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Ethiopia by E-mail

Subject: HI Everyone it is the weekend in Addis Ababa
Date: Sun, 27 Feb 2005 16:41:20 +0300
From: "James E. Rollin, Ph.D." <rollin@uic.edu>

I am starting a letter that I will mail this weekend. I am learning new things in Addis everyday. This week's big lesson was paying the electric and telephone bills. It is not like the USA where you receive a bill in the mail. Here you go to the office of the company on the date your bill comes out and pay it. So I took a receipt of a paid bill and went to the electric company, Jim had gone on Monday morning without the copy and account number. The bill is not in our name, just the building address. When I walked into the office of the electric company a man pointed that I go left. They had two different lines going one left and one right. Lucky the left line was were I had to be and was shorter. I found the right person gave him the receipt I took and he found my bill and I paid him the amount on the bill. We had gone back on Monday to pay the bill but the office is only open from 1 to 8 Ethiopian time which is 7 to 2 European time. We had gone to the phone company at the same time and they were open. There you go in give them your phone number and the bill has Jim's name on it but you have to find the right line because that person has your bill, no one else. So I guess from now on my job will be paying these two bills on the 13th and 14th of the Ethiopian month. So, we have marked the calendar on the dates they are due. The bill is not that expensive, especially compared to what we paid in the US.

I took a contract taxi to the electric company then walked home. It was not too far and it was nice to be walking. It is on a street that is not to busy and not too many people begging for money or trying to sell you something. I am just going to walk next time. Thomas who is the contract cab driver we use the most had to take his daughter to the hospital, she was ill. I talked to him today and she is doing much better.

Shannon had made one call to the USA while here and it cost about $1.40 a minute to call. That is why we use the USA phoning calling cards and have the family calls us. It is only $5.00 for about 20 minutes talking time. I did check, I could get an international cell phone from Cingular but it would cost $2.00 a minute to talk from Ethiopia to Michigan or Illinois.

I am cooking a little more at the apartment. We have decided to eat vegetarian every other day so I cook those days. We have beans, rice and tortillas or potatoes vegetables and rolls, pizza made from scratch and pasta with cheese or spaghetti sauce. I forgot a cook book so Shannon has been sending me recipes for what I need. I have made banana bread that is really good that Shannon sent. On the other days we go out and have meat dishes at one of the restaurants near by.

I went to Gemini Trust on Friday and I am going to start volunteering 2 days a week on Wednesday and Thursday and have 5 classes of conversional English. I am supposed to see what the students, 9 and 10 graders, would like to learn in English. They said it would probably be 5 or so students per group. The students here go to school either in the morning or afternoon. Some of the students come before they go to class and others come in the afternoon after they have attended school. They are taught in English at school. Their classes are largely taught on a plasma big screen TV with video tapes. Ruth who worked with Jim this last month teaching in the social work school, said that the video talks quite fast and that the English is spoken by a lot of different nationalities of people and some of them are hard to understand. But the Ethiopia school system likes the video because then all students learn the same thing in every class in the country. Students here, no matter what school they attend, have to pay for their education, books and supplies and uniforms.

I was talking to contract cab driver who took me to Gemini today. He has 3 children, one in college studying marketing, a 6 year old girl in primary school and a 3 year old who will start school next year. He told me they are in private school which is costing him 700 birr a month for school and transportation to get to school. It will go up next year when the little one starts school. He told me that the public school classes are 100 or more students per room. He feels that his children need to be in a school with fewer students per class and where they can get a better education.

The students are required to take exams to see if they can get into college and, if you do not get above a certain score, you cannot go to a public college at all. You can take another test and maybe get into a private college but that is much more expensive.

I guess we are a little spoiled in America because most of us sent our children to public school and it was free except our tax dollars. We did not have to pay every month.

Susan, one of the other IFESH, came in from Debra Birhan for the wedding and got here on Thursday night. We got up on Saturday and went to the NGO's bazaar. It is a little different every time you go. I bought myself a traditional dress which is white gauze with green, yellow, red and black trim on the sleeves and the bottom of the skirt and then in it has embroidery down the front. You also get a shawl and a head scarf which I am not sure what to do with yet. But I will find out before I leave here. Susan bought us a plant for letting her stay here. It is a big plant and looks really nice on the floor but the living room window. I also bought a pot and some dirt for a couple pieces of a jade plant the man next door gave me. He has one sitting in the hall and I was looking at it and he broke me off a couple of pieces so we are rooting them. Then we came home and went to the wedding. I also bought an art piece from a student at the Gemini Trust booth. I had seen him working on it the day I visited to figure out my volunteering there.

Susan has a student from Goshen University in Indiana living with her and we met Kimberly, she is a music major and is working with Susan in Debra Birhan helping with Susan's project of role modeling that her students are writing papers on people that are role models for others. So she attended the wedding with the other person who is living in Debra Birhan for the next 6 weeks. His name is Paul. He is studying math and is working with at the university there helping with there computer dept.

We were invited to a wedding reception and went yesterday. This reception was for the groom and was at the home of the groom's family. They had a large tent set up in the road, blocking the road completely. They had a big traditional feast laid out. Several kinds of meat including uncooked meat, wat, vegetables, bread, and injera. They also had lasagna. There was music, traditional music plaid very loudly on electric instruments. Towards the end of the feast, the groom & his party formed a moving dance and moved outside. They sang some traditional music and then left to go pick up the bride. When they get to the bride's home, they sing, dance and try to coax the bride out. Traditionally she first refuses then she makes a couple false starts at going out and finally she joins the groom and they go traveling around town in big cars having videos taken and they go to a park for wedding photos. This is only part of the celebration. The wedding is held over several days. There is a civil ceremony to meet the requirements of the law, there is a religious ceremony, there is the reception we went to, there is a similar reception for the bride & family, there is a reception for everyone to get together put on by the bride's family, another one at another time for everyone put on by the groom's family, and another reception put on by the bridal party. In an interesting way, they have maintained their traditional celebrations but have added western components.

The bride has a traditional wedding dress and a western wedding dress that she wears for different celebrations. The weddings have become very elaborate and expensive and people here do not want to look cheap so nobody will do a wedding with less expense. The church has complained that weddings are becoming so expensive that many people are not getting married. Most young men cannot get married until they are in their mid to late 30s because they have to be able to pay for the wedding and have money saved up to pay for a home.

This is the last weekend for weddings for a while; the fasting season starts soon leading up to Easter and they don't have weddings during fasting season. They do not get married during the rainy season because of bad roads and you cannot have a celebration outside during that time. So July, August and part of September are out. Melese told us it was bad luck to get married during May so many people avoid that month too.



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