I’ve been in Addis for the past 2.5 weeks working alongside the Emory team, whom arrived two weeks ago. There are 5 grad students getting their Masters in Public Health or Development Practice and they will be working on our project for the summer as part of a practicum required for their degree programs. While the Emory students are drowning in work as they prepare to begin conducting the baseline questionnaire with the 1,200 women in our study, my workload has been relatively insignificant. I’ve purchased most of the supplies I need to conduct my experiments, but without a plot of land to construct my duckweed ponds, work is at a standstill. At a certain point, planning an experiment induces more anxiety than assurance as you have plenty of time to think up all the ways in which it might fail. To distract myself from this, I’ve been devouring books like candy (listed at the bottom), making up for all the pleasure reading that I had to put aside this last year.
It took a while, but on Thursday, June 4th I finally moved into my compound in Ambo. The compound is conveniently located in the center of the city, one block back from the main road. Ambo mostly consists of a 2-3 mile stretch of businesses – think the Vegas strip – and goes 5 or so blocks back on either side of the main road where homes, schools, and open-air markets are located. My compound has 2 structures: a house and a building with 4 rooms side-by-side that are all accessible from the outside. The house has 3 bedrooms, 1 indoor bathroom and an outdoor latrine, a kitchen, and a living room/dining room. Rudy generously purchased us an electric/gas stove (gas for when the power is out), a microwave, a toaster oven, and a water filter. We also employ a guard, Fikaru, who watches the gate and will help with our laundry. By local standards, we are spoiled. Maybe even a little bit by American standards, as I’ve never had someone do my laundry for me. I will say that I hand-washed my underwear this past weekend and it was exhausting, so I am extremely grateful for Fikaru’s help. The compound will house the Emory students and myself, Rudy and Katie whenever they come into town and need a place to stay, as well as any Because of Kennedy mission groups that come to Ambo to visit the families that they sponsor.
Thursday afternoon Rudy and I met with the President of Ambo University to sign a Memorandum of Understanding – a document which describes both of our responsibilities to each other as we collaborate on the project: Ambo University will provide us with lab space and a plot of land to start our pilot study, while Rudy will be a lecturer and accept Masters students who will work on aspects of our project for their theses. Rudy received his 2nd Fullbright Fellowship – a US State Department fellowshiop program that provides funding for graduate students are professors to conduct research abroad with a sponsor institution, in Rudy’s case, Ambo University. The signing was very formal and the university PR people were present to take pictures and write up a story for the school newspaper. A few days later I met with the Dean of the College of Agriculture and the Chair of the Animal Sciences department to discuss our need for a plot of land and lab space. Our project has many different research components and it seems every department in the School of Agriculture will be able to contribute in some way, especially in areas where we lack expertise (namely poultry, dairy, and tilapia farming). Another goal of ours is to establish a long-term relationship between Ambo University and Georgia Tech which will hopefully allow research collaborations and student exchanges in the future. Ambo University is known for their agriculture program and they also have a rapidly growing school of engineering, thus a partnership with Georgia Tech will no doubt prove fruitful for both schools. In fact, Georgia Tech could take a page from Ambo University’s book as their School of Engineering has a better female:male ratio than Georgia Tech…
So far I really like Ambo. One of the Emory students, Emily, was here for a few days with me and we went and bought stuff at the market and explored the town a little bit. Emily did Peace Corps in Senegal for 3.5 years and she’s really outgoing, which helps me push myself to get out of the house. Everyone stares at me as I walk around Ambo because they’re not used to seeing foreigners, especially white people, and especially 6’5” males with long hair (I was recently told by a priest that I look like Jesus). It’s a bit unnerving – the blank stares that I receive from groups of men sitting outside at coffee shops that seem to say “don’t come in here, you are not welcome” but are really just saying “wow, that guy is really tall, why would he want to come to Ambo?” – but if I greet them in Afaan Oromo they always smile and laugh at me and it breaks the tension. It took a while to realize that people laugh at my attempts at Afaan Oromo because they’re amazed I know anything at all, not because I messed up and made a fool of myself. Walking around can be overwhelming with all the starring, people asking me for money, and the whispers (or shouts) of “farenji!” (foreigner in Afaan Oromo). Sometimes it makes me want to stay inside and only go out when I need to, so I really have to push myself to get out of the house. I figure the more people see me the less they’ll stare, so it seems I need to walk up and down the streets a couple times each day. Every day gets easier and I continue to feel more comfortable in my own skin.
Books: “My Precious World”, Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir which I can’t recommend enough; “T-Rex and the Crater of Doom”, the fascinating story of the discovery of the crater that killed the dinosaurs, written by the geologist who published the first paper with evidence of an impact crater; Silver Linings Playbook, because I really enjoyed the movie; and the 1st Game of Thrones book, I’m hooked and halfway through the second one now.