Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’Category

Friday photos

Rainy season:

The countryside near Lalibela:

31

08 2012

Friday photos

The fantastic St. George’s church at Lalibela, carved out of a hillside from solid rock:

St. George's church

St. George's

24

08 2012

Friday photos

The Saturday market at Lalibela:

the Lalibela market

I loved the impressionist texture of the moss growing on the side of one of the churches at Lalibela:

Moss

17

08 2012

Friday photos

Friday photos may be a new recurring feature on this blog — while I won’t post reviews of every place I go on weekends (or during the week for work), it’s hard to resist sharing some highlights of Ethiopia. A beautiful and fascinating country:

Medhane Alem, the largest monolithic church in the world, is just one of a dozen churches at Lalibela carved from solid rock in the 14th century AD:

Medhane Alem at Lalibela

Swimming at the “Queen of Sheba’s Bath”, in Aksum, northern Ethiopia:

Queen of Sheba's Bath, Aksum

More photos of travel around Ethiopia can be found here.

10

08 2012

Busy

In lieu of observations about Ethiopia, notes from my work here, or discussion of recent news/articles/links, here’s a picture of the books currently occupying my time at work (fascinating, I know):

Tomorrow I’m off to Mek’ele, the capital of Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, for work for about a week. If you have blog withdrawal in the meantime, I share links to maybe 5-10 articles or blog posts each day on Twitter.

20

07 2012

Marabou stork

Marabou stork are some of the largest landbirds out there. Some of the ones I saw around Lake Hawasa stood as high as my chest. And unlike the storks of popular culture, these ones have been known to eat children.

Beautiful, aren’t they?…

03

07 2012

Addis taxi economics

A is in his early 20s, and he’s my go-to taxi driver. He speaks good conversational English, which he picked up in part through being befriended by a Canadian couple who lived in Ethiopia for a while. Addis traffic is crazy but a bit more forgiving than some cities I’ve seen — there don’t seem to be many real traffic rules, but there’s more deference to other drivers. “A, you drive like a pro,” my friend says. “How long have you been driving?” “Oh, just six months!” (We gulp.)

In Addis “taxi” is used to refer to both ancient minibuses that drive set routes throughout the city and to traditional blue-and-white cars — often ancient-er — that will take you wherever you want to go. (Google Images of Addis taxis here.) A‘s car is the latter type, an old model that breaks down often and has one window handle you have to pass around to roll down each window.

Minibuses charge a flat rate on pre-specified routes, usually just a few Birr (ie, less than $0.20 US), but the personal taxis can charge much more. So having a few reliable drivers’ cell numbers is helpful because the prospect of your continued business helps ensure that you’ll get a better price for each ride.

Regarding taxis more generally: always negotiate a fare before you get in. Depending on the mood of the driver, current traffic and road construction, and the evident wealth, race, or nationality of the prospective passenger, the prices quoted will vary widely. I was once quoted 60 Birr and 150 Birr as starting prices ($3.50 and $8.80 US) by two drivers standing right next to each other!

Almost all of the taxi business seems to come from internationals and upper-class Ethiopians. Thus, taxis often congregate around the neighborhoods, hotels, and restaurants frequented by these groups. You’ll also get quoted a higher starting price if you’re seen coming out of a nice hotel than if you pick a cab just around the corner.

Starting prices definitely differ by race as well. (Here I cite conversations with Chinese-American and Bengali-American friends living in Addis.) Drivers will generally assume you’re from America (if you’re Caucasian), China (if you’re East Asian), and India (if you’re South Asian) and charge accordingly. White people get the highest starting prices, whereas if they assume you’re Chinese or Indian the starting price will be about 70% of the white price. This is, of course, entirely anecdotal, so econ PhD students take note: there’s some fascinating research to be done on differential pricing of initial and final fares for internationals living in Addis. In economics this differential pricing is called price discrimination (which can actually be good for consumers as it allows producers to provide services to a broader range of people, who often have different preferences and ability to pay).

A doesn’t own his taxi, and says that most drivers don’t either. Instead, he rents/leases his from a man who owns many taxis. That guy made enough money (“he is rich now!”) that he now goes to Dubai to buy other cars to import into Ethiopia. (Dubai is the go-to place for importing many things here.) A pays the owner a flat rate to have the taxi for a 10-day period, with more or less automatic renewals as long as he’s doing well enough to keep paying the fee. If he gets sick or wants to take a day off he has to pay that day’s rental fee out of earnings from another day, so A gets up at 6 am and drives until after midnight. Seven days a week.

A is only six months into the job, but he’s already looking for the next gig. He aspires to work as a tour guide — better pay and better hours, he says. And, I think, less risk of injury: almost all the taxis in Addis are from an era before airbags and seatbelts became commonplace. I think A would be a great tour guide — I hope it works out.

27

06 2012

Sweet tooth

Turns out this fad isn’t limited to New York and DC — there’s a cupcake place a couple blocks from my office: 

(Cupcake Delights, in Addis’ Bole neighborhood)

Now if only we can get a Chipotle?

26

06 2012

Rainy season is here

The view from my office window:

21

06 2012

Ethiopia bleg

Bleg: n. An entry in a blog requesting information or contributions. (via Wiktionary)

Finals are over, and I just have a few things to finish up before moving to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 1. I’ll be there for almost eight months, working as a monitoring and evaluation intern on a large health project; this work will fulfill internship requirements for my MPA and MSPH degrees, and then I’ll have just one semester left at Princeton before graduating. After two years of “book-learning” I’m quite excited to apply what I’ve been learning a bit.

One thing I learned from doing (too many?) short stints abroad is that it’s easy to show up with good intentions and get in the way; I’m hopeful that eight months is long enough that I can be a net benefit to the team I’ll be working with, rather than a drain as I get up to speed. I plan to get an Amharic tutor after I arrive — unfortunately I figured out my internship recently enough that I wasn’t able to plan ahead and study the language before going.

I’m especially excited to live in Ethiopia. I have not been before — this will be my first visit to East Africa / the Horn of Africa at all. I’ll mostly be in Addis, but should also spend some time in rural areas where the project is being implemented. I’ve already talked with several friends who briefly lived in Addis to get tips on what to read, what to do, who to meet, and what to pack. That said I’m always open for more suggestions.

So, I’ll share what I’ve already, or definitely plan to read, and let you help fill in the gaps. Do you have book recommendations? Web or blog links? RSS suggestions? What-to-eat (or not eat) tips? Here’s what I’ve dug up so far:

  • Owen Barder has several informative pages on living and working in Ethiopia here.
  • Chris Blattman’s post on What to Read About Ethiopia has lots of tips, some of which I draw on below. His advice for working in a developing country is also helpful, along with lists of what to pack (parts one and two), though they’re obviously not tailored to life in Addis. Blattman also links to Stefan Dercon’s page with extensive readings on Ethiopian agriculture, and helpfully organizes relevant posts under tags, including posts tagged Ethiopia.
  • As for a general history, I’ve started Harold Marcus’ academic History of Ethiopia, and it’s good so far.
  • Books that have gotten multiple recommendations from friends — and thus got bumped to the top of my list — include The EmperorCutting for StoneChains of Heaven, and The Sign and the Seal. Other books I’ve seen mentioned here and there include Sweetness in the BellyWaugh in AbyssiniaNotes from the Hyena’s BellyScoop, and A Year in the Death of Africa. If you rave about one of these enough it might move higher up the priority list. But I’m sure there are others worth reading too.
  • For regular information flow I have a Google Alert for Ethiopia, the RSS feed for AllAfrica.com’s Ethiopia page, and two blogs found so far:  Addis Journal and Expat in Addis. (Blog recommendations welcome, especially more by Ethiopians.) There’s also a Google group called Addis Diplo List.
  • One of my favorite novels is The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears — the story of an Ethiopian immigrant in Washington, DC’s Logan Circle neighborhood in the 1980s. It’s as much about gentrification as it is about the immigrant experience, and I first read it as a new arrival in DC’s Petworth neighborhood — which is in some ways at a similar ‘stage’ of gentrification to Logan Circle in the 80s.
  • I’ve started How to Work in Someone Else’s Country, which is aimed more at short-term consultants but has been helpful so far.
  • Also not specific to Ethiopia, but I’m finally getting around to reading the much-recommended Anti-Politics Machine, on the development industry in Lesotho, and it seems relevant.

Let me know what I’ve missed in the comments. And happy 200th blog post to me.

(Note: links to books are Amazon Affiliates links, which means I get a tiny cut of the sales value if you buy something after clicking a link.)

23

05 2012