Sunday, May 24, 2009

Realities of Third World Living

One full week in Ethiopia and even as a seasoned traveler I'm still reeling from culture shock. Read somewhere that it can take upwards of two years to fully adjust to living in a totally new culture - I've got six weeks! I'm full of admiration for the many NGO , USAID and other workers here who live in conditions far substandard to what they are used to, put up with inconveniences like rotating electrical service and a totally anarchical traffic system to work here. There is a strong streak of idealism in all of them – they believe in what they are doing and as one put it to me yesterday, "we push, inch by inch to make a difference; we back off when we think we are going too far with the government. It’s two steps forward sometimes three steps back every week but we keep going". Primary work here is involved with food issues, there is starvation in rural areas and distribution systems are poorly managed. Maternal and infant healthcare is another major issue as is population control. Of course AIDS looms big and female circumcision is still practiced in many areas; I met a retired USN physician yesterday who is giving up retirement to live here for two years specifically to work on the problems of malaria. The majority of the aid organizations have Ethiopian staff working alongside many other nationals, there is a stated goal to involve, train and give Ethiopians leadership in these critical issues. The young Ethiopians I have met are well educated, often in the US and Canada, and are dedicated to making a difference in their own country.

Private sector is very limited here. Entrepreneurship not encouraged. There are no banks other than Ethiopian owned ones; credit almost impossible to secure. There’s been a shortage of fuel in the past week thought to stem from non-payment of oil bills owed to Libya. The government wants to encourage tourism but the infra-structure has a long way to go. I keep harping about the traffic but it really is the most chaotic and terrifying situation I have ever been in. Traffic lights are ignored, signaling a farce and road lanes mean nothing. How different from my quiet, orderly life in Tucson.

Thursday night my daughter-in-law and I went to a modern dance concert at the National Theatre, a huge, aging building built I think in the seventies, with little character other than that provided by a massive marble and bronze entrance hall. Security was tight; the event was sponsored as a cultural exchange by the British Consulate - turned out that I really didn’t care for this Sadlers Wells originated performance, Destino, on the Road. Terribly bleak. The first dance was titled “Journey to Death” and it went downhill from there! One bright spot was a performance by a troupe of Addis youth all with disabilities – it was encouraging to see the opportunity given to them to perform and they did perform, in my opinion, far better than the very self-consciously cutting edge British dancers. Annie and I, along with a good half of the audience, left at intermission.

What do I like about Addis? Superb coffee! amazing resilience, hope.

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