Sunday, November 6, 2011

Faux Africa – Just to get in the Mood
And then the Real Thing

Joe & Erin on California Screamin'
Every good trip to the third world has to begin with a stop in Disneyland. Globalism has it’s ironies.  A couple days in the Magic Kingdom, right before a couple weeks in Africa, will drive the point home.  We visit this monument to "a little too much" before heading to the continent of “not quite enough.”  That said, seeing a place like Disneyland through a child’s eyes is always a treat.  Watching Ashley (5) and Kiera (7) address and conquer their fears and delight in their fantasies was worth the price of admisssion (which is substantially more than it used to be, by the way).
Real or Disney?
On Nile River in Uganda
When I first rode on the Disney Jungle Cruise I was kind of offended, in the way that tragically hip, politically correct people are offended by the chauvinism and racism implicit in the caricatures of Africans and great white hunter types.  Even the elephants might be offended by the way they are portrayed I thought… until I saw some real things and realized how well Disney got the animals.  The one in the grass is real by the way.  It was on the banks of the Nile River in Uganda and caught us by surprise.

In any event, there is some justice in the world, in that in Africa, the whole concept of copyright has not quite taken hold.  This is in spite of the Sonny Bono, Copyright Extension Act  (paid for by Disney to protect Mickey from the public domain and not having anything to do with the real purpose of copyrights). So the Ethiopians have their own Disneyland right there in Addis Ababa and I am pretty sure Michael Eisner does not have a piece of this one.

Let’s Get out of Town, even though I love LA – Off to Ethiopia

Departing LAX for the overnight to Amsterdam, we needed a ride to the airport from Anaheim.  Maureen asked for a town car, but due to a scheduling snafu, we left in a car so long that the driver was at the airport minutes before we were.  Off to Schipol. [ Whenever I fly to Holland, I am reminded of my first trip to Schipol in 1973 with my friend David.  Due to a "70’s  induced" mix up, our other friend (Kirk) who we were supposed to meet was there at the airport, but we were a bit spaced and left with someone we met on the plane and didn’t reconnect with him (or our car) for three months.  (Pre-cell phone / Pre-E-mail, etc…)]

Back to the current trip. Unsurprisingly, Air Kenya delayed us, so we missed our connection out of Nairobi.  KLM was great and rerouted us to Addis Ababa through that tourist mecca and capital city of Sudan, Khartoum.  Then on to Ethiopia, where we arrived after about 48 hours in transit.  We cruised through Customs and Immigration and I couldn't think of anything for their suggestion box except maybe Spellcheck or doing the signs in pencil.

The Streets of Addis Ababa

Running into Doctor Rick the proctologist –

First thing in the morning, Maureen and I were walking along the streets of Addis Ababa.  It was great to be back in such a vibrant and bizarre city.  There is activity everywhere, much of it heartbreaking, but all of it interesting and even though we had been here a number of times, each day is a new experience.  Next to me was a tall non-African who was about to introduce himself when we both recognized one another.  Rick Billingham was, among other things, a former neighbor in Seattle, father of many children including Logan who I coached in grade school some 25 years ago and, most importantly, my proctologist.  I am pleased to say I have not needed his services much, but he has in fact done to me what proctologists do.  And I will admit that the unusual circumstance of running into him on the streets of Addis after the experiences we shared in his office in Seattle really struck me.  I wanted to share with someone, but never found the right moment.  (“You see this guy? You won’t believe what he did to me.”)

Billingham told me the story of losing his camera earlier in the week to a team of young pickpockets right near where we were walking.  Hearing it reminded me to be on the guard for cute little kids getting too aggressive and close on a busy street.  In the villages we are always surrounded by kids, but they are not trained as to the opportunity to make what is yours, theirs.  In Addis, the dynamic is different. I reminded myself to be wary.


We were on our way to the Black Lion hospital where several doctors from Swedish Hospital in Seattle are doing what they can, which is a lot.  They are making a difference, although touring the facility reminds one of how big the problems are in Africa. They immediately asked us to put on clean scrubs, presumably to keep our street clothes from contaminating the sterile conditions, although I couldn’t help but notice that the staff laundry was a little dirty.
Le rat qui n'traverse pas la rue.

The welcome mat was laid out for us…  (In fairness to the hospital, the rat was gone two hours later when I walked by the same spot.  Of course,  there are many possible explanations for that.) 

We had arranged to see the place with several doctors and the head of facilities.  He took us on a behind the scenes walk through that was frightening.  I especially liked the hallway which was rough one direction and flooded the other.  The systems in that flooded hallway were serving the place.  The systems were largely operating on a “tape it and play” approach.  City power is unreliable so the hospital uses a generator much of the time.  Unfortunately, the black diesel smoke belches out near patient rooms whenever the generator is on.

There were certainly things to admire.  The laundry in the courtyard was clean and fresh and created a great photo and the work of the physicians, both the team from Swedish and their Ethiopian counterparts, is inspiring.  And, while most of us would rather tough it out than get help in a facility like this one, for thousands of Ethiopians, this is the best (and only) option.

A tough word - Just throw i's and a's at it
We should both admire and support the work of Doctors Richard Solazzi, Mark Cullen and others. Solazzi assured me that they had nothing to do with the spelling on this sign (above).
This painting on the wall caught my eye.  There were literally dozens of people waiting in this stairwell area on the 4th floor of the hospital.  Clearly, there were many families in crisis.  If you got to the point where you had to bring a loved one to Black Lion Hospital, you were definitely in crisis.

My Day is about to get even more interesting…  But first, "Is Mr. Quaddafi available?  I'm a friend of Condi's"

  An interesting day was about to become infused with more drama.  Maureen and I walked back from Black Lion Hospital toward the Ghion.  Before we got to the notorious pickpocket area, we stopped in to see the boss at the Libyan embassy. Note that these photos were taken on October 19th, 2011.  Muammar was not in, by the way, but his life was about to get more interesting later that day in a more permanent way than ours was.

 Ok, back to the streets of Addis.

Now about the pickpocketing that I managed to escalate into a mugging…  Actually, first I need to share a story to provide perspective about the streets of Addis Ababa.  The following is a letter and photo which I sent to my kids in October, 2009 telling about our morning walk in Addis that day.  It is always interesting to walk in an African city.
Date: October 18, 2009 16:04:41 GMT+03:00
Subject: Back in Africa Some quick observations:

... Third world cities are filled with paradoxes. The streets are dangerous... But mostly due to the deep holes every 20 feet from people cutting down the trees from the last beautification project for firewood and taking the sewer grates for scrap.

People sell stuff that no one could want, on blankets on every street, but someone must be buying this stuff. The Ethiopian dream... To own your own blanket.

Even in Addis where the air is good, urine is a scent that pervades.

Kids love soccer. It is more important to have a soccer ball than shoes, even though the streets are dirty and tough on bare feet.

We went for an early Sunday morning walk. The back neighborhoods should be a little scary but the people are always surprised to see us and are quite friendly. No I don't want to buy gum... Or that goat.

On main drag we tried to walk by a nearly lifeless kid about 13, face down on the ground, dirty, shoeless and barely conscious. We were with a friend Denny who was a polio victim as a kid. We eventually got the kid sitting up drinking water and eating some bread Denny bought. He ate listlessly but didn't leave a crumb, clearly very hungry. We got him up and walking before leaving him, but his handsome young face will haunt me. In the USA, his life would be so much different.

Tomorrow we will visit the polio kids at Cheshire house, a hospital outside of addis ababa. Then up the country to do vaccinations.

Walking home now saw another wedding. The rituals seem so exotic.

I wouldn't trade the experience.

Love to all!



Maureen and I continued our walk and were in a crowded area at mid day.  Some little kids approached us and, taking heed of Rick Billingham’s warning about the little ones who got his camera, I scared them away.  Another block or so, we were in a crowd.  Unbeknownst to me, a nice looking young man about 18 stopped Maureen to ask the time.  As things unfolded, she realized that asking someone who is not wearing a watch for the time was a first indication of something being amiss.
I was distracted because another teen grabbed my left arm and seemed to be falling as he tugged.  My instinct was to assist until I saw his face.  His eyes betrayed him and he then yelled and did a poor imitation of a karate kick at my leg.  My leg was not moved by his effort and he looked worried.  Meanwhile another teen came up behind me and pushed me and I felt a hand reach into my right front pocket.  I threw off the first kid who ended up on the ground by my feet and went aggressively after the kid who had had his hand in my pants (not something I can accept easily.)  I got his arm and was flailing at him as we went down hard on the dirty street.  He was a nice looking kid, about 18 to 20 years of age, in a yellow shirt and a well worn black leather dress jacket.  I was bleeding from my hand and elbow but managed to get my passport back, which was all that he had gotten.  He got up faster than me (big surprise) and tried to run. 
Maureen now saw me on the ground getting up to go after him and understood the situation.  She apparently yelled, “He stole” which was brilliant in that it got the crowd after the kid.  (She also threw her bottle of water which resembled the bone flying slow motion through the air in 2001 A space odyssey, but unfortunately missed its mark.  I teased her that it hit an old lady who was later hospitalized at Black Lion, but I made that up, of course.)
We went across four lanes of traffic chasing him but the crowd across the street grabbed him dragged him over a fence and we brought him back to the scene.  Bystanders had called for the police and asked me to stay.  I now had my possessions (the only thing he got was the passport, which I had already retrieved) and we saw the kid being held and starting to get knocked around pretty hard by the crowd.  It was probably wrong to leave but, as pissed as I was, when I saw his eyes as he was being held and smacked, it occurred to me that he was more scared than I was angry.

Reflections –

1.    The jive Ghion hotel had no safety deposit boxes left which is why I had my passport at all.
2.   I was pleased that my instinct, even as an out of shape old man, was to fight not accept someone stealing from me (Thanks West Seattle.)  You never really know how you will react until you face a situation.
3.   I had over $1000. In cash in the small backpack (again because there was no safety deposit boxes.
4.   I think my work at the prison made me more forgiving and or understanding of the paths that our respective lives took before he and I met up that day on the streets of Addis Ababa.
5.   It was a fascinating and learning experience and a great piece of theater.

6.   It is hard to keep open wounds clean in Africa and the worst part was having to be a little more cautious to avoid infection, especially in the rural areas.
7. I apparently swear when I am angry and quite loudly, but fortunately, do so in English and not in Amharic.

8. My love for the City of Addis Ababa was not diminished by this experience.
We left the next morning for Gondar in the North toward Eritrea and Sudan.  

One last photo from Addis.  I have mentioned in previous writings that 35 years ago when I first traveled in the third world, I would learn to say no to people begging because there was an endless stream.  That said, there was at least one time each day where someone would get to me.  This poor man on the street was that person for that day.  I hope he benefited from the small bills I put in his hand, even if just for a few minutes.

Gondar - Former capital of Ethiopia  -

We departed for Gondar which would be our launching point for trips to villages to immunize kids (5 and under) for polio.  We have made this trip several times to rural Ethiopia but this is the first time to Gondar.  It is the first place in Ethiopia where we observed the history on display.

Gondar was an ancient capital of Ethiopia and is over a mile high (See for example, Denver)

                                                            The art in the old churches was impressive, although I couldn't necessarily follow the religious theme.

The art on the ceiling of the dining room where Four Sisters (two of which are pictured here) fed us was.... religious; or pop religious.

This beautiful child was immunized in our sendoff celebration in Gondar.  The kids in the villages were not so polished!  However, as the photo below demonstrates, Gondar was not lacking in people in need requesting baksheesh (although that is actually a Persian word; I have used it to describe street begging since I first heard it in Persia in the 70's)

A lone beggar on the streets of the ancient capital

Many of the Ethiopian men are striking in their intense demeanor and appearance.  The women, no less so, as the beautiful woman below demonstrates.  I am certain that she has earned every ounce of character which is etched in her face.
This is a guard at a nice restaurant in Gondar.  It is comforting, although the combined facts that he didn't open his eyes and that he did not have a gun, suggest that one should not rely to heavily on his ability or inclination to protect.  In fact, nothing occurred which made us need protection and I will say that a small tip after the meal brought a large smile to his face.

Doe Bay Goes to Africa

There is a famous bath in Gondar, known as Fasiledas, which is filled and used by hundreds (thousands) of bathers to celebrate Timkar, the Ethiopian Epiphany.  As you can see, a representative of one of America's own iconic baths, Doe Bay (click here)  on Orcas Island in Washington, was quite interested!

Off to the Villages!

Finally we get to vaccinate the kids in the Villages.  It is a wonderful experience. Polio vaccines are now administered by three drops orally of a live vaccine.  After our immunizations, I am pleased to say that we were able to return to Addis Ababa and celebrate that polio has oficially been eradicated in the entire country.  That means that there have been no new cases for three years which his evidently the official standard for eradication. 

Of course, as soon as the baby tastes the vaccine, she desires a more familiar and pleasant food.

Maureen  makes friends everywhere but this little girl was special to her.  Maureen doesn't usually ask for a photo but they both wanted to get their pictures taken together.

Administering the vaccine is now easy because it is all an oral vaccine requiring three drops in the child's mouth.  The woman at the right was in a fairly dark hut with her child who needed to be vaccinated.  Sadly she told the story of the abscess on her head (It is almost visible in these photos below her scarf.)  She said she was having severe headaches so she couldn't go out in the sun, so she stayed in all day with her child.  I suspect that she will not get to see this child attend school. I vaccinated the child and then spent a little time with them before going to the next home to vaccinate the next kid..
Administering Polio Vaccines
Northern Ethiopia
Maureen applies the mark!
After we administer a vaccine, we use a purple permanent marker to mark the child's little finger so we can tell who has been vaccinated.  Duplicate vaccinations evidently don't cause harm.  I recall one community leader several years ago who stood in front of a group and had her child vaccinated to show that she believed it was safe.  She confided quietly that her child had been vaccinated several times already that same day.
Yobi, Joe, Maureen & Sarah in the hills north of Gondar
This woman had such a pleasant attitude and such a beautiful smile.  her tattoos were intriguing and it was hard not to notice the large goiter (at least I think that is what they are called) on her neck  The tattoos seemed to draw your attention to it.  I don't know if that represents a serious condition and I certainly hope not.  She has a young baby who depends on her.

Ethiopian kids in the villages are pretty adorable and evidently don't get to hang out with white guys much because they always look at me like I am a little strange.

The people of the village gave me the same warm welcome (and in this case a warm goodbye) as they seem to do wherever I am in the world.  They even brought out the military to make sure I was safe!

I think it is time to go to Uganda.  I will write more from there!

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