Returning to Ethiopia

Yesterday morning I flew into Addis Ababa for the beginning of my second stint with the Solar Energy Foundation. This time I will stay in country for six weeks, doubling the length of my previous stay. Speaking of length, my flight from Boston was, as usual, a lengthy one. It required two overnight flights: first from Boston to Frankfurt where I had a 10 hour layover, then another overnight flight to Ethiopia.

Fully rested by this morning, I walked to work. Along the way is a shop selling charcoal and firewood. When I see the many containers of charcoal and the numerous bundles of firewood, it brings up images of the shrinking forests around Addis. But the poor people in the city have few other sources of cooking fuel. The shrinking forests became real for me a few weeks previously while driving through the Entoto mountains just outside of Addis. I passed dozens of women walking alongside the road carrying huge bundles of still leafy, green firewood. Each bundle extended perhaps five feet on either side of the woman and was so heavy she walked bent over forward with her back parallel to the ground. (Of note: there were no men carrying these body bending loads of firewood, just women.) They had walked miles from the city into the forest to bring back firewood to use in their homes, as well as to sell. Lots of firewood was stripped from the forest that day and I doubt there is a robust reforestation program in place.

In route to work I also passed a cabinet-building workshop. The unusual thing about this workshop is that it was on the sidewalk. This small business has no fabrication facilities, just a small walled area to lock up their material and equipment at night. During the day, the actual work is performed on the sidewalk. About half a dozen men process the furniture through the various stages of completion. A power saw operator cuts the pieces, another guy hammers, nails, or screws the pieces together, a third sands the cabinet, and yet another worker spray paints the masterpiece. Quality didn’t look to good to me, but what can you expect from a sidewalk factory. Besides, I didn’t get a close-up look, I had swept wide off the sidewalk into the street to avoid the power saw and spray paint operators. In the street was a goatherd with nearly 100 goats. Pedestrians beware.

We have a position at SEF called “Office Girl.” That is her official job title; I checked the organization chart. I am told every business has an Office Girl. Her job is to do administrative odd jobs, but jobs that don’t require education. Typing requires education. At SEF, our office girl’s name is Mahmey, pronounced something like “mommy,” which sort of describes the motherly tasks she is responsible for. She brings me a bottle of water each day. She earns about $900 per year.

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