you can fill a full day with like fishing or hiking. So, we’ll go to church and the gym, get a coffee and some newspapers, then probably veg out on the couch, unless we decide to go to my wife’s parents’ house to announce to them about the baby.

Peace for now.


Hello all from an evening edition of the AARFZ. Yeehaw. Dean-scream. To be honest, I’m glad Howard Dean is now chair of the Democratic Party (not sure on official titles). He’s a guy that absolutely had the rug pulled out from under him during the presidential elections. To go from front-runner to sidelines as quickly as he did was pretty astounding. Certainly, the “Dean Scream” as it came to be known didn’t help him, but I think the Democratic Party really didn’t want Dean to be the presidential nominee. I think things lined up against him pretty quick, and all the sudden he was out in the cold.

However, Dean was a fighter. After the humiliating spotlight that followed the “Dean Scream”, lesser politicians might have been unwilling to get back up. But Dean has, and he’s come out fighting. So, from Addis Ababa, a hats off to Howard Dean and to him promoting good democratic values.

Here in Addis, we have just hit a spell of rain. It started about fifteen minutes ago. The clouds looked ominous this morning, then cleared away during the middle of the day, leaving is baked in the sun as we drove around town. But they returned in the evening, and finally gave way to a delicious rain. Cool earth is on the way, as well as clean air. Think that’s a good thing.

As I said, we were out on the town today. After visiting the Orthodox Church in the morning, we planned to go to the gym only to find that it closed at 11:30 am on Sundays. No deal. So, we went to my wife’s parents house to announce our big news. I sat hesitantly on the couch with my wife’s father, as I usually do, not quite sure what to say. Although he greeted me more warmly than usual when we arrived, when I made the actual announcement, it was rather matter of fact. (I later learned that they’d been speculating immediately before our arrival).

My mother-in-law was outwardly much happier, but I think everyone is glad. My mother-in-law, given the opportunity to speak on the subject, made her thoughts known that we needed to have four children and that she would quit her job in order to take care of them. It was nice.

After the announcement, we took them to lunch, at a restaurant akin to one of those family dining establishments in the U.S. a la Applebee’s or, as was the case in my home town, Grandma’s. Lunch was good – much meat with a little bit of injera. Unlike his normal self, my oldest brother-in-law (the medical doctor who may have the opportunity to go to the U.S. shortly), finished his entire bowl, and ahead of everyone else. I couldn’t get mine down, but it was delicious.

We all had a good laugh at my mother-in-law who was trying to take stuff away from the table as we left. Leftover false banana (a fruit here that’s converted into a bread-like food) was rounded up and placed in a purse.

Well, I’m going downstairs to enjoy the rest of my Sunday evening. Tomorrow, another big day. Have a good week all.



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