- Medicine: I spent way too much money on malaria pills in the states because I wasn’t sure I would be able to get them in Ethiopia. Well you can. Although the kind I was prescribed in the states (Malorone) isn’t available there. Another kind is. So when I ran out before I was finished with my cycle, they couldn’t help me but if I had gotten the pills here I could have just bought that kind here and saved money. And while there might not be malaria in Addis there is in other parts and if you travel (and you should!) it’s better to be safe than sorry!!
- Media: let’s be real you won’t be out every night at the clubs and most likely you won’t have a TV that works or internet that lets you stream. I brought my hard drive full of movies and it came in very handy on those nights in. Books and magazines (on a kindle for space saving!) also were great to have.
- Travel: Pro tip! If you fly in or out on Ethiopian Air you will get more than a 50% discount on in country travel! I bought my outgoing flight on Ethiopian Air and when a group of us went to fly to Lalibela (do it!) my flight was less than half that of what people who didn’t have EA tickets. Of course, check to make sure this is still possible, but if you can, do it. Travel in Ethiopia is totally worth it. The country is super diverse and beautiful. However, driving to certain parts can take days and there are airports everywhere you would probably want to go!
Dream come true. July 17, 2015
As there has no doubt been buzz throughout the international arena, that this past week was the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. Heads of State, policy makers, CEOs, and Civil Society members from across the globe gather to decide on the Addis Ababa Agreement. I think it’s a great coincidence that I just happen to be in Addis while this is happening and that I (and our whole group) got to attend (thanks to our dear Rachel). Having been quite interested in the U.N. for most of my life (M.U.N. is F.U.N.) I really was so excited to be able to attend whatever sessions I could and hopefully see some interesting people, even if only from afar. To have access to the event we had volunteered to help at the International Business Forum. While I don’t have a great love for the private sector, I don’t hold them in great contempt either. And I know that private sector (whether we like it or not) plays a part in development and for that reason should be present. On the opposite end of the spectrum I also attended the Civil Society Organizations forums. This is comprised of NGOs from all over, with different causes. Yet they come together to hopefully come to a consensus themselves before presenting a single uniform view to the delegates. And it’s not surprising that their (private sector and CSOs) views usually differ. So it was quite interesting for me to be able to go from one to the other and hear both sides and experience both worlds.
Not only was there the conference that was taking place inside the UN, but each day there was full schedule of side events. From morning until night you could hop from hotel to hotel and hear panels speak on topics from women’s rights in development to food security, to supply chain management, to FGM, to private sector financing for development. Whatever interest you have, if it is slightly related to development most likely there was a side event about it. I tried to take advantage of this range and sat in as many as I could. It really is clear that these different groups: Private sector, civil society, governmental bodies, women’s groups, etc. have very different objectives. It seems that little communication between many of them ever take place and if they do their conversations most likely end at a standstill.
One main objective of the conference was to have an agreement about the idea of a global tax body. In short the developing states want it and the developed states do not. A global tax body (from what I understand) would make it harder for multinational companies and states that go into developing ones to avoid paying those state’s taxes. The argument on the developed state side is something like it would discourage businesses to go into the states that need this outside intervention. The developing argument is something like they are losing resources and that is financial capital that would help them. Though I have a love for the UN I am still a skeptic. I cannot offer an alternative where many states can gather and have discussions on important topics but knowing where the funding for the UN comes from it is not surprising that the conference ended and no tax body was created. Despite the fact that developing nations out number developed ones.
Nonetheless experiencing this conference and being able to participate in the sessions was a great experience and pretty much a dream come true for the 16 year old M.U.N. delegate that still lives inside me.
Questions. July 10, 2015
The Third International Conference for Financing for Development is being held in Addis this year. I’ve heard that over 7000 people have registered for the conference. Heads of State and CEOs will be coming into Addis to join on the discussions that are said to shape the next fifteen years. There are over 200 side events going on outside of the official UN conference. Hotels have been booked for months, flights have been arranged, and expectations have been set.
Cities across the globe agree to host large world events all the time. Olympics, Sporting Events, Conferences, etc. They invest so much (money, time, labor, etc.) for something that will last for a relatively short amount of time. With the Financing for Development conference approaching I’ve got to thinking. What are the benefits? What are the costs? Is it really worth it?
A sharp increase of visitors to a city obviously means a sharp increase of services and amenities demanded and needed. While Addis has a large population that is growing very fast many of its residents live in informal housing and demand and/or receive very little in regards to services and amenities. When hosting an event, especially one with many dignitaries and professionals from the developed world, more and more services will be expected, requested, and required. This will obviously put a strain on any host city and especially Addis, which is trying and barely succeeding in keeping up with just the demands of its own people. Can Addis meet the needs of these visitors?
While Addis has been in a constant state of construction, it is hard to tell what if anything was constructed specifically for this conference. However, in other cities for other events many times structures are made for the sole purpose of a world event. Many examples come from cities who host sporting events. Stadiums have been constructed in Brazil for the most recent World Cup, as well in Russia arenas and hotels and more were specifically constructed for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Both these countries spent billions of dollars for these events when they could have arguably have been spent but much better purposes. In both states there are populations in need of services from the state and the decision is made to spend money or borrow money for world events instead.
The intense influx of high demand visitors also increases the demand of services that rarely or do not yet exist. The infrastructure and manpower to meet these needs just don’t exist. Should the cities try and meet these needs? What happens after the event is over and the visitors are gone? Are the new available services going to be used or be afforded by the locals? In Ukraine, for example, amongst other structures, high speed trains were purchased and put in use for the Euro Cup in 2012. These trains now connect major cities and cut down the travel time, however, the price is out of reach for most of the population. After the event was over, and the visitors have left, no one can afford to take these trains and either they run almost empty or they sit in train yards not being used.
Many questions come to mind for me when I think about this conference and large scale events as a whole. Whether the host city is located in the developed world or not, they are stressful no question. I wonder how Addis will handle the influx of visitors. I wonder how security will function with such high level dignitaries. Do these events push the cities forward into a new realm where all these new services and amenities will actually continue to be consumed? And by whom? All the extra man power that had been employed to serve all the visitors in hotels, restaurants, drivers, etc., have work once the conference has ended? Will Addis be better off? What happens after the conference is over and the people have left?
Apples and Oranges. July 3, 2015
Our seminar this week was with Ato Sisay Zenebe who is a Chair of Urban Politics at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development at Addis Ababa University. We discussed different aspects of urban planning and city development in regards to Addis specifically. Addis is growing so fast and the city just can’t keep up with the population and its needs. There is construction everywhere you look. Streets are being repaired and renovated, and buildings are popping up along every block. This is the constant state of Addis presently: under repair. The city is growing out instead of up. New settlements are being built on the periphery but that is not where most services are offered, that is not where people will be employed or where children will attend school, at least not right away. The city seems to be focusing on many projects at once. Perhaps too many. While I have no formal education when it comes to urban planning and city development and had relatively little interest before coming to Addis, being here in the midst of a city overhaul has sparked my curiosity.
This past week some of us ventured to see some of the sights of Northern Ethiopia. Throughout our journey, though the main attractions where churches and natural wonders, one thing kept sticking out to me was how nicely laid out and planned these other cities were. Now, these are much smaller cities, with smaller populations but the differences were striking to me. I found myself comparing these cities to Addis, which is probably not fair, and Addis kept coming up short. These cities had nice roads (for the most part), nice sidewalks, green areas, and public spaces. These places seemed to be another world compared to Addis, not just a couple hundred kilometers away. Inter-country migration in Ethiopia flows from rural to urban and also urban to urban. This explains Addis’ fast growth compared to other urban areas in Ethiopia. But migration into these cities are happening too and yet there weren’t many signs of complete renovation.
Most of Ethiopian’s population is engaged in the agricultural sector, however lately due to many reasons more and more people are moving to the urban area to seek out better opportunities for themselves and their families. There is nothing new to this story, people have been moving to the urban areas in hopes of better options and chances to secure financial stability. Cities have been facing this issue for centuries. There must be some shared/gained knowledge that can be useful for emerging cities. Ethiopia, however, seems to be one state that wants to develop on its own terms. They have enacted many laws that make it almost impossible for international NGOs to work within their borders, and there are strict controls over what goes in and out of their borders, information included. This leads me to believe that while there is a shared knowledge of best practices of city planning Ethiopia, and Addis are looking inward for their answers instead of out.
These observations leads me to a few questions: Is Addis the exception or will all these cities face the same challenges? Is it just the speed of growth or are there other issues that Addis is facing? Between roads, buildings, and the light rail could they be spreading themselves too thin? How does the city government and the federal government work together to ensure efficiency and competency?
I hope to travel out of Addis one more time before I head back to the states and I am interested to see what other areas of the country are like. Perhaps it’s just the tourism factor that the other places get that allow them to stay ahead of the curve. Or maybe my attempt to understand either of those places at the expense of the other is just as useful as comparing apples and oranges.
Four weeks in. Half way through. Minivans. Macchiatos. Amarignya. Street children. Rain. Mud.
I am sitting writing this entry from the lobby of an upscale hotel. High speed internet and fancy people. This lobby could be anywhere in the world. Nothing distinctly Ethiopian except perhaps some small red, yellow, and green souvenirs. Here I don’t have to think about the street children peddling everything from gum to cigarettes. I can pretend I don’t know that despite the rainy season starting people will be sleeping on the streets. I am constantly struck by the large inequality here in Addis. This might be the hardest part of this experience for me. Walking down the streets the inequality hits you in the face. Being a foreigner is in a way forcing me to recognize what things that I might be able to ignore at home where I feel comfortable and can blend in.
While my work directly works with this population, and is thus satisfying to the degree that there is progress being made, it is again such glaring extremes for me. I can start off my day doing family visits in the slums to eating at nice restaurants that serve such large portions that I cannot finish all my food.
Four weeks in and it seems the more I learn about the city the less I really know. Any gratifying city accomplishment is met by twice as many failures. Living in a new city, and one where I don’t speak the language, know the culture, and have no way of blending in is both exciting and exhausting. I am trying to find a way to stay balanced. On the first day of orientation in Peace Corps a volunteer who had already been in country sometime popped his head in and said, “Welcome to infancy.” Not being able to properly communicate or knowing how to perform certain everyday activities on your own has a way of enforcing a sort of mental regression. At four weeks in, half way through my stay here I might be so bold as to graduate myself to toddlerhood. Here’s to the next month, the last half!
Wide Horizon’s for Children has 4 offices in Ethiopia: Addis Ababa, Mekele, Adwa, and Hawassa. The WHFC’s group was lucky enough to get to spend 3 days in Hawassa visiting the office, meeting the staff, and making site visits for the families that are serviced by this office. Hawassa is located in the southern part of the country and the landscape changes right before your eyes on the journey between the capital and Hawassa. Hawassa and the neighboring towns and villages are incredibly lush. Hawassa is a nicely planned city that though it is expanding to meet the increasing population it is not near the state of constant construction madness that Addis is in. Though it’s a lusher environment and more serene that Addis there are still many families who cannot provide for themselves. We divided ourselves into 2 groups and visited different families in Hawassa who had been with WHFC for various amounts of time.
The visit that struck me most was the second family we visited on the first day. The family consisted of a grandmother and her 6 dependents (a mix of children and grandchildren). Two of the six children are in school but the other four are not. The income the grandmother receives comes from three extra room she rents out on her property. She owns the house but unfortunately the rooms are in need of repair and updating so she can only charge a minimum amount. This minimum amount does not allow her pay all the fees that come from sending the children to school: uniforms/clothes, backpack and supplies, and any other fees (even small) that the school requires. Since the fees could not be afforded it was decided that it was more beneficial to have the children stop attending school and work as day laborers performing menial tasks for meager wages.
This situation particularly struck me because it clearly aligns with the project I am working to design that will hopefully empower families through the production and distribution of school essentials. Through this project, the hope is that families will not have to make the decision to pull their children out of school due to limited means.
Since my arrival in Ethiopia every moment has been a learning experience. Besides the obvious cultural and language differences I am interested in the politics and policies of the state. While I am here I will be working with organizations that specifically work with no to low income peoples and are trying to help them and raise their standard of living through various means. During the past two weeks I have met with Ethiopians and have heard different ideas about state policies specifically ones that deal with no to low income peoples.
It seems as if there are many NGOs that are used to fill the gaps of what the state can actually provide. The lack of state initiative or ability is then filled in by an NGO (and there are many). All NGOs however, must be authorized and follow the regulations put out by the state. In that sense the NGO is more of an extension of the state then a separate entity. Also NGOs that work the subset of people that fall into the no to low income range must first go to the state to get their information on qualified participants. The state seems to have (and from what I have heard) fairly accurate information on these people even if they are homeless or housing insecure. This seems somewhat remarkable to me.
Many of the people I met spoke of saving money for state housing that is to be built. To qualify for this housing you must save a minimum amount every month for 5 years. The people who are saving don’t know yet where the housing will be built, when the housing will be built or even how many units will be built. The idea of state housing is so appealing yet questions do arise. If the housing is built on the outskirts of town/far from where they are now, will they go? Will the people who gain these housing units be able to easily commute to their places of employment, since traffic is a big issue in this city? Often times with informal housing, the communities and environments that are created are even stronger than the idea of better/safer/healthier housing. People often times move back to their informal housing because of the ties/markets that they created there. Another question that comes up is how many units are going to be built. While during these past two weeks I, of course, didn’t take a survey of the entire city but almost everyone had mentioned that they were saving for this program. There are levels/tiers to this program. From what I was told it is split up into 3 sections. Very low income/low income/middle income. People from all three of these groups can save monthly and apply for these housing units. I do not know the income amounts that qualify for each of these categories nor do I know the actual state of housing (i.e. is there enough? What the median rent is? Etc.) in general in the city. However, I did meet a person, who works full time in an office and seems to be doing much better than many of the people who the organizations I will be working with are. This leads me to believe that there is a housing crisis of sorts in the city. The city is growing in population and the people moving to the city are from all economic backgrounds. It will be very interesting to see how many housing units are built and what impacts these units have on the city.
Other interesting ways I have found that the state intervenes or does not is in the promotion of informal businesses. The state, as of recently, is trying to focus on improving their tax collection process. Obviously taxes are a big part in any state structure. All of the organizations I’ve met with work with people with little to no income and help them set up/ or encourage them to engage in the informal market (not registered with the state and not paying taxes). The state not only knows that this is going on but somewhat encourages by authoring these NGOs (who all must be registered with the state). While the state allows these informal markets to exist they also have laws that limit where people can set up their businesses. You need permits/licenses to have shops (and obviously money to pay rent for them) and even for some street vendor locations. It seems that getting people into the formal market should benefit both the state (taxes) and the people (allowing them a stable location and access to more consumers). Micro and small businesses seem to be the popular option here.
These next six weeks will no doubt shed more light on these areas and I look forward to learning more!
Besides the prep work spring semester I had not done much research about Addis or Ethiopia for the most part purposely. I think part of that might have been to come in with a completely clean slate, open mind, and no expectations. Expectations can really alter or even direct experiences. I really wanted this to be a new experience without trying to compare it to anything I’ve experienced before. However, even a few days in and I can’t help to compare. My most recent and my longest stint living abroad was in a former Soviet state. These of course are very different places with very different histories, languages, cultures, etc. yet there are some similarities which actually are quite comforting. Even simple things like uneven roads, trash on the ground or inconsistencies with water and electricity can be helpful with relating my experiences. It is helpful to know that though the situations and some of the circumstances are different that I am not really in over my head. The people seem to be overall warm and friendly. Though there is no chance of me blending in there is not as much staring as I thought there would be. Sticking out though, is inevitable no matter what you look like, locals always seem to always be able to easily spot non locals.
I am most concerned with my internship and being competent and performing well as opposed to living with inconsistent water/electricity. It is easier (for me) to deal with the change in living conditions than perhaps not being able to offer what is expected of me. The organizations that I will be working with seem to be really passionate and knowledgeable about their work and I hope to be able to learn from them and gain good experience.