Monday, November 18, 2013

A little business, a little fun.

This weekend has been my first major exploration of the stunning Ethiopian countryside outside of Addis Ababa, and the first meeting with officials from two universities that are working hard to find funding for the construction of a well in the village of Harar.

Left to right: Prof. Abi Taddesse, Prof. Girma Gonfa,
Danny Sexton (Concordia Humana), Prof. Getachew Argaw.
Let's talk business first. I met with Dire Dawa University President Girma Gonfa and his colleagues Getachew Argaw and Abi Taddesse from Haramaya University to get more details about the type of work that Concordia Humana is looking to fund. I met with these three gentlemen at the Jupiter International Hotel in Addis Ababa, and I found out that they had driven eight hours each way to meet with me for thirty minutes and tell me their story. Stunned by this as I was, I started digging into the details of what they've done so far. In the past two years, this group of men has coordinated with the University of Cincinnati to build solar panels to light homes at night and refrigerate vaccines. Those projects are finished and running, and their next step is to build a well that will pump clean water to the Qerensa Dereba elementary and high school several hundred meters from the water table.

Okay, but the school stills has water now without the pump. How do they get it? Every day, it is the chore of women and children to carry buckets of water possibly contaminated by animal waste 3 kilometers (that's just under two miles, for the folks in America) each way to and from the closest river. The distance, of course, depends on whether or not the village of Harar is in the rainy season, but the task can take several hours either way. The problem with this, aside from the risk of disease and the obviously backbreaking nature of carrying huge water buckets the distance equivalent to a walk from Union Square to Central Park, is that the need for water is keeping kids out of school and women out of the workforce.

Read that one more time. The need for water is keeping kids out of school and women out of the workforce.

These three men came to me asking for the money to build a solar-powered well that would dig 70 meters (200 feet) into the ground and bring clean water to the school. At a cost of 3000 Ethiopian birr (about US $150) per meter for drilling plus several thousand dollars for the solar units that will reliably power the pumps without the use of a surge and outage-prone electricity grid, we estimated the total cost of this project to be $30,000. Let me reiterate: these men believe so strongly in making this happen that they made a sixteen hour commute to meet me.

Next up: here's the fun I had my first weekend in Ethiopia! Addis Ababa is a fascinating city with a surprisingly wide offering of national cuisines, newly paved roads flooded with sheep from the nearby dirt path cross street, and rickety sky-blue taxis clattering around, some of which are 1980s Toyota Corollas, and others are Soviet muscle cars with big, round headlights and dusty black grills. I'll save my talk of Ethiopian food and culture for a slower news day, as my hike in the mountains around Debre Libanos (about two hours outside of Addis) makes a considerably more interesting story.

The first thing to notice as one exits Addis is the change in air quality. Addis sits at around 2400m (about 8,000 feet) in altitude, and so the headaches produced by anything that causes a headache (especially diesel exhaust) are much more intense. The escape from the city gives one a whole afternoon of a bit of physical exertion that pleases the lungs as much as the eyes.

Essentially, the hike started high on a plateau and snaked around the edge to a view of a massive canyon carved out of the red soil by a waterfall that swept down into a river a squinting distance away. The trail led up to a stone bridge built in the 16th century by the Portuguese, who were trying to protect the interests of Christianity in an area of Ethiopia prone to Muslim influence. Despite the history of the bridge, it was a gorgeous relic of a lost time, and, at the altitude at which it was built, something of a feat of engineering for the time as well.

I'll stop writing about all of this and just post some pictures.
The drive into the mountains.

Woman standing in a field near the canyon at Debre Libanos.

Where the group had lunch (really!)

The Portuguese Bridge at Debre Libanos, with the guide who gave us a short history of the place.

I stood on that rock, I swear.

Waterfalls at the edge of the canyon.

The view straight down. Anyone game for a photo where everyone jumps up in the air?
When I finally got back to Addis Ababa at around 6pm, the Ethiopia-Nigeria World Cup qualifying match was already underway. I caught most of the game at a local bar in the expat district, and was as sad as everyone to see that the Ethiopians lost 2-0, and missed a chance to play in the 2014 World Cup.

More about life in Addis, as well as Wednesday's upcoming meeting with Prof. Shim Admassie from Addis Ababa University coming soon!

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