June 24, 2005

Gotta run

On the verge of letting the blog slip into cyber-exile, a friend emailed to say how much he was enjoying it and that I should definitely keep writing. This one is for Mr. D., of Seattle, WA (now Freemont/Phinney).

Sorry for the long gap. I’ve been exceptionally occupied. When I was unemployed, I sowed many seeds, thinking I needed to have my fingers in everything. Well, some seeds are now coming to fruit and are requiring a good bit of time. What’s more, with the baby on the way, I want to clear things from my schedule, not have it get more busy. On that note, however, my wife and I are lucky, as we are planning to hire another househelp.

Ah, the Ethiopian labor pool, so deep, so much potential, so completely untapped. If I spend any time in a pool in the next 2-3 years, other than teaching my daughter how to swim and lazing around Sodere, I want it to be the labor pool. There’s just so much available productivity. Granted, Ethiopia is lacking a level of technological sophistication for high quality manufactured goods, i.e. the labor could make a great shirt if the country could supply a high quality fabric. Well, this must be explored further.

The post-election atmosphere is in tense calm right now. Not too tense, but nothing seems to have been resolved. Documents have apparently been signed by both sides, agreeing to abide by the results and showcased on ETV, but it’s hard to believe the state media at this point. I made the mistake of opening my mouth at a lunchtime discussion yesterday amongst friends, some with particularly strong political views. A girl asked me what my thoughts were on the whole thing, and having listened to the views of everyone at the table, particularly those of my emotional counterpart, I chose to speak. I probably should have stayed silent.

What else is happening? Work is super busy and actually, I’m supposed to be on my way right now, but I’m going to be a few minutes late this morning. That’s all right, I’ve been putting in good time to get a long list of assignments done during this contract.

The rainy season has begun. Within one day, the temperature seemed to drop about 5 degrees Celsius and we broke out the little coal fires. The temperature change was dramatic, but we’d seen the cloud cover coming for awhile. Anyway, recently the clouds have begun to deliver their liquid life and we are all hunkering down in our offices, dashing from building to building to have a lunch or coffee. I, alone, it seems, am enjoying watching the actual rainfall and the lightning that often accompanies it. Last night, a front came in and there was movement overhead that looked vaguely like a tornado forming, but I don’t think those happen in Ethiopia. It was a great lightning show, which I enjoyed as a leaned against the support post for our steel water tank (just kidding).

Speaking of electricity, have your ever seen those coil-shaped electric water heaters? It seems so counter-intuitive, but you plug this thing into the socket and then you leave it sitting in a bucket of water. It takes about 15 minutes for 2-3 gallons to reach bathing temperature. Not being used putting electric items in water, I have shocked myself a couple of times. Not badly – the device must limit the amount of current. But I do know this, an electric shock is enough to mask heat. What I mean is, while my finger was in the water testing for temperature, all I could feel was an electric shock. Mom, you are probably bowing your head in anxiety right now, but trust me, this little habit of mine, just like the fighting, has been taken care of at the household level.

Anyway, our first electric water heater burned out. Despite my noblest efforts to fix it by rewrapping the wire around the grounding points, I failed. My wife asked me to buy one on the way home yesterday, but not finding one in the electric shops, I set home, disappointed. That’s when I was saved by a roving street vendor who caught my eye at an intersection. I spotted the coil, flagged the boy over, indicated that the device probably wouldn’t work and looked like bad quality, and got the price reduced by over half his original offer (a note to would be developing world travelers – use the intersection as a bargaining tool. Vendors, not wanting to lose a customer and fearing that you will drive off at the change of the light, aren’t always in control of their selling senses and may do things they will later regret, but by then, you’ll be driving home with your electric coil, hand towels, or other item, to a happy welcome).

All right, one more paragraph, then I must go to work. The baby is coming along as expected. I am about one month away from fatherhood and very excited. My wife had a solo ante-natal clinic visit yesterday and all looks normal, healthy, etc. We made a quick look last week at some baby supplies – cribs, strollers, car seats (who would have thought it here – all the kids stand in the back seat or between the front seats). Next up is purchasing, wrapping up some work, and getting ready for parenthood. Peace.


Blogger rygh said...

RFZ, I hope you do not let the zone fall into oblivion. You mentioned the labor pool in Ethiopia being untapped. Do you think your thoughts would present a potentially controversial issue, regarding human rights, minimum wages, as would be viewed in the western world? In my opinion, I think there wouldn't be a problem as long as you instill increased pride in the people there and somehow give them some kind of "ownership" in their work, so it doesn't just go to waste once the work is done. What I mean is, once they have learned or done the work, they can use that knowledge to expand and grow by themselves as well (invest in their own "intellectual R&D" if you will). I think that will make the people and country rich in its own right (not necessarily monetary wealth).

You also mentioned the rate you hired a nanny for ($25), including living expenses. However, in my opinion, throwing out a number like that does not give a complete picture of the actual situation (I know that was not your intended point). Anyway, as you know, giving a US dollar amount for a good or service in the Ethiopian economy does not make sense unless it is put in context of prices of average goods and services, average incomes, living costs, taxes, etc. As I don't know for sure, since that $25, (or ~220 Birr) can pay for a nanny and living expenses, you could probably assume, that if you had to pay for that in Europe or US, you would probably have to pay around or Euro 500 or $600 US per month for that service, at the minimum. Anyway, I am not trying to poke or anything -- but it was just one thing that I thought of when I read your passage. Some people may interpret your comment to mean that it is cheap to buy labor or people's services. The same concept applies to other non-western countries such as China, Korea, etc.

Given both of those things, they are very relevant to issues that people have with China being part of the WTO -- i.e., taking advantage of the "cheap labor" -- but in reality, it may not actually be as cheap as people think in relation to its economy. Although people in the EU or US think that. Of course, we don't like to see people doing more work for less compensation. That would mean that either 1) the other country needs to improve its human rights laws or 2) we need to start working harder to keep the top spot. Of course, we don't want to work harder, so what better than to choose option 1 if we can help it. Perhaps you could take advantage of this same idea with the Ethiopian labor pool. Since you may unfortunately be viewed as an outsider in Ethiopia, I hope that you are careful not to let people think that you are taking advantage of the people there by "dipping" into the labor pool. I think you are capable of doing it -- just wanted to make sure that these are some things that people may think about it. Good luck! I'm sure these thoughts are purely secondary compared to the more important things happening in your life. Hope you have a healthy baby girl!

8:22 AM  
Blogger SaraT said...

Despite my noblest efforts to fix it by rewrapping the wire around the grounding points, I failed. My wife asked me to buy one on the way home yesterday, but not finding one in the electric shops, I set home, disappointed.

Where is The HOME DEPOT when you need you need it most humm...Just kidding...I wish I can stop my husband from going to that place to fix this and that and spending too much...oh! life in America...I am an Ethiopian living in Seattle reading your blog...great details and observations about life in Addis.

3:46 AM  
Blogger ass2006 said...

Hi, a nice blog you have here. You will surely get an bookmark :) Forum

11:53 PM  
Blogger ass2006 said...

Hi, a nice blog you have here. You will surely get an bookmark :) Forum

11:56 PM  
Blogger jiqUDnQg said...

Your blog is different than the rest of them. I found it on the blogger home page. I have a site on Infant Car Seat Covers maybe we could trade links?

10:54 AM  

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