The road south from Addis to Kenya runs gently down from the 3000 metre plateau towards the rift valley. As with most of the roads in Ethiopia it is pot-holed, frequently lacking of a centre lane (the presence of which is largely disregarded anyway), part dust, part hole, part gravel and part tarmac. Slip roads and dual carriage ways are pointed out to us as Frank drives. They look like donkey paths. And indeed there are donkeys upon them. There are also horses out here, dragging carriages north, on the climb towards the city. We are going about 40km south today, I wish we were going further, as south is a place I have always wanted to see… Kenya where my mother was born and the rift valley. The cradle of mankind. Where the most hominid fossils have been found. In a former life I studied anthropology and dreamed of being Indiana Jones. Who doesn't?
We reach Bishoftu, one of the large crater lakes south of the city, there are five lakes here. All unique and beautiful in their own way. Once upon a time these were huge mountains who got upset and blew themselves to smithereens. Now the lakes are all that are left, surrounded by high walls of vegetation. Birds perch and fly, I recognise ravens playing in the wind. It's the first time I have seen a raven fly properly. Beautiful.
Jan's lodge where we stay is set high in the crater walls above lake Babogaya, a practically unspoilt view out across the lake is stunning, there is a hotel on the other side of the lake that, when lit up at night, apparently looks like the sinking Concordia. Jan suggests that me and Manda take a canoe out on the lake. I am excited. Manda is apprehensive and excited. We push off from the small jetty at the bottom of the lake and manage to find a good rhythm. Sometimes that rhythm (me at back) involves me having a rest when Manda is not looking. The water is warm and we paddle about halfway round the lake before it inevitably begins to rain. Hundreds of white igrits are nesting by our jetty when we return and fumble our way out of the boat. I pretend that I know how to tie up a boat. I suspect Amanda is not fooled as I confidently say 'Right!' And brush my hands together in a very final sounding way having looped the rope through another rope over and over again. As we walk back up the steep steps to the top of the lodge my mind is calculating the cost of a missing canoe that has been inadequately tied to the bank.
There are tortoises everywhere keeping the grass down although I think the grass grows faster than they can eat it. There is another cat that we have called also Fluffy. A tortoise shell cat. We believe that the cat is attempting to integrate herself into the local population of tortoises. Unfortunately she is currently still fairly easy to distinguish from the actual tortoises, given that she is, in fact, still a cat. Although a very slow moving one as evidenced by her attempt to catch a bird this morning. We spent five minutes watching her prepare to pounce, slowly moving each foot onto a rock in preparation. Then, when the bird flew away, she just looked around nonchalantly as if to say, 'What bird? I was just readjusting my sleeping position.' It reminded me of my own stupid pride.
The power has gone at the lodge (a common occurrence in Ethiopia it seems) and we have a candle lit dinner on the veranda looking over the lake. It is possibly the most peaceful and serene place I have ever visited. I want to bring everyone I know here.
Inside our lovely room we put the mosquito net down and blow out the candles before bed, Tomorrow we will be visiting a school in Bishoftu to meet the kids there, then we will be back to Addis to work at the project. The time is really flying here, it's at once, a mad, beautiful, chaotic, peaceful place.
The last couple of days we have been doing workshops with the kids in the charity, part english learning, part music, part ridiculous fun. I am finally starting to learn some of their names, Kindi is an upbeat fellow, who seems to be a leader of the group. His english is excellent. He has no front teeth and is always smiling. Mahalet wants to be a poet when she grows up. She writes in Amharic and I have asked her to write a poem about the project that I can then set to music. She has written one already but today she lost it so she is writing another one. Maset wants to be an air hostess, she is very kind and courteous with excellent english so I am sure she'll make it if she wants to.
Today we taught the kids the chorus of a song that I have started writing for them about them and the project, they really seemed to enjoy it, especially when they taught me the amharic words for brother and sister and we put them in the song. They spent a long time laughing at my appalling pronunciation.
When the rain started to fall on the roof it was like being inside a thundercloud. The corrugated iron rattled with such ferocity that everyone had to shout to be heard, consequently nothing cold be heard at all but it didn't stop the kids from singing songs they all knew.
It's so interesting wandering through a place where you can hear Eminem coming out of a stereo in one house and in the next one there is a man killing a chicken. Manda said she was having difficulty describing the place in words, and it's certainly a difficult task, because you can't describe the place without the people. It is a vital city, an absolute paradox, fresh and clean after rain fall, then filthy and messy again within seconds. Some of the toilets are the most evil smelling things you'll ever some across, little more than a hole in the ground, some are just as lovely as those you'll find in a posh restaurant in London. I'm not really going to try any more than that. To really get a sense of it you have to come here. And not in the Ferenge areas. We went to a restaurant where we discovered where all the other white people had been hiding (next to the museum). Go and see the Merchato (the largest market on the African continent), try getting out of a minibus at piazza (if you thought the tube at rush hour was awful, you should try this).
It's the weekend tomorrow and we will be taking the opportunity to see some of the country before starting work again on Monday.
That I know shit all about the world. If this is the culture of one place, so impossibly different from everywhere else I've been, then what is the rest of the world like? I guess I considered myself well travelled before coming here, but I think that was a bit naive. All of the places I'd been, while different were variations on the same western culture.
Poverty and wealth live side by side here. One house will be a mansion with gates and guards, and next door will be a tin hovel, about the size of your average UK bathroom with no windows and a family of 3 living inside. Some people here are starving. Some are most definitely not.
In places like London and other well-off Western cities, you can't see how everything works. You don't see meat coming into stores, except hidden behind massive freezing trucks, you don't see people carrying bottles from one place to another, you don't see stores that sell large pieces of metal or large pieces of wood (for building houses) on the high streets. You don't see doors for sale, or gates for sale or sheep, cattle or donkeys for sale. Simply put in London, everything is often just there… and you don't see how it gets there. In Addis you see everything, how it all fits together, the cogs are clearly visible in the machine. I realise there are many people here in Addis who work in office jobs and the results of their work are more difficult to see, but everywhere here I see people making the city work. I'm left wondering how did London get to it's current state. At some point its workings were as obvious as those here and now they are hidden away behind huge office blocks and desks, lurking somewhere in the ether of the internet.
All I can think is that I appreciate the bottle of beer I'm drinking a lot more, having seen a young man push a massive cart of empty bottles up a huge hill to the off license. I appreciate running water more when I see the massive queue of people with yellow water bottles in Arat Kilo, waiting patiently for their turn to get their fill from the water stations and then carrying them on their backs to their homes. Simply put, I just appreciate more when I see the work that goes into it. And here you can't help but see it.
It makes me sad to think that so many people are living in what I would call such abominable conditions, but it also makes me wonder, these people are living and they don't seem to be that upset about it. There are lots of smiles on peoples faces. Happiness seems very much to be a relative thing. Never more obvious than now. If a child can be happy rolling a rubber tyre down a street and chasing it, then the new game coming out on the xbox (rolling a virtual tyre down a virtual street) seems a bit ridiculous. When did parts of western society become like this? How can the joy of simple things be remembered?
Please don't think I'm preaching about the giving, simple, selfless people of Ethiopia, I'm not. If they had the money for an xbox, that's probably what they'd spend it on too. As seems to be evidenced by the huge satellite dishes that cast a shadow over the tiny hovel that it supplies 300 tv channels to.
It just makes me wonder about a lot of things...
It's been 3.5 weeks since I have had a coke. I am 2500 metres above sea level and may be suffering withdrawal symptoms. Today we ran our first workshop with some of the kids. About 50 children aged between 12 and 14 were packed into the upper mezzanine of the community centre. There were plastic chairs everywhere.
We spent about two hours with the kids, within which time we spent approximately 30% doing role playing (for English improvement), 20% doing body percussion, 20% doing warm ups and games and the final 30% wondering what we were going to do next.
It turns out some of the kids want to put on a drama for their visiting sponsors (11 are visiting for a week at the end of October) and we hope to be able to help them put something together. Me and Manda got back to the house at about 4pm to do some planning for the next day, trying to remember all the drama games we knew.
They seemed really interested in the guitar, a few seemed to show a natural aptitude for it as well so I hope to be able to provide them with some individual tuition throughout the weeks I am here. I will need to find a way to give them a guitar at the end of my stay here.
It's morning, I've just had a breakfast of poached eggs banana and fresh bread, with tea, water and juice. It's no wonder I ain't losing any weight. The Subanya is outside by the gate and there are two empty bottles of beer on the wall. It's important to keep them, it means that if you swap them for full ones you pay half as much. It's a brilliant recycling system.
We take the bus to Piazza (Ethiopia was briefly invaded and ruled by Italy in the 1930's) then to Lideta where we meet the boys from the project. Because of a delay in materials from the government the project is not able to start till next week, but it is still possible to get the kids in for some workshops tomorrow. The prevailing attitude of Tesfahun seems to be, "everything is alright, anything you want to do we shall arrange, don't worry we'll sort it out tomorrow." Tesfahun, tells me he has loads of assignments to keep us busy for the stay. I am told later by Amanda that "busy" is a very relative term. What I might think of as busy (a full day, run off my feet, meeting deadlines with not enough time for lunch) is very different to what the general population of Addis Ababa think of as busy (arrive around 11, talk for a bit and have a meeting, maybe do a bit of work, then go out for lunch, come back late in the afternoon and maybe do another piece of work before going home). I am worried a little. I don't like not being busy, so I think I will just have to make my own work on the project. Don't get me wrong, they are doing wonderful things and they are great people with huge hearts but efficiency may not be a strong point. Having said that, Sha spent the morning calling the kids to get them to come in at 10am tomorrow to have an English workshop with Amanda (me assisting).
We talk a lot about the project in their tiny office and start planning how we can be involved. I would like to run some music workshops, body percussion, songwriting and singing with different groups. One of the aims is to work with the kids to write a song for the project. Tesfahun, Sha and Geditchw have asked me to send my proposals to them tomorrow.
Geditchw wants to start a special needs school but will need a lot of funding to do so. Children with special needs are often seen as a shame on the family and are usually kept hidden away in the recesses of the family home for many years, sometimes until they die. Those who do get sent to school are not allowed to progress past the 4th grade and so have no hope of gaining a proper education. There are special needs schools that do provide education but they are in the minority and there are none currently in Lideta. Geditchw hopes to change this. He is a very soft spoken fellow with kindly eyes and is very patient with me when it comes to explaining new words. He writes my name in Amharic, it is only three letters long.
We hear of some of the girls who are being sexually abused by their step fathers (approximately 5 out of the 218). Manda heard about some of them last time she was here. Apparently the number has now risen. The project does what they can in reporting any incidents to the police but more often than not it's difficult to successfully prosecute these men.
The project has done a lot over the summer, running a life skills course for the older boys and girls, teaching them about mutual respect, self esteem and moral values. Manda hopes to build further on this especially for the girls, by running self esteem workshops for the older ones.
At the end of the day we take the bus to Megananya, get some food and pop to the internet cafe before going home. A couple of people say "Welcome to Ethiopia" as we walk by, kids ask us for money, games, pens (in that order). A troupe of donkeys with no apparent owner are on the middle lane of the motorway and are slowing traffic considerably.
Amanda coins a new phrase: "I'm stuck like a Ferenge(White Person) at Bob Marley" meaning "I'm completely constipated".