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July 28, 2005

Electric tea

DSC0105Dip one Addis Tea teabag in a cup of boiled water. (Any teabag will do but it is always good to Buy Ethiopian).

Add a good slug of araki - a clear local-brewed aniseed spirit, kind of like an Ethiopian ouzo.

And there you have a cup of electric tea - or chai currento as it is called out here. A perfect way of getting through the rainy season.

Posted by aheavens at 5:45 AM

Miss Ethiopia, Supergeek

This Wired piece was so good that I am just going to shamelessly steal it.

There was a time when Atetegeb Tetfaye Worku was content to be perhaps the best-looking network engineer on the Horn of Africa. But this May afternoon Miss Ethiopia is one of 81 beauty queens rehearsing in Bangkok for the 54th Miss Universe competition...

Backstage, the contestants - or delegates, as they are officially known - chatter in dozens of languages. Worku, 24, is talking about her job installing computer networks. She's a willowy 5'9" with long black hair, a blinding smile, and excellent posture...

In 2001, she earned a diploma in computer science in Addis Ababa. "After college, I was accepted into a program organized by the United Nations Commission for Africa," she says in lilting English. "Part of that training was Cisco networking" ...

Like many Miss Universe delegates, she wants to improve the lives of others. (This year's winner, Miss Canada, is devoting herself to combatting HIV and AIDS.) "If we can produce more computer specialists in Ethiopia, then we can do what Singapore and India are doing," Worku says, moments before she is called away to rejoin the other contestants for a rehearsal of the swimsuit procession.

Posted by aheavens at 5:34 AM

July 24, 2005

From Gonder to Niger

dsc_0169I spent most of last week touring the countryside around Gonder with UNICEF (I have just started a three month contract with the agency helping out with their emergency communications). One the last day, just before catching the plane back to Addis, we spent an hour in a therapeutic feeding centre in Gonder's main university hospital. A therapeutic feeding centre (or TFC) is where only the most severely malnourished children go - the kind of children that could die at any moment without treatment simply because they are not getting enough of the right sort of food. There were about 20 shrunken children in the beds, including 10-year-old Abraham pictured here, either on drips of being fed fortified milk with syringes. They all seemed very well cared for but incredibly fragile.

When we got back there were the pictures of the Niger food crisis on TV. To untrained eyes, the children in Niger seemed in a much worse state. But again, most of the pictures came from an emergency therapeutic feeding centre. The same shrunken children were being fed with the same life-saving substances - fortified milk and a wonderful product called Plumpy Nut - a kind of pumped-up peanut butter that can have almost miraculous effects on malnourished children.

That wasn't the only similarity between the two scenes. Half way through a BBC report on the Niger crisis, a worker for Save the Children UK appeared in front of the camera talking about how "undramatic" the whole situation was. "There is no war in Niger, no rebel groups, no despots, no problems getting the aid in, it is just poverty," said Toby Porter, Save the Children's Director of Emergencies in a press release. "And kids are starving to death. It is simply because so many people in Niger are desperately poor, so many people living below the poverty line that a small shock creates a humanitarian disaster."

In Gonder it was also "just poverty". The children had been picked up in a routine government-run, UNICEF-funded, health screening of rural communities around the city. They hadn't been caught up in any wars, rebel clashes, floods or anything dramatic like that. They had just been caught up in everyday poverty compounded by disease (the day before the hospital had treated two children, aged 7 and 11, for polio, part of a brand new outbreak - but that is another story).

It was the fact that it was all so ordinary that was the really scary thing. There were no TV cameras or international reporters. It was just another ordinary day in Gonder. The first time I saw a TFC it was very upsetting. This time I must admit I had become sufficiently hardened to just get on with my job.

It is no surprise that aid agencies have such a tough time raising funds when we have got so used to scenes like these. Earlier this month, UNICEF Ethiopia put out an appeal for donors to fill a $42 million hole in funding (Niger is looking for $18 million), partly for the same screening programme that brought the children into Gonder hospital.

And it is not just the "western world" that has grown hardened and uninterested. The Addis-based papers here hardly ever write about the ongoing nutrition crisis (up to 500,000 Ethiopian children die every year from preventable causes but apparently that is not a story). The last time I wrote about malnutrition on this website, I got loads of complaints from Ethiopian readers accusing me of trying to "ruin the image of the country". Someone else said "all you can think of covering is the same old recycled stories...". Which is actually close to the point that I am making. These stories of dying children are getting "old" and "recycled". And we are all getting used to them.

UPDATE: Save The Children UK has set up a special Niger Food Crisis appeal page.

Posted by aheavens at 7:12 AM

July 23, 2005

Lake Tana/The Ghion Hotel: My favourite/least favourite place in Ethiopia #2

dsc_0023So how do you create a hotel that is simultaneously someone's favourite and least favourite place in Ethiopia?

First you choose one of the country's most stunning settings, on the banks of Lake Tana - a mini inland sea studded with islands and ancient monasteries.

Second you build your hotel close to the bank with a balcony that looks over the water and a garden with huge, old trees filled with colourful birds.

Third, you stop caring.

You leave the paint to blister in the rooms and dark stains to spread in the toilets.

When a guest comes in saying that it looks like their door has been kicked in and the lock is held together with masking tape, you tell them that that is the "natural state" of doors and there is nothing you can do.

dsc_0013When a guest complains that his room is the only one on the row without a mosquito net, you shrug and swear blind that there is no malaria in Bahir Dar (the main town on the banks of the lake) - so why would you need a mosquito net? When the guest insists that malaria is actually endemic in Bahir Dar, you shrug again and say that there are no mosquito nets left in the hotel and that it would be impossible to borrow one from another hotel or buy a replacement in town.

When you see that your guest is a foreigner, you brazenly charge double. This "ferengi rate" is actually common practice in many Ethiopian hotels and is always guaranteed to leave an odd taste in the mouth. There is nothing like feeling like a resourse to be exploited rather than a visitor to be welcomed.

This, by the way, is all based on two visits to the Ghion, several months apart. Not everyone has had such a bad time. The Lonely Planet guide, for example, describes it as "well managed and friendly - good value in a beautiful lakeside setting". So come and judge for yourselves. Or you can always camp.

Posted by aheavens at 11:15 AM

A view of Gonder

dsc_0115I just thought you would like to see this view of Gonder, taken early yesterday morning from the balcony of the city's top-of-the-range Goha hotel. (It is about a half hour's walk uphill from the centre of town but a great place for a coffee, a sit-down and a chat.) The rains had fallen heavily during the night, freshening everything up and leaving a beautiful mist over the whole city.

It is amazing what a few weeks of rain can do to the Ethiopian countryside in general. Almost overnight, hills and fields that are usually cracked and brown get covered in grass and other shrubs, all bright green - the kind of intense green you see in those old 'technicolor' films.

I don't know enough about Gonder to officially name it as one of my favourite places in the country just yet. (We were on a very quick, working trip so didn't have time to explore.) But it is definitely worth a second visit. Most people, of course, come to Gonder to see its collection of ancient castles and churches, a collection that has earned it the name "Africa's Camelot".

You can see the castles - just about - in a series of photos showing the view in a panorama on my Flickr site.

It is made up of five photos from left to right - one, two, three, four and five.

Posted by aheavens at 10:56 AM

July 22, 2005

A decent pub in Gonder

dsc_0118Just in case anyone asks you - yes, there is a decent pub in Gonder. It also has loads of great Azmari bars and the usual range of coffee and pastry hang-outs (try Delicious Pastry and Sofa Juice). I can also recommend the mini-bottles of Gouder wine at the hotel we stayed at - the unfortunately named Semen Park Hotel. Each bottle is served in its own traditional knitted dress.

Posted by aheavens at 1:26 PM

July 13, 2005

Brad's sick

brad.jpgNot the best advert for the Ethiopian tourism industry. Brad Pitt comes to town for a couple of days to help his "close friend" Angelina Jolie pick out a baby to adopt, and he catches viral meningitis.

Here's the story on CNN:

Brad Pitt treated for meningitis

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- Film star Brad Pitt was released on Wednesday from a Los Angeles hospital where he had been admitted for a flu-like illness that turned out to be viral meningitis, his spokeswoman has said. Pitt, 41, was at home on Wednesday afternoon after his discharge and was "doing well," his publicist said in a statement...Pitt, who split up with his wife, actress Jennifer Aniston, earlier this year, traveled to Ethiopia last week with actress Angelina Jolie, his co-star in the movie "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"...

Just to put things into context, we've been here almost a year and never caught anything as serious as that. All I've personally suffered from during that time is giardia (with all its comedy side-effects including sulphurous eggy burps), food poisoning (from a certain buffet at a certain hotel) and a little breathlessness in the early days (it is so high here that water boils at 92 degrees centigrade).

There are also the rainy season blues which set in about now as Addis Ababa does an amazing impression of London in September, with extra rain.

UPDATE: And if you thought Brad was bad ...

Miss Ethiopia quarantined for not having medical cert

KUCHING: Miss Ethiopia Dina Fekadu Mosissa was put under a four-day quarantine after she failed to produce a yellow-fever card on arrival at the KL International Airport yesterday. The 21-year-old beauty will miss the Miss Tourism pageant's preview dinner show here tonight.

Posted by aheavens at 6:02 AM

July 11, 2005

Lake Langano: My favourite place in Ethiopia #1

dsc_0073We took a short break from Addis and all its election uncertainty last week and spent a night down south, on the banks of Lake Langano. (I know it is a typical ferengi hang-out. But what can I do? I am a typical ferengi.)

While we were there, enjoying the peace and quiet and flocks of multi-coloured birds, I thought it might be interesting to start a list of people's favourite places in Ethiopia. The only images that 'the West' sees of this country are the feeding centres and parched hills. They all do exist. But, as anyone who has spent even a short time in Ethiopia will tell you, they are only a tiny part of the picture.

So I thought I would start with Langano, a huge dun-coloured volcanic lake about four hours drive south of Addis Ababa. They best things about it are the total calm and the huge range of birds, baboons, wild boars (near quieter parts of the shore) and other wildlife that scuttle around outside your door. You can sit outside with a book and see dikdik run past just 10 yards away or watch bright yellow weaver birds picking apart nests on a nearby tree. (I am actually at risk of becoming a 'twitcher' - Amber bought me the Collins Illustrated Checklist of Birds of East Africa for our anniversary last week.)

One of the mosty striking things about Langano is its shore-line - a weird moonscape of pumice stone boulders. If you try the traditional male pursuit of stone-skimming, your rock hops across the surface of the water for a bit, then just floats.

Langano is becoming one of the main attractions in Ethiopia's small but growing tourism industry. For visitors who like a bit of Kenya-style luxury, there is Bishangari Lodge, idyllic but too expensive for regular visits. (Actually not so expensive by international standards.) For families there are a couple of state-run resorts, complete with cabins, restaurants and a touch of Marxist-Butlins chique. You can also camp.

None of all this activity, however, intrudes on the lake. You can still sit on the bank and feel totally alone.

So that is Langano. If anyone wants to suggest another "favourite place in Ethiopia" feel free. If I am close enough, I will try to get a picture of it.

Posted by aheavens at 5:15 AM

The Spice Girls, guns and ET-Francs

Here is a rough round-up of posts I've really enjoyed from Ethiopia's A-list (i.e. only) bloggers over the past couple of weeks.

Addis Ababa Rocking Fun Zone describes what is probably the most complicated film plot in history. "Yarefed Guzo" is an Amharic movie about a woman who wants to be a singer but has to endure a string of tragedies. In just one twist:

The brother is taken to jail and it turns out falsely because the son of the rapist was in the bar at the same time and either out of shame or loathing for his father, he strangles him when the singer's brother is not looking.

Alvise Forcellini has posted some amazing photos of Ethiopia on Flickr. (I know it's not really a blog).

Ethiopundit led a brave but doomed campaign to get Bob Geldof to include The Spice Girls in the Live8 concert line-up. I was with him all the way on this one.

[Geldof] has banned the Spice Girls from Live 8 after they were teased about a reunion and participation...This cruel and capricious decision was made so that really serious and politically relevant artists whom the leaders of the G8 will definitely pay attention to - like Outkast, Destiny's Child, Black-Eyed Peas, Linkin Park, Alicia Keys, Eminem, Madonna, Sir Paul McCartney, Coldplay, Sir Elton John, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Stevie Wonder, 50 Cent, Youssou N'Dour, Jamiroquai, A-ha, Duran Duran, and Mary J Blige - can have more time on stage.

Please Bob Geldof, put the Spice Girls on before it is too late!

Satisfy my soul (ego) has proved once again that he shares my entire music collection, with a series of posts referencing everyone from Johnny Cash to The Smiths and Bob Dylan. The latest post is about a nasty confrontation with Ethiopia's special forces at a family funeral.

My first enjoyment of holding an AK came at the age of ten when it was cheaper to buy an AK than a toy gun. My first satisfaction of killing my opponents with an AK was during my university years where so many precious hours were well wasted playing counter strike. My first holdup with an AK came two weeks ago. Here is how the last one happened.

It picks up on the huge amount of guns on the streets of Addis Ababa, and the general suspicion of cameras.

Weichegud! ET Politics regaled everyone with a wonderful description of a typical night out in Paris with France's Ethiopian community.

Anyway, at the restaurant… which, by the way, prominently featured the dual theatrics of a stick-up-their-butts maitre d' and sommelier, turned out to be pretty good, and it got better when sexually repressed sommelier managed to crack a smile when he found out we were Ethiopians. He regaled us with stories of how his uncle was one of the service people that the British government gave Emperor Haile Selassie during his exile in Bath. Who knows? But at least he got all the details correct…There were a couple of Satre/Rimbaud-quoting ETs snuggling in the corner and they ended up joining us, as did their Satre/Rimbaud quoting friends who materialized almost out of thin air and kissed everyone at the table upon their arrival. (They are friendly, these ET-Francs.)

After that comes the recitation of an Amharic poem and her memories of growing up in Ethiopia. All amazing stuff.

I would have included my wife in this run down. But she hasn't posted anything for weeks.

If anyone out there wants to join in, you can set up a blog for free - and anonymously - here and here.

Posted by aheavens at 4:50 AM

July 10, 2005

Hard talking

DSC_0002The BBC's HARDtalk show has been on a tour of East Africa this week giving the kind of hard-hitting interviews you rarely hear on the local media. The two interviews with Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's prime minister, and Hailu Shawel, chairman of the main opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), have had a huge impact over here.

Transcripts have appeared in most of the newspapers. People keep e-mailing quotes to each other. Everyone is talking about them and arguing about who came off best. Here are links to the Meles and Hailu interviews as reprinted by The Reporter on Friday. (Here are the BBC summaries for Meles and Hailu with links to video feeds). The cartoon shows Capital's take on what happened.

The general feeling is that both men had a tough time keeping up with the questions of interviewer Stephen Sackur. For what it's worth, I think they both did better than his next target, Kenya's information minister Raphael Tuju.

Posted by aheavens at 2:20 PM

July 8, 2005

The longest election?

Can anyone think of another set of election results that have taken so long to come out?

First Ethiopia poll results drawn (BBC)

The first official results from Ethiopia's disputed May elections show the ruling party and the opposition won roughly the same number of seats. With more than half the results announced, the EPRDF of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has a narrow lead. The National Election Board said it was investigating allegations of fraud in up to 200 seats.

Here is some analysis from the Head Heeb.

I am experimenting with turning comments on again.

Posted by aheavens at 3:08 PM

July 5, 2005

What's Live 8?

ethio vox pop picHere is an interview I did with two Addis Ababa university students about the Live 8 concerts that happened in London, Philadelphia and other cities over the weekend. The Live 8 events followed on from the Live Aid concert for Ethiopia 20 years ago. They were organised to increase pressure on G8 leaders meeting in Scotland this week to double aid to Africa, fully cancel its debt, and deliver "trade justice" for the continent - all subjects close to Ethiopians' hearts. But the latest concerts have had hardly any coverage over here. As you will see, even some of the best informed people in the capital have hardly heard of them.

The photo shows Meron Berhane, aged 29 (L) and Sophia Nesri, 27 (R) looking at a CD by star Ethiopian singer Teddy Afro in Irie Digital Entertainment music store in the Kazanchis district of Addis Ababa. They are both journalism and communication students at Addis Ababa University. Irie is one of the best known music shops in Addis. The owner broadcasts a hugely popular music radio show on the state-owned 'FM' station every weekday.

Interview excerpts:

Have you heard about these Live 8 concerts?

M: No, nothing.

S: No. I've read something on the internet about Bob Geldof and another artist but I forgot. Is that it?

Do you think Live 8 is a good idea? Will it make a difference?

S: It depends on the audience. If the concert was happening here, it wouldn't have a lot of impact because most of them, the bands and singers, are anonymous here. There have always been these things for Africa. But look where we are. I don't think aid is the thing to develop us. We don't need aid. We need governance.

M: It's a good idea that they've got some oldies, reggae, some new singers. They've got a good mix. And they can attract different audiences.

Should there have been a concert in Addis Ababa?

S: In this situation? People can't even get together to demonstrate at the moment [referring to the current ban on public meetings and demonstrations following the elections].

M: We can not get together for anything. I'm sure if you held a concert at the moment people would use it to hold a demonstration. But apart from the political situation, it's always nice to have concerts.

Here is the London Live Aid line-up. Do you recognise any of them?


No: Annie Lennox, Coldplay, Dido, Joss Stone, Keane, The Killers, Ms Dynamite, Pink Floyd, Razorlight, REM, The Scissor Sisters, Stereophonics, Snow Patrol, Travis, Velvet Revolver

Yes: Bob Geldof, Elton John, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams, Snoop Dog, Sting, U2, UB40

Comments on artists

M: "She's alright - for her time. [Should she be in a concert promoting Africa?] Yes, recently, she's been a family woman. Her image has changed. She's not a sex object any more. I think she has changed her attitude so, she's OK. If you'd said Madonna before, I would have said ... no.

S: Sade's not there? No! Erykah Badu has to be there. She's the queen of Africa.

S: Pink Floyd? Pink as in 'pink'! No

S: Snoop Dog is raising money for Africa!? With Bob Geldof!

M: I love UB40. Everybody loves UB40 here. I've always suggested them to people who bring bands to the Sheraton. Why don't they bring UB40? Everybody loves UB40. You can hear their songs in every bar in every taxi. For the first place, everybody loves reggae. And there's is easy to listen to and everyone likes them. And a 'UB40' is a UK unemployment form - right? They know what it means to be unemployed so they should be there.

If you were arranging a concert to raise awareness of Africa's development, who would you invite to take part?

S: It should be African artists for Africa.

M: Because their point of departure is the same. They feel what we feel.

S: Michael Jackson - he's the only artist people everyone knows - our mothers know him, we know him, probably our kids will know him, you know. If you go in the streets and say 'Jennifer Lopez' probably 10 people would know her. But Michael Jackson is just a figure that everybody has been acquainted with in some parts of their lives. If he did a concert for Africa, that would make a difference. For sure.

S: If Bob Marley was alive - Bob Marley (laughs).

How about some local artists?

S: Teddy Afro.

M: He is the new Bob Marley. He sings Reggae. The beat is common to everybody. So most of his songs are reggae beat.

S: And he is the guy who brought the new generation to Amharic music. Because the new generation was just listening to rap, Jennifer Lopez. But now they have started listening to Amharic songs.

M: He has fought globalisation through localising. and also his sings have real content. He sings about real things. He is a revolutionary, like Bob Marley.

Do you remember Live Aid or Band Aid? What did you think of those events?

S: ‘We Are The World' - Everyone here knows that. But ‘Do They Know It's Christmas?' No. It was a concert to raise money for Africa, for the famine. But everyone says hardly any of the money came through. They said only 20 per cent of the support came through.

The general feeling is that foreign governments don't do anything for nothing. There is a strategic agenda behind everything. There must have been some self interest. That was people's general reaction to the Live Aid concert.

M: There are people they can help in their own countries before they come to Addis. I mean we've seen images of Americans in the streets begging.

Posted by aheavens at 5:41 AM

July 4, 2005

Two views on Africa

You can't open a British newspaper (or in my case website) at the moment without reading someone's views on Africa. The combined impact of Live 8 this weekend and G8 next weekend has sparked a flood of copy. Two of the best pieces are hidden behind subscription barriers. But here are two chunky quotes, one a blast of angry cynicism from Matthew Parris of The Times, the other a refreshing attack on angry cynicism from The Economist.

We must all sneer and scoff at the corrupt, cruel jackasses of Africa (The Times Jul 3)

GOD SPARE AFRICA from mercy. God deliver Africa from The Guardian. God protect Africa from the Synod of the Church of England. God send Africa a little less of our charity and understanding, and a little more of our anger and disdain.

Pity poisons the continent when it stifles criticism. As leaders of the G8 gather to discuss aid, they should be pitiless in their resolve to make pariahs of black Africa's cruel and rotten governments. A ruling class of greedy men, sheltered by a popular culture of gawping passivity in the face of political swagger, is suffocating the people of Africa and neither tears nor money nor rock music should be our first response. Rage, not rock, is called for.

Helping Africa help itself (The Economist June 30)

The aid sceptics-some of them veterans of the industry, their palms calloused from many previous bouts of hand-wringing over Africa-have all the best lines in the debate. Everything has been seen before, they say, nothing has worked. But what do they mean precisely? Do they mean that the World Health Organisation should abandon its efforts to put 3m HIV-carriers on anti-retroviral therapies? Perhaps those already on the drugs should hand them back, lest they succumb to "dependency". Should Merck stop donating its drug, ivermectin, to potential victims of riverblindness? Let Togo reinvent the drug itself! Perhaps, in the name of self-reliance, Tanzania's government should stop giving pregnant women vouchers to buy mosquito nets. Get sewing, ladies!

No one should be naive about aid. It cannot make poverty history, and it can do harm. But to say that nothing works is wrong. Cynicism is only the most common form of naivety.

I can't find a reliable direct link to The Times article, because of its highly annoying subscription barrier for international readers. But you can get there by going to the front page and searching for the headline or 'Matthew Parris'.

Posted by aheavens at 5:15 AM