Saturday, July 31, 2010

Random reflections and observations I forgot to include:
  • In Southern Uganda I passed several monuments commemorating the deaths of PLO fighters there in the late 1970s. That's right, Palestinian Liberation Organization--in the heart of Africa. Apparently, when Ugandan dictator Idi Amin realized his 1978 invasion of Tanzania had gone awry, he called on his friend Muammar Gaddafi, dictator of Libya, for help in defending Uganda against the Tanzanian counterattack. Gaddafi, then a proud sponsor of all sorts of terrorist groups, was happy to send down a few thousand Palestinian irregulars and Libyan soldiers to help keep Amin in power. The Tanzanians swiftly crushed them (and many of the nicer town centers of southern Uganda and Kampala) as they ended Amin's reign of terror.
  • The cheap cell phone I bought in Kenya for local calls included a feature that pointed the way to Mecca and sounded a "prayer alarm" 5 times a day.
  • I stepped on a sea urchin in the Indian Ocean and had to remove 7 spines from my foot with a sewing needle. Ouch.
  • One night in Mombasa, Wossen (my Yale friend) and I returned to our homestay family's apartment for our regular home-made dinner. When we arrived, we found to our astonishment that the family was sitting silently in front of the TV with blank, distant expressions frozen on their faces. There was no dinner on the table and no appetizing smells wafting from the kitchen. Arfan, the head of the household, got up slowly and took us aside, saying, "I'm sorry boys, but my wife is just not up to cooking dinner tonight-- you'll have to fix yourselves your own meals." Wossen and I looked at each other and began frying some eggs and heating up some leftovers; we ended up cooking for the whole family, who continued to act curiously mute and inert. Later, Arfan explained to us that the whole family had been driving through downtown Mombasa when someone had strolled up to the car in front of them and murdered the driver and passengers in broad daylight with an AK-47 assault rifle, then got into another car and sped away. Though we had become used to Arfan's rather tall tales by this point, the ashen faces of the rest of the family confirmed his story. The next day the newspapers reported the assassination of an intelligence official on a Mombasa street.
  • A taxi driver of mine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, drove really erratically for the first minute or so of the trip while he prepared his khat for the ride. He patiently stripped leaves off the stems and, once he had accumulated a sizable pile in his lap, he unceremoniously stuffed them in his mouth. Instantly, he became soothed and focused, and a much better driver. (Khat is a leafy plant that is virtually a way of life for many in the Horn of Africa and especially, I'm told, across the Straits in Yemen and Arabia.)
  • My flight from Addis Ababa to Amsterdam was filled with Americans adopting babies from Ethiopia. Touching in a way, but kind of a weird vibe. Also, a lot of crying on the plane.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where I stayed pics

Here for comparison are pictures of the places I stayed during my trip!

My capacious suite in Stuttgart, Germany. Note that I'm standing in the doorway:

The Golf Course Hotel in Kampala, Uganda:

The Kibale Primate Lodge in western Uganda:

Saint Bakhita House, the compound of the Sudanese Bishop in Nairobi, Kenya:

The cozy living room of the Khan household in Mombasa, Kenya. From left, Yunus (Yale grad student and cousin of our host), Wossen (Yale undergrad), and Lena, the wife of my host.

The view from my balcony at the Bole Rock Hotel in Addis Ababa:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ethiopia pics

Here are some long awaited pictures from Ethiopia!

Mt Kilimanjaro from the plane:
One of many Lion of Judah statues in downtown Addis Ababa - it symbolizes the lineage of Ethiopia's emperors from King Solomon of the Bible

The massive tomb of Haile Selassie I (aka Ras Tafari), the last Emperor of Ethiopia. This picture was taken in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Addis. The vibrant colors were a complete surprise to me; without my camera's flash, the crypt was almost pitch black:
Kids playing soccer outside the Derg Monument, a massive reminder of Ethiopia's painful 1970s Communist dictatorship, which overthrew Haile Selassie and butchered a quarter-million people.
Shepherd boys cracking their whips high above Addis (seen in the background)

A rainbow arcs over an Addis Ababa slum, which abuts a brand new highway built by the Chinese

Worshipers pack the plaza outside St George Cathedral on a rainy Wednesday

The Oxford Computer Technology center and its state-of-the-art dirt road and corrugated tin siding

Great billboard in downtown Addis: showing a tribal warrior with spear and a barebreasted woman with a huge lip ring working on a computer, it reads "communication for the Ethiopian market"

Peasants load up their donkeys with firewood and I think leaves to sell in Addis Ababa's markets

Camel Ride

In Mombasa!
Directed by: Wossen Ayele
Produced by: Wossen Ayele
Cameraman: Wossen Ayele

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Terrorist attack

Looks like I got out of Kampala just in time:

I've been in touch with the friends I made in Kampala and they're okay. This tragedy reinforces how relevant my research is to world events. I discussed Uganda's military presence in Somalia many times with defense officials over the past month-- many predicted that Uganda could become a focal point for terrorism. I was skeptical at the time, and very sad to see their predictions proved correct. Please pray for the victims and for justice for the perpetrators.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mombasa pics 1

I'm back home! but unfortunately still feeling some of the intestinal effects of Ethiopian food sanitization practices. Hopefully I'll be up to speed in a couple days. Until then, here's some Mombasa pics

Rainbow over the Mombasa harbor:
Some scenes near old town:

I stumbled on this impromptu landfill in a parking lot in downtown Mombasa and after a while noticed a guy sifting through the trash despite the unbearable stench:

More coming.....

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ethiopia Part 1

Blogging has been slow lately, since while internet cafes abound here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, there usually isn’t actual internet available in most of them. What with slow connections, electricity blackouts, and medieval computers, it’s been a struggle to get online just to find where I need to be for my research, much less upload pictures. Also, apparently neither my hotel nor the nearby cafes pay their bills on time so when the first of the month comes around what internet there is gets cut off. Or maybe Ethiopia’s national internet-telecom monopoly just gets cranky from time to time.

Anyway, this is my last full day in Africa and my trip has been incredible. Mombasa was a ton of fun and doesn’t need much more description, mostly involved exploring Mombasa, hanging out at the beach with Wossen, Zach, and other Yale kids, and hearing increasingly wild stories and political theories from my host Arfan. When I get back to the land of freedom and real ketchup on July 4 I’ll upload some of the pictures I took. For now I’ll try to run through what I’ve been up to in Ethiopia.

After a warm good-bye from Arfan’s household, I got on my turbo-prop plane headed for Addis Ababa. The plane was mostly empty, and of the few passengers almost all were transferring to Dubai or Europe. This brought to mind the stern warning of the Ethiopian expat mother who sat next to me on my initial flight from DC back on June 8: “Don’t go to Ethiopia!” I arrived at twilight and made my way to the Bole Rock Hotel in the up-and-coming Bole neighborhood of sprawling southeast Addis. I had booked a room there that same day at the recommendation of a Yale classmate who had stayed there recently. (I later noticed with interest and amusement that the documents saved on the guest computer were all drafts of blog posts written by the Yale students who had been there in May on a Reach-Out trip). The neighborhood is experiencing a massive construction boom; my hotel, on a still unpaved road off the main avenue is comically surrounded on every single side by a noisy construction site, each featuring the most primitive and dangerous-looking scaffolding I’ve ever seen. If the simple lashed-together logs weren’t leaning precariously on modern reinforced-concrete office high-rises, I would have guessed they were building Egyptian pyramids. The atmosphere inside the Bole Rock is similarly lively and cacophonous. The hotel includes a popular restaurant/sports bar that doubles as a dance hall on weekends. My room is right above the enormous and packed hotel gym, which pumps American club hits (Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night…) on a loop during its round-the-clock aerobics classes.

My first day, I explored Addis by foot, seeing such attractions as the bewildering, dirty, exciting Mercato (market) neighborhood/slum, where people aggressively tried to sell me everything from sheet metal to donkeys to a shoe shine (I was wearing flip-flops); the grand Orthodox cathedrals of St George (the patron saint of Ethiopia) and Holy Trinity, which houses the tomb of Emperor Haile Selassie (of Rastafarian fame); and the Museum of the Martyrs of the Red Terror, commemorating Ethiopia’s ill-advised flirtation with Soviet-style Communism in the 80s. I elicited laughter from one street corner full of people when I left a café carrying a half-finished Coke bottle. Somebody about my age grabbed me and determinedly tried to get me to return to the café for some reason that I could not discern from his excited Amharic (the local language). Thinking it was some scam like those I encountered in Mombasa, I kept walking, getting increasingly annoyed at the similarly exasperated dude tugging at my arm. Finally, to my intense embarrassment and everyone else’s equally intense amusement, a local passerby explained in English that the price of the Coke did not include the bottle, and it would be the right thing to do to return it.

It was mostly nice out during my walk, with only three half-hour afternoon deluges that came and went with no warning to dampen my day. Such is the rainy season in Addis, where the rains get heavier and heavier as the summer goes on until by August every day is a steady stream of precipitation. As the streets here already flood alarmingly at every downpour, I cringe at the thought of what they’ll be like at the end of summer. Keeping the rainy seasons straight in all the places I’ve visited is very confusing since they’re all at different altitudes and distances from the Indian Ocean monsoon winds. Addis Ababa, at 8000 feet above sea level, is the highest capital in Africa (I think).

I concluded the day with a delicious dinner of tibs, the national dish. I have fallen in love with the cuisine—piles of spicy meat and bread with no utensils or vegetables to get in the way. Like almost everything else in the city, it was startlingly cheap. Indeed, I’ve been getting terrific steak and veal dinners at my hotel for a little over two bucks a pop. My pro-quality street-kid shoe shine yesterday set me back about 20 American cents, and a mini-bus taxi across town is something like 7 cents. Unfortunately, as virtually the only Faranj (whitey) to be seen outside the fortress-like Western embassies or NGOs, I am accosted constantly by Addis’ staggering population of hawkers and tragic beggars—little kids selling gum, bootleg DVD peddlers, sad-eyed mothers with infants in arm, and one heart-rending maimed or blinded guy after the other. I am scared to give out money to all but the most crippled beggars here because once money comes out the street kids swarm. I’ve taken to buying really cheap Yemeni cookies and giving them away to beggar-kids in lieu of cash; the kids instantly light up and I don’t feel like a totally callous jerk

I can see out the window here that the latest downpour has stopped, so I’m going to leave off here for now. More to come soon, and lots of pictures when I get back to the States!