ethiopia? why on earth would you go there..?

This was the common response I received from people in Australia after telling them I was moving to Ethiopia. And it seems I’m not the only one who gets this kind of response. I’ve had some good friends from home recently visit and they too were faced with the same question. The thing is not many people know much about Ethiopia. Which led me to make the below list of things you definitely wouldn’t want to come to Ethiopia and see:

It’s not like Ethiopia knows how to make damn good coffee:
(it is the birthplace of coffee after all)


The tea is just as bad (so full of spices):

And the music scene is just so boring:

Actually the nightlife in Addis is pretty lack luster:
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Foodwise – there’s way too much choice for a vegetarian:


And the restaurants – so common:
benabeba1 benabeba2

Then there’s the scenery – don’t get me started on the scenery – it’s clearly terrible:imagehudad1simiens2simiens4The churches are pretty standard:

And so inaccessible – they’re either carved out of rock underground or hidden in a cave at the very highest point on top of some very steep mountains:


Decorated with a few paintings here and there:church3Oh and the people don’t smile much:
kids1 boys1 couple1 girl1


The endemic animals aren’t that interesting either:
gelada gelada2ibexgeladasmates

The basket weaving needs a bit more colour:


There is nothing cool about an active volcano and bubbling lava pit:
volcanoe1 volcanoe2 volcanoe3

Or floating about on the most buoyant salt lake around:
saltlakeSulphur lakes are just so dull:

Speaking of lakes, this land locked countrys’ lakes are so uninspiring:

lake2 lake1

photo 1

Particularly the hippos that lurk about:hippo

The accommodation around the country is pretty much same same as everywhere:



accom3 accom2

And notorious for bad views:

The hiking is just as bad (so many wild flowers on the path):
trek You see such horrible things along the way:babydonkeyAnd my friends had a terrible time visiting:
AP1 group

So why on earth would you go to Ethiopia!



“it will be an adventure…”

In early March I went on a work field trip to the Amhara region with some colleagues. Our task was to interview Health Extension Workers and women in remote communities about a long term family planning project my organisation has been implementing over the past year. In the week leading up to the trip one of my colleagues, Dawit, would say (daily, and sometimes hourly) ‘It will be an adventure”.

And boy was he right!

Amhara region
The Amhara region of Ethiopia is highlighted red.

It all began at 6am on the day we set off. We started early because we had a 545km road trip ahead of us. No-one talks in hours here, it’s all about km’s because you never know what the road will be like. 100km could take 1hr or it could take 10. Despite our best intentions to start early (I am not a morning person), the car didn’t even make it to pick us up. At 6am there was a call from my workmate who was in the car, “Ahhh Emy, the car is stuck!”

ditch2 ditch3
Turns out the car was at the end of our street, stuck in a ditch!

So there we were (with a very grumpy driver) waiting for a tow truck to arrive and drag the car out of the ditch. But after an hour of waiting, a few local guys decided to take things into their own hands and try and lift the car (yes, a massive 4WD) out of the ditch. With their hands! I thought this was funny….and ridiculous. But they did it. Habesha power!

So we had progress, the car was out of the ditch, the driver was smiling again and off we drove. There was however some clunky noises coming from the back of the car. We asked the driver if this was ok and he flippantly gave the old “chigar yelem” aka “no worries”. We weren’t happy with this response (and the lack of seat belts), especially with such a long drive ahead so we asked for another car.

We parted ways with damaged car #1 and we were told car #2 was on its way. At 10:30am (a much more respectable time) car #2 arrived. With a very happy and smiling driver.

It was only 2 hours into the trip that car #2 starting overheating. We pulled off the road, the driver opened the bonnet and was immediately engulfed with clouds of steam from the engine. “Chigar yelem”, driver #2 says! Hmmm, we know what that means…

car#2aCar troubles? “Chigar Yelem”!

Whilst the driver sorted things out under the car bonnet, a few kids appeared. It doesn’t seem to matter where you go in Ethiopia, it can appear to be a remote place but if you stop for a few minutes, people will inevitably appear from what seems like nowhere. It could be kids herding their cattle, kids on their way home from school with their books in hand, women and girls walking with loads of wood on their heads, jerry cans of water on their back and babies strapped to their sides, or even donkeys loaded with so much hay it looks like the hay is moving along the road with 4 mysterious legs.

These particular kids were on their way home from school. They were so shy to begin with. Shy but curious. They kept their distance so we tried to reel them in with some basic conversation. Eventually they were smiling and showing us their school books. Our driver needed more water and asked one of the boys in the group if they could find some for us. The boy sprinted off and returned 15mins later with a jerry can full of water. Champ.

Whilst it’s easy to get frustrated in these situations, I think they are the moments that actually make the journey special. Unexpected events, unexpected experiences. Completely random. Genuine. And this trip had a lot of these moments and they are the moments that I talk about with a glow when someone asks about the trip.

IMG_9848We got lost (for the 10th time!) and came across these kids who literally stopped in their tracks on their way home from school upon seeing us…

IMG_9853Slowly they came closer.
Hands on heads seems to be a common stance!


They couldn’t stop giggling. And neither could I!

IMG_9855IMG_9858Our colleagues said the kids hadn’t seen farenji’s (white people) before, and that they weren’t sure what to think of us…but they were definitely intrigued with the camera!

IMG_9863 IMG_9866
…and in no time they were posing for us!


Back to the journey. Car #2 continued to overheat every hour and every hour we had to stop by the side of road to add water. By 6pm the driver decided the car couldn’t go any further. So there we were, half way to our destination and without a car. But our quick thinking colleague organised a minivan to take us to the next main town where we could arrange to meet up with car #3.

10 minutes into the drive with car #3 and guess what. The driver gets out and has a big vomit on the side of the road. We’re a bit concerned about him and the 5 hour drive ahead. But what’s his response to our concerns, “chigar yellem”! Naturally.

spewyHmmm…is this road trip cursed?

Despite 2 car breakdowns and a spewy driver, we finally made it to our destination of Bahir Dar a day later than expected. Bahir Dar is a cruisey little town on the banks of Lake Tana (Ethiopia’s biggest lake and the source of the Blue Nile). We used Bahir Dar as a base for the next few days whilst we conducted interviews at Health Posts in the surrounding areas.

Our visit to these Health Posts was a special opportunity to get out to remote places (sometimes 5 or more hours along dirt roads). “African massage” was a term thrown around a lot on these trips. We got lost quite often (even with 2 local guides in the car with us!) and we only made it to 3 of the 6 Health Posts we were meant to visit. But I was repeatedly told 50% is a great result.

Despite this (great) result, the trip was unlike any trip I have been on. It was an unforgettable experience. An experience I feel grateful to have had. I can’t find the words to give this experience justice so instead of words (or jokes) I’ll leave you with pictures of the colourful people we met and the interesting things we saw along the way. Enjoy.


These are the Health Extension Workers who are implementing long acting family planning solutions into their communities:






Props! Yes, we’re immature:


These were the strong and determined women we met who have chosen to take on the long acting family planning options offered by their local Health Extension Worker:








They even Ride to Work out here! On the African massage roads:


The film crew in action:








And me overly happy to be off the dusty roads and on a pavement!


Our car broke down again (surprise, surprise) and whilst it was being fixed we had a couple of hours hanging out on the side of the road of this town. The guy in the yellow and green Ethiopian football top was very keen to have his photo taken. He then dragged everyone around him in to also have their photo taken!




This kid was trying so hard not to smile. Didn’t want to jeopardise his tough guy look!

IMG_0069 IMG_0070

But then his friends came along and he cracked:

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Caught this guy just sneakily taking photos from across the street. Without permission. Cheeky!


And after 5 days on African massage roads, covered in dust and well and truly worn out, I succumbed to one of life’s indulgences…brunch with a manicure and pedicure. Don’t hate me:



good things come in…

…is it pairs, or 3’s or small packages?

Well I feel like good things in Ethiopia have been happening in pairs. For starters, life here works around 2 calendars. The Gregorian calendar and the Ethiopian calendar. So on September 11 we celebrated Ethiopian New Year. Because according to the Ethiopian calendar, September 11 is New Years Day. And on January 1 we celebrated the New Year again (Gregorian style!)

photo 1 chook
New Years #1 – Sept 11 – it’s all about ‘segar’ (meat)…

ny2a ny2
New Years #2 ceremony at work – Dec 31 – it’s more about cake this time!

And the fun didn’t stop at New Years, on December 25 we celebrated Christmas and on January 7th we celebrated Christmas again. (Orthodox style!)

Genius – A Christmas tree made from used beer bottles – Sept 7

So given my birthday is coming up soon (on the Gregorian calendar), that means I’ll get a second birthday right…one Gregorian style and one Ethiopian style. Yes, that’s definitely correct.

But one experience that made me question this theory of good things coming in pairs (or 3’s) was my double dose of malaria and typhoid. After feeling rubbish for a couple of weeks I decided to get a blood test. Which was lucky because the Doctor discovered I had malaria (the falciparum kind) and as if that wasn’t enough, he also discovered I had typhoid. What a blow that was. A double blow. But luckily we caught it early and the drugs kicked in and cleared things up pretty quickly.

The amazing drugs that cured me of malaria in 3 days…

When I went back to the Doctor to get another blood test to make sure I was rid of these two nasty bugs from my system, I was happy to hear that good news came in pairs again – and the malaria and typhoid were indeed long gone. But what came next was a bit of a surprise:

Doctor: “The malaria and typhoid have gone but you still have typhus Emy”!
Me: “What? Ahh, you didn’t mention the typhus last time….”,
Doctor: “Oh yes, look at your last blood test results, see here (pointing at the results), you can see the previous blood test results clearly show you have typhus!”
Me: “Ummm, yes, but you didn’t tell me this piece of information last time, you only mentioned the double whammy of malaria and typhoid”.
Doctor: “Oh ok then, sorry about that, well just take these drugs and you’ll be fine in 2 days”!

So I think I’m sticking with the ‘good things come in pairs’ saying. Not so much good news comes in 3’s!

Another example to back this pair theory up is that not only are there 2 calendars in use here, there’s also two time systems. For example, 10am (European time) is also known as 4 o’clock (Ethiopian time). So 4 o’clock can sometimes roll around twice in a day, depending on what time system you are using. Just don’t confuse the two and turn up for a ‘4 o’clock’ meeting twice in one day because you get confused by which calendar everyone else is using (definitely not speaking from experience here). But this is great news for ‘happy hours’!

Twice a week here, we have fasting days (Wednesday’s and Friday’s to be precise). Meaning people don’t eat meat on those two days of the week, making my life as a pescatarian super easy – twice a week…!

Fasting days mean guys like this are spared…

…for a while anyway.

These guys seem to have gone a bit overboard on the pairing thing!

‘Suupparmaarkeettii’ – Just rolls off the tongue…
(click on image to enlarge)

And in the interest of the pairs theme, I’ll leave you with this classic:

Why did the golfer wear two pairs of pants?
In case he got a hole in one.


what’s bolger told ya lately?

Not much you might (rightly) say. But I do have some good excuses for this neglect. So good in fact that I have dedicated this entire blog post to them. So sit down, strap in, and hold on, Bolger wants to told ja a few things that have happened over the past few months.

First up, the rainy season ended! Woo-freakin-hoo! As you might guess, this was big news for a first timer rainy season girl like me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for rain in a country that is so reliant on agriculture, but there was an awful lot of it! And little did I know at the beginning of the season most people would avoid being in Addis during this time. And just like that my friendship circle (which I had been developing over the past few months) diminished – quite significantly. But those of us who remained managed to see the rainy season through to the end with a little help of a few late nights/early mornings at this place:

The ‘Illusions’ dance floor – you know it’s time to go home when you’re eating tibs (kebabs) and chips in a car park and watching the morning joggers pass by!

Since the rainy season finished, this country has lived up to its tourism catch cry of ’13 months of sunshine’. There’s a couple of points in that statement that raise the eyebrow, firstly 13 months? Thirteen? And every one of them filled with sunshine? Bah!


But it seems the guys in the Ethiopian Ministry of Tourism marketing department aren’t full of BS or spend their time at long boozy lunches. No, these guys actually base this slogan on fact.

The Ethiopian calendar has thirteen months, twelve of which have 30 days each, and a 13th month with 5 or 6 days (depending if it’s a leap year). The first day of the Ethiopian year is usually September 11 (on the Gregorian calendar). Which means the years are longer and thus why it’s currently only 2007 here!

Celebrating E-NY with a coffee ceremony. It’s good to be 27 again!

So that explains the 13 months thing, but surely it can’t be sunny all year round? Well, ever since the rainy season stopped, it’s been nothing but blue sky days for 3 months straight. Even during the rainy season there would be a point in the day where the sun blazed down, usually during my morning walk to work. But since the rain stopped, some days it’s quite a struggle to spot a cloud in the big blue sky. This is a pretty big deal after living in Beijing for almost 2 years and rarely seeing a blue sky in amongst the smoggy haze that hangs over the city.

So with this much sun around there’s been plenty of opportunity for some trips out of town, and hence less time spent on the laptop blogging. Here’s a snapshot of some of the adventures:

Menagesha Forest
Debre Libanos (Portuguese Bridge)

ankober2 ankober3

hara3 harar5 harar2

Oh and then there was my quick visit to Doha, Bali and Melbourne:

It’s too hot to sit outside in Doha…

Bali Bliss…

melb3 melb
Hanging out at home with all the nieces and nephews…

There was also a lot of time spent drooling over the cheese…

Recently I’ve also been on a few work trips out into the field visiting rural health centres. The purpose of these visits was to make a short video about the impact of one of EMwA’s (the NGO I’m working with) family planning projects. Yes, a video! This was a surprise to me also having never made anything of the type before! I seemed to have found myself in this position after casually mentioning one day that I had a decent camera and could take an ok photo. Next thing I know we find ourselves out in the rural areas of Ethiopia interviewing midwives, health extension workers and Ministry of Health officials about EMwA’s family planning programs they are rolling out throughout the country.

On location!

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 12.22.38 am
We got a great interview with this lady but it turns out I had the sound settings all wrong and didn’t capture one iota of what she was saying – nothing like flying by the seat of our pants!

After a few minor hiccups we managed to get some great interviews and are currently part of the way through putting together the short video on the benefits of delivering family planning training to health professionals in rural areas.

In some parts of the country the fertility rate is 7.3! That’s an average of 7.3 children per woman. The contraceptive prevalence rate for married women in these parts is below 2% so there’s much to be done in this area.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 12.28.05 am
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This was a fun interview…lots of laughs!

However, we did meet some family planning champions in our travels. The woman above is on her 3rd Implanon contraceptive insertion. This is a perfect example whereby her (and most likely her husband/family) have been briefed on the benefits of women spacing their children out, having fewer children, and the benefits of visiting the health clinic for checkups and delivery – yes, it’s very common for women not have any antenatal or postnatal checkups, let alone visit the clinic for the delivery. In fact almost 90% of women in rural Ethiopia give birth at home without skilled birth attendants. This is a dangerous statistic and one of the main reasons behind the country’s high maternal mortality rate. Hence EMwAs work is focused on educating the community about the importance of accessing maternal health care from health professionals.

We have plenty more interviews and footage to take but I will most certainly keep this blog updated with the video’s progress. This project offers such a unique and brilliant opportunity to go and meet the women and men who are out in the communities committed to improving the health and welfare of women, girls and babies, and ultimately the whole community. It definitely beats sitting at a desk writing about these projects (which is what I’m usually doing).

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 12.21.26 am
Health Extension Workers preparing their client for Implanon insertion

The film crew!

Hopefully the the video will capture just how important this family planning program is so we can secure more funding to roll the project out to more parts of the country. Stay tuned for the trailer!

And in true Bolger fashion, this is where I segue into a somewhat related dad joke.

What do you call your mum’s sister who just had a baby?
~ Aunty Natal

Ewww, cringeworthy?


just another day in paradise…i mean…Addis!

I’m often asked what’s a normal day in Addis like? And to be honest, it feels like an oxymoron to put the word ‘normal’ and the word ‘Addis’ in the same sentence. Some ‘normal’ everyday things you can expect are the ladies out on the street selling corn everyday from 3pm without fail, blue and white minivan taxis ferrying passengers around the city with the conductor/assistant/spruiker hanging half out the window yelling the taxi’s destination to any passerby who might want to climb on board…because there’s always room for more people to squeeze in! A ‘normal’ day will almost always involve at least 5 kids running up to you and pointing and yelling ‘ferenji’ (white person), and asking for a high 5, and unfortunately sometimes money. 

But without fail every day will include some random event. Take today for example, it started when I woke up to these 3 friendly donkeys in my yard:

01 donkeys1

Soon after this moment, when I was on the way to grab some lunch at a nearby cafe, one of the shoe shining boys on my corner who I have a little laugh with each morning about the state of my muddy boots, declared he loved me! For many ferenji girls this isn’t such a rare occurrence, quite often men will yell out ‘hello’, ‘are you fine’, ‘will you marry me’ (always in that order and obviously the natural progression for a conversation and courtship around these parts)! Flattering at first. Just plain annoying after the 5th time. One guy recently professed his love for me (after 5mins of talking with me on the street) and then backed it up with, ‘…actually I just want to marry a foreign girl’…yep, he was a real charmer!

Moving on from the morning confessions of love, in the afternoon a couple of friends mentioned they were off to see an art exhibit in one of the city gardens. So off we set in search of these gardens. Walking into the gates of the garden reminded me of Ceres, a community garden space in Melbourne. There were bizarre sculptures scattered throughout the gardens and the hippest looking Ethiopian’s I’ve spotted yet.

04 art10 04 art1 


And then out of nowhere this dude appeared from the gardens playing a didgeridoo! Which was quite a surprise for this Aussie. I only knew about the eucalyptus trees and horses that Ethiopia inherited from Australia. 

04 art7 04 art9

So who knows what the evening will bring but everyday there’s a new and random scene to witness, and sometimes, it’s every few hours. I must admit, this randomness is part of what I like most about being in this city and country. 

So here’s a few more random moments that I’ve encountered and some of which I’ve managed to get a snapshot of:

Every morning I will pass by a guy walking the neighbourhood streets selling brooms and mops. And everyday I will inevitably be asked if I would like to buy one. He will be baffled by my decline to buy a new broom or mop each day, but clearly there is a demand for this, given there is a home delivery service catering to the market.


(Note the quirky tax dept advertising in the background).

Oh and I have an awesome broom joke to compliment this story, but you’ll have to read on to find out what it is…

Then there was the weirdest and funniest yoga class of my life. I was waiting in the yoga studio for the teacher to arrive, alone. It was already 10 minutes after the class was due to start and I was feeling a bit concerned why there was no one else attending this class. Then when the instructor walked, or should I say, swaggered in the room I knew why I was the only person there. He was wearing short basketball shorts, no top and a black silky robe! Hmmm, this was going to be interesting. Then 2 Ethiopian middle aged guys arrived and went and sat (on the same mat) at the back of the room. This was weird. Very weird. The room was about 50m long, with myself and the ‘guru’ up the front and these two guys just sitting on a mat at the back. The slick yoga guru carried on with the class and would repeatingly demand us to ‘breaaaaathe in, breath out’. This was pretty much all he said, and he would say it so quickly I barely had enough time to breathe in before I was supposed to breathe out. He would have us (well, me) do a relatively easy pose and then all of a sudden transition into a really advanced move! This was not my kinda easy going yoga. But entertaining all the same. I stuck it out but haven’t returned since. Although I kinda wanna go back just to get a photo of him for this post…

Then theres the book guy near my house that I previously mentioned I couldn’t even crack a smile from. Well, there has been progress with this situation. Rapid progress! I broke the ice by stopping and chatting with him one day about his books (thanks for the advice Melissa). There were a lot of maths and science books and my knowledge in this area is somewhat (ok, alot) limited and I knew I couldn’t really hold a conversation on these topics! But luckily he mentioned he could get an Amharic language book for me if I liked. The next day he had it waiting for me! And now we’re like besties. We share big waves and the long winded greetings each morning and night on my way to and from work. But things took a little turn last week when he said he will escort me to work and teach me Amharic on the way…what is it with men offering to escort me places??

And finally, here’s a selection of shots from other random moments:

06 powerDodgy plugs at work!!!

02 diet tipsTo diet or not to diet…

05 fakepalmtreesFake palm trees line the streets of one of Addis’ ‘glitzy’ suburbs…

07 street signThe 1st and only street sign I have spotted in the capital…

08 harshtaleA harsh old tale – click on it to enlarge and read/learn!

10 bossThe Big Boss’ office – intimidating much?

11 truckI’m not the only one who has trouble in the mud!

15 randomplane1MH370…?

16 bewareBeware of Tortoises crossing the road…!

17 tortoise
Friends with tortoises in their backyard!

I also recommend these 2 gems from the Internet:

A man dinking/doubling/giving a lift to a goat whilst riding his bike – 

Crazy Addis driving, which somehow works –


And finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for – the broom joke:

why was the broom late?
~ because it over swept!

Until next post,


the schizophrenic skies of Addis…

It’s been a strange couple of weeks in Addis. The rainy season has hit town and everyday the black clouds will roll in, the wind will pick up, and people will scatter from the streets before the impending heavy rain and hail unleash their might. This downpour is usually short but its impact is lasting. It leaves roads flooded, drains overflowing, in fact I saw one road drain unable to do the one thing it is designed to do, to drain water away from the road, and instead it was shooting a continuous stream of water 1m into the air. Quite the spectacle for the crowd gathered around it!

The view from our office as the dark clouds roll in over Addis…

What are usually little streams of trickling water become rushing rivers after the rains, and the construction site I walk through each day becomes a muddy field to slip n slide my way through. After the intense downpour, the rain eases off and people reappear out on the streets. Some people will still be wearing a plastic bag on their head (it’s amazing how cool some people make this look!), or hold a piece of cardboard to shelter themselves from the easing rain as they go on with their business, all whilst dodging puddles and mud, in all kinds of footwear, from gumboots to jelly sandals to bare feet!

Rainy season feels like  an intense period of the year. And the skies of Addis can feel somewhat schizophrenic. The sun can be shining brightly in the morning and within moments, we need to turn on the office lights at midday because outside the rainy season clouds have decided to roll in for the afternoon and block the sun from shining through. And just when you think the weather couldn’t get more extreme, by late afternoon the schizophrenic skies can turn on a gorgeous sunset. I particularly like this time of day when I catch the light coming through the stain glass windows in my lounge.

windowsMy iPhone camera attempt to capture the stunning light streaming through the windows…

Just like the unpredictable weather, last week threw quite a few unpredictable moments at my workplace. One of our fellow staff members passed away suddenly. He was only 28. On the friday, he was in the office chatting with everyone, by Tuesday he was gone. They say it was malaria and something to do with his diabetes. The reaction of everyone at work was something I hadn’t been around before, or expecting. On receiving the news, many of my workmates burst into uncontrollable tears and wailing. I’d heard this was the common response to death within the Ethiopian culture but to be in the same room as people going through this, people who I knew and spent most days joking about with at work, was a really surreal experience.

DSC01725 DSC01731
Lunchtime antics with my workmates…

As a team, we all went to the family home to mourn with the father. It’s customary for the women to go into the room first and all the men stay outside. Once in the room, the wailing, tears and plea’s from the father started and went for about 40mins. Everyone was crying. The father was obviously (and understandably) distraught and for once I was glad I couldn’t understand what was being said. It was heartbreaking enough to be in that room, let alone listen to a father ask god why this happened to his son.

Only 1 day after this sad news, we heard that a workmate was involved in a car accident on a winding, hilly road out of the city. He and a fellow workmate who was a passenger in the car were unharmed, but they hit 2 pedestrians. Another car had run them off the road and into the people walking on the side of the road. If you hit a pedestrian here, you go straight to jail. The pedestrians were taken to hospital and a day later we found out they didn’t survive. One was a mother of 7, the other was one of her children. Again fellow workmates were crying upon hearing this news, both for their workmate in jail and the 2 lives taken too soon. And to complete the week, we received more bad news, this time the wife of one of the staff who work in the field had also passed away.

It was a strange feeling driving back in the van with my colleagues from the mourning of our workmate. The van was silent, except for the radio, which was blasting out various English and Amharic tunes. As the radio presenter started talking again, he delivered the news of Robin Williams. The presenter was speaking Amharic but bits of English were coming through and it was clear the news wasn’t good. At that moment, as we passed through the streets and traffic of Addis, listening to more bad news, the dark skies opened up and unleashed another downpour in what almost felt like the appropriate response for how the feeling in the bus was. As I walked home from the bus stop, the rain cleared and was then followed by a stunning sunset. Along the way, I passed some boys playing soccer in the street who were desperate for me to sign their soccer ball…I tried to tell them I’m not a professional soccer player but they didn’t seem to care! So who was I to deprive them of such an honour! It was a welcomed light moment after a heavy day. I do love the randomness of this city (most of the time)!

21 safeway 01 wedding2
Other random moments in Addis include discovering ‘Safeway’ has expanded its operations to Ethiopia and observing interesting wedding photo backdrops (there were beautiful green rolling hills off the side of the road but these newly weds were clearly more interested in having the new road as part of their wedding photos)!

And just like the schizophrenic skies, life in Addis decided to flip the tables and deliver some spectacular stories of new life in the days following. I heard one fellow volunteer helped deliver a baby at the gate of her house! Some colleagues and I visited a maternal health clinic and as we toured the clinic, I could hear new cries coming from the delivery room where a baby was just born, and I had the pleasure of meeting one women who had safely given birth to healthy baby just hours before. I think this was Addis’ way of saying life kicks on…but to be honest, I will be happy when this rainy season passes and we get to the ’13 months of sunshine’ that most of the locals have proudly told me about!

scrubs deliverychair

Putting on the ‘scrubs’ before entering the Operating Room…and yes, that’s the delivery chair!!


walk like an ethiopian…

I like my walk to and from work. Leaving the gates of my little sanctuary in the morning, I never quite know what to expect once I step out onto the streets of Addis. But what I do know is that I will encounter friendly characters and familiar scenes as I make my way to and from work.

There will be kids vying for my attention with calls of ‘hi, hi, hi, hi’ until they get a reply. Women in high heels or flimsy jelly sandals will be elegantly making their way through the muddy streets without leaving a trace of mud on their shoes, whilst my boots will be covered with mud and my pants will have mud flicked all the way up the back of them. There’ll be donkey’s chewing on any patch grass they find by the side of the road. The guys at the car wash will be busy washing cars (inside and out)! The shoe shining boys will have a good laugh at my muddy boots and without fail, women will be out steaming and bbq’ing corn on the side of the road as I walk home. 

boots donkey
I’m still yet to master the art of walking in mud…think I’ve gotta try it in high heels! And this was a camera shy donkey that kept turning his head away from me.

By far the most favourite thing about my walk to work is the familiar faces along the way. First up on my morning walk is the guy who is always out the front of the office at the end of my lane. He’s a big, serious, tough looking guy, and definitely not the most approachable looking person. Given this observation and not wanting to cause any trouble, the first few days that I passed him on my way to work, I just walked on by and avoided any eye contact. But then it just got weird every time I walked past him, to not even acknowledge him. So I thought surely he’s not as scary as he seems and after a few days I decided to shoot a little head nod his way. He returned the same. Phew. Next day, I up’ed the anti and included a smile and a bit of a dorky wave. Again, he returned the same (but a less dorky wave)! And by the next day we were at the friendly “hello, how are you, I’m fine (thanks be to god!)” greetings stage. #win. 

Since this win I’ve been slowly developing similar relationships with other people I pass by on my morning walk. My biggest breakthroughs have been with security guards. They are usually older men who have quite a stern look and can be quite intimidating, especially when there’s usually 2 or more of them. But I’ve found that as soon as I shoot a smile their way, they shoot a big lovely smile back and don’t seem anywhere near as threatening as I first thought. There’s 2 guards I pass by each day who are the sweetest old men. They had new uniforms last week and were very eager to show them off.

But by one of my favourites exchanges each day is with one security guard who goes out of his way to greet me when he sees me coming. He gets up off his chair and walks up to the road that I am walking on to shake my hand and go through all the formalities of Ethiopian greetings with me. His smile is by far the biggest of all the guards I meet along the way to work. But just recently he’s decided we need to step this relationship up to kissing greetings…smooth!

Speaking of friendly, I must say I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of most people here. Addis is a bit of a city under construction at the moment and it’s not uncommon for a new road to appear, a road to disappear or the road I walked down yesterday to be completely dug up the next day. Last week I must have looked pretty confused as to how I would cross the railway they are currently constructing because there was now a massive pile of dirt and machinery cutting off my usual route. But about 20 construction workers on the other side of the railway saw the confusion on my face and waved me towards the new path that I never would have thought was a path. There have also been complete strangers loan me a helping hand when I’m slip sliding in the mud and about to fall flat my bum.

construction1 construction construction3
The path across the railway construction site changes daily…

So whilst I seem to be getting to know the security guards and construction workers on my route to work, I’m not having the same luck with an old man who runs a little bookshop on the side of the road not too far from my house. I can’t even crack a slight head nod or little smile from him. Every morning I try but I get nothing! Nudda. Zilch. He’s proving a tough one to crack. He mainly sells student text books (all of which are in Amharic and mostly about mathematics) so I’m not overly confident I will be able breakthrough to him on the content of his books…but maybe I can win him over with these:

what did the zero say to the eight
~ nice belt
Why was the number 10 scared?
~ because 7 ate 9

Surely that kind of humour will win him over and skip us straight to the kissing greetings!




kes be kes [little by little] the egg will walk…

This little Ethiopian proverb has been thrown at me a few times since moving to Addis. The first time I heard it, was the first day of moving into my house. I thought for sure I could get my gas bottle and bathroom taps fixed in a day. And again at work, when I was trying to get my head around who does what and how, and what their names are (and what those names mean) I was also told, “Kes be kes Emmy”!

There’s been a variety of wise folk who part such wisdom on me with this phrase, and boy do they know what they’re talking about. If I find myself getting frustrated with something like how to top up my internet and mobile credit, or how to purchase a 20 litre water bottle and then cart it home, I just think about that little egg, slowing cracking (for a chick to come out, not crack in the literal sense) and learning to walk.

Or if I’m going through the usually painless process of booking a flight, which wasn’t at all the case last week with my attempt to get to the beautiful Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia. Seriously, I had to channel that little egg quite a few times in my ordeal with Ethiopian Airlines.

In a nutshell (or should I say eggshell), over the course of 3 days this was my conversation with the airline staff:

Day 1 – “Sure, your flight is confirmed”
Day 1 – “Wait – hold on – where’s your residents permit?”
“It’s not processed yet” (‘kes be kes’ remember) 
Day 1 – “Ok, I can’t confirm your ticket then”
Day 2 – “Hi Emmy, your ticket is now confirmed”
Later on Day 2 – “Sorry, Emmy, your flight is now full and your ticket is not confirmed, please call us in a couple of hours to see if there has been a cancellation”
A few hours later – I call (6 times) and the line is busy each time. I then get through to someone and my credit runs out! (refer to earlier frustrations with internet and mobile credit top up process…)
Day 3 (10am) – “Hi Emmy, your flight today at 3pm is confirmed!”

10 20 05
Gheralta – Tigray – Norther Ethiopia. Completely worth the Airline ordeal!

The ‘kes be kes’ phrase couldn’t have been more perfect for me last week. What with setting up the house with all the usuals, like a bed!

bedIt’s not quite complete, but it’s getting there! (This may or may not be a photo of Emperor Haile Selassie bedroom…)

But the fridge is looking good. (Nari – you and your farewell ‘home-sweet-home’ decorating gift pack has successfully taken over the fridge!)

So as I slowly get sorted with life in Addis, the ‘kes be kes’ phrase has begun to grow on me, and I’m beginning to see this might well be my mantra for Ethiopia. Hell, I’ve even caught myself quoting it to others.

But the examples I give above are hardly big issues when I compare them to what this country is setting out to achieve. From what I’ve learnt so far, Ethiopia has big plans to lift its population out of poverty and develop into a sustainable economy. Check it out:

The vision: Achieve middle-income status by 2025 in a climate-resilient green economy.
The challenge: Realise economic development goals in a sustainable way
The plan: Follow a green growth path that fosters development and sustainability

Ha! Can you believe it? A government that sees it is experiencing the effects of climate change, and I quote “recognises climate change presents the necessity and opportunity to switch to a new, sustainable development model”.


As such, Ethiopia has initiated the Climate-Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) initiative to protect the country from the adverse effects of climate change and to build a green economy that will help realise its ambition of reaching middle income status before 2025.


According to World Bank reports, Ethiopia has achieved much with regards to its development goals. “Over the past two decades, there has been significant progress in key human development indicators: primary school enrolments have quadrupled, child mortality has been cut in half, and the number of people with access to clean water has more than doubled. These gains, together with more recent moves to strengthen the fight against malaria and HIV/AIDS, paint a picture of improved well-being in Ethiopia”. Sure, it’s ‘kes be kes’ progress but I think it’s important to acknowledge these successes, especially when we hear so little of Africa’s good stories.

Other plans from the current five-year development plan include key goals focused on the construction of 2,395km of railway line. And going by the workers who are building the railway in Addis, it’s clear to see they also need to take the ‘kes be kes’ approach, especially with heavy rains interrupting their progress each day, not to mention power and water cuts. Regardless of these interruptions, everyone just gets on with it. And still, they smile!

workers2Workers hard at it laying the railway tracks – by hand!

As I slowly settle into my role at EMA – the Ethiopian Midwives Association, (kes be kes), I’m learning more and more about the role midwives play in reducing the maternal and infant mortality rates. I’m overwhelmed by the progress that is being made in this area, as well as being overwhelmed by what still needs to be achieved.

Also part of the Government’s five-year plan is to reduce the maternal mortality rate by more than half from 590 per 100,000 to 267 per 100,000. Maternal mortality rates gets bandied about as a description quite often so to make it more ‘real’, what we’re looking at currently in Ethiopia, is that out of 1000 births, 590 women die during pregnancy and childbirth. Which translates into 24,000 women dying each each year. In Australia it’s 6 per 100,000, 13 women. 

The solution to addressing this issue is the same all over the world – ‘implementing quality midwifery services could prevent 2/3rds of women’s deaths’.


EMA, the organisation I’m working with, has a big part to play in that solution. They work closely with the Ethiopian Government who has set a target of training 8635 midwives by 2015. In 2008, there were only 1275 midwives in Ethiopia. As of 2012 there were 4725 formally trained midwives. And with over 7000 midwifery students currently completing their qualifications, the goal is looking atainable. Kes be kes.

EMA2EMA staff just back from our tea/coffee break at what they call the ‘Sheraton’ – a little tarpaulin shack around the corner…I like my colleagues sense of humour!

Speaking of humour, and chickens, it must be that point of the blog post to share a somewhat relevant joke. I do have an awesome chicken joke about a cow and a chicken, in a bar…but unfortunately it just won’t work in the written form…so here’s another one:


What do you call a chicken with a piece of lettuce in its eye?
~ A Chicken sees-a-salad


And in case you’re wondering, the gas bottle and bathroom taps are still yet to crack the eggshell and walk!  Kes be kes…



Addis Ababa – its got charm…

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. This is what I’ve been telling myself during my first week in Addis. On the surface Addis reveals itself as a chaotic and haphazard city. It epitomises exactly what a ‘developing’ city is. It is literally developing (in an infrastructure sense) right in front of my eyes. No block is without a new building under construction and they’re currently digging up a massive ‘pathway’ across the city to make way for a new light rail (who would have thought hey – a light rail that connects the east and west sides of a city hey Melbournians…).

Donkeys are still used around the capital to cart building materials around. There’s dirty black smoke puffing out of old vehicles, and human beings of all ages living on the street. It’s dusty. It’s busy. Traffic can be horrendous. And I feel this city is going to test my patience. But even in amongst all that…it’s clear this city has got charm.


The first of these ‘charms’ I noticed was that Addis gets Pescatarians! Cafes and restaurants usually have a ‘fasting menu’ which means they will always have a meal of vegetables and/or fish! I often cop a lot of flack for being a ‘select-atarian’ at home, so it’s quite refreshing being in a culture that embraces your ‘arianism’ 😉

There seems to be endless shops, whether it’s in the malls or lined up along roads that stretch on for km’s. They are mainly clothing shops, and dotted amongst them are cafes and burger joints. Whilst shops don’t necessarily make ‘charm’ status in my book, when I saw this sign on yet another mall being constructed it made me chuckle:

Like there isn’t enough shops, cafes and burger joints in Addis to keep people entertained.

Another charm I’ve spotted throughout the city are beetles! Not the insect or musical kind, the VW kind. These little gems are everywhere! I’ve seen gorgeous lime green ones, sky blue ones and bright sunshine yellow ones that brighten up the dreary roads:

I always wanted a beetle for my first car but my dad wisely talked me into going with a Ford Laser (“They’re reliable and economical Amy”!)

I’ve spotted some funky afro’s and some cool hair braiding:

Recycling is big!

Ethiopia has its own time and date system! Habasha (Ethiopian) and European time! Which I’m sure will make things interesting:

Addis is home to ‘Lucy’ (no, not Piper) the 3.2 million year old one:
Lucy – in all her glory.
Classic moment captured above: My 4 year old mate Aiden went behind the enclosure, and declared, “Look, I can see Lucy’s bum!”

There’s freeway installation art to rival the East Link Freeway:

Really cool tea packaging:

And when the hotel staff found out I was sick and bed ridden for a day (from overdoing it with a yoga session at too high an altitude for my body to take in its 1st week at 2500m), they sent a little bouquet of roses to my room:

It’s been a pretty big first week in Addis for us AVI volunteers. We’ve had 5 days straight of training. There’s been culture, gender, security, language and health training. And in amongst all that, we’ve been looking for accommodation and trying to get our heads around this city where a map isn’t much use (even for a self proclaimed compass). They don’t go by street names here, rather monuments or buildings such as the Bob Marley roundabout!

So whilst I’ve only mentioned a few of this city’s charms so far, I’m sure that with time and as I get to know some of the people of Addis, I’ll be posting about many more charms this city and country has to offer. I start work next week, and I’m really looking forward to meeting my work mates. I also move into my new pad next week, and I hope to be able to give yoga another crack without the repercussions of my last effort!

Unfortunately I can’t think of related dad joke to tie this post off with, but I do have one that is rather timely (and a bit controversial) and I’d like to tell it in honour of Intrepid Travel’s announcement this week about Elephant rides (Yes, I am now dedicating my jokes to people, causes and events – for a small fee!).

It’s actually a joke my mum told me a few days ago so I guess it’s technically a mum joke, although it’s one her dad used to say…a true dad jokster!

How do you get down of an elephant?
~ You don’t. You get down off a duck! 

Read more about Intrepid’s stance on elephant rides here –

~ Please note I do not endorse duck or any kind of down that is plucked from animals…so really you shouldn’t be getting down off an elephant or a duck!

Arusha, beyond the conference room…

I always love arriving in a new city or town at night and then waking up to discover what it has to show for itself in the morning. Whether it’s arriving in a bustling chaotic city at night (think Delhi) or a sleepy little town (think Adelaide!), it’s always a struggle to wait until morning to discover a new destination. The morning usually delivers kids and adults walking to school or work, buses and motorbikes weaving their way in and out of traffic, market sellers setting up their stalls…and in the case of Arusha, men asking if they can “escort you on your run”!

Because we were coped up in a conference room most of the week with training, I decided to get up just after sunrise (yes mum, I actually got up early) and fit some exercise in (how’s that for a pun). I was told it’s best to go for a run before the hustle and bustle of Arusha’s roads took flight, which to the shock of my sleep loving body clock, was a half hour window just after sunrise. Luckily jet lag kicked in and 6:45am starts didn’t seem so daunting.

Running in the early hours of the morning turned out to be a great way to see a bit more of this town and its residents. There were fellow joggers giving that knowing look of, ‘are we sane for putting our bodies through this ordeal at such a ridiculous hour’ – no translation required. One kid came running up to me from ahead and I was thinking, ‘oh jeez is he coming straight for me, he’s a bit excited and out of control running downhill towards me?’ But all he wanted to tell me was “you go girl!” Then the old man further down the road said the one swahili word I know too well from climbing Kilimanjaro last year – pole pole! He was telling me to slow down – not because I was clocking 4 minute km’s, but more likely because of the deep crimson colour of my face. I hadn’t been for a run for quite some time!

And of course there was the very helpful and considerate men out the front of the brewery. They thought it would be quite funny to run alongside me for a bit to see if I wanted a permanent running escort. I tried to remain focused on running, keeping my eyes in front of me and trying not to entertain or encourage them, but it was just too funny a moment and as soon as I gave them a little smile and laugh, they backed off. Lucky because I thought I might have to resort to telling them one of my jokes to get rid of them – that usually disperses a crowd no problems! But honestly, you gotta love people who hang out the front of a brewery at 7am!

Whilst we were somewhat bound to the conference room for most of the week, we were given a 3 hour break on day 2, so a group of us decided to go and visit a social enterprise in Arusha called SEW (Supporting and Empowering Women). SEW employs HIV-positive women and sets them up with the skills and resources to produce beautiful bags (see below) made from a mix of recycled and reused materials. I bought 3 bags…because y’know, I have so much spare room in my luggage!

photo 3

There’s all sorts of bags to choose from (bags for iPads, kindles, laptops etc) and the best thing is there’s a little note waiting in each bag that tells you a bit about the lady who made it. The one above that I purchased was made by Albina. I also had another one made by Hadija who I was lucky enough to meet.

On Day 4, we had a free day so I decided to go and visit Amani Children’s Home, which is one of The Intrepid Foundations supported projects. Amani is located in Moshi, the next town. I was really impressed with the holistic approach these guys have in working towards reducing the number of children living on the streets. They do this by providing a place for street children to heal, grow and learn. In addition to Amani providing long term care, they also aim to reunite children with their relatives where possible and to equip their families with the tools they need to be self sustainable.

I was lucky enough to meet up with Kristy, the Communications Coordinator of Amani and hear all about their work first hand. I also got to meet some of the kids in between their classes (there’s currently about 60 kids living and attending school at the home). I also managed to conveinently time my visit to coincide with lunch (beans and rice Thursday – yummo!):

IMG_6631 IMG_6594

Lunch was absolutely delicious and I was pretty keen to go back for seconds, which, funnily enough reminded me of joke! Unfortunately I didn’t get to share it with the teachers and students. Why? Because I hesitated! I thought, what if none gets it? What if there is no such thing as a lame dad joke in Tanzania? I buckled. After months of training for just this moment, I buckled! But here it is, for your viewing pleasure:

What does a clock do when it gets hungry?
~ It goes back 4 seconds…

IMG_6589 IMG_6628 IMG_6600

These kids are amazing acrobats – 2 of the students have actually been chosen to represent Tanzania in the US world acrobatic jump rope championships! As one does!

IMG_6597 IMG_6580

This kid wasn’t shy at all and kept asking for me to take his photo. Awesome smile.
To the right is the washing station where all the kids ‘happily’ wash there own clothes.


This smart fella was trying to get out of going back to class after lunch by striking a pose with Kristy and myself!

To check out more about what this amazing organisation does, see The Intrepid Foundation web site. 

And how’s this for a bit of symmetry – I’m finishing this blog post having just arrived in Addis Ababa! It’s 10pm and I’m itching to get out there and explore my new home city for the next 18 months. But that will just have to wait until the morning. Perhaps a run past the local brewery at sunrise is in order..!!