Sunday, January 29, 2012

Notes From Cien, Our Man in Kololo.

From Cien...An Update.

Since the Western new year, many of you may have wondered where the blogging has gone.  And that is for good reason.  I have gone from making weekly posts to providing merely a couple in the last month.  I offer my apologies to all the curious and possibly frustrated parties.  There  is an explanation behind my digital absence, a good one, and  it is about time I shared.

The day before the ferenji  New Year, Daniel and I packed up for a 9 day trip to Addis.  We were to renew/extend our expiring visa’s, enjoy new years celebrations, and attend a mutual friends wedding.    We were due back in Kololo on the 9th of January to finish up the build in early February.  Unfortunately, we were unable to stick to our schedule.

New Years and the wedding celebrations went as expected.  All of our weekend nights slept away in a mud hut, surely stored up an adequate amount of partying energy.  It was the visa’s that got us where we are now.  Presently,  I am taking a rest from lumberjack chores on my father’s Serbian farm, while Daniel is catching up with friend and family in the US.  Sure, the convenience of not having to answer nature’s midnight call with a crank flashlight and a dulling machete is appreciated, but we both wish we were in Kololo.

On December 29th, all structural work was complete, a majority of the roof was in place, window openings were leveled, squared and ready for frame installation.  Hay and heavy soils were blended in preparation for the creation of cob.  Construction was going soundly, and community relations were at a peak.  Daniel and I were both were discreetly offered wives.  We respectfully declined.  We left for Addis on the 30th, while build assistant manager, Ijigu, remained in Kololo.

 Ijigu,  is a trusted friend, 7 year Tesfa employee, and was my assistant manager for a similar build in Ekodaga in 2010.  Just as with Kololo, Ijigu assisted me in construction planning, ordering materials, delegating labor, and dolling out payroll.  Because of his previous experience, and the communities respect for his leadership, we decided to continue the build in my absence.  Ijigu was to supervise the process of mixing and applying the first coat of cob to the exterior of the schools 3 buildings; he is well versed in this messy exercise, and was ready.  I am very confident in Ijigu’s ability to manage a worksite.   

In country visa processing has never been a streamlined activity.   Tesfa and Ethiopia Reads in country director tells many a ghastly tale of his trips to the Ethiopian immigration office.  Every year it’s something different, and the officials responsible for processing paperwork become more and more inept. Officials arbitrarily hand out visa extension amounts, with no standard protocol, just based on your interaction, and their mood that day.  Daniel for instance was in luck, after the office lost his visa, the ball was in his court, after some back and forth chatter, he was given that days maximum visa extension.  Meanwhile the very professional gentleman behind him was provided a single day extension.  Very little reasoning was offered.  

 I on the other hand was not looking for an extension, rather, I was hoping to renew my two year business visa.  To do so, I had to fulfill a scavenger hunt of requests; proof of employment, in country banking information, a organizational information, project proposals (for those I implemented),  and many other “certified” documents, all this including a full and might I add a very thorough health exam.  In a blur of nearly round the clock activity we fulfilled all of the immigration offices requests… Only to be thwarted. Other documents were requested, while others needed different stamps of approval.  It was ridiculous. As time ran out, we worked with a lawyer to acquire a 10 day extension.  We got it.  The office visits and scavenger hunt continued.  After 9 more days of certifying original graduate diplomas, rounding up an array of stamps, visiting with countless officials, and spending a few thousand birr on cabs, we were still without a work permit, temporary residence, and of course time to figure any way out of this mess.   I am now working with Serbian consulates and Tesfa/Ethiopia Reads management to acquire a visa from outside of the country.  Oddly, the process is much tidier from a far.

While this melee was taking place in early January, I caught some sort of stomach virus, and my computer’s battery  refused to take charge.  I was sicker than I have ever been, and was without a means to watch type emails, blog, or simply watch a movie to pass the time.  Things were not really going my way.  Meanwhile, Daniel’s visa extension was gradually expiring.  We all were consumed with taking care of my paperwork, consequently Daniel’s was never finished.  Things were obviously not going his way either.  Well, except that he now is now able to attend this year’s New Orleans  Mardi Gras festivities. 

So we both, mid-build, were forced out of the country, the same country that are were trying to assist.  Uncomfortably ironic isn’t it? 

Since I left, Ijigu and I have been in steady communication.  While in country we spoke every evening to discuss the day’s progress.  Work was going as planned.  We were going to use almost all of the dirt that excavated for the school’s foundations to construct the structure’s walls.  Organic recycling at its best. I now have been in Serbia for 7 days, allowing Tesfa management to relay phone conversations with Ijigu to me via email on a regular basis.  There has been minimal complications, and right now, the first coat of cob is complete on all interior and exterior walls.  The first 2 structures second coat of cob is nearing completion.  Ijigu expects the cob portion of the built to be finished by the end of the month.  At that point, work will stop, and Ijigu will return to Addis, enjoy some family time, and wait for my return.

 When we return on the 11th or 12th of February we will finish the final phase of the build.  Laying the floors for the buildings, erecting the bathroom,  painting, the installation of glass in the window frames, and finishing the water management system, including our bridges.  We expect that the work be complete by the second week of March.  

I am very excited to return.

One note: These sort of experiences are representative of the drawn out processes involved in many developing world bureaucracies.  A delicate balance of patience and assertiveness is critical in our work.  However,  Ethiopia’s political environment is more stringent than ever, and regardless of tact, many of these such road blocks are becoming common place.  I can assure you all, our wealth of project implementation experience, and effective management communication will ensure project success.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Notes From Kololo.

 Tesfa's eighth school, the one that all of you helped build, is nearing completion. It is amazing to see the progress. Thanks again to all of you. You did this!

 Some interesting notes from our crew in Kololo:
·       Kololo is said to be established during Emperor Haile Silasse’s time
·       More than 200 family heads live in Kololo.
·       Farmers grow Maize, Ginger, Teff, Godere (potato-like plant root), Coffee, Mango, Avocado, and Banana.
·       The Tembaregna, Hadiyagna, Wolaytigna and Amharic languages are said to be spoken by the villagers but the dominant language is Tembarigna.
·       There is no other school in the village.

·       The only school relatively near to Kololo is the Debub Ambocara school which is 2.5 hrs away.  Students from Kololo go to that school and have to travel 5 hrs both ways.

Here are some future students:

The children of Andesew and Kebebush. 
The children of Molore and Tadelech.
Get ready kiddos! School is almost in session!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gentle Indeed.

In October we went here with the kids. Ever since then, Melese has been begging us to take him back to see the animals. I decided to search through the archives of a couple of the local online moms' groups to see if I could find a farm closer to LA, where the kiddos could pet some farm animals. The first one I saw was The Gentle Barn. I briefly scanned the website and saw they were open to the public on Sundays. We went today.

 All of their animals have been rescued. My Capricorns were drawn to the other Capricorns. Hugs ensued.
 Meazi found a turkey who had been 'rescued from Thanksgiving."
 Llama, llama, smiling llama.
 Pig scritching...
 Here piggy piggy...

 "High on the hill was a lonely goatherd"...
 Horses rescued from Disney...

Horses rescued from Premarin production...
 Would you place children ???

 Meazi groomed and hugged a sweet cow...

 Steven found just the spot on this one...
 She seemed sad....
 It was a sweet, sweet, gentle place indeed.
I did some more reading about them when I got back. If you want a good cry,  'like' their Facebook page and scroll down to find the video about the cow reunited with her calf. Boo Hoo city.

Then I found a video on the Ellen Show.

We finished off our visit with a yummy vegan lunch, and a cupcake. Today was the owner's birthday. Meazi has hay in her boots, and Melese has that happy sleepy look about him. I am pulling out all of my dusty vegetarian cook books and swearing off bacon.

Local friends, please tell us when you visit. We'd love to go again.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I know I post the same thing every year. I really like it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Year of Firsts- Part I

Wouldn't that be a nice title and a fun blog post if I had any time? I planned on writing it near New Year's Day, and now I'm shooting for Valentine's Day.

We did have a big year of "firsts".  Some are more interesting than others.

Here is the 'first' video that I found:

First Time Dancing at a Jewish Wedding.