Sunday, December 20, 2015

In Place of Turkey Bowl – November 27, 2015

Right before I left for Ethiopia, I got a text from a friend in Hanover asking if we’d be having Turkey Bowl this year – given that 17RFR is on the market. Well 17RFR hasn’t sold, so no reason for no Turkey Bowl on the Green…except that I’d be in Ethiopia.

One would think that given my love for Turkey Bowl, I would have tried to organize something in Ethiopia. One would be wrong – because I was at a hotel that had a spa option and that seemed like a better use of my time than a futile (American) football effort.

So with the lowest of expectations, I set off down to the Sabana Wellness Center. Let’s just summarize this whole experience by saying that my expectations were met, exceeded, re-set, and exceeded again. From the plush robes to the rainfall shower and the Jacuzzi and mood music – I just didn’t know that such a luxurious spa experience could exist in Ethiopia!

As I struggled to not doze off while enjoying the full body massage, thinking of exactly how I’d capture the full experience in my blog, I remembered…*gasp* I NEVER PUBLISHED MY BLOG ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE TURKISH BATHS IN ISTANBUL!

*Flashback to June 19, 2014*

I landed in Istanbul without much planned except for a reservation at a hostel for that evening and a list of ~20 foods to try and ~20 attractions to visit aggregated from Turkish friends and friends of friends. Some things, like the Blue Mosque, felt obligatory and inevitable (note: I ended up never visiting the Blue Mosque) while others – like going to a Haman, or Turkish Bath, sounded a little more interesting.

I tend to like to do interesting things…so after getting settled at #bunk hostel, I set off to Galatasaray Hamam. Everything I knew about the Haman is summed up in the 2-line explanation I received from a friend-of-a-friend: “In Taksim Zone. Open daily 08:00-20:00, prices range from YTL 40-70 (EUR 23-40) according to preference. YTL 70 includes massage, the cleansing, pore opening and bubbles. Women only, women do the massage”

Seemed reasonable to go to a place where women do the massage. Whatever that meant.
By the genius I learned from Cory Hoeferlin in Mozambique that you can access the blue dot on Google Maps even if you’re offline, I was able to navigate my way through the back streets of Taksim to find the Galatasaray Hamam. Well…kinda. I saw a door that said as much and I let myself in.

I feel that I should be excused for missing the Female door for the Galatasarya Hamam
Cue scene from a movie for a room full of naked men all conversing suddenly stop, turn, and stare. Apparently there is also a male-only Galatasaray Hamam – and apparently they are quite exposed because male only means MALE ONLY and women don’t usually wander into the restricted area.
So I tried again at the female Galatasaray Hamam. As I walked up the stairs, I was greeted with some beautiful posters of beautiful women laughing around marble baths while enjoying eating grapes with their friends. It looked beautiful and was nothing like the experience that I walked into.

My only indication of what would be included in my hamam experience before I entered. Maybe I should read up about some things in advance.
*Warning: In an effort to maintain journalistic integrity, the following section is NSFW (aka Not Safe for Work) or for grandparents. I had no idea what I was walking into with a Turkish bath and you might be offended.

So I walked into the hamam. There were about four women sitting around in various states of dress, most of them with some amount of water dripping off of them. Despite the entrance of a clueless white girl, it took them a while to acknowledge me – at which point it became clear that none of them knew English. I pointed to one of the options on the list of services and hoped that it was clear.

The woman didn’t take any money, but she gave me a key and led me to a little room on the side. I use the word “room” very liberally here – it was kind of like an open cubicle, made of glass, and with a door that locked. There was a little chair and a towel in it. I assumed this meant that I was supposed to change into the towel – but it was a little strange because there wasn’t exactly any privacy in the tiny room made of glass. But in my hesitation, I gained privacy – the other four women in the room quickly left to go to side rooms. So I slipped off my clothes and wrapped myself in the tiny little towel. But then I didn’t really know what to do, so I just sat on the little chair for a bit.

A little bit became a long bit. I was confused. Was I supposed to do be doing something? I eventually grew bored enough of sitting and staring at a blank wall, so I decided to venture into the main room to see if anybody paid any attention to me. Maybe because I hadn’t paid anything, they were ignoring me? Was I supposed to have paid?

Finally finally, one of the four women came back into the room and led me to this room full of showers. She mimed that I was supposed to shower and then held her hand out to hold my towel for me. Right. There’s nothing I love more than showering in front of foreign women in foreign countries. (Tried to link to a blog entry about visiting a traditional bath house in Japan here – but apparently I never wrote that blog either! Something has prevented me from writing these NSFW blogs…)

When she felt that I was sufficiently showered, she led me into another room. This room had a huge marble slab in the middle and probably 20 little faucets/sinks on the side with stools. It was also hot and steamy. My guide pointed to me to sit on the marble slab – which was pretty hot. Because if you think I left out the part where I was supposed to say that she gave me my towel back, I didn’t. I was still prancing around naked in front of her.

She turned and left.

Things I did in the time before she came back included: walking 10 laps around the marble slap (a feat given how slippery the floor is), laying back down on the marble slab and counting all the tiles in the ceiling (they were tiny tiles), opening all the doors that led out of the room to see if there was something else I was supposed to be doing, giving up hope and just sitting there…wondering what I’d gotten myself into and if I should’ve gone to one of the fancier hamam’s suggested by the friend-of-a-friend.

Finally finally again, my guide came back to rescue me. She instructed me to sit up on the marble slab and then she stripped down herself, on a stool across from me. Then she started dumping buckets of water on top of me. With the combination of the force of the water and the already slippery surface of the marble, I slid straight off the marble slab with the first dump of water – and straight into my guide. She pushed me back onto the slab and forced me down into her well-endowed chest. 

Ermmmmmm – I hesitated.

But then she poured the next bucketful of water on me and I started to slide again before steadying myself with my head against her chest.

“Fuck it,” I thought, “I need stability” – so I went for it and burrowed myself into her chest, grabbing her sides to further steady myself.

Which was when I remembered the pictures of the ladies enjoying the hamam that were on the stairs as I entered. While nuzzled up in this Turkish woman’s boobs, staring down at her nudity as she slapped my back clean, I thought to myself that this experience definitely was not what was advertised.

Just...not what my hamam experience was like. There are way too many clothes in this picture and those girls are way too not-that-well-endowed.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Next Generation – Thanksgiving, 2015

There is so much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving – and it’s easy to be reminded of all of this when you spend Thanksgiving in a developing country.

But rather than say that being here on Thanksgiving means I’m especially thankful for having family, having health, never questioning where my next meal is coming from (except for those times when I am genuinely confused), etc…I figured I’d take this another direction.

I’m thankful for Quinn. (Her dad, my coworker, gave me permission to mention Quinn and use her picture in this blog…he probably didn’t realize how I was planning on using it though.)

I spend a lot of time volunteering and I give pretty generously to non-profits. I have a hard time explaining why I do this except for maybe I grew up with two very good role models. But this inherent sense of responsibility can actually be a weakness as it often means I find it difficult to convince others to volunteer or to make a donation to something. They ask why and I freeze – what do you mean “why”? Why are YOU challenging this??

So when I was telling my coworkers about my fun times buying massive quantities of children's vitamins, cough syrup (note: wasn’t stopped…?), underwear and soccer equipment to bring over with me to Selamta, I was not expecting anything to come out of it except for a few laughs.

Boy was I wrong. Later that night, one of my coworkers, Rob – who happens to also play on the CVS Soccer Team (RxNinjaBallz) with me – followed up with me to ask if I had room in my suitcase for one more soccer ball. I mean…of course! But why?

Why is because his 5 year old daughter, Quinn (who’s probably better at soccer than I am), wanted to donate a soccer ball to the kids in Ethiopia. Before I left the office last Thursday, Quinn showed up with her bright green soccer ball to donate.

This whole experience made me so thankful. I'm thankful to see this connection made between two kids across the world from each other. And I'm thankful to see the inherent good in the world with this "next generation" of givers. AND I'm thankful to see the smiles on these kids' faces - I don’t know who is happier in their picture with the bright green soccer ball!
Quinn and Rob - making their donation!
I actually HAD to be in this picture because the Fasika and Dagim (L to R) kept running off with their new balls. The only way to get them to stop for a picture was to hold them. Not pictured is my tight grip.
The Selamta kids all have soccer practice on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I missed Saturday's practice so I was really excited to be there for Tuesday to bring the new soccer balls (and a football - in case we want to try to organize a Turkey Bowl game on Thanksgiving) to the field. I didn't get out of the office though before one of the kids (Dagim) found me holding the bright green ball. His eyes widened up as he knew EXACTLY what it was and who it was for (hint: him). He "helped" me out by taking it out of my hands (I was also juggling some other balls and some bottles of water) and played with it the whole way to the field - often passing to me but then just getting frustrated with my lack of skillz. When we got to the field he excitedly dribbled a victory lap to show off his new ball before the big boys were like "that ball looks cool - we want it" -- I had youngest child PTSD as I watched him watch the older boys kick the ball around. He was beaming about still being somewhat involved in the fun -- but -- youngest child PTSD about not actually getting the ball. 

Quinn is an oldest sibling, so I'm not sure she'll ever be able to appreciate this situation. But a little later on I smiled to myself as the little munchkin had recovered his bright green ball and taken it over to the wall to play without interruption from the big boys -- kinda reminded me of when Quinn shows up at our soccer games and has to play with herself while all her dad's friends are playing on the field. I know that if these two ever met each other, they would be instant friends!

So I hope you can have a happier Thanksgiving thinking about these two kids - on opposite sides of the world, but being connected.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Had to Comment on the Healthcare Here - November 24, 2015

Today a mystery was solved!

In the brief phone conversation I had with the Selamta Executive Director right before I boarded my plane in DC (here), I failed to mention her true sign off line: “Oh…we learned last night that Yohannes is in the hospital. It says it was for ‘stomach surgery’…so we assume that means appendicitis – but could you check once you arrive?”

Considering I went straight from the Kigali airport to a wedding when I first moved to Rwanda (check it out here), the request to go to the hospital right when I landed wasn’t too far out of the ordinary. So, after the initial money exchange and errands, down I walked to the Bethel Teaching Hospital with Abel.

[Side note to mention that the hospital was in better shape than I had expected. I didn’t want to take any pictures there – so sorry, but it was a 5-story building with a winding ramp up the center atrium – all pristine white and reasonably organized. Inpatient was on the 5th floor (well – I was misled – they said it was on the “4th floor” but then my post-plane, sea-level altitude acclimated self almost cried when we walked up one flight and I saw a sign that said “Floor 1”.)]

In the inpatient unit, there was a chalkboard with the patients’ room numbers, names, diagnoses, DOB, etc. It seemed very similar to a US hospital (I’m not sure they need Hospital IQ yet) – Yohannes was listed in room 404 (LIES – really 504) and with a “Perforated PUD”.

STOP. Put yourself in my shoes and do not Google the answer. Because Google was not available to me at the time. Does a “PUD” in a foreign country that doesn’t even use the Roman alphabet for its native language look similar enough to “aPPenDix” that you’d agree with what you’ve been told? That the patient had appendicitis?

Med school students – I feel your judgment. I don’t care. You’re the profession that's most likely to suffer from #confirmationbias

Yohannes was unsurprisingly holding court from his hospital bed (maybe this is surprising since you have no idea who Yohannes is – but let me tell you – it’s not surprising). He had about 5 visitors when we arrived and there was a steady flow of visitors throughout the miserable 1.5 hours that I was there.

Why were those 1.5 hours miserable? Because I had arrived at 8am (midnight EST) after ~no sleep during my 16 hour flight and I was sitting on a hard chair in an Ethiopian hospital surrounded by people who didn’t really know English and whose focus was the kid recovering from surgery in an Ethiopian hospital – not the white girl sitting on the side.

At one point, this very confident woman showed up. She walked right in, pulled his chart off his bed and started flipping through it. Then she inspected his IV drip and drainage bag (stuffed into a black plastic bag, tied to the side of the bed), felt for a fever, and started saying something to his mother. Of note – she was also dressed up all nice and had her nails done and hair styled perfectly. I figured she was a Selamta kid who was in nursing school – and looked down at my dirt-laden nails and travel outfit with shame – and started regretting my career path – why do I have such useless skills? How will I ever be able to help anybody with Excel shortcuts and “leadership”??

Okay – let’s bring this back from my existential crisis – I also figured that if she was in nursing school she probably knew English – so I went for it and asked her the diagnosis.

Boy, did she know English. She rattled off her response. I again caught “perforated” and a word that had some P and D sounds. It wasn’t appendix but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. I decided it was a fancier word for “spleen” because – that’s in that part of the body – and also has a P.

DON’T GOOGLE! Do you remember from 7th grade biology what the spleen does? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Anyways, I nodded along and pretended I understood everything she was saying. Especially after we exchanged some greetings and I learned she’s the actual nurse for Selamta and I told her that I work at “a pharmacy” in the US (no introduction has ever been more misleading – she probably assumed I knew exactly what she was talking about).

When I remembered to Google it later, I searched for “ruptured PED” – which isn’t what he has but returned enough search results about a medical thing (a pipeline embolization device) that I #confirmed my assumption that “PED” was just some inexplicable Amharic-to-English acronym translation for spleen or appendix.

My mother was very concerned when she arrived today and asked me what the diagnosis is. Apparently a “ruptured spleen I think” is a VERY BIG deal. She went straight to the source of the nurse, where we got MYSTERY SOLVED: the patient had had a ruptured ulcer in his stomach (peptic ulcer disease)!

Unfortunately, this wasn’t actually joyous news – because like a ruptured PUD is a much, much worse diagnosis. But at least…now we know?

PS – Wonder if my time spent in a hospital allows me to bill this as a “work trip”?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Girl Power - November 23, 2015

I have a confession to make: for all that I love and support female equality (especially in developing countries), I have a difficult time discussing it (especially in developing countries). Which is why I think that one woman who I met this week is so incredible.

On Monday I had the pleasure of visiting the two main schools that Selamta kids attend: the local Alpha school and the distant magnet-like Yeha School of Science and Technology.

During my visit to Alpha, my (female) guide just happened to mention the bathroom process – because we passed a group of boys sprinting back to their classroom from the bathroom. Everywhere you look in the literature about female equality in developing countries, you see references to girls who stop attending school when they start menstruating. The topic was there…I didn’t even have to bring it up: all I had to do was ask how they handle the bathroom process to make it easier for girls on their period. And yet, something about me felt too awkward – questioning “What if she doesn’t have a good answer? What if she doesn’t understand the question? What if she’s offended I bring up menstruation?” – so I held back.

Sorry for the teaser: neither me nor that female guide is the incredible woman I met this week. I met HER at Yeha – the school we headed to after Alpha.

This girl is also not the incredible woman that I met this week - but damn - isn't she beautiful? This was taken during a 2nd grade English class at Alpha. After the initial giggles when I walked in with my guide, most of the students went straight back to the lesson - it was incredible how they were all so eagerly engaged! Except for this one girl - she did not take her eyes off of me - she wanted to make sure she knew what was up!
Yeha is a Science and Technology school about 30 minutes away from Selamta. Twelve Selamta kids started attending this year. Given the distance, requisites, tuition, etc., it would be impossible for all Selamta kids to attend Yeha (and admittedly, of the 12 there, some aren’t too happy about it because they had been going to Alpha for ~10 years), but the school is AWESOME. The Director showed me chemistry/physics/biology labs, a computer classroom, and an IT lab (where they deconstruct computers) – and we didn’t have time to go to the biodiversity farm across the street! The halls are covered with educational posters and pictures of world leaders who have visited the school. And there’s a bunch of tortoises on the school grounds that are raised by the Kindergarten class every year.

I couldn't get the best pictures at Yeha because the classrooms/labs were locked (we got there after the school day ended) - but this "tree model" for Global Impact pretty much captures how all the hallways looked!
Doesn't this pictures just make you want to go back to school and learn??  
Anyways, as we were leaving, we ran into the elementary school English teacher. None of the Selamta kids at Yeha are in elementary school so she was unaware of the program. As we explained to her the Selamta model she said “bless your hearts” and then jumped straight into asking:

“How many of your 12 students here are girls?”

I did not know – but I learned that the answer is three.

“That is not enough. Girls need to be studying science and technology. You need to send more girls here.” And she didn’t give up – she asked me if I could come back to speak with the girls in the school about what it’s like to be a woman in science (disclaimer: I have had a hard time correcting people from thinking I’m a pharmacist #cvsproblems) – she told me that she has a Girls in Science Club.

And all the while I was kicking myself for:
1.       Not having nearly as much courage as she has – I didn’t even feel comfortable asking the guide at Alpha about female menstruation
2.       Not having asked myself at Selamta about the breakdown of girls who attend this school (but don’t worry too long about that part – I made sure that the point was not lost when we got back in the car)

Reflecting on this encounter brings a smile to my face. I am so happy that the local drive for female equality exists – and I am so happy that the girls at Yeha have this woman as a role model!

PS – I would be remiss to not mention two other points about #feminism with this Girl Power post:

1.       In every single house that I have visited, the girls have been preparing the meals while the boys basically hang out. I do keep on asking the boys if they ever cook and they do keep on telling me that “yes they do” (so they’re not embarrassed to say it) – but I still haven’t seen it L

2.       I visited Axum House tonight with my parents – I might ask my mom to write a guest blog post about the Axum mom because she’s seen her grow since her very first day at Selamta (when she didn’t even know Amharic!) to the strong, proud mother she is today!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremonies – November 22, 2015

This blog could just as reasonably be titled: “Dancing, Drinking and Other Regrets”, but I figured I’d go with a more wholesome suggestion.

I was really excited to hear that the Great Ethiopian Run would be going on while I was in Addis. Basically any expat/Ethiopian I talked with the day before the run asked me if I was planning on going. It seemed like such a huge event – I obviously enthusiastically replied “YES!” every time I was asked.

Then I woke up at 10am. The race started at 9am. And was in the city. So I didn’t make it.

At first, I blamed the dancing, drinking and other adventures from the night before. Anxious that I only had one weekend night in Addis, I had called Ishy and INSISTED that he take me out dancing. I never think it’s reasonable to say you’ve visited a city if you’ve never gotten drunk with locals – so I saw this as necessary. Ishy was a little surprised by my enthusiasm to go out drinking after arriving at 7am that morning (and sleeping next to none on the plane – I have already submitted a formal complaint to Ethiopian Airlines – I DO NOT understand why they turned the cabin lights off for the first part of the flight and ON for the second part – the flight landed at 7am! We should’ve all been sleeping right up til the landing!) but, as I’ve said, drinking with locals = necessary.

So after a great dinner with Gondar house, complete with Ethiopian coffee ceremony (a true ceremony that includes roasting beans and drinking three rounds of very dark coffee out of tiny little cups, often laden with sugar), Ishy picked me up and off we went to downtown! 

Injera dinner at Gondar house. Fuzzy picture because - yes - I was embarrassed to be #instagramming my food.
We started at a sports pub to watch the Real Madrid – Barcelona match, continued onto a “fancy place” where they had more Tanquery in one place than I’ve ever seen in my life and ended at a dance club/ hookah bar where we pushed through the blackout** and stayed until the wee hours of the morning…where then we really ended the night at a pizza joint. I got home around 3am and was still so energized that a lucky someone got to spend 20 minutes on a combination of Facebook/GroupMe/Whatsapp calls with a very drunk and happy (and sappy) me.

So…needless to say, that 8am alarm got turned off pretty quickly. (Not that I had a way really to get to the GER since Ishy didn’t wake up until around noon…)

I did spend most of today in a haze of confusion however because I have always INSISTED that jet lag doesn’t impact me/ only impacts the weak. I was a bit terrified that in my old age*, I had become weak.

This was up until I was at Menelik House for dinner tonight and, after dinner, we started the coffee ceremony again. Eyob kindly explained to me that it is traditional in Ethiopia to drink three rounds of coffee during the ceremony (the “Abole”, the “Tona” and the “Bereka”). As we were drinking the Abole, he asked me if I would do all three rounds. Eager to please and to accept the hospitality, I said yes. Everybody in the room reacted to my agreement though – with a universal “REALLY?!? How are you going to SLEEP!?!”

And that’s when it hit me: I have a rule of saying yes to anything that I am served in somebody’s house***  – it’s actually the reason I started eating meat before I moved to Rwanda (the reason I continued after Rwanda is bacon). This rule has given me a generous list of foods that I can brag about having tried (generally, once) – but I’ve never thought that I should get credit for drinking something as common as COFFEE.

But for those of you who don’t know me that well…I DO NOT drink caffeine. This little body has enough energy in it that caffeine is not only not necessary – it’s probably a health hazard. I mean – of course, I’d say yes to coffee without a second thought when invited into a family’s house and when it’s so integral to their culture. But in real life…NEVER.

So now I know why I missed the Great Ethiopian Run. It wasn’t because of dancing and drinking and pizza – it was because of the famed Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony!

Roasting the beans as part of the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony! Gondar House and Menelik House were both great hosts for my first two dinners in Ethiopia!
*Note: not that old
**In reviewing this - I feel the need to explain that I mean an ACTUAL blackout. Like...when the electricity goes out. Not a drunk blackout. Although maybe it's a reasonable pun here. 
***Entertainingly, I actually broke that rule at the Menelik house when I was offered tap water. I have seen my system handle tap water before, but given the short duration of my trip this time around, I didn’t want to waste being sick for any of it! So I did say “no” to the tap water. And immediately felt incredibly guilty as Eyob ran out to the market to buy a bottle of water for me. And I didn’t have any birr on me so I couldn’t pay him back. And I’m feeling like the worst person in the world as I’m typing this…trust me.

And We’re Off…or Are We? - November 21, 2015

Arranging pick-ups at foreign airports is perhaps my favorite part about traveling. There’s generally guaranteed to be this overwhelming sense of “wtf” when you land and realize you don’t speak the language / have a local cell phone / really even know who is picking you up or where said person will be. When you’re on the plane, everything is all wonderful and still American…and then you land it’s like “shit…I’m in a very foreign place now.”

I was not disappointed when I landed in the Addis airport early on Saturday morning after ~18 hours of travel. Luckily, I have been to Addis quite a few times before so I was able to speed walk my way to be probably the first person on my plane to the Visa line – and then I was able to reassure everybody that, yes, they had to wait in the disastrously long line.

But as the minutes in line ticked away (after probably 15 minutes I gave up pretending to be in awe of everything and just tuned into a podcast…I then listened to two 30-minute podcasts before getting close enough to the front to think it inappropriate to start another), my confidence that I’d be able to find the driver for Selamta Family Project diminished…

Flashback to 16 hours before: about 10 minutes before I boarded the plane in DC, I got a text from the US Director of the Selamta FamilyProject: “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

I volunteer for the Finance team for Selamta and we’re in the middle of a grant application…so I knew that the “few minutes” she wanted to talk would probably be ~30 minutes reviewing the budget…and I literally only had a few minutes before I boarded the plane. I contemplated not texting her back, but ultimately guilt overwhelmed me so I did, and I braced myself for the barrage of budget questions that would inevitably come. (Marisa – just so you know – I do love you!)

She called me right away.

No small talk…she jumped straight to the point: 

“Do you know who is picking you up in Addis?”

“Umm…Ishy was going to but he just messaged [about 10 minutes prior] to tell me his car is broken to Haile is going to pick me up instead.”

[Actually realizing I should be thankful that Ishy messaged me when he did. Would’ve been an unfortunate message to miss by just a few minutes…]

“Okay and do you know where he’s going to pick you up?”


“Alright…well usually they can’t come into the airport because of security reasons. So don’t freak out if you don’t see him! Just get your bags and walk down to the parking lot and I’m sure he’ll spot you!”

“Right…I’ve been to Addis before so I can vision the parking lot area. But…I’m not sure I remember what Haile looks like.”

“I’ll text you a picture. Good luck!” [Hey Marisa…about that text…I never received it!]

Perhaps the only time I’ve been less confident in an airport pick-up was when I was messaging Cory Hoeferlin from the Istanbul airport on my way to Jo’burg. It ended up that the only way I found him was by talking loud enough about my problem in the airport that a tour guide overheard and made the connection that his tour guide friend was with Cory – like what.

Back to Addis time: every time I’ve gotten a Visa before, it has taken about 30 minutes. So when I clicked onto podcast #2, I started figuring out Plan B – as I was sure it would soon become Plan A. Haile was definitely going to assume he missed me and leave the airport. There were four Plan Bs in my mind:

1.       Public transportation – I’ve taken public busses around Addis before so I figured I could figure it out again. Plus, Selamta is pretty close to the (I think) well-known Bethel Teaching Hospital so I could probably communicate that with a bus driver who would probably let me know where I need to transfer, etc. The reason I was most apprehensive about this option though was because it would be really hard to take a public bus with two 50-lb bags in tow. I actually wasn’t sure it was possible. Also I wasn’t sure if public buses came to the airport.

2.      Walk down to an internet cafĂ© – I’ve hung out in Addis/Bole area enough to know there are plenty of internet cafes. There would probably be a few within a mile of the airport. I could just walk down to one of them and pull out my phone to email Abel/Hailey my whereabouts. But again – two 50 lb bags in tow made this one a little difficult.

3.      Bite the bullet and pay the international data roaming fee and just text Abel/Hailey – This idea was especially attractive because I recently absorbed the rest of my family onto my Verizon plan – which actually means – I recently stopped paying my own cell phone bill. I actually tried this one but it didn’t work because I’m somewhat technologically inept.

4.      Cry and find a ride/ hitchhike – Would’ve been a fine idea if I could articulate where Selamta is located. But I quickly realized I could not do this when the Immigration Officer asked me the address of where I was staying and I stuttered out an inadequate response.

So without a reasonable Plan B, I only had one option once I got through the Visa line (its own adventure of follow-your-passport as it traded hands between FIVE immigration officers), I picked up my bags, confidently shrugged off any taxi offers with a “no, amaseganalo” and headed to the parking lot.

…which is where this story ends because I immediately spotted and recognized Haile, who was beaming and enthusiastically waving at me the second the parking lot came into view. With a quick hug and an exchange of cookies from the US as thanks, we were off to run some errands and head out to Bethel, home of Selamta Family Project!

[Of note: I wasn’t alone in my fear that immigration took too long. Once I got internet, I saw that I had actually gotten an email while in line from the Ethiopian Director of Selamta. He had assumed I missed Haile and was finding my own way to Selamta!]

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hop On – Hop Oh God – Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I have to come clean about this…….I did a Hop On Hop Off bus in Johannesburg. In my defense though, I had an unplanned day in Joburg. Safety tips before I arrived warned me to not write down the actual name of my hotel on my customs form because the customs officials were known to hand those names off to friends if they spotted an unaccompanied female. (Cue scene from Taken.) Also, from the official Joburg airport site: “Public transport shouldn’t be used because it’s not safe.” Pretty straightforward. 

So ridicule me for it all you’d like, but I figured a Hop On Hop Off bus would be the easiest way for me to take in everything Joburg had to offer in the 8 hours I had to spend in the city between waking up at the hostel and going back to the airport for my flight to Istanbul. (It was also the cheapest tour option and the only one that didn’t require an advance reservation.) And I was not wrong…it was awesome!!

I took a cab from my hostel to Ghandi Square first thing in the morning, eager to meet my bus. Nervous about being late and failing at my whole itinerary, I arrived about 15 minutes early. Which seemed to be 14 minutes WAY TOO EARLY when I took a look around the square which, despite the name, did not quite come off as peaceful. I re-considered my plan of taking out cash and instead distracted myself by practicing “fuck you” faces in a nearby window. A favorite pastime really. I actually got so distracted with this activity that I missed the HUGE RED DOUBLE DECKER BUS (there weren’t too many of them) when it came driving through the square. I had to resign to pathetically running after the bus, waving it down, for fear of making “fuck you” faces at myself (and all passerby) for the next two hours. The driver commented that he had assumed I was there for the bus, but that I had looked so content that he wasn’t sure. Crisis #1 Avoided.

I paid my fee, grabbed my headphones, and sat back to listen to the history of Johannesburg while I comfortably – and safely – took in the sights. I stayed that passive way for about an hour until we arrived at the Gold Reef Casino (fun fact that I didn’t know: Joburg is the largest city in the world not on any large navigable body of water – BECAUSE there was gold there). Here, I paid the $30 upgrade to HOP OFF my Hop On Hop Off bus to go to Soweto.

Because Soweto (aka the South Western Township) is really what people think of when they think of Johannesburg: miles upon miles of shantytowns for as far as the eye can see. I couldn’t believe I was paying money to go tour poverty. It’s everything I hated about tourists in Rwanda when I lived there…but I also couldn’t imagine going to Johannesburg and not visiting Soweto. (When would I be back?)

Again. I am SO HAPPY that I did. I was the only person on my route who decided to upgrade to the Soweto tour. And instead of listening to an audio recording, this tour was hosted by a real, live tour guide. Which meant that I had a PERSONAL 2 HOUR TOUR of Soweto by an awesome, wonderful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide.  (Seriously – her name is Brenda and we’ve been in email contact since. If you’re ever headed to Joburg, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.)

Brenda is from Soweto and she was so excited to share it with an outsider. Not embarrassed – proud. She also works with tourists all the time and is used to requests for pictures – so she’s the source of more than half the pictures I have from this trip. Enjoy! [Read the captions - the rest of the update is in the captions.]

FNB Stadium
When I was last in South Africa (in 2008), they were in the process of building the stadiums for the 2010 World Cup. It was controversial at the time (and it never really stopped being controversial…but what’s an international sporting event without controversy), but I was so excited to watch it with Cory (he came back!) while we were at Tuck Bridge. And then it was awesome to see one of the stadiums in person! 
Orlando Towers
Before you even enter Soweto, you see the Orlando Towers – and you see them from most places in the Township as well. If you look closely, you’ll see a bridge between the two towers. You can bungee jump off of that. That was the other thing I was seriously considering doing this day. But since I’ve already gone skydiving in South Africa, I figured I’d save my mom the blood pressure by just taking a picture in front of them instead. (Brenda didn’t like how stoic I was in my FNB picture and forced me to be more “fun” in this one…)  
Welcome to Soweto!
The population of Soweto is about the same (a little more than) as the population of Johannesburg proper. It’s very much a city in its own right – not just the shantytown I had imagined. (Maybe you’re all judging my naivetĂ© – but I think not.) Note the houses on the side of the road – they are actual, legitimate houses. Brenda was very proud of showing off how much of an actual suburb most parts of Soweto are – that it’s a place that middle-class people are proud to live. ALSO note the vuvezelas on the street median. They were everywhere. Couldn’t get away.
Vilakazi Street
Did you know that Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu grew upon the same street? I thought Rope Ferry Rd was special for sending so many kids to St. Paul’s…but it’s got nothing on Vilakazi Street which has two Nobel Laureates. (PS – I met Desmond Tutu during Semester at Sea!)
Mandela House
I don’t want to say that I didn’t fully appreciate what Mandela meant to South African people (and…the world) – but it was an incredible experience to visit his house (now museum) six months after his death. Is there anybody who is so widely acknowledged as a hero in America? Whose death would be so widely mourned?
Mandela House – 2
Brenda is a great tour guide. She made me take pictures with me in them. 
Mandela House – 3
I am not used to taking pictures while touring. I also don’t dress in anticipation of it. 
Kliptown – Museum
At a few points during the tour, a volunteer tour guide took over from Brenda for a bit. (It’s a little obvious that the volunteers are just hoping that they can one day be hired as real tour guides – but they had the same enthusiasm to show off their township to outsiders. And yeah…I gave them a few rand. So sorry. I’m an American tourist and I really appreciated what they were doing.) This particular tour guide showed me the South Africa Bill of Rights, which is carved into stone in an open museum in Kliptown. Notably, they have an article stating that women are entitled to paid maternity leave. Imagine that
Kliptown – 2
Okay. Okay. Before you start thinking that Joburg is nicer than Providence (possible?)…I’ll point out that there still IS poverty and, as much as my tour guides might not have wanted me to see it, there were areas where there were shanties on the side of the road. Straight out of the commercials…right? 
Apartheid Museum
After two hours in Soweto, Brenda and the driver dropped me off at the Apartheid Museuem…where I spent ANOTHER two hours. Incredibly emotionally draining…you are randomly assigned on your ticket if you are White, Black, or Colored and you enter a different door/have a different experience in the museum because of it. Although you’re transfixed by everything in your section, you can’t help but wonder what you’re missing out on in the other section…and like…can’t you just go out and go back in the other door to experience the other section? No. You cannot. Well…maybe you can go buy another ticket but you risk the same randomization for your color assignment. And that’s just where it starts. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to journal after this experience because I was SO GOOD at my timing that I basically ran out to the bus to HOP ON to my next stop. 

South African Breweries
Yeah…don’t worry about it…I obviously HOPPED OFF at the South African Breweries stop. Unfortunately the tour was two hours and I didn’t have the time for that, so instead I walked across the street to the science museum. Seriously…Hop On Hop Off busses are amazing…How was there so much time for all of this in one day? Before a 6:45pm international flight??
Nelson Mandela Bridge
Okay…after that, I did have to stay on the bus. But look at this shot of the Nelson Mandela Bridge!
Bus Selfie
Because…why not? Note the blue over my right shoulder…there were actually other tourists doing the same thing! It wasn’t just me!
The very trendy part of town – where all the cool college kids hang. Too cool for me obvs.

Public Transport
Remember that guideline that public transportation should be “avoided at all costs”? Whatevs…I took the Gautrain back to the airport and I’m fine now. I also still have a card if anybody wants to borrow for their trip to Safrica.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Planes, Planes and Airports – Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In which I diverge from the carefully written out itinerary I sent my parents - because like...why should they be worried about a LAM flight? - to take a flight on a different day from an airport that advertised skydiving lessons in the waiting room.
Car Rental in Tofo, Mozambique. Note the "Bus" is a horse. 
Since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you know I’m not much of a planner. I really wish I could somehow track the cumulative dollars I have spent on paying for plane ticket transfer/change fees in my life. Knowing that number might incentivize me to pay the extra upfront fee to ensure tickets are transferrable because I should just admit…I’m not a good enough planner to know something like what flight I want to be on in advance of…the day of the flight.

Anyways, I booked my return flight from Tofo/Inhambane for June 18. Partially this is because I am bad at math when it comes to days (I never understand…do you subtract the numbers and add one?? Or two??) and partially because I was expecting/hoping that I would love scuba diving SO MUCH that I would just want to stay in Tofo for another day/forever after Cory left. But this was not the case and, after a week at the beach, I was ready to leave on the same day as Cory.

When I had learned the Cory’s flight was a day before mine even before we started the trip, I actually had tried to email LAM (Mozambique Airlines) to change my ticket. Those emails weren’t fruitful, so I tried to call them. This required adding more $$ to my Google Voice account (which you can only add in $10 increments) to make an international call. And then when I could never get through to them during their “business hours”, I asked my mom to do it. She miraculously got through to them and they gave her a range of how much extra it would cost and said I’d have to come into a LAM office to change it. At this point, I just gave up and figured I’d figure it out when I got there.

So Cory and I took a chappa back to the airport with ample time before our flights.

Too much time.

There was nobody at the airport when we arrived. In classic Eli-Mitchell-must-check-if-every-door-is-locked-or-unlocked fashion, I found myself on the roof (air traffic control tower?) while looking for an agent. I haven’t been to enough small airports in the US (max 2 flights per day) to know if this is an Africa thing or a small airport thing, but I do have to say…it’s pretttyyy exciting to find yourself on the top of the unlocked roof of an airport!

That gate to the right looks unlocked to me!
So much to see from the top of the Inhambane Airport/Air Traffic Control Tower!!
We eventually found somebody and I discovered why I needed to be in person to change my ticket. Literally everything was handwritten. After ~10 minutes of silent calculations, looking up I don’t really know what and typing frantically onto a desk calculator, the agent handed me a handwritten receipt (in pencil!) showing how much I owed for the change. I paid in cash.

Then she handed over a handwritten boarding pass and I was off to Joburg!

Cory's handwritten boarding pass

It was quite a last-minute decision to fly out on the 17th instead of the 18th and it meant that I didn’t have a place to stay or any plans in Joburg. I basically emailed the hostel Cory had stayed at while he was in Joburg saying “I will arrive at the airport at this time. Can you please pick me up? I will pay you.” When we got to the airport, I learned that my flight was actually THREE HOURS later than I thought it was going to be. I was flipping out that I wouldn’t have a ride to pick me up in Joburg, but luckily, they were running on Africa time and were actually 15 minutes late picking me up (okay…3 hours and 15 minutes late…), but it all worked out.
Good byeee Cory!! We were actually on different flights. All the times were very confusing. Had we been on the same flight, I would have just been waiting in the Joburg airport for a much longer time for my ride to show up. Maybe so long I would've cried.
Many years ago, I had emailed with an older St. Paul’s Alum who was living in Joburg. Not having plans for my 24 hours there at all, I emailed her off-the-cuff to ask if she was still living there and if she’d want to get dinner. She and her husband came to pick me up at the hostel and treated me to a great Italian dinner out. Love the St. Paul’s community!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

World Cup – Monday, June 16, 2014

The World Cup saved us. Kind of. It suddenly came in and gave us something to do. It put something on TV in which we were marginally interested. (Uruguay vs. Costa Rica anybody? Who knew how important that game would end up being…) And it made it socially acceptable to just sit in a bar all day and drink.

However, games didn’t start until 7pm local time in Mozambique. Which meant that second games were are 10pm…and third games were at 1am. We could, of course, watch the entire match again in a bar the next day (and we usually did), but it was way more fun to watch them live. Especially when the US was playing Ghana!!!

Cory and I decided that we needed to do something to really celebrate this. So, in classic American tradition, we decided to make some Mexican food: guacamole and salsa! The market had everything we needed and we even asked our little samosa boy if he could make us samosa with no filling (he asked: “you mean chips?” umm yeah…chips was exactly what we wanted). We borrowed bowls and utensils from the kitchen at Casa Barry and chopped and mixed away on our porch. It was amazing. It tasted so good. We were so excited to show it off at the 1am game. Everybody knew we had made something for the US game but they didn’t know what. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but everybody was very confused when we excitedly revealed our chips, salsa and quac. Nobody wanted any. It was so sad. Not even the other Americans! (And PS – Every non-American was cheering for Ghana.) So we sat there from 1 to 3am and regrettably ate all of our own salsa and guac. Sad face.

We made a new chill surfer friend at Casa Barry. He was there for breakfast and invited us out on his adventure to the lighthouse. We had been wanting to go to the lighthouse since our first walk on the beach when we realized just how misleadingly far it was! And our new friend had a car and used to live in Mozambique and spoke Portuguese fluently! So we hopped in and headed there. Had a fun adventuring afternoon and learned tons from our new friend about the history of Mozambique. He stopped by the bar later that night while Cory was back in our room so he just gave me a little care package of things that might “save Cory”. It had band aids (true – Cory probably needed those) and some Christian reading materials with a link to our new friend’s blog which was all about how he used to be a sweet surfer dude doing mountains of coke in LA until he found Jesus. I didn’t know what to think about the fact that he didn’t seem to want to save me, but I just handed the packet in its entirety over to Cory when he returned. The people you meet on beaches in Mozambique.

Accidentally artsy pic of the lighthouse. Didn't realize my camera mode was on black and white because it was SO BRIGHT out I had no chance of actually seeing what the picture I had taken looked like. 
Cory and I have VERY FEW pictures of the two of us together on this trip. But at least I have a few quality creeper shots of him!

[To be clear: I watched every single World Cup match up until June 21. Every single one. When I landed in Boston, we were tied in the second half of the Portugal game – this is when we still kinda thought Portugal was a contender even after the 4-0 loss to Germany – and I was going crazy in the customs line. I got yelled at and was told to put my phone away. When I got through the line we were WINNING and I booked it into the first bar I could find. It had the match on, but absolutely nobody was paying attention to it. I was going crazy, loving having my phone back and being able to text everybody and watching every second of the match right up until the Portugal goal to tie it with seconds left. I was devastated, and nobody else in the stupid US bar where they don’t watch soccer seemed to care.]

A Day of Boredom (Pictures) – Sunday, June 15, 2014

We had two days after scuba ended to just chill on the beach in Mozambique. This is because we way overestimated the “decompression time” required for our 10m dives. Also, while Googling in anticipation of the trip, we learned that the US Navy and the US Air Force have different decompression tables (not that we knew what one of those actually was before our video lessons), and we didn’t really know which to trust, so we just went conservative. Anyways, we had a lot of time on the beach on this particular day which just reinforced that I am a lakes and mountains girl and I don’t like long walks on the beach.

So rather than recount that boringness, here are some pictures!

Pool selfies!
This is from our story of paying Pedro to bring us beer on the beech. Note bracelet basket and beers in the background. We held the bracelet basket as ransom while Pedro went to buy beer with our $$.
Happier times with Pedro on the beach...note that I am still holding a closed beer bottle. Although we didn't want Pedro to open the beer bottle with his teeth, I bet he had something in his backpack that could have helped us get to our alcohol sooner. 
Cory, taking a first stab the the beer opening. 
Scuba diving.
Okay...pretty sweet scuba diving picture. Cory refused to take a disposable underwater camera scuba diving with him. He said it was "too touristy". I figured I was white, so I already looked like a tourist. Anyways, I got all pissy at Cory about this because I was like "but that means I won't have any pictures of ME scuba diving!" So then when we were underwater (and I guess the fear of being "too touristy" is less), Cory grabbed the camera from me and snapped this shot. Real happy about that because it's way better than the quality of any of the pictures I got of him. Thanks Cory!
Scuba diving was a whole lot of looking at things like this and being like "oohh...ahhh". But then really just being cold and bored and being like "can I go do backflips?" And then the assistant (who didn't get what "New" before "Hampshire" meant) would pull me back to the group thinking I was off getting lost somewhere.
Note the kid in the background. He was also getting his scuba certification. The last thing we had to do to pass our certification test was swim into shore. This was hilarious because I realized that our instructor literally never asked us if we could swim - it was just assumed. Which I guess is reasonable, expect that it seemed our Mozambican companion could not swim. I think he failed that part of the test when the assistant had to swim back out and help him get in. It turns out that many people in Tofo can't swim, despite growing up steps from the ocean. This makes a little sense though, if you think about how difficult it would be to LEARN to swim right where waves are breaking. Although all the hotels have pools, most of the locals don't have access to them. The Marine and Megafauna Foundation set of  a "Little Nemos" swim school for local kids to teach them to swim. Hotels in the area donate some pool time each week to the local kids so they can use it to learn to blow bubbles and float and then finally do some strokes. We saw them in an out of Casa Barry and it was awesome!
I'm actually probably crying in this goggles. Being like "oh my god...what do I have to do this again??"
This is just a great selfie.

Conversation with our English scuba assistant:
Her: Where are you from?
Me: New Hampshire
Her: Ah! There’s a Hampshire in England!
Me: ...