Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The business of giving

In this Advent time and a couple of days before Christmas, you would rather expect a title such as "the joy of giving," wouldn't you? Surely, today, I witnessed the joy of giving but, as genuine as it was, it is the result of a complicated and long process, a real business process.

This morning, Birt and I joined Emebet and Joseph, the co-founders of The World Family, to visit two hospitals in Addis Ababa: Saint Peter and Gandhi Memorial. The former is part of 50 hospitals that Joseph equipped with 2nd-hand and refurbished medical equipments from the US. It specializes in tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS treatment and asked for equipment to expand in the orthopedic and reeducation field. The second is on the candidate list for an upcoming project and is the largest maternity in the capital, the hospital where Emebet was born. The two institutions being at very different stages of the project, that provided a great opportunity to seize the broad spectrum of activities and hoops that Joseph and Emebet have to go through just to... give! Which include a call from the Minister of Health on Joseph's cell phone while we were driving through town. We should actually see the Minister himself at the inauguration of the community center in Gara Dima in one week!

At Saint Peter we conducted a review of the content of the three containers which have been shipped this year. Explaining to the local staff what some devices are meant for or how to reassemble and set them up. A dozen of articulated beds have been placed in a special pavilion which is empty today but has been setup in case of a swine flu epidemic.

At Gandhi Memorial it was a very different story: Joseph and Emebet were trying to convince the Director of the hospital to use some of his budget to cover part of the transportation costs and get a lot of needed supplies in exchange, instead of spending all his budget on much fewer brand new equipment. It seems like a no-brainer from an economical standpoint, but it is not that simple from an administrative point of view and also because it requires change of habits. The same issue we encounter in the... business. The discussion was all about submitting a wish list that Joseph will fulfill. Quite timely as we approach Christmas... Working from hospitals' wish lists is actually the very unique value proposition of The World Family, a much more sustainable approach than the one of other associations who decide on their own what they ship. It makes the logistics much more complex with very specific needs to meet, and that is one of the purposes of The World Family's Oakland warehouse which serves as the Santa Claus' hub to handle and mitigate this complexity.

We visited several sections of the maternity starting with the emergency room, in full swing (one lady in labor arrived with her husband with blood on his pullover). A room smaller than our car garages or not as clean... It would have been indecent to take pictures... We stopped by the consultation room, then the brand new premature section which only Emebet got in after putting some protection on. Overall, certainly the local state of the art which the Director and his staff can be proud of, but so far behind what we have in the US, health care crisis or not.

While the four of us had lunch in an Indian restaurant, the cell phones kept ringing to track the progress of the rest of group and we arrived just in time at 1:30 to see most of the group coming out of immigration and customs controls. With the remaining 6 exiting 15 minutes later after they checked on the missing luggage that didn't make through the connection and change of airlines in London (Agnès reported it was a total mess in the luggage warehouses at Heathrow). Everybody was looking so pale and exhausted after this 76-hour journey, door to door. Back to the theme of the title, the kids were given the opportunity to experience what it takes to fly overseas to conduct business. Although, fortunately, not all our business trips turn to such an awful adventure. What a way to give up three days of your vacation to such a noble cause. The business of giving...

PS: one quick word on running (the original blog theme...). None today as Mengsitu canceled our morning meeting last night. If we are leaving for Metehara tomorrow as scheduled (we'll decide tonight based on the form of the troops after their 4-hour rest this afternoon), the next opportunity will be there. In a much warmer weather as it is raining again today in Addis.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Connecting with a distance running incarnation

As announced in my previous post, I did woke up early to get to Meskal Square by 5:45 am. My hotel is only 3 kilometers away from the city landmark and the road is paved (which is not the case for many nearby roads) but it was pitch dark and difficult to see the holes in the pavement or sidewalk. The sky was full of bright stars but that was not helping. When I reached the plaza, I saw a few runners gathering indeed and asked one if there was some groups going out for a run. His English was very approximate and he shown me the benches forming an amphitheater around the plaza. Basically you run one length of the bench then move one step up and come back, and so on for 30 or so times. He shown one side was for the 5,000 (meters) and the other for the 10,000. And he invited me to follow him on the 5,000 side.

It was still very dark and the "benches" made of irregular dirt with holes and rocks. I kept my eyes down and fixed on my "personal trainer"'s shoes. He was running as smooth and light as the distance running elites. He didn't seem to pay attention to me except when pointing his finger on larger holes or rocks. It was a comfortable pace. I wish I could upload an image with the trace of my Garmin to show you the convoluted run which came to a total of 4,000 meters actually. There were about 50 other runners going back and forth with us, mostly men.

After that we did a few 200m sprints along the entire plaza and that is when I discovered that he was really really fast. After a few of them, I asked him what is his main distance and, with modesty, he replied with something which says long: he finished third at an international half-marathon in London recently in 1 hour and 1 minute which is world class. He accompanied me back to my hotel, with a friend of his, so we could exchange emails. He is definitely interested in learning more about running opportunities overseas. His English was not permitting a lot of exchange but we planned on meeting again tomorrow morning so he can give me his resume.

Back to my hotel room, searching his name (Mengsitu Abebe), I actually found that a documentary on distance running just got released this month in the UK, which includes Mengsitu. See It was particularly moving to learn from this website that Mengsitu was a former goat herder as I see these herders from my hotel room.

This morning I also had breakfast with Birt who is joining our group. Birt has worked with Joseph (the co-founder of The World Family with Emebet) for 2 years. He lives in Palo Alto and arrived here on the 17th which gave him some time to visit many places in the city looking to buy supplies and wood to build looms at the village. And there is not such thing as Home Depot or Lowe's, so everything is complicated and takes a lot of time (yes, requires patience, cf my previous post...). We were joined by Teddy, the local representative of The World Family, who will be our interpret during our two weeks in Gara Dima and Metehara.

And now for the scoop on the weather side: it is raining in Gara Dima this afternoon! Not pouring rain but enough to fix the dust. As for the pollution it is actually pretty bad and, between the high elevation (2,300m - 7,550ft) and the chilly temperatures this morning, my throat is bothering me. Now looking very much forward seeing the rest of the family and the group landing at Bole Airport tomorrow morning so we can move to Metehara on Thursday!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ethiopia: false start and switch to ultra!

Not for me, I did manage to reach Addis Ababa 2 hours only after the scheduled time. 3 am instead of 1 am, plus 1 hour to get the visa, 15 minutes with the customs' officer, I got in bed at 5 am. Not too bad given the circumstances, the transportation nightmare caused by the winter storm over the "developed" countries...

But false start for the group. Leaving Cupertino at 10:30 am on Sunday, they were supposed to land in Addis Ababa tonight at 2 am, this Tuesday morning. They made their connection in LA but the flight was delayed by 2 hours and they are now stuck in London like thousands of other travelers (I saw on CNN this afternoon that even the Anglo-French bullet train, the Eurostar got issues with no train circulating for several days!). Thankfully, Agnès just called to confirm that they got hotel rooms in London, and a new itinerary, switching from BMI to United, and from connecting in Jordan to Dubai. But they have to get the 1,300 pounds of luggage, in addition to their carry-ons, and check them again tomorrow morning). It was expected to be a marathon, it is now turning to an ultra for them. They are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday morning at 11:35, that is 72 hours after having left home (including the 11 hours of time difference)!

In the meantime, I did a short run of 8 miles to get acquainted with the city. Tomorrow morning, I will try to find a group of runners meeting at 5:45 am at Meskal Square. I got the word from a British blogger, Owen Barder who is spending a few years in Addis on a sabbatical. Meskal Square is huge and it will be dark (sun sets and rises at 6 am/pm as we are close to the equator), so I hope I will find them.

In the meantime, I will have to exercise patience, one of the 20 virtues highlighted in the book 20 Teachable Virtues: Practical Ways to Pass on Lessons of Virtue and Character to Your Children. This is a book Agnès and I like as we are glad to see our kids implementing as many as possible. Since our trip is 20-day long, I had planned to use one virtue for each page of my daily journal, here we are with the first one, then: patience. I would say that patience is most needed in this part of the world, but that would be a cliché and not conveying the efficiency and business that I've seen in Addis so far. Anyway, patience is what the group will need the most of for this 72-hour journey. And, to remain connected to the theme of my blog, patience is also a virtue which we need a lot in ultra running. Patience and flexibility to get over the things which do not go according to the plan.

I was going to add a few pictures of the beginning of my trip but the wireless connection is way too slow, like 10 minutes for loading one page. That is beyond patience... ;-)

PS: oh, and just as I was waiting in the lobby while uploading this post, a rat passed by. Fast. Quite a runner!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

En route to... Ethiopia!

You might have already gotten the scoop if you read our 11th issue of our yearly newsletter, Le Cupertino. That is if your read French... Or if you received one of our previous calls for donation related to Alex' project. Tomorrow is the day: I will be leaving from Paris where I stayed for 10 days, and the rest of the group and family will leave 8 hours later, from San Francisco and arrive in Addis Ababa 24 hours after me...
We all packed as light as possible in order to bring as much extra luggage full of school and sport supplies, or tools and computers. The village we are going to, Gara Dima, is not the one that Google Maps knows. It is not on any map actually. The closest you will find of a map is this link to the other village we will be sleeping in, Metehara. It is close to the Awash National Park from which you can have an overview with this short clip. You can also have a feel of where we are going thanks to the pictures posted by Emebet on her association's website, The World Family. Emebet and Joseph will be there to welcome us (they spend their Holidays over there, without their respective families, to visit the hospitals they provide equipment with).

Will I be running in Ethiopia? You bet! But this is definitely not the main goal of the trip. Our goal is to help the village, especially the nearby school which, we have been told, gather 500 students between 6 to 12 year old. They do not have school supplies, no paper, no pen. The group is bringing chalk and enough paint to build 200 blackboards for the students (with wood we'll buy upon arrival in Addis Ababa). After three days in Addis Ababa this week, Friday will be out first day helping out at the school. Friday December 25th, on Christmas day?! Yes and no. Christmas for us but not in Ethiopia which lives on a different calendar. Not our Gregorian, but Julian. See what Wikipedia says on the Ethiopian calendar. And here is a calendar converter to keep up with us over the next three weeks... This Sunday will be April 11, 2002, a nice way to get 7 years younger! Guess what? Now we can even predict the next financial bubble/crisis!!!

For now, here is the list of supplies I've packed tonight (since I had to do the list for the customs, I thought I'd share it with you ;-):
  1. 6 screw drivers
  2. 8 chisels
  3. 6 wood and metal files
  4. 2 pairs of pliers
  5. 2 hammers and 2 mallets
  6. 3 electrical extension cords, 1 power strip, 2 adapters
  7. An assortment of 950 screws and 500 nails
  8. 4 saws
  9. 2 tape measures
  10. 1 plane tool and sharpening stone
  11. 2 pairs of gloves
  12. 1 tool bag
That's for some wood shopping. On the sport side, no, I don't come with a truck load of Brooks running shoes but items on the soccer side to complement the 15 footballs that the rest of the group has collected in the Bay Area:
  1. 2 goal nets
  2. 2 10-football net
  3. 12 team tops
  4. 4 whistles
  5. 2 air pumps and 6 needles
A total of 35 pounds, and I hope Turkish Airways takes good care of my bag (I'm connecting in Istanbul).

Needless to say, with no electricity, no water, no cell coverage, you will not get any news during our 2 weeks in Gara Dima and Metehara. So it's time to wish you Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, lot of fun in celebrating the end of 2009 and all the best for 2010. Talk to you all in the new year, with many news to share. Definitely going farther with this incursion in Eastern Africa! And far from the snow we got this week in Paris...
(From my parents' apartment, views of Paris' roofs and the top of the Eiffel and Montparnasse Towers in the background on the right.)