Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Still clippin' along

Now that I am another week through, I thought that I would update everyone on what is happening here.

The work is picking up again, David and I have been attending a seminar on the physical characteristics of biological materials. The course is offered for faculty members here, to get a little more experience with their respected field of post harvest management. It involves a lot of really complex calculus, in determining the different properties of said substances. These calculations may include bulk density, porosity, moisture content... and the different ways that a material responds to an external stress (compression, heat, moisture etc.) If you're an engineering student who is interested in reducing world poverty by studying the packaging of materials, you would probably find it fascinating.

David and I have also been working with IT here on campus, helping them prepare a documentary about the information technology department here. Once that is ready to go, I will try to post it. I wrote the script, and hopefully we'll be recording it soon. The film is still being shot.

Still having problems with photos, which is sort of frustrating. But I've been taking plenty, and they will be up eventually.

I've been reading a lot this week, as it often pours in the evening. I've read a lot of great books since being here.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chobsky
The Willows - Algernon Blackwood
The Mountain and The Valley - Ernest Buckler
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathon Myers
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Carrie - Stephen King
Needful Things - Stephen Kings
All Creatures Great and Small - James Herriot

Now I'm hacking my way through a textbook on mammalian biochemical pathways, and a few introductory books for organic chemistry. Just trying to get a leg up on next semester. I figure I have a little time for quiet reflection and studying, less distractions and a clear mind. So it's going really well.

If anyone has some suggestions of books to read, I'd appreciate it.

I'm trying to get some volunteer work done on the weekends, working with people with physical disabilities. I've seen several people since arrival, that look to be in extreme discomfort. I'm not sure what sort of work that I would be doing, but hopefully they can find some sort of work for me to do. There's also a spot down the road for people terminally ill. They are also looking for help, so I'm going to try to volunteer with each group.

I played a little bit of tennis last night with some faculty members, which was fun. We're going to try to play a little more. They have a fairly decent clay court here. My original plan was to train for cross country this summer by running here. Unfortunately it won't be the case. I get stared at enough walking around just being white. If I was to start running around wearing shorts, I would even draw more attention to myself. The roads would be okay to run on, but the traffic is heavy during the day, and I also don't feel comfortable running on an extremely bumpy road in the darkness.

We have something neat coming next week, we're helping faculty do research about post harvest management. We're doing things on dropping them. So we'll set something up by dropping the avocados from various heights onto a level surface. From there we will determine different factors of spoilage that result from it; micro-organism impact, firmness etc. It should be fun, and a chance to get some scientific method fit in which is really important to me.

I also have been able to finish my meals now. This might not seem so significant, but food here is extremely filling. The way you eat is using injera (a flatbread made from an indigenous grain called teff), you use the injera to scoop up bites of sauces called "wots". The wots are usually pea or lentil based, but also may have beef, chicken or egg in it. I've also had steamed/curried spinach, cabbage and potato at times. The meal isn't "finished' unless you eat all of the injera, and I did this on Sunday and Monday night.

I'm still having trouble with my stomach, but I think it's just still adjusting to the food here. It's very different, and I've been having a bit of stomach pain. But all is well. Give it a couple more weeks. :)



Friday, May 14, 2010

One week in

Wow, what a week.
I am really pleased with myself to how well I have adapted so far to the culture, the environment and the huge changes that have occurred since arrival. I've done well to deal with the changes in diet (typical injera meal pictured) and with the changes in physical environment (mountains representing the change in altitude pictured). The culture is something that will come, but I've memorized about 15 or 20 amharic words. It's getting better, everyone seems really happy when we try our best to communicate in amharic.

I'm absolutely amazed by the microclimate that is exhibited on campus. In town, it's almost unbearably hot and dry. 25 feels more like 30 and I find the air to be really thin, and making it dificult to breath at times. However, in the beautiful green campus it's about five degrees cooler and so perfect at all times. Even as I write this now, it's 11:30 at night and I am wearing t-shirt and shorts. It's comparable to being close to the ocean on a warm August evening, with the breeze. Just missing the smell of the ocean...

Variety of food is already bothering me, there's not too many different types of food offered on campus so Dave and I plan to start cooking our own food next week. Just down the road you can find all sorts of wonderful tropical fruit, we want to give the custard apple another shot because the one we had wasn't ripe enough. Custard apple is the big green fruit portrayed below.

Work is different, it's unpredictable and a completely different structure than back home. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of timelines, and it doesn't matter how late you are to a meeting. If you make a meeting for 2:00 I will show up for then, and will end up amusing myself with insects until 2:15. That's been frustrating for me, as I am someone who likes to be on time and punctual, but I am becoming more adapted to it.

The people here are what's made it very easy, David and I have spent time with many students and faculty. They are all very kind, and very interesting. We frequently eat with two members of the faculty, who are extremely kind to us. They have also shown us around the city, and helped us with our amharic. Tomorrow, we are meeting with them to help mark some papers.

The biggest problem I have had is adjusting to the altitude. Due to the elevation, the air has less oxygen. And I get sleepy a lot. I sleep usually 11 hours a night. It could just be because of jetlag, but I think that the oxygen levels are taking a toll on me. Guess I'll just "force myself" to have some more chai and buna (tea and coffee)

That's all for now


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Goat = Delicious

May 11th

Dave and I ended up sleeping in way too late today, just by accident. I don't know how we slept through the dozens of girls in our residence screaming, yelling and blaring music between 5 AM - 9 AM, and you thought it was loud at your residence... not like this. It's funny, we were stuck in the all girls residence and no guys are allowed in ever... except for the two white guys sharing the communal bathroom and shower. Sort of funny.

Dave and I were interviewed for a video decreeing Jimma University as contestant for a "Green Environment" title. It was pretty on the spot, we were both dressed very casually, expecting to edit a few papers. Which we did, and then spent the next few hours helping put a video together. Well, more of watching. Dave did the narration for the video which was pretty cool.

Bought a whole slew of tropical fruit today, some great (mangoes and pineapple) and some not so great (unidentified green fruit, with white flesh and black seeds). Consumed my tenth different mammal today, which was... GOAT! It was delicious, it may have been the best meat I have ever eaten. It was served over burning coals in a ceramic dish. Then with chili powder to dip it in, and the spiciest mustard I have ever tasted... maybe spiciest thing. I am becoming desensitized to spice, by the time I leave I expect I will be chomping down on red chiles like the locals do. The mustard was comparable to yellow wasabi.

Power has been on and off all day, water hasn't worked period... had to shower with a bucket. But it was okay. It's amazing how much water you can save. I used four one liter scoops of water. My biggest goal when I get back to Canada is to decrease water consumption. It is just ridiculous what we use.

May 12th

Had an interesting day, Dave and I were both feeling sick from some Ethiopian cuisine we had last night. We ordered "kitfo" which is minced beef that is hardly cooked. We asked for it to be cooked in Amharic, but it wasn't cooked to accommodate our "delicate canadian stomachs". As a result, we both had a nice series of cramps. Quite uncomfortable. We have also been experiencing altitude sickness which really just makes us sleepy a lot. We should become a little more accustomed to the altitude shortly.

Today I realized that I have now eaten 10 different land mammals:
1. Cow
2. Sheep
3. Pig
4. Goat
5. Moose
6. Deer
7. Caribou
8. Elk
9. Bear
10. Rabbit

Not to shabby for someone who used to be a vegetarian.

And some Ethiopian wildlife to round the whole thing off. It's funny, people think I am absolutely crazy here when I stop talking mid sentence to look at a mite or a moth on the plant next to me. It's incredible.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The road to Jimma

The drive from Addis Ababa was amazing. It took about six hours, the road was in immaculate condition. Along the way, there were some of the most beautiful trees that I have ever seen. They looked so ancient, and they were so big. We saw two types of monkeys, and a huge variety of birds. There were yellow birds, blue birds, red birds... high in the mountains there were many types of raptor birds. One had a wingspan that must have been at least six or seven meters. Some sort of eagle, I would expect. Looking for a guide so that we will be able to tentatively identify some wildlife.

Upon arriving to the university, I was amazingly shocked. The grounds were beautifully kept with beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees everywhere. Tropical birds in the trees, monkeys swinging around. It's the most beautiful oasis possible. The whole drive was lush and green, but not even close to the same scale as the campus here at JUCAVM. There were trees that included avocado, papaya and some really neat conifers that had basically rings of needled branches, so perfectly balanced that it appears to be a trunk with green disks spaced out along the length of the trunk.

The people here are amazing, we met the project coordinator and had some time to walk around campus and become a little more familiar. We met some nice young faculty, who invited us to a night of traditional food, dancing and traditional Ethiopian music. It was so much fun, such lively happy people. Everyone here is so kind, they have the most lovely way of making one feel welcome. And perfect smiles, everyone seems to have perfect smiles.

Along the drive which one was straight road, that became windy over time we realized two things. 1. That people walk everywhere! Scarcely along the 350 + km would we travel 100 m without seeing someone. People were everywhere. 2. There is an amazing amount of animal agriculture here in Ethiopia. Fact. In Ethiopia, cattle population: 44,000,000. Sheep population 23,000,000. Goat population 23,000,000, this was told to us by Dr. Tess Astatkie of NSAC. It's unbelievable! They were everywhere.

Another thing that struck me, is the diversity of everything. From the insects to the plants, to the trees. Biodiversity is everywhere in Jimma. Today I saw a locust, that was about six inches long. It was so cool. Also saw some beautiful butterflies, some katydids and some neat beetles. I look forward to documenting it a bit through my stay here.

We had our first experience with the rainy season as well. David and I noticed the sky was getting dark, and all of a sudden it began to pour. It was like a hurricaine. The drops of water were giant, and intense and it just really threw me for a loop. I know I will be wearing my boots quite a bit. The thunder and lightening were loud, and the rain was louder. It's going to make sleeping very nice, as it usually occurs during the night.

Today is our first day of the placement, it's still a little unclear as to what we are doing, but we are very excited.



Saturday, May 8, 2010

Arrived Safely

Just got in about an hour ago, Ethiopia is beautiful. It's dark, and can't see much. But the air is lovely and cool, and it smells amazing everywhere. Had some delicious food in the hotel restaurant, and it was delicious. It was traditional tids and injera. The flights were good, highlights included Greenland in the early morning, The Nubian desert (or what I think was Nubian, have to check that out) in Sudan, and finally coming into Addis in the early evening.

I'm going to try to shake this jet lag and get a decent sleep.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Predeparture Thoughts

Hi Everyone,

On May 7th, 2010 I will be on my way to Jimma, Ethiopia. I am going on a three and a half month work term for a project entitled Post Harvest Management to Improve Livelihoods (PHIML), In-part funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), with in kind contributions from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) and McGill University.

Post Harvest management is a critical practice within agriculture. Post harvest management is basically the way that people take care of agricultural products (Handling, storage, transportation and processing) after they have been harvested and before they have been consumed. Ethiopia, is a nation that is highly dependent on agriculture. Approximately ninety percent of Ethiopia’s GDP comes from Agriculture, however Ethiopia continues to lose a huge amount of crops due to problems with post harvest management. These losses may come from; rodents, microorganisms, fungus or other factors such as physical damages and bruising.

McGill and NSAC have partnered with CIDA and an Ethiopian university (Jimma University College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine JUCAVM) to start a project, developing a program at the university to increase the resources and training to promote post harvest management. As students from across Ethiopia, and other parts of Africa study at the school they can bring back what they have learned to other communities and reduce the amount of harvest losses by implementing the knowledge from the program through community based education.

I am one of two students from NSAC that will be working in Ethiopia this summer, as well as various members of the faculty that will be in and out throughout the summer to conduct training of the faculty at JUCAVM. My roles as an intern aren’t completely clear to me yet, but they will become so as I begin my placement upon arrival. However, it is fair to say that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and I am beyond ecstatic to have been selected for such a great first step; a first chance to experience international development, an interesting and new way to learn about the importance agriculture in both a local and international context, and finally finding out a little more about what I want with my life.

I leave Canada on May 7th, 2010 and will return the 20th of August, 2010. I’ll be gone around 100 days. It is a possibility due to unforeseen circumstances that communication between me, and my friends and family back home in Canada may be infrequent and sporadic. I am hoping to compile a list of friends and family email addresses. So that I might be able to send out a mass email when I do have news, a few minutes to write and access to internet. If you write an email and do not hear immediately, please understand that power and/or internet may not be working. Ethiopia is a developping country that is still building up infrastructure. I welcome your emails, messages or blog comments.

I will be living in dormitory style residence, and it is unclear at this point whether or not I will have a roommate. It is highly likely that I will be sharing a room with my friend David, who is the second student intern going. I will be sleeping, and eating Ethiopian food such as wots and injera.

I would like to thank everyone for their support and understanding for me as I take on this new adventure. I wish everyone a happy and healthy summer.