- Travel! I know it can be expensive but fly in or out on Ethiopian Air and take advantage of that discount you get on domestic flights (I believe you can only book one ticket but you can book five flights, weeks apart on “one ticket.” It just takes some advanced planning but you get 60% off!!!!) Addis is just the tiniest glimpse of this country. Head north to Lalibela and Axum to see old churches and remnants of an old empire. Fly East to Harar to see the old walled city and Muslim communities of the country. Drive south to Lake Zeway for wine tasting (M-F) and Hawassa for relaxation in a calm, planned city. I know you are busy and feel financially constrained but make travel happen. It will really enhance your experience times 10.
- Medicine and doctors. Bring medicine and bug spray! And sunscreen! Okay bring all your toiletries except perhaps shampoo and soap. Bring so much stomach medicine. Tums, Pepto, Imodium. You will most definitely use some of it. You can buy malaria meds very cheaply at the local pharmacies. The doctors have been great. Helena (aka Typhoid Mary) and Rachel will update you on the hospital situation.
- Power. Internet. Water. It goes in and out all the time, all over town. A $20 headlamp from REI was a fantastic investment and I have used it almost daily (at least to read in bed since you may have roommates.) The water is cold most of the time in the shower and the water goes in and out, usually when your head is covered in shampoo. Hotels have the best wifi and are fine with you working for hours if you buy an overpriced macchiato.
- You get out of IFP what you put in. It sounds cliché, but to make the most out of IFP you have to be proactive or else you will be bored and frustrated. There are lots of opportunities, but you need to find them. The organizations we have worked with have been so nice and helpful but not proactive at all. When we want information or a meeting we have to reach out to them. It was annoying at first but now I just understand that is how it works. But I was also able to find organizations to give me the experience I wanted and I do feel like my time here was well spent.
Your highest highs and lowest lows
Travel and new environments in general provide for a roller coaster of emotions. New experiences can be so sweet but unfamiliar territory can make you so frustrated, angry, confused or even scared. I have faced these feelings, personally and professionally this past week here in Addis.
Personally- Travel gives me a rush and gives me an almost unparalleled happiness. The simplest acts can feel like triumphs, like successfully navigating around town in line taxis- A friendly local who wants to have coffee with you and doesn’t want to rip you off- A Bajaj ride at night through a new city.
Travel can also make you feel terribly alone and scared. This week a crazy man walking just blocks from my house hit me on the head (hard!) with his walking stick. No one stopped him and someone only came to see if I was okay once I started bawling. On the street. All alone. I know there are crazy people everywhere (especially New York) but wow, you really realize how isolated you are here at times when you don’t speak the language and you are not a local. The begging and people grabbing me for money also got to me this week and it was a battle not to smack an old women’s hands away or the little kids grabbing your pant leg. I know this is the price you pay when visiting new places but your travel lows can be way worse than your New York lows, but luckily
the same goes for your highs.
Professionally- IFP has been amazing. I remember writing about it in my application; I REALLY needed field experience. Studying at school I had these vague ideas about what I wanted to do and the exact position I saw myself in after graduation. The words women, children, empowerment, school enrollment, gender equality were floating around but they weren’t quite coming together. After the work we have done here I KNOW where I want to be and have so much more passion for what I am studying and I feel so driven. I feel like I am in the right place this summer for me and that feels fantastic.
But, along with the happiness and fulfillment, comes frustration and doubt. Yin with the yang. Some of the
organizations we are working with have been very hesitant to our recommendations. Others are hard to reach. Development is a slow process which makes you question if your work is even making a difference. Some children only gained a kilo in a year after a feeding program? Is that a waste? Only one child out of
a family of seven is staying in school because they were the child chosen for the sponsorship program. Who knows, it’s been a week of ups and downs, and I’m looking forward to a fresh start next week.
This past week, 6 students piled into a van and made the five-hour drive from Addis to Awassa. The drive itself was an experience between Addis traffic jams, brand new (also empty) Chinese-built toll roads, and the old, local road. This was a two-lane road through small towns that passed by mud huts, dirt soccer fields, and countless farm animals. The scenery change was drastic going from dusty fields to lush, green hills as we drove into a new city. Our task for the 3 days of our stay was to visit sponsored families, see how the social workers interacted with the families, and complete a PEW (Indicators of Progress Toward Economic Well Being) form for the families we visited. Instead of recounting all the details of individual families, I will focus on observations I made from our visits.
- “Urban” families were currently living in dwellings I might consider rural. The families living in Awassa were living in basic mud huts. Each had their own detached hut.
- The biggest struggle of “urban” families was land ownership. None of the families owned their own land and therefore could not grow on the land or own any livestock because their housing situation was insecure. Stability in housing seems like an essential first step in their economic development.
- The rural families (that we met with) all had their own land and were able to partially or wholly feed themselves off of their own land. Even though they lived much further away from the city amenities, they had a more stable living and food conditions. They also had the capacity to own livestock if their finances permitted.
It was a great learning experience to get out of the Addis office (and out of the classroom) and go talk to the people who are being helped by the organization we are interning for.