Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Addis Ababa to Harar, the splendid walled city in Eastern Ethiopia

Market women in Harar
We took an energizing trip last week to Addis Ababa and Harar, the fabulous walled city in the Muslim lowlands to give lectures at Addis Ababa University and Haramaya University. The talks were on our research in Kenya: “When Pastoralists Settle: Declines in Wealth, Health and Nutritional Status in Northern Kenya.” The US Embassy paid for the trip, it was part of the Fulbright Program outreach organized by  the Public Affairs office of the embassy.Our thanks to Bob Post and Eyerusalem Mandefro for setting this up.

Bus to Addis from Hawassa

We approach Yekatit 12 Monument against Italian Fascism

Residence of Ethiopian Orthodox Church Patriarch
Construction everywhere we look
We arrived in Addis Tuesday night, having successfully taken the 6.5 hour bus (Wallelign suggested wisely we purchase three seats to have more room for us and our bag), were put up in a very nice hotel (Ras Amba). We were in the northern part of the city near the University and museums, so before our lecture (at 3 PM) we stopped at the National Museum of Ethiopia, a modest but well laid out museum highlighting the national treasures including archeology of Axum (the predominant trading culture of 500BC to 700 AD), robes and crowns from the Imperial age (including Haile Selassie), and downstairs, one of the best exhibits on human evolution we have ever seen. Not only was Lucy there in her glory (the Australopithecus afarensis found in Ethiopia, called Dinknesh, ‘wonderful one’ in Amharic) - actually it was a reproduction as the original fossils are too valuable to display. There was also a very compelling and clear display of human evolution from pre-Lucy (4.2 million years ago) to the present, as every step of our evolutionary history with skulls from Australopithecines, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens (and weird guys in between and around) – all of whom were found in Ethiopia. This is also the country (if you include Eritrea on the Red Sea) where the first Homo sapiens left Africa about 60,000 years ago to Asia and ultimately Europe and North America. We are amazed how such a detailed display of evolutionary history – with spectacular finds and accurate dates - exist in a country so deeply religious and fundamentalist (even some of Elliot’s anthropology students believe the earth was made in 6 days and is no older than 6000 years old). We were glad to see school tours there, and hope it makes an impact.

Model of Axum center in 5th Century AD
Below, fabulous human evolution exhibitLucy/Dinknesh running for her life

School kids at the Museum, hope they check out the evolution section

Excited about our lecture and power point at the University, we got into a cab, power point projector in one hand, canvass briefcase with the computer in the other, and drove up to the impressive stone gates of Addis Ababa U. Elliot of course had to haggle with the driver (he wanted 100 birr, Elliot wanted to pay 50 birr) and satisfied, Elliot got out of the cab, watch it drive away, and realize that the briefcase and computer were still in the cab! Not only that, but also our air tickets for Harar the next day and pretty much all the cash we were given for the trip. Y-E- O-W!!! Marty stood out front and waited to see if the cab would return, while Elliot had to run up to meet the anthropology professors who would guide us to the room for our talk. The cab did not reappear, but Elliot texted Jerry, our Ethiopian Public Affairs officer at the embassy, and told her what was what, asking her to check with the hotel to see of the cab would go there. In the middle of our talk, Marty got a phone call with amazing news that the people at the front door of the hotel had tracked down the driver via cell phones, and he had returned the briefcase with computer. This guy was going to get a big tip!
Elliot in front of Addis Ababa University, before computer loss
Our talk was animated and there were 25 Ethiopian anthropologists including a German member of the department and the Canadian director of the South Omo Research Center, which we had visited some weeks ago. This was a knowledgeable group of folks, people who live with pastoralists and think a lot about culture identity in the midst of a government that is keen on development at all costs, including displacing pastoralists from river lands where they now have commercial (but state run) sugar cane estates. One person said the tribes being most affected on the Omo – the Bodi, the Mursi – were saying they would fight to the last man to prevent their expulsion from their tribal lands. This does not bode well for the future, and we may indeed see violence. We exchanged emails, hugs, and went back to the hotel to claim our briefcase. A very honest cab driver, who could have made several years salary with the computer alone, smiles all around. He drove us to a reception at Bob Post and Denis Pusat’s house where we had a pleasant drink and pasta with some of the other Fulbrighters living in Addis.

Next day, bright and early, we got on the hour flight from Addis to Dire Dawa to get to Haramaya University. Heading east, we flew over very dry and desolate mountains, which Marty got some great pictures of. Dire Dawa is pretty hot place, built by the French for their Djibouti-Addis Railroad early in the century, which still operates. We stayed in a nice hotel (check out Marty on our balcony) and were picked up by a university driver, who we were told was available to bring us to Harar that evening (boy, are the Fulbright perks great!) Haramaya is one of Ethiopia’s oldest universities, built in the 1950s as an imperial college (Harar was the birthplace of  Haile Selassie and dear to his heart). It is a much prettier campus than Hawassa  with many shade trees, a center to the campus, and nice meeting space (Hawassa is an Alphaville of buildings in a shadeless cow pasture). 
Flying towards Dire Dawa                                 Marty checks out hotel balcony
Rather than speak to an anthropology department, we gave our talk to about ten members of the Institute of Pastoral and Agro-pastoral Studies. This is a research team who investigate issues such as boundary agreements between Somali and Oromo herders, or the effects of the expansion of state owned sugar cane estates blocking Afar pastoralists access to the Awash River, a highly contentious issue. This is very knowledgeable crowd, and they raised questions we really had to pay attention to. One was “Should we leave the pastoralists undeveloped?” They were considering changes that were happening – population growth, environmental decline, climate change, and development of irrigation agriculture in the river valleys. In a way they were arguing that the government’s policies were aimed at the welfare of the country, including the pastoralists, although Elliot remains skeptical. But we could see their point. We don’t think this government is nearly as corrupt as other African countries, such as Kenya with its laissez faire capitalism and “stuff your pockets till the burst” approach. Ethiopia’s government is trying, we believe, to direct development in the country while at the same time inviting in foreign companies for partnerships. President Meles cites China and Taiwan as examples of government-led development. So it is not quite neo-liberalism – “let the markets rule without any government interference”; they very much direct government funding (with revenues from the foreign companies) to construct roads, hospitals, and schools. But it is not a democratic government, there are no opposition newspapers, TV, or radio. It is an odd mixture of capitalism, socialism, autocracy, and modernity.
Zelalem , Marty, Elliot, and  Dr Fekadu at Haramaya University

Welcome to Harar

After the lecture, we traveled 20 minutes to Harar, passing one of Ethiopia's (and the world's) largest khat production and trading center. (Khat is the stimulent many people chew, particularly in eastern Ethiopia and Yemen). We had a walking tour and dinner with graduate student Zelalem of Haramaya U. This was a real treat, it reminded us of Sana’a the capital of Yemen. Harar is a 500 year old Muslim trading town, walled around its old center, with tight narrow streets with pastel colored walls, and throngs of people selling everything from tomatoes and khat (the mild stimulant chews by a lot of folks) to mattresses and cooking pots. People were friendly, nobody minded us taking photos. Given the time of day, 5-7 PM, the light was fabulous and the pictures great – we had a wonderful walk. It must be because it is a market town, used to strangers as well as tourists, much relief from the constant harassment we get from young boys in Hawassa who can’t stop yelling “You You, Forengi Forengi” as if they spotted an alien from outer space. (Marty’s current research with street kids and homeless families delves much deeper to the stories behind this).

Market place in Harar

Zelalem checks out Khat prices
Marty checks out fresh mandazi (fried dough)

Street kids in Harar
     Harar streets


After a nice dinner (goat stew and tibs – sorry to say it but meat was on our agenda that night), we headed back to Dire Dawa for the night and then an airplane trip to Addis on Friday morning.

No cattle, but gorgeous old Peugeot 404s everywhere! (3 in photo if you look hard)
We ended our five day with a visit from and to Genet’s house. This is Mulugetta’s birth family, three of whom joined us at the hotel. Genet is such an inspiration –a really poor life story, with ten kids of whom the four youngest were adopted out, three to France, who are just beginning to communicate with her (we worked hard to facilitate this). She is genuinely grateful we have stayed in touch through the years, and help support her and her family. Her son Ermiyas lives with her, he works for a health clinic keeping the books on its construction, as does his sister Meron who lives with Genet. We had a great interpreter this time, Shoaye (“the girl from Shoa”, a region around Addis) who was raised as a member of Genet’s family. She had returned from doing domestic work in Sudan (miserable, she said), before which she worked for an Irish family in Dubai (they were great, she said). After our sodas at the hotel, we piled into a taxi and went to Genet’s home on the northern outskirts of Addis. It was a modest but not insubstantial compound, with a house, walled yard, chickens and a dog. Two little grand daughters of Genet lived in the house (Mirama and her younger sister) whose mother Megist is working in the Middle East. Genet is managing a large household. She had had pictures of all her family members, including us and the three in France, in frames on the wall. She manages to send Miriama to a private school, and for a 9 year old second grader, her English is very good. She showed us her school notebooks, where her assignments included descriptions of all the body parts in a human (engaging Marty in a detailed and animated discussion about lungs, kidneys and and livers). Genet served us a grand dinner (tibs (more meat) and njera, beer and soda, and ended with the traditional coffee ceremony that Marty decided to hold off on as she needed to sleep that night (Elliot was quite fine with it). Genet told us (again) how she thanks God for our love and support, and we thanked her for just keeping on. We had talked about the three children adopted in France, and Ermiyas showed us many photos French friends of Fasil had brought down for them. We were startled at how much Fasil resembled Mulugetta, and the fact he liked skiing (as much as Mulugetta likes ice hockey). The other kin were Yared, a few years younger than Fasil, and Freiwot the daughter, who has not yet decided whether to communicate with her birth family or not. It is a complicated family picture. I told Genet one day we will help bring all her children together for a visit with her. Both Genet and Meron held back tears at this.
Ermiyas, Genet, and Elliot at hotel in Addis       Marima at Genet's house, w photos of all the kids

Marty and Genet in her kitchen
Ermiyas, Shoaye, and Marty at sumptuous feast
The next day we took a bus back to Hawassa – we find using public transportation (but not the god-awful minivans with 18 people crammed inside) was easy, cheap, safe, and relatively fast.
It felt good to be back home in Hawassa. Six weeks to go until we return to our real home.

Ciao, until next time!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. Missing you, but happy for all your adventures.