Saturday, May 28, 2011

An email from Alalegn

Dear kalli

How are you? I am fin with my families. How was the tripe of Ethiopia special Lalibela?

Did you back your home? Did fine your families?

I hope you remember me very well I am alelegn you buy for me book you so kind and also your husband is kind I am pray for him to live long life .that book is good for my education and for my life

Please pass my warmest greeting to all of your family and friends

Wishing you all the best!

Please write me your current situation soon

May God be with you where ever you go!

Lots of love and peace

Your student alalegn

Greeting from Lalibela

Could it be that this kid actually is using his dictionary?? Was I being over-cynical? What do you think?

Maybe I’ll never know.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sigh

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Aggravating.

That’s what it’s like to try and buy a plane ticket with Ethiopian Airlines.

It’s run by the government, which explains a lot.

I spent hours on the website, which the internet was going in and out so it couldn’t be booked and, when the page finally loaded, wouldn’t accept a credit card online. I went in 3 separate times to the office and it was frequently closed.

When I was finally able to get an agent, he booked my ticket, someone who came in after me, and someone on the phone all at the same time while his computer was going in and out of the internet network. I was just glad there was no one ahead of me in line. Nearly two hours later, I walked out the office with our tickets to Ethiopia—Lalibela in hand.

Now I have tried to book tickets out of Lalibela and back to Addis. The office, again, frequently and inconveniently closes, and the flights kept filling up. Someone from our hotel booked our flight, but neglected to tell us we had to confirm the same day, so it was cancelled. We finally have our flights booked to Addis for Thursday, but they won’t let us buy our tickets to Egypt until we get back to Addis. Because they think we need a visa. Which we don’t. It took me 45 minutes of sitting and waiting for me to be told that they weren’t going to give me a ticket. So I booked it online, then went to the office to ask them to print it out.

Then, when I went to confirm our flights just before our Thursday flight, I discovered the guy had only booked one ticket, even though Jacob was sitting next to me, and the flights were full again. I had a Home Alone mom moment.

I said quite dramatically, “I don’t care if I have to sit in the bathroom, in the aisle, or on Jacob’s lap, I want to get out of this city. Find me a seat. My husband and I are not going to travel on different days. And we have to get out of here.”

The worker, after searching the computer for about 30 more minutes, got me a seat. I walked out of the office, triumphant and relieved. I’d had to fight to get out of Lalibela and 5 days after the original planned departure date, we were finally going to leave.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lalibela: Tastes like scam

Lalibela, as it turns out, is probably one of those tourist towns I mentioned, on par with Marrakesh, Morocco or the like. It’s THE holy city to Ethiopian DSC03507Orthodox Christians, on par with Jerusalem, but it’s also the number one town to visit as a tourist. Consequently, there are scams here. Apparently the “sponsor my education” is a well-known line here, and the people of this town are just professional beggars. If I weren’t such a bleeding heart, I’d stop falling for it. Jacob is around to remind me, though, which is good because I need someone to save me from my na├»ve generosity.

The dictionary trick is apparently so the boys can sell it back immediately to the shopkeeper and everybody makes a little kickback. And the boy with the pink flipflops seemed so sincere…

What are you supposed to do if you help them and they take advantage of you? When they lie, steal, and cheat you under the pretense of friendship?

I guess the answer is: Kalli, stop giving people something for nothing. Don’t give money without people providing a service in return, don’t buy gifts, toys, or candy for children, don’t “help” beggars. This is my take away message and I hope I can live with it. The fact is, though, based on past experience, catch me at the right moment with the right sob story and I’ll do it again. Sigh.

Ethiopia, to us, feels like a peaceful, passive-aggressive, lazy Nigeria. You know, friendly scammers.

Funny story: I was taken to a police station with the tourist guide who scammed us, someone who told us he was security but in fact was another tour guide, and a police officer who was part of the scam. It was 3 against 1 (me) and little hope of justice being served.

Do you know what it’s like to live in a country where the entire system is corrupt and police officers can be bought off? When you can’t trust anyone around you to be honest, when everyone around you is hoping to steal from you and mislead, and outright lie to you? Where there is no one to be your advocate—you are a rich farenji, you deserve what happens to you? Where even in the hotel you are staying in, the place that should be looking out for its customers, is full of tricksters who even state different prices than the manager has instructed them to?

At least in Ethiopia, unlike Central and South America, the scammers aren’t armed. They’re wimpy and a little pathetic, so you feel sorry for them even as you are frustrated with them. You remind yourself:

Their situation is so much worse than mine, I shouldn’t get mad.

But then after all-day pestering you still do get mad and you tell the young, bright-eyed, talented-at-scamming boy who has asked for something in the exact same lying way the last boy asked: “You know what? In America we work for what we receive! We don’t ask for something from strangers without providing something in return! And even if I did buy a soccer ball, I wouldn’t give it to you!”

Friday, May 20, 2011

Say a prayer for Ethiopia

God bless Ethiopia.

They need it.

Jacob says his experience of Ethiopia has been tainted for him because everyone here has a not-so-hidden agenda: begging. That it is “plasticy” because no one we meet can really be trusted to be our friend.

It’s difficult not to feel this way.

It does seem that many Ethiopians are kind people…their friendship is genuine….they just don’t know how to get out of the rough financial situation they are in, and the white people with their fancy cameras, name brand shoes and educated English come in… it’s difficult not to ask for a little money.

Well, it’s exhausting to be begged from by 10 people on every walk you take. It’s exhausting to make a friend and then 2 days into the friendship they start using words like “sponsor my education” and “I need help.”

I’d hardened my heart to it, because you have to, it’s too much. And then tonight made me sorrow a bit. One nice boy here in Lalibela nicknamed Champion has shown us around the town, without us asking him to, and a couple days later started to ask for sponsorship so he could go to college. That he can’t afford school. That he goes to bed hungry at night. Jacob gave him a stern lecture about how God gave him hands and abilities for a reason, that even if he helped Champion, what should Jacob tell the thousands of other beggars? and hugged him, and Champion started to turn away to hide his tears.

Jacob doesn’t know if he is just acting or if his situation is really that rough. It’s hard not to be cynical in those situations, although I’m much more likely to fall for a help-me ruse than Jacob. Because it’s too easy to believe that here in Ethiopia, their situation really is that rough.

We both agree, in any event,  that we really like Champion. He’s nice and good-intentioned.

What would you tell a guy like him?

I told him to start a business—he said he’d love to, if he had the startup money (it’s not like Ethiopians can get a loan.)

I told him about internet business—if only he had a computer, he said.

Despite our lectures about Americans making their own fortunes, inside I had to admit that actually I was “sponsored.” My education was sponsored by scholarships, LDS tithing, and generous parents. What would I have done if I had none of those things, no access to books or computers, and no option to get a loan? I don’t know. But goodness knows a college education doesn’t equal getting a good job, unfortunately. Jacob, as a college dropout and a successful one at that, is probably the wrong person to ask for money to go to college.

I broke my resolve not to give to people on the street and bought a fifteen year old kid a dictionary today. He really wants to learn English—he found my soft spot, which is books. I can’t imagine living in a city with no library. Well, actually we have—in Ouazazarte, Morocco, and it wasn’t easy. I’m not going to say no to a $12 book. Plus, I reasoned, you buy a person a meal and they’re hungry the next day. You buy them a book, they can learn for a lifetime…and even share that learning and that book with others.

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The Dictionary Boy: See the pink flipflops he’s wearing? They were way too small for him.

Ethiopia, tonight, has made me a little teary.

God help Ethiopians learn to help themselves. That’s the prayer I’m saying in my heart tonight.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beggars

Ethiopia is starting to drive me a little crazy.
Jacob and I are both agreed that, after 3 months of sub-Saharan Africa, we are ready for, as Jacob puts it, “some people who are a little more up and coming.”
The hassle is just starting to be a little much as a farenji, or white person. It’s not the danger—Addis Ababa is as safe as it gets for Africa—it’s the begging.
And it’s not the begging from the handicapped that really gets me. There are so many handicapped here. We’re told it’s because the polio vaccine is relatively new. Polio apparently until recently used to be a huge problem. So many strange skin diseases with bulbous growths all over the body, so many people without feet, so many blind mothers with babies sucking at their breasts, so many mentally handicapped walking naked through the streets, so many crutches and so many malformed bodies. Their situation is a constant reminder of how blessed I am to have access to adequate healthcare.
So many kids trying to earn their keep by shoeshining, some wearing pants with holes the size of tennis balls on the bum. Or by selling chewing gum, or by begging and making hungry motions. These kids, I can pity, even if they can be irksome in their aggressiveness.
But the hassle from grown, healthy men with jobs, asking me for money—begging shamelessly from me, a young woman—is too much. There are so many normal, grown people here who just sit around on their blankets and make begging faces.
The miracle is, they get money. They all get money.
The reason is Ethiopia’s socialist culture. If you have money, you should give to those who don’t. It’s its religion too. Ethiopian Orthodox. By giving to others, God will bless you. Sadly, this belief, though altruistic, is holding them back.
Ethiopia is in the 10 poorest countries in the world.
It’s like they’ve never asked themselves why they are so poor. Just that they are poor, and other countries are selfish for not helping them. So many of them feel helpless and they just want wealthy people to give them money. But the poor countries get that way for a reason. It’s not just fate. The ideologies that the poor countries embrace are not helping them any.
The government, like most African countries, has been in power way too long and it is merciless with its protesters. 200 people were killed and 800 injured the last time elections were protested in 2005. Some people deny those numbers and even like their president because he’s still better than the president before. I didn’t know until coming here that Ethiopia had its own genocide that ended only 15 years ago, where it is reported 500,000 people were killed. The man in power at the time was afraid of all the youth and intelligensia so he wiped out an entire generation. This is unimaginable to Americans and it makes me respect “the right to bear arms” -even though I hate guns, I respect the right for a citizen to own one.
We were told Ethiopians want Americans to come help them kick their president out of power. I don’t know how I feel about that…We won our own independence didn’t we?
That said, I don’t think I would have the courage to protest, knowing I might be shot. I’d emigrate, instead. I think the Egyptians and others who have protested are so incredibly brave.
No other country has made me so proud to have been raised American. In America, we believe that you reap what you sow. If you work hard, you’ll be successful. If you don’t, it’s your fault. Your success is up to you.
Here in Ethiopia, the helplessness is palpable. They believe their destiny is in other people’s hands—rich people’s hands, and right now it is, because they have not risen to their potential, and because experience has taught them white people are generous.
The lack of ambition in people can be so frustrating here. We even arranged for our friend to get a job. He hasn’t worked in 3 years and is being supported by his sister. We thought he’d jump at the chance. Instead, he made some excuse of it not being the ideal work environment. We pay for everything when we go out with him. He often can’t even afford to make a single phone call. He’s dependent on his sister. He asks me to have 3 birr, the equivalent of about 10 cents, for a ride home. And yet he’s turning down a job…It seems the people would rather live off of charity than take initiative. There’s no shame in getting freebies because their culture has taught them that those who have should give to them….that’s the unselfish thing to do.
The result is the poorest, most begging culture we have ever experienced.
Ethiopia has got pretty rough problems, but NGOs run by Americans I personally don’t think is the answer. More and more, Jacob and I have become disenchanted with NGOs. Often they are the excuse for the owners to live it up under the name of charity, living out of the Sheraton and paying themselves a handsome salary. There is corruption and mismanagement of funds and abuse, much more than a regular business because a service or product is not being traded for money, but a “do good deed” which can’t really be listed in the marketplace for a price. White people who have come before us have given to the beggars and made the people now even more aggressive and shameless in their overtures toward us.
More and more, we feel that business is the answer. People need to start businesses, create jobs, and provide value to the marketplace. I know that is easier said than done, but…there is so much that could be created here. Ethiopia is not the desert people imagine it is. In the highlands, where most of the people live, it’s extremely green and beautiful. We’ve been told there is enough arable land in Ethiopia to actually feed all of Africa—how ironic, its dependence on food aid.
Ethiopia has to be a democracy before it can rise above its destitute situation. Until then, the government’s control will never allow the people to get the education and confidence they need to better their lives.
And in the meantime, the internet breaks, the power goes out, the hot water runs out, elevators go in and out of service, websites are blocked, the store keepers scam you, the locals follow you, and the farenjis start dreaming of a hassle-free, technologically advanced society where people don’t expect you to give them money just because you have some, or because you look like you have some because you have white skin.
Even though we made friends easily here, we wonder here more than anywhere else if these friends aren’t hoping to benefit financially from us—if our friendship isn’t a little artificial. India’s people were just as poor—but they insisted on paying our taxis for us, in giving us gifts, in making gestures that made us unable to doubt their genuine friendship. When we go out with friends here, there’s no question who’s getting the tab. No polite offers, even, to pay for their own. I’m pretty sure they just tell the waiter in Amharic, “The farenji’s getting the bill.”
I’ve started wanting to shake the grown men and women by the shoulders and say, “You can create your own destiny! You can live a better life! Don’t ask other people for money! Have a little pride!” But it’s such a different mentality. The kind-hearted Ethiopians can’t understand the concept that giving to beggars means they will continue to beg. That if you don’t give, they’ll stop asking, and they’ll find another way to make money. It’s that simple. As long as it’s more profitable for them to beg than to work, though, you can be sure they’ll stay on the streets, tugging your sleeve, making faces, wailing, hobbling, persistently trailing behind you.
Cairo will hopefully be an improvement in this area.
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Friday, May 13, 2011

Rafting the Nile

Here’s the story of our whitewater rafting in Uganda:

Jinja, Uganda is supposed to have the best white water rafting in the world.

I wavered at whether or not I wanted to do five grade rapids though:

But a friend I made said I had to do it, so…we did.

We got picked up outside of Nakumatt Oasis in a huge van that smelled like sweat which had “Nile River Explorers” painted on it.

We drove for a bumpy hour. I expected we would pick up others, but we never did.

Turns out Jacob and I were the only ones rafting the Nile that day.

This meant no photographers and no one to join us for the big barbecue bash that celebrates a safe ride down the river.

It could have been disappointing, but instead I chose to see it as romantic. Just Jacob and I on a private expedition for two Smile

The company is Australian-owned, but the guides were Ugandan.

Our main guide was sarcastic, tough, and had been rafting the Nile for 11 years. Tony, his grinning counterpart, made a perfect sidekick. Each rapid that advanced, our guide would say: “Tony, please don’t scream like a girl this time. You need to stop scaring the clients” or “Tony, don’t hide in the raft” and cute, grinning Tony would giggle and say, “Okay.”

We had some training. We learned no one had died, but several people had broken bones. We learned what to do if we got caught under the raft, what to do if we got taken away by the current, and how to ride the kayak if he came to rescue us. How to catch the rope if we had to get pulled in (not wrapped around the fingers—it could break them). How to float so we would be less likely to get tore up by a rock, legs in the air. We removed rings and watches because the water usually swallowed them up.

All of the information was kind of overwhelming, and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to remember it all in an emergency. Fortunately, we never  had to use it.

I dressed in a tee shirt and long spandex-style pants that turned out to be perfect for swimming—they protected from the sun but didn’t get baggy with water. We also had helmets and life jackets. The water was so pleasant—not cold at all. There were crocodiles, which we were told were vegetarian. Because white people hunt them, they get out quick when they see white people. Apparently they like to eat black people though. Which is why they didn’t like to swim in the water. Our guides said.

I wasn’t strong enough to pull myself into the raft when we practiced falling out, so it was agreed Jacob would pull me in. I’ve been working on my upper body strength, too. Darn.

We started going down the river, and we could already hear the rapids before we could see them. My heart was beating faster and I was praying and saying, “What did we get ourselves into?” We approached the water as our guide began issuing commands. “Paddle harder!” And then, “Get down!” That was the signal to hold onto the rope and hide your head. The raft whisked around large boulders and belched us out onto smooth water. We hadn’t tipped over. It was adrenaline-pumping fun.

The next one the wave was so humongous there was no doubt we were going to topple. It was like an ocean wave. We watched it break over us like the monster it was. Soon I found myself under the raft, but I saw light, headed towards it, and only swallowed a little of the famous Nile. Jacob, however, was stuck under the raft for a while, and he came up after gulping water for a bit. That one was our worst one. We went on 8 major rapids. Others had been closed due to the dam that was recently built. There’s talk that these rapids won’t be around forever, so now is the time to go.

After that there were long stretches of nothing, where we could just sit back and observe the interesting birds along the river. Lunch was fresh pineapple, chopped with a large knife right in front of us. I never knew how tasty fresh pineapple could be. Jacob and Tony skipped chunks of it across the river. Jacob squeezed the pineapple into his mouth and all over his face, saying he could do that here because he could just jump into the river afterwards. (Jacob hates to get his hands dirty.) He backflipped off the raft, knocked us all off at one point or another, and was just having such a great time that I was laughing just watching him. We could just swim and play in the flat water. Jacob took me and kissed me in the middle of the Nile, an awkward kiss with two life jackets blocking it, but my favorite part of the day nonetheless.

Then the roar of the rapids could be heard, and we’d prepare again. I’d be just as nervous every time. I was only nervous about breaking a bone. That would have been a nuisance, what with our having plane tickets to fly to Ethiopia the next day.

On a couple of the rapids, he had us lean on one side as we rode a wave sideways to keep from toppling. Bump—bump—bump, we sat on the top of that wave like a rickety roller coaster ride.

I’ll tell you there’s nothing like the feeling of being on top of a wave, in a raft, screaming and laughing, before sliding down it and starting it over again, out of control, at the mercy of the water.

We finished and I was a bit relieved and proud at the same time.

I discovered white water rafting grade 5 rapids was like everything I’m scared of: I research it, read blogs about it, overanalyze it, weigh the risks, consider backing out until the last second, and then take a leap of faith and do it.

Then I discover it’s never as bad as my imagination made it out to be.

Despite slathering on sunscreen, we both got rocked. My lower lip puffed up to the size of an African’s. Jacob’s rosy cheeks got even rosier.

Jacob’s quote: “This is my favorite activity in all of Africa.”

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Since we didn’t have our camera with us that day, here is a picture of Jacob on a different day in front of another part of the Nile.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Don’t love travel?

I have a theory that everyone loves to travel…they just don’t know it yet.

Most people think of travel as sightseeing. Although that is definitely enjoyable, that isn’t why I travel.

I travel because I have to know how other people live. How other people see the world.

I remember the week before I went to study abroad in Vienna. I was an emotional wreck. I cried a lot. I was scared to leave my friends, and Utah. I had no idea what it was going to be like. I wasn’t going, at that point, because I loved travel. I was going because it was going to allow me to escape the BYU music program for a while. Hey, the idea of use of travel for an escape is not a new one.

So I was really scared, but I remember my dad told me: “Kalli…I think you’re really going to like it.”

That turned out to be an understatement. You don’t live in the world’s number one quality of life city for three and a half months and not fall in love with it.

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At a football match in Vienna

I woke up every morning energized and excited for what the day would bring. I’d never had my own car, so public transportation meant I could actually get around on my own. I went clubbing with my roommate and I even met an Austrian boy. I fell in love with Europe.

I came back to the States ready for more.

Which leads me to my secret trick to fall in love with traveling:

To really travel, you have to stay a while. In one place. Preferably a month. Preferably not a tourist city.

A tourist city is defined as a city which exists solely to cater to tourists. Cappadocia or Ephesus, Turkey are some. The islands of Thailand, any kind of luxury cruise, Cancun, Mexico, and Santorini, Greece, too. Not that these places shouldn’t be visited—they just aren’t the place to go to if you are thinking about “traveling” as opposed to “vacationing.” Living in a place versus doing a shop-til-you-drop, mad-running-about-to-see-every-site, the-locals-are-all-out-to–get-your-tourist-dollar scammers (or worse, there are no locals because tourists and expats have actually taken over the city), visit is completely different. In fact, that idea is exhausting to do full time. We just hang out. We spend a lot of time at our hotel. We do maybe one touristy thing a week. Then we’ll go on some stint for a few days where we’re basically full out tourists…then return to relax and spend the rest of the month just hibernating, hanging out with new friends, and working on the computer.

I know not everyone has the ability to travel for a month at a time, but if you get the chance, a month will give you a completely different feeling than a jam-packed four days will. For Jacob, that vision came when he stayed in New Caledonia for 2 years. Jacob had to convince me to travel slow at first. For me, as someone who is desperate to see the whole world, it definitely was a paradigm shift. But now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some would say even one or two months is too short, really…and in some ways it is. But it at least gives you that depth that can only come when you stay in one place long enough for it to feel like home.

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travelers don’t know where they’re going.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ethiopia, the warm heart of Africa

Sorry for the hiatus—I believe the Ethiopian government blocks blogspot.

Ethiopia is everything I have wanted from Africa. In fact, it feels like the warm heart of Africa, like Turkey was the warm heart of the Middle East, India, the warm heart of Asia, and to some extent, Macedonia was for Europe (though we had Jacob’s brother to thank for that, perhaps.)

It’s a mix of Africa and the Middle East. Everything about it is unique.

It has its own calendar, its own time system, and the people have their own look.

The weather is similar to Utah’s; dry, not too hot, and mountainous.

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The cuisine is actually unique—beyond the chicken/rice/plantain fare so common elsewhere. It’s easy to  be vegetarian here: it’s called fasting in their religion, so food is plentiful and delicious for me.

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It’s been easy to make friends here.

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The religion, they believe, is the earliest version of Christianity and that the Arc of the Covenant is found here. They dress all in white when they go to worship for unity’s sake, which I thought paralled my own religion. Pretty neat.

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The dancing is CRAZY

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The music is percussive, rhythmic, and overwhelming.

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There are more naked, blind, handicapped, and poor people than any place we’ve been to. Someone told us that this is because of the wars Ethiopia has had for the last 20 years.DSC02920

There is so much recorded history, of which Ethiopians are justly proud. This is Lucy, the oldest hominid ever found.

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The traditional clothes feel Biblical—which they probably are.

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Back to life…

Back to reality…

We are in Egypt now…inhaling modernity, ambition, and technology—those three things which overall are missing in sub Saharan Africa.

I can now publish my Ethiopian blog posts.

I’ve considered editing them, because my opinion of Ethiopia changed over time… I think I’ll still publish them as I wrote them though. I went to the Egyptian museum today. Now is a great time to visit Egypt—without the tourist crowds, it feels like we’re the only ones around to discover its treasures.
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