Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hiking in Ethiopia

Self Portrait on the Trail, Dera Ethiopia

Being primarily in areas within Ethiopia that are not lush in forests, mountains, clean rivers, and hiking trails that can be accessed without a scout with a gun to protect me, I've missed the Pacific Northwest. Mainly I miss all the day treks along the Cascades accessible from easy to access forest roads. That being said, the hike pictured here was pretty fulfilling: grave site of a giant war hero who supposedly stood over 7 feet tall started it. The small town where our hike began was named "tall" in the local language (Afaan Oromo) to commemorate him, though his real name is lost to time. Following this we came across obsidian deposits larger than my head, rivers, a waterfall, and camels. Yes, it's very different here and I still miss the PNW for all it has but this is pretty cool.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Jima Bus Station

Outside the gate and in the light, Jima’s bus station doesn't look so bad.  But you're likely to only interact with this place in the morning hours where you’d rather be anywhere else, fighting your way through a crowd for something greater than a bus seat.   

There are few places that I have dreaded going to within Ethiopia but bus stations make up the majority of them.  Jima’s bus station in particular is a difficult bus station to like because – for me- it represents the approaching, groggy hour of having to wake up before sunrise, haul baggage down a dusty or muddy road, a long wait in a crowded and poorly lit area until the station’s gate opens, and, when that gate opens, preparing for the rush of flying elbows and baggage of people aiming to get through inflexible gate posts.  

If you're traveling by bus and taking public transport to/from Central Ethiopia and Ethiopia's Southwest, you'll likely be passing through here.   

Justin Bieber's painted portrait seems to like the avocado juice served in Jima’s bus station cafe.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tree Profile: Millettia Ferruginea

Man climbs Millettia ferruginea to check on seed maturity

Exploding pods releasing seeds of fish poison?  This is Millettia ferruginea.  In Ethiopia, people refer to it as birbirra.  Millettia ferruginea is endemic to Ethiopia and Ethiopians have known for some time that its seeds (when crushed and dumped upstream in a river) can stun or kill a lot of fish at one time.  Another interesting fact about Millettia ferruginea is that when its seed pods have dried, they blow apart and send their seeds flying.    

Exploded seed pod and immature seed pod of Millettia ferruginea

But this tree has other benefits besides.  Agroforestry practices have pegged Millettia ferruginea as a tree providing animal fodder, firewood (the dried pods burn just as well), charcoal, posts for construction or fences, mulch, nitrogen for the soil, shade for coffee, and beauty. 

Millettia ferruginea can be observed growing in a variety of climates but thrives between 1,000 – 2,500 meters above sea level.


A Selection of Ethiopia's Indigenous Trees: Biology, Uses and Propagation Techniques - Legesse Negash

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Common Head Turner #7

Demolition by hand and hammer, Addis Ababa

Condominiums as far as the eye can see in Hayaat, Addis Ababa

Demolition and construction are common sights in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.  Shops are being torn down and new roads, water ways, condominiums, train rails, and bigger businesses are opening up.  What will Addis Ababa look like in 10 years?  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Shrub Profile: Rosa Abyssinica

The Flower of Rosa Abyssinica

Rosa abyssinica (also known as the Abyssinian rose) is indigenous to Ethiopia but can be found in Arabia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudean as well.  Rosa abyssinica produces large, fragrant flowers and small fruits, which can be eaten.  This beautiful shrub grows well between 1,700 and 3,300 meters and can thrive in areas with little or great amounts of rain fall.

Rosa Abyssinica in Addis Ababa

Beyond their beauty and edible fruits, Rosa abyssinica offers itself as firewood, medicine (flowers, roots, and fruit), and live fencing (when grown close together along a boundary).


Useful Trees and Shrubs of Ethiopia: Identification, Propagation and Management for 17 Agroclimatic Zones - Azene Bekele-Tesemma

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Common Head Turner # 6

A woman carrying something enormous on her back.  

Firewood, dry grass, water, pottery.. in the rural areas, this is all transported on the back of women.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Common Head Turner # 5

Outside a bus window, livestock on the road presents itself as a sea of cows. 

It doesn't matter if you're in a large city (including the capital, Addis Ababa) or rural village, animals will be on the road.  What better, more established route can a herd take?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Media Intl

You can never predict the affect that art, religion, philosophy, music, entertainment, or fashion from one country can have on another.  What's considered attractive, interesting, or great within a given country sometimes doesn't translate past its own borders.  There are too many factors involved to easily explain why this is the case.  My guess is that whatever the medium, simplicity, scale of broadcast, and a sense of familiarity are major factors involved with whether or not media is picked up internationally.  

In Ethiopia, many foreign movies and songs get airtime but the ones that stuck out the most for me were the unexpected.  Hearing Michael Jackon's 'Thriller', or Celine Dion's tracks from Titanic, as a counter example, was not surprising.  Below are a few performers that surprised me.  How did they get here?  Why did they stay?

Don Williams - Surprisingly, country music gets a lot of love over here. Don Williams is one artist of several country music stars that get a lot of play and singalongs. I like Don Williams and he actually sounds great with an Ethiopian backdrop. Many rural towns (especially around the national parks) offer a decent setting for the thoughts and emotions his music evokes.

Leo Sayer - 'I love you more than I can say' sometimes plays on ETV, the most available station (and probably the most watched) in Ethiopia and can occasionally be heard in public buses, the streets of Addis Ababa, and on the radio.  It doesn't play as much as Celine Dion but I've heard this song just about everywhere.

Jean Claude Van Damme - Why him?  There are so many more action stars in this world that perform better.  Perhaps it's the simple, easy to follow plot that his movies usually follow.  The scene above was taken from the movie, The Inferno.  I think this clip typifies most Van Damme fight scenes: Van Damme encounters a psychotic villain and has to fight.  Although in better shape and seemingly much more coordinated than his enemy, Van Damme's role is to get roughed up by this guy until he looks like he wants to give up, fall asleep, or roll over and die.  This period of pathetic loosing lasts a minute or two and then he gathers his strength, motivation, or a lucky break somehow (in this clip a jet provides all three) to make a come back, put his enemy in submission, and even offer a little mercy.  The fallen psycho takes advantage of the mercy granted him (like in this scene), abuses it, and is killed as a result of mishandling of it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tree Profile: Moringa Stenopetala

A Moringa Stenopetala Emerges

There are few trees that represent as many products and services like that of the Moringa tree.  In Ethiopia, Moringa stenopetala has been grown for many years, eventually having naturalized to the Ethiopian climate and biophysical conditions.

In Konso, as well as other villages and towns in southern Ethiopia, Moringa stenopetala seeds are often sown within a compound when construction of a house begins because it is a major food staple and represents food security for many families.  Moringa stenopetala is also frequently planted within crop lands, lending itself to agroforestry, a system in which trees lend themselves to soil stabilization, attraction for bees, and other benefits within a land intended for sustainable crop production.

Moringa Stenopetala Growing Within Konso Cropland 

Moringa stenopetala leaves provide nutritious food for people.  The leaves have substantial amounts of iron, protein, calcium, phosphorous and vitamins (A & C) [1].  Leaves are prepared fresh by either boiling or steaming them.  The taste is similar to collards or any other dark leafy green you might have eaten.  In addition to its leaves, young seed pods and roots (with a taste very similar to wasabi) can be harvested from Moringa stenopetala and eaten, too.  After drying and powdering, leaves can prepared as a nutritious tea (a moringa tea mixed with ginger and honey is really good) or added into soups and stews as a nutritional supplement.

The Leaves and Young Blossoms of Moringa Stenopetala Near Wolkite, Ethiopia

Seed pods from Moringa stenopetala can also treat polluted water [2].  After being crushed into a paste and stirred into unclean water, its seeds begin to act as a flocculant, attracting all the harmful particles in the water to stick to the bottom of the water container where the seed paste accumulates.  Once the particles have been allowed to settle, the water on top can be scooped out or poured through a clean cloth for drinking without fear of becoming sick.

Moringa Seeds and Seed Pod

Moringa stenopetala grows quickly, offers bee forage, adds nitrogen to soil, serves as a source for fuel wood, and can add beauty to the areas that it grows.  Moringa stenopetala performs best in sandy, well drained soils within an elevation between 400 and 2,100 meters above sea level [1].   


[1] Agroforestry Database 4.0 (Orwa et al.2009)
[2] "The tree that purifies water: Cultivating multipurpose Moringaceae in the Sudan" - FAO Corporate Document Repository

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Common Head Turner # 4

Straight out of Addis Ababa, it's sheep on a line-taxi!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tree Profile: Delonix Regia

Delonix Regia: a common ornamental tree south of Addis Ababa

I first took notice of this tree on a work trip to Ziway, about a 3-hour bus ride from Addis Ababa. I asked several people what this tree was called but the only answer I got was “ababa zaf”, which translates to ‘flower tree’, a description used for many brightly flowered trees within Ethiopia.

Flowers of Delonix Regia

After flipping through the book, Useful Trees and Shrubs of Ethiopia, by Azane Bekele-Tesemma, I found that I was looking at Delonix regia, a native tree to Madagascar. It’s likely that Delonix regia, which is more commonly known as ‘flamboyant’ (English) or ‘Dire Dawa zaf’ (Amharic), could grow well near you if you reside in the lowland tropics, have sandy soil, and are between 200 and 1,600 meters.

Delonix regia can be seen in many cities within Ethiopia. South of Addis Ababa it is associated with the city of Dire Dawa and its surrounding areas. As for uses, Delonix regia lends itself to bee forage, beautifying cities along avenues, shade, and jewelry (seeds).

An Addis (new) Life

Amidst a Timket Celebration in Addis Ababa

I have been living in Addis Ababa since I signed up to extend another year as a Peace Crops volunteer in Ethiopia (till Dec ’12 or Jan ’13 –it’s up in the air at the moment). Life is very different now when I compare it to my rural city life in Sibboo (662km west of Addis on the Gambella Road), where I used to serve.

In Addis things are different. There are many amenities and many more cars. Work is more, too, and water and electricity have become everyday expectations. Smells are strong and dust and pollution clogs the nose quickly. People walk faster and seem less interested in the presence of an obvious foreigner. Eating out is more expensive but any import can be had in Addis and at the cheapest cost available in country.

The more I think about it, I don’t think the rural areas in Ethiopia can be easily compared to this giant city. It’s too different. Where do you start? Name an aspect of rural living and you will find that aspect altered (cost of food) or absent (clean air) here in Addis.

So my blog, along with my life and service, enters another phase, which is to say that now I will be living in Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital city - so we can expect my blog entries to gain an Addis tint to them (such as more blog entries).

Things to come: more photos, tree profiles (my work is in agroforestry so it was bound to happen), and more reflection on life/culture/purpose.

This blog continues to serve no one in particular BUT aims to be something entertaining WHILE offering me a place to openly reflect on things encountered and experienced during my time in Ethiopia. Enjoy it if you can!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sibboo High School Project Success

Thank you all who donated to or shared the link for the Sibboo High School Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP). Last November, 2012, we were able to raise the money we needed from your generous donations and networking to purchase reference books, a fence to surround the school compound, and a computer!

Just as I was completing my two year Peace Corps service, Sibboo High School sponsored a celebration for accomplishing our PCPP project's goals. There were many heart-felt speeches made expressing the gratitude of community members, teachers, and students for having received much needed school structures and resource materials. Because of the funds our project brought in, Sibboo High School will benefit from having new books for preparing for the National Exam and furthering their education, a protected compound for potential tree nursery projects, and a computer for IT classes and to provide students and teachers access to technology previously unavailable in the community.

Prior to my Peace Corps service, I had never facilitated a project sponsored by donors from around the world. I had little idea as to how patient and involved one has to be to make sure: 1) a project is meaningful for a community; 2) a project is sustainable or provides years of service; 3) that the funds raised from donors are spent properly and according to project objectives; 4) objectives of the project are met on time. This was a great learning opportunity, which resulted in benefits far exceeding the frustrations experienced along the way.

Below are a few photos sharing the success of our project – enjoy!

Students, Staff, & Myself Posing with the New Fence and Gate

A Cow Grazes Respectfully Outside the School Grounds

New Reference Books and Computer for Students and Staff

A few words on Peace Corps Partnership Programs: Because Peace Corps Volunteers have a unique understanding and access to the community they live in, they are involved with their entire project’s conception, implementation, and evaluation. I encourage anyone thinking of supporting small projects in foreign aid to check out those designed by Peace Corps volunteers and sponsored by the Peace Corps Partnership Program. Browse through the many projects volunteers have in mind to support their communities and give what you can – it is unlikely you’ll find a more locally minded or carefully managed donation opportunity.

Peace Corps Partnership Programs - Donate to a Volunteer's community project today! The Peace Corps Partnership Program applies 100% of your tax-deductible donation toward a specific Project, Special Fund or Country Fund.