April 20, 2005

Wednesday big post

The light rains seem to have started in earnest. For about three days, we’ve had a nice cloud cover. Both yesterday and the day before, we enjoyed short but refreshing rains. Today, we had another. I think last night as well because when we went out into the driveway this morning, the car was covered with splattered dust; either there was a lot of dust in the air that came down with the rain, leaving the distinctive pattern on our car, or the car was really dusty to begin with and the rain just moved it around.

My work at the Health Communication Partnership continues. I finished a manual for program managers to accompany the activity book I created for community-level organizers. Next is apparently (hopefully) a manual for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to use in establishing parish-level action groups. I don’t want to become type-cast as a writer of manuals, but I would love to have a crack at the Orthodox Church. On one level, I love it for its tradition, conservatism, ceremonies, and unevangelicalism. On the other hand, Ethiopia faces a full-blown crisis in HIV/AIDS and the Church doesn’t seem to be taking the initiative to address the problem. Some of its views are a little too conservative for me, as well, but I’m mostly interested in the problem of HIV/AIDS.

Well, had a lovely “day off” yesterday in which my wife and I raced around town to complete all of our chores so that we could really begin our weekend Saturday evening. First stop the gym – that’s not really an activity that you try to get out of your way. I can firmly say that there was nothing interesting at the gym.

Next stop was Mercato, which was decidedly more interesting, if unpleasant. I’m not a big fan of Mercato. We go there monthly to make purchases on household cleaning items and bulk foods like spaghetti, tomato paste, and oil. When I discovered just how little savings we were making by our monthly sojourns to Mercato, rather than purchasing in more proximate, but expensive shops, I tried to convince my wife to never make me return to Mercato again, unless its for tourist items.

She likes it – likes the action, the feel. As I sat in the car yesterday waiting for her, I kept looking in the rearview mirror to try to see when she would come out of the side street she entered. I realized it was impossible – there was simply too much going on, too many people moving this way and that, donkeys, buses, people eating chat. It was impossible to pick my wife out in all that. I saved myself of bit of sanity by parking directly in front of the entrance to a bank, a heavily guarded area that limits passers by, and by staring at the marble wall.

No, it’s not that bad. Once you are parked and settled, you can put the seat back, enjoy a newspaper or the radio and be fairly unnoticed. You still get the occasional beggar, car washer, or parking attendant, but not much more so than in other parts of the city. It’s getting to that calm point that is the difficulty. Mercato is an absolute nightmare of people, coming at you from all directions. I vote that we don’t go back.

Other happenings. Senator John McCain and the Honorable Madeleine Albright co-wrote a letter that appeared in the Ethiopian dailies regarding the expulsion of election observers from their respective political organizations, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The authors noted that, “in over 20 years of working around the world, until now no government has expelled NDI, IRI, and IFES (another organization that was targeted). They prefaced the letter with, “concern” and “dismay” and concluded by calling on Ethiopia to, “work towards creating an environment conducive to increasingly free and fair elections”.

I’m sure there’s a lot of junk going on here surrounding the elections. Many people observe that only now that the election has become a relatively forgone conclusion has the government allowed more opening up of debate, etc. I have somewhat mixed feelings on the issue. On the one hand, Ethiopia almost has to be ruled with an iron fist. The country is comprised of so many different ethnic groups, religions, etc., and so many influences outside the country have historically tried to shape Ethiopia’s political direction, like Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea (as Ethiopia has done to other places), that indecisive leadership could lead to disaster. At the same time, it’s seems there is a bit of cronyism, with resources being appropriated to regions from which the current government comes.

I also find it a bit circumspect when political leaders from the United States offer criticisms on the democratic processes of other countries, especially post 9-11. Senator McCain and Madeleine Albright are probably exempt from this. At least in Senator McCain’s case, he’s been a man of his convictions for a long time and has probably found troubling recent developments in the United States. At the same time, it just comes off without authority.

Abu Ghraib. Florida 2000. Ohio 2004. The Patriot Act. Guantanamo Bay. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay aren’t election-related, but they undermine our moral authority (think Constitutionality, rights of all people, etc.). The 2000 election in Florida was ridiculous. Granted, in a country where the electorate was so evenly split, and a lot a people were disillusioned with Clinton, shenanigans of the nature that took place in Florida couldn’t be seen as making the difference. Even if Gore had won, how much would have changed? Probably no Iraq war, which would have been a decidedly good thing. And no Bush, also decidedly positive.

The same tricks continued in the 2004 election in Ohio. This time, the margin was great enough that people really didn’t notice. Things continued quickly after the election. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference. The order of change that must take place in our country is probably greater than one or two Bush victories. But, if you are interested, I’d recommend looking up a few of the probability studies done on the variation between exit polls and actual results. One study by a California Institute of Technology professor and grad students put the odds of the variation in all Florida counties at 1000-1 (this is the 2004 election). Another study recently released looked at variation on a national scale, I think. It put the odds at closer to 1,000,000-1. Variation was especially great in counties that used computer voting systems.

I don’t know. I don’t know how much difference it makes in the long-term. But it does ring a bit hollow in my ears to hear the guidance offered by U.S. representatives regarding democratic processes in other countries. I think it rings far more hollow in the ears of politicians and populaces in these countries.

While I’m at it, let me tell you what I think is the biggest lost opportunity by our country in the past 20 years. This is going to be the Asian and, more importantly, Chinese century or two, at least. The Chinese will take us into life in space, develop nanotechnology and whatever else is cutting edge. To get there, though, I suspect they will use the earth’s resources in a way I don’t want to see. That’s the reality of it and that’s the biggest lost opportunity for the United States to have changed human destiny. Oi veigh.

My brother-in-law thankfully showed up for work this morning, ready to go, 9:00 am on the dot (that was appreciated). I spent part of the morning typing up a Scope of Work and making a timesheet, trying to make things more professional on all sides.

We had an interesting morning, visiting the Leather Institute about getting one of their graduates to work with us for a week. In the post-meeting analysis, my brother-in-law pointed out that I shouldn’t have prefaced the meeting with “we’re looking for a consultant” because that made it sound like we wanted somebody high-up. He said I should have just told them I wanted somebody who can sew a straight line, and do it repeatedly, to a high degree of perfection.

I had input for him as well. I didn’t think I needed to be at the whole meeting in the first place and told him that if he dressed like a business-partner, I wouldn’t have to. He doesn’t have a suit; at this point, I’m thinking about withholding his salary for the exclusive purpose of purchasing a suit. (I guess that’s my prerogative as a family employer, though I feel a little guilty about it). With a suit, though, people will take him far more seriously, like he is a business partner instead of some unexplained hanger-on at my meetings. I think it’s essential.

Anyway, I’m glad he is here and working. We had some interesting conversation in the car ride about the upcoming elections. I’ve mentioned a few times about U.S. election observers being evicted. My brother-in-law told me there is a possibility for unrest after the election, especially in Addis Ababa. That’s not good. He recommended we stay inside for a few days after the election. (I later checked with my wife who didn’t think there would be any problems.)

Apparently, in 2002, there was violence following a student revolt or elections, not sure which. I saw the news clips on TV, which were replayed by the opposition party in this year’s elections. Students/young people were marching up a street when all of a sudden, somewhere out of the view of the camera, somebody started firing shots into the crowd. I’ve never seen people scatter so quickly. They were running downhill.

My wife told me about her experiences during 2002. She was practicing medicine at the time. With all the people being injured in the unrest, she needed to be at work. She left her house every day and walked, 5 or 6 kilometers, through empty streets with police everywhere. She and another young doctor were the only ones working at the hospital. When she was stopped by police and she informed them of her purpose, they were very cooperative. I don’t think I want to take any chances – I’m planning to lobby for a couple of days of stay at home following this year’s elections.

That said, I’m also going to keep my writing on a low-key. No political commentary over the next month. No problem.

In other news, we are now on our third dog. I initially named him “Tuk”, but it didn’t seem to stick with the house help and my wife. I’m not very good at naming things, so I thought I’d return to the name of a previous dog, “Taku”. I mentioned this to my wife, who thought I said, “Taco”, so that seemed like it might have some legs, but now I’m not sure “Taco” is going to make it. This morning, I was running through a list of Greek names, “Odysseus” and “Atlas” – they seemed too long for a dog. I might as well give up right now and let the maid name the dog. She’s come up with good names so far.

Anyway, whatever his name, he’s cute. About 2 weeks old, five inches long, and fur on his back that feels like mink, he’s a feisty little boy and judging by his color pattern, I’m guessing he’s the product of the alpha-male in our neighborhood, which would make him a step-brother of the last dog we had (the one that lasted two days). He’s a curious, bold pup and reminds me of an Ewok. Last night, he was whining loud enough to wake me. That’s not a good sign for a two-week old puppy. His lungs are only going to grow.

To hopefully stymie any further whining, we’ve tied him up in the back and plan to leave him so for the next few days. He’s must get used to being alone, according to my wife. I can’t help but sneak out and let him in on occasion.

Funny dog. I had him in the front yard yesterday for a little play time. He was attacking the weeds on the side of our driveway, chewing on old bones left by the cat, and running back and forth under my legs. I’d taken him out to get him to pee before coming inside. After twenty-five minutes of play time, I brought him in. The second he reached the rug in the middle of the floor, he peed. This has happened a few times. Fortunately, everyone thinks he’s such a promising dog that nobody minds. I hope he works out.

The rains have definitely come. We have a semi-permanent layer of clouds on our hands. Rain at night, rain in the day. It’s not as much as I remember when we arrived in July, but it is a welcome change. Clean air.

We had company and cooking pasta for an Italian is like life guarding at an Olympic swim meet. You have to ask yourself what’s the point. My mom may find this amusing, but shortly after the pasta was served and people had tried a few bites, my wife commented that the pasta needed, “more salt”. A lot more salt. Everything else was good, I think. Olives, bread, fruit, meat. Even the pasta, combined with salt, was very good.

The cat provided a bit of intrigue to the evening by jumping up on the table and hauling off the remaining steak. Nobody noticed until I saw her growling repeatedly at the new dog. I walked over to find her chewing on what I’d hoped would be the next day’s lunch. Her action led to a lot of discussion about her future home in Mercato or somewhere on the other side of the city. I vetoed this, though sometimes I have no idea why I defend the cat – habit I guess.

Had a nice piece of news at work yesterday. The organization I’m working for continued my consultancy, which I already knew. The nice news is that I will be working with Dr. W, one of the Ethiopians that was in Seattle for the same program as my wife. We will be sharing a project, with him conducting the trainings and oversight while I put together the materials. Should be a lot of fun.

Work yesterday was interesting. I told the Country Director the day before that I’d be in the office all day if she needed me. Usually, I work from home. It’s better for me, because I am more productive outside that office. It’s better for them, because they don’t have space. But, since I’d just renewed my contract and we hadn’t discussed the specifics, I offered to come into the office for a day.

Turned out there was no room. The Country Director offered me space in her office, which I tried to jokingly find my way out of by saying I wouldn’t want to overhear any power phone calls. We went on a stroll through the office to find me a space, but none was available. I got seated at the conference table in her room. It actually wasn’t too bad – I was more productive, but early in the afternoon, before we were scheduled to meet, I ran a bit low on things to do. Spent a lot of time reviewing my notes.

At about 12:00, I needed a pick-me-up, some caffeine, so I had the secretary boil a pot. I don’t know what I was thinking. It was one of those Italian coffee makers, that make super concentrated espresso, but I treated it like a regular cup of coffee. At first, it went down fine and I was really appreciating the extra energy. Then, I passed my peak, couldn’t sit still or think, and started to get nauseous. I never finished the cup, but I’d guess it was somewhere in the range of a triple shot.

For a break, I went down into the Greek café to watch BBC. Like I’ve pointed out, not having a dish has cut us off from outside news. I still get news on-line, but sometimes it’s nice just to see it in front of you without having to do any of the work. I arrived in the café at 12:55, five minutes before the 1 o’clock news. BBC was broadcasting live from the Vatican, where analysts were discussing the conclave, etc.

The 1 o’clock news broke in, with all sorts of promising previews about Iran, General Motors, and others, but as soon as they’d run the previews, they cut live to the Vatican, where onlookers and analysts were having difficulty figuring out what color smoke was coming out of the pipe. For awhile, a lot of people in the square thought it was white, and cheered. The commentators clarified that it was black, what black meant, and then went on to prognosticate about the conclave. 30 minutes of this and my lunch was shot. What a waste.

Why do news stations do it? In the snippets of news I’ve caught over the past few weeks in waiting rooms, cafes, and at my in-laws, the news has been dominated by full-day exposes of the Pope’s death (understandable), Terri Schiavo (questionable) and Prince Charles’ wedding (deplorable, though it is the BBC, so maybe they have some right). The Asian tsunami took three straight weeks of coverage and the U.S. election before that was the major story, though it was interrupted by excerpts from Iraq and around the world, though generally in terms of how events elsewhere might shape the presidential election.

It’s not a huge gripe for me, but they sure do seem to fixate. Oh well. Ciao.

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