March 16, 2005

Long time no see

Sorry for the huge delay in getting on-line. Lots of things have prevented this, including the Telecommunications Authority's efforts to switch Ethiopia to a 1 MBPS connection (not for all users - businesses and NGOs). Anyway, that and I've been super busy with the paper - no time for writing. Now, I'm back, and hopefully will be on a more regular schedule. Actually, that's much more likely now that we have removed our satellite dish, a story which I should lead off with this afternoon.

But first...Let's get some reader feedback. Either through an email or on the site, let me know your thoughts on the following. I'm about to query the in-flight magazine of Ethiopian airlines and would like to know what you think would make an interesting story. I've already got one vote for the water tank (old story), but would be happy to have any story suggestions from the peanut gallery.

So, back to the sattelite. It is now officially down. It hadn't been working for a while. I attempted to fix it the other evening, but we could get no reception and decided to take this opportunity to get rid of it all together. It's been off the air for two days now, and it's amazing how much more time I have. The TV was one of the more exciting, intriguing things in the house before its demise - now I've got more time for writing, work, etc. All in all, this is going to be a big net positive, except for the loss of my beloved BBC. Goodbye Adrian Finnigan, Nick Gowing, Lis Dusette, et al. You will be missed. (Those are the reporters for BBC that I know - you will never see a more unflappable character than Adrian Finnigan).

Getting the damn satellite down was a major pain in the butt. We had it installed on a metal post to get it up off the ground in our driveway. It stood about 6 feet up. Lacking a ladder, I climbed the cement wall dividing the neighbor's driveway from ours. Have you ever seen a cement wall move? As I grabbed the top and started to pull myself up, one of the blocks moved, slightly, and I felt the whole wall adjust a little bit. Fortunately, nothing came down.

Once up the wall, I ambled over to the satellite and sat down. Then, it was a matter of unscrewing the metal fasterners that had been placed over the base of the satellite to secure it to the stand. I’d gotten all the screws loose, but the base still wouldn’t budge. I realized then that the technician who had placed the satellite on the stand had actually welded the base and stand together. There I’d been for 20 minutes trying to budge the base around without realizing it had been welded.

Out came the hammer. Initially, I tried to drive a nail through the weld in hopes of breaking the bond. That had almost no effect, so my next job was to simply hammer apart the base and the stand. What a nightmare. I generated such a ruckus that the guard at the house across the street was yelling at the guard down the street to investigate whether there was a burglar in our yard. With my wife whispering the Amharic words to me, I explained that it was me up on the wall and not some rogue satellite thief. (Well, I didn’t explain anything that complex – more like, “It’s me”.)

After I’d finally hammered off all the welds connecting the base and the satellite, I was finally able to turn the dish in hopes of finding some reception. No deal. I sat on the while for a good 30 minutes with the wife inside shaking her head continuously to indicate that there was no change in the reception.

Up and down and left to right made no difference. What’s more, we were limited in how far we could turn the dish because of the welded fasterners. Although I’d bent them back enough to turn the dish, I hadn’t taken them off, which meant that we could only turn the dish 90 degrees. It was all fruitless and our next brilliant idea was to bring the dish to the ground to see if we could pick up reception from ground level. No deal. Despite scouting the dishes of neighbors to see how they had positioned them, we could find no reception. I think it was at that point that we got the hair-brained idea to abandon the dish altogether.

Like I said, this is a good thing, even though we will be giving up on the BBC in particular. One, I’ve been thinking about our kid that’s coming along and I’d like him/her and the others that will hopefully follow to focus their attention on other, more worthwhile efforts. I have a hard enough time myself not watching it. Lately, I’ve gotten in to shows as inane as “Faking It” and “Blown Out”, to name a few. Even though great shows like “Sopranos” and “Scrubs” exist, watching them always leads to extra watching either before or after. It’s like second-hand television. So, the dish is gone and we will return to being a one-channel household – Ethiopian TV.

ETV is all right, I suppose, especially if you are Ethiopian. Not being Ethiopian, I find it incredibly uninteresting. Granted, they do show football matches on the weekends (European football), which is a sport I can tolerate, but everything else is in Amharic, Tigrina, or Oromifa – three languages with which I have little experience. What’s more, the programming is fairly unsophisticated. I reckon I could watch an action movie in Arabic or Hindi if the special effects were good enough. I’m sure I could watch the “Martrix” in any language and probably blindfolded, too. Point being, good/certain types of programming can be communicated without language. As action thrillers are in limited supply here, another source of potential television entertainment has been lost. But again, this is a positive thing in my mind.

Well, enough on TV, there are more updates to deliver. I would love to share more details on the progress/politics of the paper. Unfortunately, some of the details are actually sensitive (names/titles of people that are obvious). Until everything is resolved, I’ll keep it at a minimum and just say that things are moving along very well. We are pretty close to finishing analysis, so the next step will be writing up a paper.

In other news, we have made the decision to bar one of the people who’d done work around our house from returning. He’d assisted in a number of odd jobs around our house. Unfortunately, a few things have gone missing, and the common theme seems to be occasions when he was around the house, so for now and probably permanently, he’s off the payroll and unwelcome here.

Shoot, I’ll leave things there in order to get some more stuff done. My saw arrives tomorrow evening and a friend is transporting some product samples back to the U.S. Progress. Ciao.


Good morning from the Fun Zone. Slow times here in the Fun Zone. Zone might be feeling a little off this morning – stuffy head. We’ll see what comes of the morning’s entry.

The weather here today is another beautiful sunny day. The expected short rainy season seems to be late in arriving. I know previously the Fun Zone said that he wanted some cloudy days, and he still does, but for now, sunny is A-okay. (By the way, what is “A-okay” from? Is that some old television reference like Spanky and the Gang or something like that? Only the generation above me will know this, I expect).

Well, my American colleague on the paper left last night. He’d been here over two months and I think he did some excellent work. There’s a lot of knowledge to be gained here in the effective and safe delivery of ART – for now, the drugs are so new, that most doctors haven’t had a lot of experience in monitoring them. I think Sam offered some really good input to the clinic’s doctors.

He was also a big hit on the paper. I doubt that before he came he would have found himself in the middle of “controversial” research, but we definitely encountered some of that, though now I think everything is going to work out favorably. We’ve applied for approval from the Addis Ababa Health Bureau, which is pending. Upon approval, should be no problems, though publication may take some time. Not sure if our collaborator is going to be able to complete the task. I think he found himself in an unauthorized role and although the data is valuable enough that he wants to continue collecting it, it’s not clear that he will be granted approval from his supervisors. You would think he would have clarified this earlier, but one approach I’ve heard recommended in numerous instances is to go ahead with the work and then get approval afterwards. Sounds sketchy to me, but this is of course Ethiopia.

So, Sam and I finished the bulk of our analysis yesterday. Very fulfilling and timely data that will hopefully be useful to health professionals and NGOs in Ethiopia working on HIV/AIDS. After closing up the laptops and shutting down the projector one last time, we went about the town on other errands. Yesterday, I was trying to finalize documentation for the import of my table saw. It arrived last night on Ethiopian air cargo and I wanted to have all the documents and agents lined-up so that it could be taken out of customs today – no deal.

The Ministry of Revenue provided me a tax exemption letter, which I will present to customs, but that is not enough. Upon meeting with a transitor (agents who move your products out of customs – required by Ethiopian law. [Although the air cargo area is about a kilometer from my house and although I’d be happy to go to customs and process whatever paperwork myself, the government requires “transitors” – agents designated by the government to move all goods through customs]). As such, I found myself negotiating with a transitor yesterday regarding my incoming import.

Not surprisingly, there was a whole other layer of bureaucracy that was previously unknown to me. Although I have an Investment License and although I’d received approval from the Ministry of Revenue for duty free import, I am required to have a tax number from the Federal Inland Revenue Authority. The transitor agent kept asking me about my “T number”, to which I had no response other than to keep repeating that I had a letter from the Ministry of Revenue – wasn’t that enough.

So that’s where my brother-in-law and I will be going this morning. Well, he’s just arrived so I’ve got to scram. Ciao.

By the way, watched the second half of a fabulous movie last night, “National Treasure”. The copy was of excellent quality and it was good to see a movie so recently in US theatres – allows me to stay in touch. Unfortunately, there was some error in the formatting and we were only able to watch the second disk.


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