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Ethiopia by E-mail

Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2005 09:46:44 -0600
From: "James E. Rollin, Ph.D." <rollin@uic.edu>

Hi, we are answering a couple of people's letters and thought many of you would be interested in the answers. They are more about the day to day life things that happen here.

Living conditions where we live are acceptable by US standards but luxurious by Ethiopian standards. Even in developed cities in Ethiopia like Addis Ababa there are large numbers of people without running water or electricity. We have water and electricity most of the time but one of the IFESH volunteers was without water for almost 4 weeks at a college on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. We lose power quite regularly, I was without power and water for 3 days before Pat arrived and we have short outages every couple days. We lost power a couple times this afternoon while we were writing this. Sometimes I wake up to no water or power.

Tukel Hut Outside the city when we travel we see power lines following the main roads but many of the homes along the way do not have power going to them. Many are one room huts made of upright poles covered with mud called (tukels). They are round and about 15-20 ft in diameter. Some of them have corrugated tin roofs but many have thatched roofs. In the countryside, they have thorn bush barricade fences around them to keep the domesticated animals in and the wild animals out. We see women carrying water jugs on their backs because there is no running water. They walk a couple miles to get water sometimes and it may not be safe to drink.

We do our grocery shopping at a number of small stores. I was told by Rhunette Diggs another IFESH volunteer that we live in the Beverly Hills of Addis so we have the best stores. Like Beverly Hills they are more expensive. You can buy most things that you can buy in the US but there are only one or two brand names available. There is no "one stop shopping" and no big supermarkets. What they call supermarkets here we would call convenience stores. Jim could not find razor blades for his Schick razor but they have lots of Gillette razor products. You don't have a lot of choice and sometimes they run out of one brand and cannot get it again so you have to find a different brand. They carry most products available in the US and other European countries but with little choice of brands. They sell Kellogg cereal, Crystal canned food a US company that produces food in a lot of places, Heinz, a company with offices in England and that produces food in Australia and New Zeeland and probably elsewhere. We see a lot of products from South Africa and Cyprus.

We go to the fruit and vegetable markets for fresh foods. These markets are sometimes organized stores along the main roads or small stalls like our Farmer's Markets" in the back alleys. The fresh fruit here is great. Do you remember the difference in taste between picking a ripe strawberry in the field and eating it and December strawberries from the grocery store? That is like the difference in taste between the fresh fruit here and the fruit in stores in the US.

We go to a stationery store for stationery and to an electrical store for those kinds of things. Very few stores carry products outside a single specialty. Meat is a problem here because it is often not refrigerated although you can buy live chickens, goats and sheep so you know it is fresh, we have not done that yet. Many Ethiopians even here in the city and in our compound butcher their own sheep and goats. As for eating, we eat out a lot, it is almost as cheap to do that as it is to shop in the local stores and since we don't have a car, sometimes shopping is a hassle. There is frozen prepackaged food here but it is very expensive. The only frozen food we buy is ice cream bars (that is a luxury for us because they are expensive). Eggs are not refrigerated and sit next to the door for a couple days until they are all sold. An IFESH volunteer and friend in another town said they have a butcher just outside their gate and when he has just butchered some meat, they rush out, buy some and take it home to be refrigerated/frozen. That works ok, but you cannot plan to store perishables long because of the power outages.

The big thing we miss is U.S. News. We get Voice of American and BBC on the shortwave but it is mostly international news. Someone suggested the internet but we have such slow connection when we can get it that it is not practical. That is a real problem for Jim because the internet has become the place for academics to communicate and exchange information.

There are 80 languages spoken in Ethiopia. The largest language group is the Oromo people. Next are Amharic and Tigrinya. Government business is conducted in Amharic or English. School is taught in English after the 8th grade outside the major cities and English starts in 4th grade in Addis Ababa. Amharic and Tigrinya are Semitic languages related to Hebrew and Arabic. The Amhara are a group of people that occupied the highlands of Ethiopia in the northern regions and conquered the rest of the people. They wrote the history and have the powerful positions in government.

We did not celebrate Bob Marley's birthday but could hear the concert put on by Rita Marley from our home. The concert was about 2 miles away in the major town square and drew several hundred thousand people. A friend from the Rastafarian community was very excited about it and was part of the backup band. Most of the Jamaicans were not happy about being in Ethiopia and stayed at the hotels (not much different than a Hilton or Sheraton in the US). Some were rude to the local artists. Rita Marley traveled to Shasemanie but many of her group would not go out of Addis Ababa. Shasemanie is the Rastafarian community given to them by Haile Selassie. I was not aware of the history behind that before but someone decided that Ras Tafari was an incarnation of god and should be worshiped. Ras Tafari is Haile Selassie's given name before being crowned emperor. He took some Oromo land and gave it to the Rastafarians to set up a community in southern Ethiopia. The community did well during his reign, but under the Derge was persecuted and seems to be growing again.

Pat is adjusting well. She even gets out and takes the minibus taxi by herself. She says she prefers the minibus because the price is set and the route is set. You have to negotiate if you contract a regular cab and sometimes they don't understand where we want to go.

About HIV/AIDS. There are areas or communities where the disease runs as high as 30% of the population. In Addis Ababa, the rate is about 10% and in Ethiopia overall it is about 5%. These figures are not real trustworthy because it is also a hidden disease. There are many orphans in Addis Ababa whose parents died of AIDS. The disease here is a heterosexual disease where women are the most vulnerable to it because of a variety of traditional practices such as early pregnancy (13 years old is not unusual), older men sexually experienced marrying young girls, and genital mutilation. Some of these practices are still supported by the religious communities including the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Believe it or not, malaria kills more Ethiopians than HIV/AIDS but because all the international money is focused on HIV/AIDS, little is done about malaria. There are a variety of medical issues here. The medical community is not equipped to current European or US standards. Ethiopians hesitate to go to the doctor and sometimes by the time they go it is too late to do anything about the problem they have. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church supports a belief that there is a spring on Entoto Mountain above Addis Ababa where the water will cure anything including HIV/AIDS. When I was traveling in the Oromo region of Shombo (means broken and that is what the land looks like) I went into a crater called Wanchi that has hot springs and a lake. We ran across some people bathing in the hot springs that told us that the springs would cure AIDS.

Jim & Pat.


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