April 08, 2005


Wow! Do I owe my legions of readers an apology. Eight days without post. That’s a record since this blog went up and one I hope to avoid repeating. Things are busy around here, unexpectedly, and I haven’t had time to write. Not that things haven’t been happening – oh, they have, in a big way (not really). I’m about to launch into what I hope will be my longest entry to date. But first, let me start with an amusing anecdote just related to me by my funny cousin.

My cousin just sent me an email telling me he’d been going through junk in his house – boxes of stuff his mom had sent a couple of years back that he’d never bothered to inspect. Well, he’s married now, so of course, the boxes were bound to come up at some time. When he was looking through the boxes, he came across some awards from his high school glory days as an athlete. He noticed that he had a trophy as the Most Improved Player three years in a row at the town basketball camp. Three times Most Improved Player. Actually, four, he get a couple of years later as well.

That’s almost on par with Lance Amstrong’s record. Who wins even back to back Most Improved Players, three times in a row? That is some kind of record. I guess they liked his hustle. I’ve been sitting here thinking about it. Did he maybe dog it his first year and then gradually increase his efforts as he went along? Were the coaches playing some kind of practical joke on him. Actually, later on in high school, he became pretty good and was starting center, so they obviously respected his talents. That is a mystery. Sure, we’ve all probably won some kind of Most Improved – I know I did. But that is just unprecedented.

All right, enough on my cousin. I’m trying to use this blog as a forum for writing that I may publish some day. I don’t think my cousin’s basketball achievement awards will be able to make the cut. So, what’s been happening here? Lots. I’ve been so busy the past couple of weeks with work that I haven’t had much time. Nor have I had the inclination, as the work is a writing gig. I come home and I can’t be creative, but I can probably at least recount the day’s events. No excuses.

I have a new job as a short-term consultant for an organization that does Behavior Change Communication (BCC). BCC is essentially health communication – how do you modify behaviors i.e. people who are sexually risky or people who smoke cigarettes, walk in traffic in Addis Ababa, etc? Sometimes, the medium is posters or advertisements. Actually, the organization I’m currently with made a radio drama which, according to their literature, altered the behavioral patterns of 92% of listeners. For now, I’m working on an Activity Book for a community mobilization program.

The program is designed to make grass roots change in the areas of health and education at one of the lowest levels of government in Ethiopia – the Kebele. A Kebele is like a neighborhood. Maybe like the U-District in Seattle or Compton in Los Angeles (West Coast – I don’t know any neighborhoods on the east side of our country). Anyway, Kebeles range in size, but in the area we are targeting, they average about 6,000 people. To those 6,000 people, the program is trying to offer tools for taking action and making change within their neighborhoods. If you think about it, it seems kind of socialist / communist. Almost like something in Cuba. I like it.

Anyway, I’m writing the Activity Book that will be used by elected teams in each Kebele. It was a challenge for the first two weeks, but now I think I have it pretty well under control and need a new challenge. I created a couple of characters as narrators, loosely based on a few Ethiopians I know. Letting my humorous side take a run at it at first, I emphasized a bit the ridiculousness of the male character. I think one of the quotes I wrote down, but never even thought about putting into my text was, “This year we’ll show those fools from Arba Minch Town," or something like that. That one didn’t even make it past my own censors.

It was funny, though. It was censored at a level I didn’t even expect. I made my female character a strong, disciplined, intelligent woman and my male narrator a bit of a bumbling, but good natured man. On a few occasions, I had written in my female character as scolding the man. Just his name followed by an exclamation point. However, the end-user of the Activity Book, and a good friend here, didn’t think that would go over so well with the male population down and out in some of these rural areas (probably not in the cities, either). He said they’d take one look at that and simply toss the book out. He was definitely exaggerating for emphasis, but it was a point well taken.

I ended up removing most of the humor and, to be honest, I don’t think it hurts the book at all. Oh, maybe I should back up and tell you how the book works. The book is broken into 9 sections or “steps." Kebeles select representatives to work on the program in their Kebele. That’s step one. Then, these representatives use the book to pick goals, collect data about their Kebeles, carry out activities, evaluate their efforts, and celebrate their successes. The Activity Book has to be at a level accessible to semi-literate people, but has to convey such abstract ideas as goals, monitoring, and collecting information. It was a challenge, but highly enjoyable, until I got the hang of it. Now it’s just an assignment and I’m ready for the next challenge, but first, I have to tie up a few loose ends.

The organization I’m working with has been pretty cool. The Country Director is nice. I think she is an Ethiopian by birth and then lived in the U.S. for awhile. She has returned to Ethiopia for work, I believe. She has a different management style than I would, but I think it’s effective. She’s extremely cheery, stepping into all cubes in the morning to say hello. Very outwardly expressive. Like I said, it’s not my management style, but I respect her because I also saw the other side. Just as cheerfulness and support are expressed openly, so too is rebuke. As we are all in semi-cubicles, it was easy to hear when she offered one of the workers in the space next to mine a fairly strong criticism for his delay in finishing a project. Soft and hard.

The people in the office seem amiable and fairly competent, especially in their use of computers. To some people, Americans included, a computer is a hands off area. They’ve mastered turning it on and opening and using word, but beyond that, they simply leave their fate in the hands of the almighty. It’s nice to see people here in an office who are more skilled than me in computer use. Partly, it’s individual programs that people are good at as part of their work like Photoshop, Quark, etc. Partly, it’s because it seems to be an expectation of the office. That’s a plus.

Nothing much else too remarkable about the whole affair. The bathrooms can get so sunny in the afternoon that you have to wear sunglasses or at least squint painfully (this only effects men, and then only some of the time when they are using the bathroom). The sun is that bright, even though the windows are covered with film that filters light. The security guard is also a bit of a story. The first day, he gave me a bit of an attitude, probably not realizing I would be working there. Now, though, he strikes up a conversation every time I come out of or go into the office. Oh well, I will survive.

On to other news. Above, I mentioned traffic here in terms of BCC. It’s a story on its own. Traffic here is horrendous, specifically pedestrian/car interactions. Pedestrians seem to have no fear or awareness of cars. Drivers seem to have no concern for pedestrians. It’s an absolutely horrible match that results in one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world (300 in Addis Ababa alone every year – 85% of deaths are pedestrians). It’s horrible! If you haven’t seen it, you wouldn’t understand. Even in West Africa the residents seem to have a healthy fear of the automobile. It used to be funny to watch people scurry off the road at the sound of an approaching car and even funnier to watch the Fulani ride their bikes into the ditches. But there, everyone seem to keep their distance. Pedestrians had an innate understanding that no matter their own strength, size, will power, they would never win in a battle with a car.

Not so, here. Pedestrians, possibly motivated by pride (I honestly, for the life of me, don’t know why), will stare down an approaching car, barely increase their pace, not look when walking out into an intersection or traffic or, if they look, look away from oncoming traffic. Men and women alike. Grandmas, grandpas. Even the animals seem to move a little slower. Dogs are reluctant to get up from the naps. Cows refuse to yield the center of the road. It’s another world.

People are starting to notice. You can’t have the number of fatalities that take place here and not notice. Just a couple of weeks ago, a gas truck with two cars turned over onto a taxi-van, killing 12 people. This happened right inside of Addis. Apparently, the apprentice to the driver was asked to move the vehicle by a police officer while the driver was inside eating. The young boy, eager to test out his abilities, began to move the car down a slightly-inclined 4-lane road. It was a rainy day, the truck got out of control. The boy did all he could to get people out of the way, but it wasn’t enough. The back section of the truck rolled right on top of a minibus taxi and a private taxi. 12 people died.

That’s one of the more extreme instances, but you see all sorts of crazy stuff all the time. Just the other day, on the ring road right in front of my house, a dump truck full of cement brick somehow found itself straddling the metal fence that partitions the highway from the service road. Then, not more than two hours later, another dumptruck high centered on the concrete barricade dividing the two sides of the highway, maybe 100 yards down the road. It’s just ridiculous.

People blame it on the condition of the cars – generally old and in disrepair; it’s what people can afford. They also say that roads aren’t always in the best condition and sometimes lack lighting. They say that pedestrians are extremely dumb about traffic safety. But mostly, they blame drivers, bad drivers, for carelessness. I’ve seen some terrible driving here. Actually, I’ve taken part in some myself, but I’ve really toned myself down because it’s simply ridiculous here. I don’t feel like I’m in much personal danger – I’m almost never driving faster than 45 mph, but I am very conscious of the possibility of hitting a pedestrian. I want to avoid that, so I drive with a grain of salt. Anyway, it’s something that has to be worked on – I would love to make some advertisements about road safety. I’d take a page from my uncle’s book and interview the victims of crashes. Guarantee it would stop some of the stupidity.

Not exactly traffic related, but still having to do with cars, I finally got on my neighbor’s case a little bit yesterday for always blocking my drive with his and his friends’ cars. He’s some kind of importer/exporter. He has a lot of business and a lot of people constantly coming and going at his house. Unfortunately, although they don’t park directly in front of my drive, they park on the other side of the street directly in front of my drive which makes backing out a near impossibility.

Don’t get me wrong. All these guys have drivers and there’s almost always somebody waiting to move the car on a moment’s notice, if requested. But, they generally wait to see if I’ll make it before actually moving the vehicle. Can make my job a pain in the butt. What’s worse, it only seems to happen in front of my drive and there are adequate spaces on the opposite side of the street for parking. So, yesterday, when I was blocked yet again, I calmly stepped out of my vehicle, walked to the other car, and asked the driver to please not block my drive again. The car was full of other passengers, colleagues of my neighbor I’m sure, so hopefully the point will stick.

Aha, now to funny news. There’s been a little bit of tension in the household between my brother-in-law and the maid. Apparently, they are not talking to each other right now. To refresh, my brother-in-law works for me on some of my leather activities. The maid is the maid.

Their troubles started the other day when my brother-in-law stood knocking outside the front door for a good five minutes and then had to go to a shop to call the house to get the maid’s attention. This is not the first time this has happened and actually, the maid probably has a hearing problem (Even we sometimes get shut out). But this time, my brother-in-law had had it. When she picked up the phone, he offered her a few words and then slammed the phone down.

She opened the door a few minutes later; they exchanged brief words, and that was it. In the afternoon my brother-in-law called about work. He was checking in. After recounting his progress, he asked me if we’d had any difficulties with our maid lately. I said “no” and he proceeded to recount what happened, at least as he saw it.

We were given a different interpretation from the maid later that evening. She said that she was treated poorly. Now they don’t speak, although the maid inquired the other day as we were leaving the house, “but what is he going to eat for lunch?” That’s nice.

All right. Let me relate one more story. I’d love to recount an article I read in one of the Ethiopian dailies – it was taken from the Wall Street Journal and was about Chinese investment and work in Africa. I will write about it next time – for any of you who are curious how the world is going in the parts you don’t know, it would be excellent reading.

Since I don’t have it though, I’ll leave you with the results of a poll in the same daily newspaper. It was a question about doctor assisted death. The question was something like “Do you think people should be removed from life support systems?” 55% said “No”. So that’s the sentiment on the street here. There was also a question about Michael Jackson’s guilt or innocence, but I can’t remember the results, though I know most people said he was innocent.



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