"It's a dangerous business, going out your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet,
there's no knowing where you might be swept off to..."
--J.R.R. Tolkein

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Irony of the Orphanage

One of the other things we did in Harar was check out an orphanage, run by the British organization SOS. I was definitely expecting something along the Dickensian line, with haggard little faces lining up with empty plates, and ruthless adults patrolling the hallways. However, what I saw was something very different.

I suspect nobody had ever said, “Please, sir, I want some more” at this place.

We were shown to a modern, Western-looking office, introduced to the director, and then were shown to the “houses,” where the children lived. About eight children occupied a house, which had comfortable rooms, a dining room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. There was also a woman who lived in the house full time, whom the children called “mother,” who took care of them, cooked for them, and made sure they did their homework. The mother that we met said that she had grown children of her own who lived in Addis Ababa, but she definitely saw these children she cared for now as her own as well.

Then we wandered over to the school, just as the high school students were leaving their classes for the day. We walked past a crowd of smiling girls and boys in crisp, clean blue and white uniforms. At the school, we met a few teachers, who spoke English well and seemed passionate about their subjects.

It seemed like such a lovely place for a child to grow up. The catch? They only take babies.

After our tour, we left and headed back to the center of town, passing a few dirty street children on the way. I have heard that these children actually have parents, but are sent to the streets by their parents to beg for money to buy the family's food. Ironically, these children were the ones holding out their hands, asking for more.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Field Guide to Ethiopian Food

Some of my favorite Ethiopian dishes:

injera-- spongy bread made of teff flour. Has the texture of sponge and is used to soak up oh-so-delicious sauces and stews.

fatira—breakfast item made of paper-thin wheat bread, and fried in oil with egg. Often served with fruit juice!

firfir—similar to fatira, but made with torn up injera and fried with meat and spices. Also eaten at breakfast.

tibs—bite-sized pieces of meat fried in oil with fresh chili peppers.

kitfo—very finely chopped raw meat, mixed with spices and melted butter. Warmed slightly, but not cooked. When I tried it, it reminded me of chewed up pepperoni. Tasted great, but the idea of raw meat kind of bothered me.

doro wot—spicy chicken stew, slow cooked in an earthenware pot. Delicious and hot as hell.

bozena—my favorite! Another slow cooked stew, but with ground beef (cooked this time), spices, and ground chickpeas.

tej—an alcoholic beverage made from honey. Usually consumed in a tej beat, a traditional drinking house. Most definitely a male-dominated space, although I managed to get inside one in Addis (more on that later).

Life is delicious!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Days on the Outside

You know a holiday is going to be interesting when your cell phone falls out of your pocket and into the filthy hole in the ground serving as a toilet.

All lines of communication have been cut. I'm officially on the outside.

I had just spent a hellishly long day overlanding it from Somaliland across the border to eastern Ethiopia. A couple of other teachers and I snagged a ride with one of the drivers and a guard from the school to the border, and then promptly had a shouting match at the border when they demanded more money from us. Shaking us down for money seems to be our driver’s favorite sport. Anyway, we managed to evade him with a “we’ll pay later” and went inside the immigration office, got our exit stamps, then crossed the road (!) to the Ethiopian side and got our entry stamps.

Without being followed by a man with a gun! Aaaah, sweet loving freedom!

Then we climbed onto a painfully overcrowded bus headed to the village of Jigjiga in eastern Ethiopia. Anyone who has traveled in Africa will understand just how uncomfortable the ride was—people were practically in each other’s laps, and seat belts may as well have been from another universe. We finally got going and headed off to Jigjiga, only to get on a minibus headed for the ancient walled city of Harar.

We arrived in Harar just as the sun was setting, and checked into a small hostel in the center of town. Only then could we take our headscarves off (more sweet freedom), and change out of our dresses and into pants. It was at the hostel when the unfortunate incident happened with the phone. Oh well, keep calm and carry on…

Anyway, I was too excited to really be upset. I managed to fish the phone out and rescue my SIM card (with all my work contacts on it!). I put it aside and went to see to other things.

Like dinner! We found a Western-style restaurant and had a wonderful dinner of pizza, burgers, and beer. It was unbelievable to be able to sit in a restaurant and have decently-priced, decent-tasting food and drink. Nobody stared, nobody judged, and nobody stood around with guns. No calls from the school saying “Could you pick up xxx while you’re in town? Oh yeah, and don’t forget yyy and make sure you’re back in an hour for zzz meeting.”

We spent the next couple of days eating, wandering around, meeting new people, and just enjoying life. I had never realized it before, but there is a certain degree of stress that comes from living in Somaliland. It’s a very edgy place, with very strict laws and social codes, whereas Ethiopia, being a multi-lingual and multi-cultural society, cannot really function that way, and thus maintains a more relaxed, chilled out atmosphere.

I don’t know, but it sure was nice to wander around town in a tank top and jeans, take pictures, drink coffee in cafes, and not have to always be worried and stressed out.

Harar is located in the eastern part of Ethiopia, and is basically half Muslim and half Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. It sort of straddles the area between the Somali region and the Oromo region, with many influences from Somali culture.

I recognize that outfit.

The city has a wall around it like a fortress, and has been an important market for regional goods like qat.

It is known for it’s dark roasted coffee (ooooooh!).

That’s another great thing. Coffee. Everywhere. Yes!

I think I’m going to like it here…

Saturday, April 16, 2011

It's Been a While...

Hey Gang! Sorry about the long wait. This term has been…interesting and I have had very little time to write. I switched my schedule to teaching in the new for-profit Adult English classes (in addition to teaching 9th grade English in the boarding school). These classes are in the evening, which makes for some very long days and exhausting hours.

Anyway, more on that later. Now, back to Ethiopia.