Well I went down to Awassa to give a training, for which I was fortunately not responsible this time. I’ve also been having hot and cold flushes, headaches, coughing and a complete lack of appetite which is very unlike me. So during an afternoon when I had nothing to do I took myself off to a clinic since I’d been battling this for about 10 days, but I wasn’t expecting what was to come. It started with a blood test, escalated to a chest x-ray, IV injection of 2g antibotics and a course of 2 sets of antibiotics. All this for what I gather is bronchitis. Then I realised that I’d been recommended a private clinic. They saw the chance to make some money and they damn well took it. Feeling pretty screwed now.
Two new refugee camps have recently opened in Dolo Ado in the Somali region. One in Bokolmayo and the other in Melkadida. The names of these two camps have been floating around the office for a while because we are supposed to move in and replace Intermon Oxfam as they were kicked out following their criticism of the government and UNHCR’s handling of the refugees, posted freely on the internet. An assessment was carried out and a proposal submitted to HCR and we were waiting for a while to discover whether we had funding to intervene. I’ve been waiting with baited breath because I desperately want the construction experience a new water scheme in a new refugee camp would provide. Finally, after many hours of being bored in the office, we received funding for the water scheme in Melkadida, so I was sent to help with the surveying. I had a brief discussion with the country director about my contract being due for renewal at the end of the month and the magic words “paid position” escaped his lips, words which have since haven’t left my mind and are keeping me on
The Surveying Team
So we set off on a 3-day drive down south which was eventful in itself. On top of the usual leaving late, lack of logistical support for purchasing, etc, we finally left and didn’t reach our target destination on day 2. On day 3 it rained, making the mud roads virtually impassible. At one point we were stuck behind one bus, one truck and a landcuiser all stuck along the road. Shortly after overtaking them we were nearly killed by another Landcruiser going too fast that 180-ed whilst coming towards us form the opposite direction. Fortunately it missed us, but only by about 30 cm. I was very glad I was outvoted the night before to carry on night-driving to reach our destination or we might never have made it. After Negele (read end of civilisation as we know it) the battery suddenly cut out and we discovered that the bumpy road had caused the positive pole to snap off. The driver confidently fixed it with some wire, but there was still a moment of fear when the trailing end latched onto the fuel filter sending sparks over the engine. Still, we left alive and carried on towards Bokolmayo (our current base of operatons) and on the way we were confronted by a cheetah in the middle of the road who was as surprised as us to see another entity on the road and darted back off into the undergrowth. On arrival we were glad to find out that we had a place to stay in the ARRA (Ethiopian Security) compound and didn’t need to pitch our tents in the wilderness.
Melkedida Refugee Camp
Since then we have surveyed, eaten vegetarian (goats are too expensive to kill here), seen thousands of refugees arrive, burnt under the scorching sun (41+ degrees),
dehydrated, rehydrated, watched Ethiopian TV, etc. We’ve suffered many delays in our work, mainly from driver “sickness”, surveying errors, the usual timewasting, no software for downloading data and bad mealtime planning. Fortunately to counter balance there are: beer, kittens, colleagues and novelty, which have made the stay quite bearable.
Somali Refugees Arrive in Melkedida
After a mostly uneventful journey home with one huge surprise of seeing snow on the ground in a single village, I am now back in Addis and I have to re-negotiate my contract which is due to end on April 25th… Oops! Fingers crossed.
Ok this update has been a long time coming. And surprisingly enough there has been very little to tell.
I successfully pulled off the EH Conference in 5 working days with a few minor hiccups that were totally out of my control, but were quickly rectified. I was so involved in organising that I barely got a chance to enjoy the workshops. My only real participation was when I was leading a practical session on setting up a treatment centre for AWD. Still, it was fun and outdoors, even if I got sunburnt and didn’t get to see the various practicals going on, I still got to meet many members of the IRC Ethiopia team that I never normally would because I’ve been based exclusively in the south.
A new development is the departure of our sector coordinator. It hasn’t happened yet, but by the end of the month the new guy (currently in handover period) will have taken the reins. He seems nice enough, so the transition shouldn’t be a problem.
I’ve also completed my ToR: finalising emergency response plans, using GIS software to predict emergency hotspots, and now… I’m at a bit of a loose end. Both my coordinators are trying to find somethin for me to do in the short-term (other than sit on my bum and wait for an emergency). Its looking like I will be doing some internal “gap filling” for a while with simple tasks, but at least I won’t be bored.
The future is very grey at the moment, and it is very difficult to get an idea of what is going to happen. My contract is up in just over a month, and there is a new camp opening in the Somali region and I would love the chance to set up a brand new camp as it would be amazing experience, but there are two obstacles that are currently in my way: #1 is money, we’re still not sure that we will be getting funding for the project, and the donor is notoriously slow at responding. #2 is the ethics of sending a foreigner when an Ethiopian could do the job. This is government imposed and will require their approval. Now I understand that this all makes sense, it’s reasonable, etc… but I REALLY want the construction experience!! And I don’t see why a government as corrupt as the Ethiopian one should stand up for the rights of their countrymen just when it affects me!! … Don’t worry I’m just being facetious, but I REALLY WANT THAT JOB, DAMNIT!!! I may even be prepared to remain a poor, undervalued intern just to do it
“Well [me] is useless, and X doesn’t want to help. You’re nice but you can’t help because the Blacks are always the bitches of the Whites”
Aside from that I’m organising another workshop, with yet another in sight. This one’s funny because I have been 5 working days to make it happen. I’m back to be feeling like an intern.
I have a love/hate relationship with hydro-electric dams. Yes the conversion of potential energy to electricity is entirely green, but along with it come methane releases, displacement, down-stream environmental effects… It seems like such a nice idea that never quite seems to work out. Well this one, the Gilgel Gibe III Dam, affects, amongst others, the area I last helped respond to an AWD outbreak. The epidemic hit especially hard mostly due to inadequate quality and insufficient quantities of water (which was blatant from even a cursory glance around Omorate), so the idea of reducing the volume of water flowing through Lower Omo even further is unthinkable to me. I’ve met people in the fishing industry on Lake Turkana whose livelihoods are at risk, and for what? Supposedly increased energy supply, but even in a time when there are frequent shortages (especially during the rainy season, ironic huh?) Ethiopia is a power exporter to Sudan and other countries. Even if it is completed on-time and on-budget (a long shot considering the Gilgel Gibe II) and significantly helps Ethiopian infrastructure and power supply, it saddens me to imagine what the lives of the people in South Omo will be like after the construction is completed.
Well it’s been an excruciating two weeks with masses of problems related to these workshops thrown my way, but I sit here on a Friday afternoon and my phone has stopped it’s incessant jingle, clicking send/receive on Outlook does nothing, my bags are packed and I am preparing for a free-whisky-fuelled flight home to France.
Though I have had some extremely frustrating moments with procurement, organisation and of course the consultants/trainers themselves, I realise now that I seem to have done a decent enough good job or I people would still be fielding questions. As it is, I’ve made a nice handover document for Zerihun, everyone seems to know their responsibilities, it seems to be running smoothly, so overall I think I’ve done as much as I can reasonably be expected to do.
I’ve been informed that when I get my visa and return to Ethiopia, I will be organising an internal IRC conference. Yippedeedodah! Still, should be a lot easier as it’s one instead of eight and its in Addis, which helps enormously.
For shits n’ giggles here’s a list of reasons why one consultant particularly annoyed me:
- Demanding last minute that the final training be ‘residential’, i.e. people sleep in the hotel where the training is being held, requiring an additional $13,200 adding to the budget. Rejected with glee.
- Demanding additional training materials and, while I’m rushing around trying to get them at record speed, asking me about the many tourist sites in Ethiopia.
- Wanting the final venue to be changed because he “didn’t get a good vibe from it”. No further explanation was offered.
- Demanding the IRC staffer accompanying them stay in the same hotel in Addis Abeba, despite him living 10 mins on foot away from said hotel.
- Saying the word “fuck” at me four times in two days.
- Consistently “jokingly” asking about the right places to go to get prostitutes and dropping endless hints about getting one. Or more.
Ok so since I’ve been back in the office I have been devoting my entire time to organising 8 workshops around the country. Participants will include regional and federal government officials, UNICEF and a dozen or so NGOs. As well as being boring as hell it’s also been ridiculously stressful. Getting the partners to commit, finding good conference halls in areas where we have no field staff, getting slow-drip feeds of information from consultants who don’t accept constructive criticism about the content of their presentations regardless of the fact that WE are paying THEM to do what WE want, annoying logistics with continuously changing material/equipment requirements… I’ve been working until 2 or 3 am most nights for the last two weeks, because so many things have gone wrong. Daily in fact. However two days before the training starts I somehow had everything under control, I had sorted out the big fat mess and was ready for the trainings to take place and then I got a phone call from India: one of our trainers was rushed to hospital… Damnit!
We were warned of another AWD emergency in the South and so promptly set off to carry out a rapid assessment in two zones. The request came from the regional government which was nice, because it meant only two levels of government to schmooze before we could hit the the field. So we arrive at the first Zonal Health Department for the usual introductions, niceties and promises of cooperation. We got none of that. We were met by the head of the department, a fat and squat little man with perfect English, who listened smiling to our opening statements, and then said “Well gentlemen, I would love to help you, but we have no AWD emergency”. With an internal sigh I realised that I was about to, for the first time, encounter serious resistance to our interventions. So I politely showed the letter from the regional government requesting our support, and our country director’s letter as proof of our intent to respond. He airily discredited them both, despite the official stamps on both, and began talking about needed their development requirements as opposed to their emergency needs. Not very helpful. In the end the conversation ended up as a you-know-that-I-know-that-you-know-that-I-
know-that-I’m-not-going-to-give-you-anything tennis match so I decided to call his bullshit. The conversation then sounded more like this:
ME: So are you saying that the outbreak is over?
HIM: Yes, that is correct.
ME: So all the CTC’s are closed?
ME: Excellent. Congratulations on dealing with the outbreak. Can I just ask for our records when the emergency was officially declared over?
HIM: … … The outbreak has not yet officially been declared over, because the protocol requires a month of no cases before we can.
ME: Ah, so then if you’re following protocol there must still be CTCs set up because the outbreak is not over.
HIM: Erm, … yes well there might be some.
Then it degenerated into development requirements again and following that we were kindly told that the meeting was over.
This angers me so much, I was fuming for the best part of 30 minutes after that encounter. I know AWD is sensitive in Ethiopia, but we’ve intervened in many places before and we don’t spread the word to the international community. This man, who I’ve since found out has a reputation for non-cooperation, blocked us from sites which may have hundreds of cases, prevented us carrying out prevention measures, and could lead to many unnecessary deaths. I can’t understand how a human being can allow saving political face to stand in he way of life-saving interventions. I wonder how he sleeps at night. Anyway, one thing I know is that I need to find a course on diplomacy with government officials.
So after that frustrating experience, we set off to the next site, and found that they were prepared to cooperate but had a meeting until the end of the day and asked us to come back tomorrow. So the next day we met, got useful preliminary information and planned a trip to the different sites. Right about then I got a phone call from HR in Addis saying that my visa was about to expire and that they needed my passport and photos. By today! Let me just state that I reminded them 2 months, 1 month, 15 days and 10 days before the deadline. Suddenly I had to bail on the field team, and, in breach of all IRC’s internal rules take notoriously dangerous public transport back to Addis to avoid imprisonment/deportation. Long bus ride short, I made it in time, but then HR didn’t process it. They brought their legal adviser in as they do when they deal with immigration, and I made damn sure to suck up to him, speak in Amharic as far as possible and state my case (as I was not allowed to go to immigration personally). He told me he’s managed to secure a 15-day extension, and I need 3 months.
Where we go now is not certain. I’m meeting the CD next week to discuss it, but as I understand it there are a few options:
- Get arrested
- Leave permanently
- Fly to Nairobi and apply for a visa there, which happens quite often and is a tad dodgy
- Fly to Europe, wait a while, get a new visa and come back
My main concern is that IRC may not pay for me to come back, as short-notice, one-way flights are notoriously expensive, and for an intern it may not be worth it. I hate HR.
I got away with it, I seem to have completely avoided the cumulonimbus of office politics. YAY! The run-up to Christmas was stressful for many, but now that it’s the holiday period most expats aren’t there and those that are are taking it pretty easy. There are still huge issues, but that does NOT concern me in the slightest (Thank GOD!). So here are the major points what I’ve been up to since my last post in short form because I’m hungover:
- Been to two meetings which were canceled without my knowledge (thank you UNICEF)
- Been out on all but two nights since I got back from my previous field trip, so I really need to take it easy now
- Found a new job I REALLY want to apply for
- Met my fellow EH intern, Cranfield graduate and Manchester graduate, Magnus
- Started semi-regular gym sessions
- Personally, and literally, threw a pickpocket out of a bar
- Carried an drunken unknown girl into an unknown house and put her on an unknown’s bed at new year.
I can honestly say that 2009 has been an excellent year for me overall, and I see no reason why 2010 should be any different. Happy New Year to everybody!