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Wednesday
Jul012009

13 Months of Sunshine

One thing you learn about Ethiopia when you visit is that they are on their own calendar.  By their count, it's only 2001, so forget plastic surgery and just visit here to lose eight years instantly!  The reason they are behind is that they have 13 months, not 12.  As a result, they have longer years.

Our guide was fond of telling us that Ethiopia is therefore known as the "land of 13 months of sunshine", because of the calendar and the great weather.  He did slip in that Ethiopia has a bit of a rainy season, which they call -- no surprise -- "the rainy season!"  We found out exactly what the rainy season was all about on our drive back from a mountain top overlooking Addis Ababa.

Untitled from Scott Laughlin on Vimeo.

Wednesday
Jul012009

Touring with Red Jackal

While in Ethiopia, you'll benefit from the services of experienced tour guides.  We certainly did.  Two days with staff from Red Jackal Tours proved worth a week's immersion in Ethiopia's sites, sounds, beliefs and practices.

On the first day, Red Jackal staff made sure we understood all points of Addis Ababa, the country's capital city.   You can't understand Ethiopia if you don't understand the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, so our first visit was to Trinity Church -- the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie and a memorial to the company's historical struggles to remain independent.  Next was a tour of the city's two major museums -- the Ethnographic and the National.  One gives you a sense of the country's long history and diversity while the later shows important exhibits such as Lucy, the oldest and most complete example of pre-human remains ever discovered.

We then went to the Merkato, the world's largest open-air trading market.  Merkato is a maelstrom of buying and selling activity that could overwhelm any consumer.  Think analog eBay!  Our drive by visit brought us a selection of local spices and resident prices.

We capped the day with an early dinner at Finfine Restaurant, a wonderful example of traditional Ethiopian dining culture.  A typical platter or injera and stews, eaten with hands, filled our bellies and got us drowsy enough for an early night's sleep.

The second day gave us exposure to the rural countryside.  Less than an hour south of Addis Ababa lies the "crater lake" region.  As it sounds, seven lakes formed by the country's ancient volcanic activity sit nestled in the foothills of this rural area.  We drove directly to the shores of four of these lakes, viewed, hiked and exchanged stories with local residents.  During this trip, we experienced a taste of the country's natural beauty.  Beyond landscapes, we saw many of the country's avian citizens.  Ethiopia has several bird species unique within its borders, from the smallest of humming birds to large, horn-billed creatures.

If you are interested in touring Ethiopia, start by checking out the offerings of Red Jackal Tours.

Wednesday
Jul012009

AHOPE for Tiffany!

Tiffany Jones, in Green on Right"It's AHOPE for me this summer!," thought Tiffany Jones as she wrapped up this school year in the Chicago-area school system in which she works.  And she followed through.  Tiffany is volunteering with AHOPE this summer and you can read all about her work and adventures on her blog.

We had the opportunity to meet Tiffany in person during our visit to AHOPE and were pleased to hear some of her stories and observations first-hand.  After just a few minutes with her, it became clear that we, with our duffle bag donation, were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be done!

If you have a moment, do catch up with Tiffany by email or comments to her blog and let her know how motivated you are by the action she took to find her place in the global giving community.  

Wednesday
Jul012009

A Visit to AHOPE

Next time you think you're somehow behind the eight ball, try this: close your eyes and image starting life -- from birth -- with HIV. That's exactly what the children at AHOPE, and their caregivers and future adoptive families must contend with every day.

HIV is a devilishly efficient killer in Ethiopia and a crippling social problem with which the country must contend. One of the most visible results of the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Ethiopia is the number of youth orphaned every year from dead or dying parents. Organizations close to the issue now place the number of orphaned youth in Ethiopia at between 5 and 6 million. A large minority of these orphans are unwitting victims of HIV/AIDs.

An unfortunate few of those orphans are direct victims of their mother's disease as well, contracting AIDs as a matter of birth. The newborns of AIDs moms cannot be diagnosed definitively until about 6 months as an otherwise healthy baby may have anti-bodies from their mother in their blood stream. After 6 months, however, the diagnosis becomes clear and for many it is unfortunate: they have their parents' HIV.

Between the stigma of HIV and the practical realities of specific care requirements, these children, although placed in orphanages, have very few options. That's why AHOPE exists: to give these kids an organization dedicated to their care and increasing the odds that they will find a good home and go on to lead normal, productive lives.

AHOPE for Children is a non-profit organization whose mission is to serve orphans infected with HIV. In Addis Ababa, AHOPE's two pleasant, well-staffed Children's Homes care exclusively for orphans who are HIV+ and have no extended family to care for them. Many of these children are now finding their forever families through adoption.

AHOPE has also started a Community Outreach Program which educates the public about the issue of HIV-infected infants and works to enable orphaned children to remain within their extended families and culture, while receiving medical care, education, food, and other services.

We had the opportunity to visit one of AHOPE's centers and were greatly moved.  I don't think I have to beat the drum very hard to get the point across.  The people who are working there and the children they assist deserve your thoughts and prayers.

AHOPE is in need of continuing financial support, as well as donations of goods and medicines.  If you have the opportunity, please consider sponsoring an AHOPE child or including AHOPE in your charitable giving.  And, if you plan to visit Ethiopia and are flying to Bole, consider packing up a duffle bag of needed supplies and dropping it off during your travels.

Wednesday
Jul012009

Coffee Ceremony

It's impossible to travel anywhere in Ethiopia without encountering coffee.  You think Starbucks is ubiquitous?  You've not seen anything like the availability of coffee in the cradle of coffee discovery -- Ethiopia.

I start every morning with a few small cups of freshly brewed coffee lovingly prepared by a coffee vendor right in the lobby of the hotel.  This purveyor delivers the nectar of the caffeine bean in the traditional style of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.  

The ceremony involves actually roasting green beans over charcoal on site, then grinding them in a mortar and pestle.  The grinds are then placed in a traditional coffee pot and set to boil over another charcoal-filled brazier.  Once boiled, the pot is set to rest at the foot of the artisan to let the grounds settle.  The results are poured into a very small cup and complimented with at least a teaspoon of sugar.  Warm milk can be requested by those that prefer their morning concoction more dilute.  (They also have a salt and butter preparation, however that one's a bit too local for me!)

The result could not be any more fresh or intoxicating!  Ditch Starbucks.  We need some Ethiopian coffee gals in the United States.