Drug of choice: Dextrokuf

As I write this Dextrokuf (per the the informational pamphlet that came with it) is packing a mighty wallup i.e. “a central action” on the “cough centre in the medulla.” I am sure my medulla will be happy to know that it has a cough centre.

The package also proclaims in big bold letters:


Thank you Kuwait Saudi Pharmaceutical Industries Co.!

So my work here has started to take shape. Since Friday I have spent most of my time researching Ethiopia. Huh? Seem a little broad. Well, right now, without looking can you tell me anything about Ethiopia? Injera? Wat? Do Wop? Er, close…

Turns out that Ethiopia is the second oldest Christian kingdom after Armenia. The only Africa country to remain sovereign during the colonial “scramble for Africa.” The headquarters for the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The largest livestock producer in Africa. 10th largest in the world. The origin of coffee. And possibly cotton.

It’s also a country filled with amazingly kind and beautiful people. Upon arriving at 4 am from Cairo I was directed from the airport to a taxi and driven to my hotel. My hotel, which I had made reservations for, was locked. Not knowing what to do I vainly rattled some barred windows. My taxi driver made similar efforts to no avail. After 15 minutes, he saw a side door made of aluminum sheeting and started banging wildly. Sure enough, someone came to the door and cracked it slightly. I asked for my room. He said there was no room. Or rather he shook his head sleepily. My taxi driver spent the next 10 minutes arguing my case. Finally I was led upstairs where  I requested to sleep in a chair in the sitting area until someone from the reception came and I could clear up the confusion. After getting settled in my chair and arranging myself (propping my feet up on my bag, the occasional lingering scratch, a groggy chortle) a door magical opened and I was ushered into a room.

Waking around noon, with no idea where I was, I wandered outside and asked the first person I saw where I could find a guidebook for Ethiopia. 30 minutes later a lightly used Lonely Planet appeared. (At the time I didn’t appreciate how miraculous this was. I spent the ensuing two weeks visiting every bookstore and large hotel in the city looking for western published books and found nothing.) Fitsum (the guidebook procurer) even helped me wrap it in tasteful off pink construction paper to hide its telltale guidebook status (i.e. lonely planet in large font and a picture of a tribesman and woman painting each other magnificent hues.)

Opening the guidebook I saw mention that the Addis Ababa Restaurant was nearby and served home brewed tej (honey wine). Making a beeline for it I ordered a baharawi (mixed platter) and a bottle of tej. Next to me a small furniture construction business was having an office party. Falling into conversation with the man nearest me he ended up treating me to some of his trey sega (raw meat). And thus occurred my first opportunity to fill my body with tape worm.

The next day joining Anthony, Fitsum, Facil, Eskedar, and Regis for chat (a mild leafy stimulant somewhere between tea and coffee) we whiled away the afternoon talking history, politics, and religion.

Spending the next two days exploring the city, I enjoyed a day up in the Entoto Mountains to the north of Addis exploring King Menelik’s original imperial palace and the juniper forests of the highlands. The day after I headed off to the national museum with Regis, hung out with Lucy(of paleoanthropological fame) and a slew of Ethiopian art pieces, agricultural implements, and imperial finery. When I decided to check out the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Regis (a Frenchman born in Addis to a French father and Ethiopian mother had lived in Ethiopia for 3 years as an infant and then whisked off to france where his parents separated and he was denied insight into his Ethiopian heritage when his mom moved to the US) had had enough and returned to Piazza. After exploring the Cathedral and the sprawling and overstuffed cemeteries surrounding it I began walking back to Piazza (my hotel) when I was approached by an Ethiopian man with an odd Irish accent. Thus began my acquaintance with Elias. Initially uncertain if I was victim of an elaborate scam, it turned out that Elias worked for the Irish non-profit GOAL near the city of Harar (in the Eastern portion of the country). He did finances and logistics for them and was in town while his boss met with donors to discuss the organization’s use of money. Elias had to be available in case any questions came up and was thus stuck in the city with nothing to do.

After a machiatto we walked a little farther where he introducing me to Tega Bino as we sat in a small restaurant lit by candlelight. (It was out of necessity – power across the area was off). It began to thunder and the heavens poured and we shared drafts.

Over the next several days I began developing my routine – I would work reasonably well during the day and at night fall I would venture forth with Elias to Abdo’s for sheesha and chai.. Abdo is a muslim from Harar who owns two shops in the sprawling alleyways of Piazza. The shops are congregation points for men escaping their wives, women seeking money from men escaping their wives, and chat. Abdo also possesses a magical ability as a DJ. His music selection was phenomenal and encapsulated mood and thought perfectly. Ranging from old school blues, to modern singer/songwriters, to soul – for hours we would sit mesmerized by the music, talking and listening. It was a beautiful introduction to the meandering flows that are central to Ethiopian life. Unfortunately, after adopting this life of busy days and wandering nights I woke up on Sunday with my throat and lungs screaming bloody murder.   Consuming water like air I tried to drown the pain. Thus Dextrokuf entered my life with its promises of stifling my cough center and providing me with vital medicament.

Meeting on Monday (avec chapped lips and a phlegmatic cough) with Dr. Yemane of the Center for National Health Development in Ethiopia, a part of the Millennium Villages Project, I started delving into the world of development intricacies that I would slowly grow to know. Spending the day talking with Dr. Yemane and Amir I became acquainted with the role of the Earth Institute in Ethiopia. The scale of the engagement was far larger than I had anticipated. With nearly a 100 people employed in various capacities the project functioned to the direct of 50,000 villagers spread across 10 villages and also the indirect benefit of millions as the primary technical facility for the government led Health Extension Program to improve community health throughout the country through the placement of trained health practitioners in villages and towns. What was even more surprising was how close the reality seemed to be to what Sach’s (the Director of the Earth Institute) had called for in his book, The End of Poverty.

I spent the rest of the week either researching in the library of the Institute for Ethiopian studies or meeting with Dept heads for the Environmental Protection Authorities for Addis and the country. Now full of information, tomorrow I depart for Mekelle via the Danakil Depression, a land of murderous Afar nomads, spectacularly hued sulfurous lakes, and seething pits of lava. Supposedly, it has formed the basis for some conceptions on what the bowels of hell look like.

Update on my dad: he has been moved out of the ICU and is starting the long process of recovery. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.