Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ethiopia: Give to receive

This is a running blog but I cannot resist to post one article not related to running. This post is a short report about our amazing experience in Ethiopia for almost 3 weeks over the Holidays. (Although running was not part of our humanitarian mission, I did manage to run about 60 miles in this special place for distance running as you could read in my late December and early January posts.) This is a very belated post. Initially, I thought I would just have to reference the group journal that the students had decided to do while there. But, like me with work, everybody got caught up with the workload and the report is still being worked out (at the time I publish the post, all the students have sent their own page --each had one day to recount-- to Derek who has proposed to work on the compilation). In the meantime here is what I had written on my way back to Ethiopia, 4 weeks ago...

11 days in a remote and desert place of Ethiopia, without Internet, where to start from...?
  1. The logistic?
  2. The weather?
  3. What the group has accomplished in Gara Dima?
  4. What I learned from our African journey?
  5. Our experience of the Ethiopian health care system?
  6. The photographic experience?
  7. The running?

There are so many things, too many for one post. Besides, the students have agreed to each take turn to tell us in details about one of the days of our journey so you will have plenty to read from all these perspectives soon. I will update this post when the journal is uploaded. And, as you may guess in this digital photography era, there will be hundreds of pictures available. Tens of thousands actually so a lot of selection to be made in the upcoming few days. While we all catchup with work and school. [Since I wrote this, who did work on the photo albums although not to the extent I was hoping for, and here are two links to a shorter version (155 pictures) with Agnes' comments, in French, and a longer version (642 pix!) with some of the pictures I took with my Nikon D50).

In the meantime, here is a breviary, a series of vignettes which came back to mind randomly during my flight back to Paris. I have seen...

  1. Hundreds of bright smiles welcoming us every day in Gara Dima.
  2. Dozen of barefoot kids running faster than our bus on rocky and dusty trails.
  3. Dentitions perfectly white and others brownish and very damaged by the fluorite.
  4. Animals you expect in a safari (crocodiles, monkeys, birds, antelopes, Oryxes, insects).
  5. Bumpy roads on which I ran faster than our bus.
  6. Many hard working Ethiopians using ancestral agricultural techniques and traditions.
  7. Villages made of dirt huts like the one I could see in my geography books in primary school.
  8. A health care system really cheap and rudimentary, with a questionable hygiene.
  9. Desert areas transformed into fields thanks to basic irrigation with dirt-made canals.
  10. Exceptional kids from all horizons and background, joining forces and ideas to build a "World Family" (the name of Emebet and Joseph's association).
  11. An amazing Ethiopian Minister (His Excellency Dr. Tewodros Adhanom, Minister, Federal Ministry of Health) who gave all his attention, support and consideration to the Gara Dima community by presiding the inauguration of the Community Center on the last Sunday of our stay.
  12. An air pollution characteristic of the developing countries which cannot afford the extra cost of green and sustainable development.
  13. Hundreds of goats, sheeps, ox, cows, donkeys, sharing the roads and streets with smokey cars and trucks in the capital.
  14. Models of French cars (Peugeot 403, 204, 504, Citroen DS, Renault R16, ...) which I had not seen for 30 years.
  15. Californian kids capable of leaving their comfort zone very far behind to help a country in much need.
  16. Waiters trying so hard to cope with our high level of expectations in terms of quality and promptness of service.
  17. A Christmas celebration on January 7 (Orthodox/Julian calendar).
  18. Landscapes, trees, sunsets, animals corresponding to the most popular and common African post cards.
  19. People living so simply like we read in the Bible, embracing the toughness and rigor of the desert; with the same people discovering our modernization with wonder, amazement, curiosity and natural at the same time (digital cameras, computers, electrical drills, medical equipment)
  20. 6-year old girls carrying on their back their younger brother or sister the whole day.
  21. The largest market in Africa (Mercado), as busy as a anthill.
  22. A coffee darker than the skin of Ethiopians, amazingly sweet, and prepared in a peaceful and ancestral ceremony.
  23. A very devotional country where Muslim and Christian communities coexist admirably, providing a great lesson of ecumenism and civism.
  24. A place where time does not mean anything, where you live in the present moment because each day is a miracle and you cannot make plan for the future in such precarious conditions.

Overall, I've seen the crib of the World with millions of people perpetuating traditions, ways of life and agricultural techniques from several thousand years ago. And, as much as I believe we accomplished a lot to help and support the village of Gara Dima, there remains a bit of doubt about the pertinence and appropriateness of knocking over this traditional boat and potentially generating frustrations from needs which we may create artificially through accelerated change and development. Time will tell how sustainable and good this is, for us to propose our own view of progress and material and financial wealth...

As I reflect about our experience, I am most thankful to:
  1. Alex who got us all of us there as the vice-president of the United Nations club that he co-founded with Derek at Cupertino High School three years ago;
  2. Greg who noticed the prospectus of the World Family at the Ethiopian restaurant we were eating with the family two years ago; and also for getting very well integrated to the group while being the youngest;
  3. Max for belonging to the club Alex leads and for having given us this opportunity for this family project, before he leaves for College;
  4. Agnès for the hundreds of hours put in the organization before, during and after the trip; I still don't know how her hip supported the travel and all the time standing to negotiate all the detailed logistics;
  5. Emebet and Joseph, the co-founders and co-presidents of the World Family; what an amazing work they do for their country, with a direct impact on thousands of lives!
  6. The students who responded so positively to Alex and Derek's call to action; what an experience for them (and all of us) and a true example of the "20 teachable virtues" that Barbara Unell and Jerry Whychoff list in their book: Empathy, Helpfulness, Fairness, Tolerance, Caring, Courage, Humor, Respect, Loyalty, Courtesy, Patience, Resourcefulness, Pacemaking, Self-reliance, Self-motivation, Responsibility, Honesty, Trustworthiness, Self-discipline, Cooperation. It would be easy to illustrate each of these qualities with an anecdote, but the list is long so I will leave it here, with my profound reconnaissance to the 15 of you!
  7. The parents of these kids for having trusted us and let their kid go in such an uncertain but rewarding adventure;
  8. The other chaperones: 3 parents (Luisa, Seema, Charles), 1 teacher and club advisor (Bobby) and 1 phenomenal ex-teacher and globe-trotter (Kory), who rerouted her around-the-globe trip to join us in Ethiopia, between Tanzania and South Africa (see her blog).
  9. The staff of the World Family in Ethiopia and especially Teddy who spent countless hours away from his family to take care of us and show us all the facets of his wonderful country, always with a smile;
  10. The staff of the two hotels we stayed at in Addis Ababa and Gara Dima and our bus driver, Mohammed, and his son.

As I wrote in my initial draft during my connection at the Cairo Airport: "Back to the crazy Internet, digital and industrial civilizations. Back to work...!" Still, after 4 weeks passed, it has been a shock to switch civilization indeed and we still feel the effect of it. However we have to move on with our lives so we can continue helping our new friends overseas. Certainly this is a life changing experience in our journey toward a "flatter world" (in reference to Thomas Friedman's book: The World is Flat).


Anonymous said...

lu mais pas encore regardé toutes les photos;
la question de savoir si c'est une bonne chose d'intervenir ainsi est émouvante...je pense que nul ne connait la réponse...

Jean Pommier said...

Joseph sent this video of the TV clip about the inauguration of the community center:


And Emebet posted an update on The World Family web site: