I put my Ph.D. on hold and moved to Ethiopia.
The journey was a doosie, especially after imbibing a bit too much on the complimentary cognac (thanks German airlines!) on the first leg (Atlanta to Frankfurt) and becoming pretty dehydrated, which resulted in a migraine (hangover?) during the 2nd leg (Frankfurt to Addis Ababa via Jeddah). All of my baggage made it to Addis Ababa successfully and I didn’t have to pay off anyone to get it out of the airport, so I’m considering it a grand success. Highlights of the trip include seeing Coolio in the Atlanta International Terminal food court (his hair is just as awesome as it is in pictures) and “visiting” Saudi Arabia (i.e., landing in Jeddah, seeing the women on the plane put on abayas and hijabs over their Western clothing before disembarking, and sitting on the runway for an hour as the plane refueled). I would describe Saudi Arabia as dusty. Very dusty.
While in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, I will stay with Rudy’s family. Rudy, my advisor, lives with his wife, Katie (known to locals as Dr. Katie, and who is overseeing the programs that her and Rudy’s NGO sponsors), and 4 kids in what is surely considered a mansion by both African and American standards. I essentially have an entire floor to myself with a bedroom, two bathrooms, and an office. The house can probably sleep 15 – 20 people and is constantly in flux as researchers, NGO volunteers, and church missions come and go throughout the year.
Rudy’s family has a staff to assist with transportation, house cleaning, and taking care of the 4 children (all under the age of 10): Messalou, the head housekeeper; Sebla, the nanny; Yonas, the driver; and Wasihoon, the guard. All of them have been extremely welcoming and have taught me so much about living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian culture, and Amharic (the regional language), among other things. Daily, Messalou roasts, grinds, and brews Ethiopian coffee for everyone and makes delicious meals for the staff (mostly injera-based dishes), which she lets me try. Yonas has been invaluable in helping me navigate Addis Ababa while buying supplies, and he is a great conversationalist while stuck in Addis Ababa traffic. Wasihoon got me up-to-date on Amharic greetings and numbers (I can count to ten!), likely with the goal of allowing us to communicate more effectively one day, as he doesn’t speak any English.
I arrived in Addis Ababa the night of Wednesday, April 29th and by Friday I was rested up enough to begin running errands to collect supplies for the pilot study I will be conducting. Equipped with a shopping list, complete with images of each item to minimize the language barrier, Yonas and I set off to the Addis Ababa Merkato, the largest open-air market in Africa. The Merkato lived up to its prestige: an unmatched organized chaos, much more hectic and on a much larger scale than any of the markets I experienced in Guinea a few years ago. The Markato is vaguely organized into sections based on the items being sold, though where a specific item is located within each section is anyone’s guess. The illustrated shopping list proved to be very useful as Yonas asked random passersby where we could find the items on our list. Everyone was more than happy to assist, and many times the conversation grew in size as people walking by stopped to see what was happening and contribute their best guess. Without fail, one of the 3 – 7 people would point us in the right direction and eventually we found everything we were looking for.
My first four days in Addis Ababa have proven to be extremely draining. This is certainly a function of the time change (EST +7 hours), the elevation (3rd highest capital city in the world), the intense UV exposure (inaugural sunburn, check), the malaria medication, and the mental exhaustion of adapting to a new culture and routine. With too many variables to isolate the cause of my inability to stay awake past 4pm, I’ll continue drinking ridiculous amounts of water and watching old episodes of The Office to keep me awake and get me on a proper sleep schedule.
On Monday, May 4th, I will travel to Ambo, my field site and future residence, to meet the research staff we will be working with and find a place to live. I have a hunch that Ambo (city of 100,000 people approximately 100 km west of Addis Ababa) will prove a welcome relief from the chaos of the big city.