Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I'm a huge fan of lolcats/loldogs/lolwhatevercuteanimal, so I'm super excited about the latest LOL* range, aidlolz. Hilarious stuff!!

One of my submissions has already been put up...it's handy knowing who the lolrus is. And more importantly, getting (in the words of the lolrus itself) the "seal of approval. SEAL GEDDIT SEAL." Puntastic stuff!

*note for those not in the know: LOL stands for Laugh out Loud, not Lots of Love!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tweet up IRL

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of dining with two twitter/blogging pals. I'd met Cynan, who blogs over at LaVidaidLoca for the first time earlier in the year and our mystery guest was none other than Michael Keizer (A Humourless Lot) who had disappeared off the map for quite a number of months, which caused the creation of his own twitter hashtag: #FindMichaelKeizer. Cynan had also dubbed him Michael Keizer Soze (if you haven't seen The Usual Suspects go and find it now and watch it so you understand the reference!) so we were very happy to hear from him and head out for dinner.

The three of us met at a nice little Italian place; as Michael in town for a bit of a holiday from the wilds of Somaliland a pizza and a couple of beers were a welcome treat. It was super to finally meet Michael, having followed his blog and twitter for ages, and we had quite a nice evening discussing annoying donors, annoying requests for information, and aid work more generally.

It's nice to find out that the people you admire and respect online are just as interesting, funny and entertaining in real life. We have a great little online aid community and I really hope I can meet more people around the traps (perhaps discover the secret identities of some of them!) in the near future!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Waiting for water

We drove for about 2 hours on dirt roads this morning - we'd left at 6:30am and the sun was rising over the red dirt. Little dik diks darted across the road. I spotted a couple of gazelles; it was kind of like being on safari, just with more donkeys and cows and less lions and elephants. So on we drove, the red dirt turned to black dirt, then to grey dirt, then to sand. We were heading to Dillo, a place where we've been trucking water.

Most of the journey was relatively green, but the last half hour or so I really noticed how dry the land was. We cruised through Dillo town and arrived at the local government water authority. This was the view.
Somehow, these bright pink flowers bloom in the middle of nowhere, when nothing else is green.

We picked up a local government official and drove off into the bush. We stopped at a small village to pick up one of the senior community members so he could take us to the well. It was in pretty bad shape.

You can see bits of wood in the background there - the whole well is supposed to be covered over with concrete, and is fed from a smaller opening off to the side. It's been in disrepair for some time, and this means that only one household can use the well at a time. There are 96 households in the village that use this well...sometimes the women have to wait for 8 hours.

With the water level so low, each household is allowed to fill one jerrycan (20 litres) every second day. With household sizes ranging from 6-10 people this really isn't much water. And it's not a quick process. The young girl above would drop the USAID tin into the well, clanging against the sides as it dropped, then pull it back up. She would then tip half into the smaller yellow container as her elderly grandmother couldn't hold it properly if it was full. The grandmother would then tip the half full yellow container through the funnel into a jerrycan. The men stood around and watched. I asked my colleague if they carried the water back to the village, and thankfully she said yes (which is so often not the case.) I asked whether the men ever filled up the jerrycans from the well as that seemed to make a lot of sense to me, but no, culturally the women fill the water containers and the men carry them.

The next well we visited was worse - well better in that it was properly covered, but worse because it was completely dry. The government worker seemed to be a bit shocked by this.
We went and spoke to some of the community who use that well. One woman told me that if it weren't for the water trucks that we operate they would be in "serious trouble." I thought that was a bit of an understatement really.
The thing with water trucking is that it's a last resort measure. It's expensive, it's not sustainable, but there really is no other option for these communities. It hasn't rained in 2 years.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pancake Palava

I love pancakes. I loved in the guesthouse in Nairobi that Florence would make pancakes for breakfast at least twice a week. In my hotel in Addis there are usually pancakes; they're more like crepes and you get two thin ones on a plate with syrup. For some reason, they're always cold, but that's ok. The problem is, because there are only two and they're very thin, it really only takes a minute to devour them and I don't feel particularly full afterwards.

Today is Saturday. There's no lunch in the office on Saturday, so we thought we'd be strategic and order some extra pancakes to get us through the day. By the time I got to the hotel restaurant, my colleague S had already had her 2 pancakes, so she was going to order another 2. I thought 4 thin pancakes was the best way to go. So we asked the waiter for an extra 2 for S, and 4 for me. He came back a few minutes to clarify, and we said the same thing.

45 minutes later, a massive stack of pancakes was presented to me. There were about 13 pancakes on the plate. It made no sense. Well, it kind of made sense - we soon realised that he'd thought I'd meant that I wanted 4 orders of 2 pancakes...but I definitely had more than 8 on my plate. While we thought this was quite hilarious, it was nothing compared to the staff who thought we were absolutely crazy. I palmed off half of my stack to J and made my way through the rest as best I could. There was no way I was sending any back to the kitchen, so we sheepishly had to ask for a take away container.

There is a take away container now sitting in the middle of the conference room table; none of us can bring ourselves to look at it. Pancake coma....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Visiting Lucy

This is Lucy (sort of). She's 3.2 million years old and lived once upon a time in Ethiopia.

Why it's not really Lucy is because it's a cast of Lucy's bones, and the real bones are locked away in a vault somewhere in Addis to keep them safe. But they're very good casts and reading about Lucy was the most fascinating part of the National Museum of Ethiopia.

The rest of the museum is pretty grim. It smells manky. There's a weird assortment of bits and pieces, with explanations that are as detailed as "ceremonial dress" or "pottery jar ?" (far too many questions marks for my liking in a museum!) The second floor was an art gallery of sorts - a strange collection of religious paintings (including what must have been 5m x 2m painting from the 17th century that was just leaning up against the wall, though there was a rope in front of it to stop people getting too close) and then graphic depictions of the struggle against the Soviets. On the plus side, the small entry fee for locals (about 10 cents) meant that there were lots of fathers with their kids roaming through the museum.

As I was taking the photo of Lucy, two little boys ran past and stopped to remind me "no flash" which I thought was utterly adorable (and of course, I followed their instructions!) Further into the lower level where Lucy lives are all sorts of fossils and vague explanations of how fossils are made, and paintings of animals that may or may not have lived around Lucy's time, which included a mammoth that had tusks that pointed down (it was disturbing) and this:

which looked to me like the My Little Pony of pre-historic antelopes...

For a rainy morning, it was a wonderful choice of entertainment, which was followed by a leisurely lunch in the restaurant next door, aptly named Lucy, during which the sun came out and became very pleasant. And of course, what better way to top off a Sunday than with a massage at the Boston Day Spa. Super!!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Every morning

there's a mini goat market on the other side of the road to the guesthouse. The weather has been quite miserable, but the goats are usually outside unless it's really pouring down.

I don't know where they go when it's really pouring down.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Greg meets Julz

I've never really thought about the Gregorian calendar too much. The days come, the days go (and more and more it seems, the years go by too) and that's that. 30 days has September, April, June and November etc etc. Life has always made sense with the calendar that I know. I suppose I did stop to consider the Gregorian calendar when I lived in Bangladesh, as they work on the Islamic calendar, which puts them about 600 years behind (I think.)

But in Ethiopia, they use the Julian calendar. I'm still not sure on the details, and I can't get onto wikipedia to check it out, but it's something like 6 years behind the Gregorian calendar - so it's around 2005 here. And it goes further. A colleague mentioned it to me in passing, along the lines of 'and you know how the hours are different here..." It was my first night here, I was tired, I didn't really think anything of it until a few days later when around 4pm I asked what time dinner was served. The waitress replied 1:30. I was a bit thrown. I asked her to repeat the time, and she changed it to 1pm. I looked at my watch. 4pm. I looked back at her. She noticed my confusion and said 7pm. Ah yes, the hours are different here.

So I mentioned it to a different colleague last night, in a casual off-the-cuff kind of, 'you know how the time is different here' and he gave me the same confused look. I tried to explain it to him. He wouldn't believe me and thought I was talking about the time difference between Ethiopia and somewhere else. I finally had to settle it by asking the waiter what the current time was (at 9:40pm). He said, "in Ethiopia? It's 40 and 3." I looked triumphantly at my colleague, who nodded in acquiescence. But then we were both thrown when the waiter said "yes, 40 and 3, almost midnight". I need to get onto wikipedia...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Info management is media, is IT, is what the?

I introduced myself to a colleague yesterday. The exchange went a little something like this:
"Hi, I'm Carly, the regional information manager for the response."
"Hello, I'm such and such, let me tell you about what I do..." blah blah blah
"Ok, great. Well let's talk in a couple of weeks about any 'capacity building' I can potentially do for your team."
"Yes, that would be fantastic. So is your speciality media? video?"
"No, I do information management, data stuff."
"Oh, so you're the I.T. person."
"No, not information systems, information management. Um, I write sitreps and try to figure out the numbers of beneficiaries."
"Oh, so you're a comms person."
"Well, sort of."
"So can you give some training on media?"...

Head, meet wall. Commence banging.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The stark truth of fluros

Last night I went out for dinner with my colleague J, who I'm filling in for while she's away. We talked about the challenges for information management in this response, we talked about the personalities, the dynamics and all the other things that are going to make this work so interesting. We sat in a restaurant called Hill Top, but it wasn't actually at the top of the hill, but was high enough to see the lights of Addis, though they were muted through the clouds.

As we left we spotted a film crew. An attractive couple were sitting at a table outside engrossed in conversation as the cameraman moved around them. It was only when we had made it to the bottom of the stairs that we realised there was no sound - they'd been miming their lines to be dubbed in later.

We stopped at my guesthouse, as J had about 45 minutes to kill before she had to go to the airport. The power was out, as as neither of us fancied walking up the 5 flights of stairs to my pokey little room, we sat on a couch in the lobby. Lit by candlelight, J commented that it seemed really cosy and nice. There was a huge map of the world on the wall beside us, so we played games of how many countries we could name that started and ended with the same letter, and my favourite parlour game; there are 10 countries that only have 4 letters, what are they? (No googling allowed!) So we geographied our way through about half an hour, paying no attention to the three people sitting on the couch opposite us. There were two elderly Italian men and an Ethiopian woman.

Suddenly the lights came back on. The 'cosy and nice' atmosphere of the candlelight was replaced with bright fluorescent lights. A water feature of a cherub pouring water out of a vessel came to life, as did the neon rope lights that were strung around it. And the old man's hand on the young woman's leg became very noticeable as well. The door opened and another young Ethiopian woman strode in, followed by another elderly Italian gentleman. She greeted the receptionist by name and took a key and was followed up into the lift. When I went up to my room later I opened the drawer on the bedside table and noticed the condom.

So while my guesthouse may be a bit of a brothel, at least they encourage safe sex. I was asked to move out this morning as a room had opened up in another guesthouse that some colleagues are staying in - who knows what I'll find there!

I'm in Ethiopia

I arrived in Addis Ababa early this morning (after my flight left Nairobi at 3:30am) and found it much easier to get out of the airport than this time last year when I missed my flight, had no money and had to practically beg my way into a transit visa! So easy (and particularly without luggage) in fact, that my scheduled taxi was not waiting for me. After walking the length of the terminal looking for the taxi office (which someone had informed me was indeed inside the terminal) I asked a guard where it was. He pointed outside into the darkness (it was about 6am). "Where exactly?" I asked. He waved his hand again into the general direction of the darkness. So I followed a couple of air hostess into the darkened carpark and was relieved to see a number of men wearing brightly coloured Taxi vests. It took a while to find the man who was supposed to have been waiting for me, he exclaimed that I was too early, I managed to keep my mouth shut and not tell him he was too late.

It was a very short drive to my guesthouse, which I would class as a basic hotel. It's clean, it has a building site about a metre away from the window, but thankfully it looks like nothing happens there. It was the noise of the city traffic waking up that really hampered the couple of hours I had to sleep! But after all that, it's been an exciting day in the office, figuring out exactly what needs to be done in the next 10 days, and potentially longer than that, so I'm looking forward to getting my hands a bit dirtier than they've been in Nairobi (but certainly not proper dirty, I'll be spending the majority of my time in rainy, grey Addis).