Saturday, December 17, 2011

Its all coming together

Retaining wall construction is nearing completion.  We are off to digging post holes.

Retaining wall update

We are almost there.  Work is almost finished on the third and final tier.
Ermius extending the retaining walls foundation.  The foundation is comprised of
35 centimeters of compacted gravel and medium sized stone. All of which is perched
on a bed of compacted sand. We take our wall building seriously.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The art of mixing cement

Ijigu supervises, as Gazan and Debebe prepare aan aggregate and cement blend for portland cement.  Depending on where the concrete is being used, cement to aggregate ratios are anywhere between 6 to 1 to 8 to 1.  Everything is mixed by hand. So far we have gone through over 130 bags of cement and more than 4 dump trucks of aggregate.
Mixing cement for the second tier


The retaining walls are finished and we are well on our way to finishing the primary framing. 

A proud Kololo work crew

Monday, December 5, 2011


Hello, my name is Daniel.

This is the story of a trip Cien, Ejigu and I took to a rural, southern Ethiopianmedical clinic.

The other day we're at the school site and I say, "Yeah man, I'm gonna hit the head. I'll be back in a few minutes." Cien replys, "Alright. I'll be moving some logs forexercise."

Fast forward 10 minutes.

Walking down from the house I see Cien. He says,"Dude, help me, I just dislocated my shoulder."

The moral of the story: exercise is stupid.

There are about 25 people on the site so we walked behind a house so we could try and get this undercontrol, without an audience. I figured that bathing together in the riverdaily didn't raise enough eyebrows, the next logical step was to just take off Cien's shirt and start massaging his shoulder. Obviously.

They found that amusing. It didn't fix his shoulder.

Next attempt: plenty of Ouzo and my memory of helping a friend, once, a long time ago relocate his shoulder.

I found that amusing. It didn't fix his shoulder.

Luckily we live about a 20 minute walk from a government sponsored clinic.  We'd never been there so we didn't know what to expect. Surprises are fun, right? Maybe they had a unicorn petting zoo there.

We're walking up this big road-hill-thing and all Cien is doing is complaining about his shoulder's nerves being squashed. GOD! Shut up already. Then we pass a couple people on the road and they look at us like we're freaks. They may as well have seen two polar bears on a trampoline.

We arrive and there are probably 30 people around the clinic waiting for various services, I think, I don't read minds. That quickly balloons to 300 because we're so awesome--or maybe they're just the 99%, pissed off at the banks and sick and tired of being sick and tired.  Get it? That was an Occupy WallStreet joke. Even though I live in a house made of mud and sticks, with floorsmade of cow poo I can still deliver the topical jokes. Whooo-ahhhh!

We stepped inside, and right then it became painfully obvious (more-so for Cien--PUN INTENDED) that this was going to be one toremember. There were some giant bug-wasp-things flying around a wooden desk that had an unplugged microscope on it, surrounded by two wooden chairs (not the microscope, the desk).  There were also some posters. I don'tremember what was on them.  Use your imagination, sorry.

Cien is trying to explain what's wrong with his shoulder.They thought it was a headache. After a few minutes of "explanations" they understood. Syke... they did not understand, because they started to manipulate his other shoulder.

And I quote almost-drunk Cien here: "Dude... we'regoing to have to go get on a bus for 10 hours and go to Addis, they don't understand and I can't sit here and let them practice their caveman doctoring on me." Then they inject him with some kind of "pain medicine,"and then the guy in the pink shirt goes to work.  We think he was the doctor, or medic... but who knows, he could have just been there hanging out, or the unicorn trainer.

The rest of the incident I captured on video. Watch it below. It's so tight. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shots in the dark

A few photos of Kololo and I under a full moon with my point and shoot.

Another day in...

Folks are probably wondering what all we do in Kololo when we are not swinging pickaxes or bashing boulders.  

 Well the day I wrote this, Phill would sweetly sing, “…another day in paradise”. I am swinging away, though presently in my hammock, reading In the Defense of Food (on my new kindle, a gift from Liz) enjoying my day off for the week. Our Sundays are usually split between basking  in the sun and shade on the mouth of our waterfall infinity pool, and relaxed in our hammocks.  Yes, Daniel and I both brought one.  The rest of our schedules, well it's fairly repetitive.

 Monday through Saturday wake up at 6:45.  Eat bananas, bread, and peanut butter, and wash it down with a large tea.  All the while, going over wacky Larium (our anti-malarial meds) induced dreams, and discuss the days work plans. I then do a my calisthenics and stretches to get the muscles.  Once the boots are laced up, we grab the solar equipment, a few hand tools and head down the hill.

Daniel working with Tamesgen leveling the first row
Our house is a 3 minute walk to the jobsite, it's also next to one of the local church (with a boisterous and song happy congregation), a slightly annoying highlight of our Sunday swinging.

Ijigu usually gets to the jobsite 20 minutes early and barks out the days work plans; how many people and of course who's working. I arrive, set up the solar, and Ijigu and I finalize these work orders, and off we all go.  The first 20 minutes is all quality control. Checking in with the 12 to 35 people working, making sure they understand their specific tasks, and more importantly why the tasks are there in the first place. A lot o times I need to pull in Ijigu to help with the explanations of why, but the extra energy expelled is worth it, when you see in the workers now understand why "we do not want air pockets in the retaining walls cement back fill." I then join the ranks.

Usually Daniel, myself, and any highly experienced villager, take the most skill based position for the first couple days of the activity.  In effort to share knowledge,  we work with interested members of the workforce to educate them on, cement work, framing, ect. This week was the final week of retaining wall work.  At this point two assistant managers have been trained in and have fully taken over the stone breaking and laying.  They are doing a excellent job… its always great watching the community fish.

The rock perimeter sits 35 centimeters in the soil.  When compacted, it acts
as a foundation for the retaining wall.
We have yet to have any morning rains, so outside of material deliveries (lots of wood, rock, and sand), morning work goes on unimpeded until 12 o’clock lunch. We count the tools and a few materials, gather up the solar and head off. The remainder of my hour is then split in to 20 minutes of chowing down on avocados bread and peanut butter while trouble shooting the days work with Ijigu, and 20 minutes of hammock and reading. The hammocks are a very important facet of daily routines.

With solar panels and one fresh battery in hand, we then head back down for a blistering afternoon. Because of the heat, we take a 10 minute break at 3pm and a few scheduled water breaks. We have had a couple sun showers that have stopped labor for upwards of 20 minutes, other than those deliveries, we rarely have any other type of work stoppage. At 5 I hell out Sat Goffe (times finished in Hidea), folks gather, Ijigu and I say our thank yous, the community helps collect tools and solar, count materials. When everything is accounted for, we all head up to the house to store everything for the night.

Then, the highlight of my day. Bathing time.

Ijigu, Daniel and I promptly change into shorts and for about 10 minutes follow along jungle paths through backyards, farm field shortcuts, and over the large hill to our infinity pool perched at the top of the two large waterfalls in the community. For 30 or so minutes we relax in the cool rushing waters, take in the view, and do our best to make light the numerous onlookers.  Fresh and clean with the sun setting over our right shoulders, we saunter back with dinner on our minds. It's dark by 7, so by the time we return and change we are relegated to our mud hut for the evening. Every night is roughly the same. Chat for a bit, discussing the following workday long term project plans, and a few absurdities.  We eat, and then retire to our bug nets. The 9 or so hours on our feet and in the equatorial sun really suck it out of you.   In a depleated haze, I manage 20 or so minutes of reading before easing off into a slumber littered with building go-carts with ex landlords.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kololo Health Projects

Many of you may remember the story of Daguma.  A young boy suffering from severe scoliosis that assisted on much of the Ekodaga school build.  Through chance, I met Dr. Rick Hodes (he perfers Dr. Rick) and described Daguma's ailments, soon after Daguma traveled into Addis for his first of many visits.  Thanks to Dr. Rick's phenomenal work, Daguma received two life changing, and potentially saving operations (currently he is back in Ghana rehabbing from his second and hopefully final surgery).  Well... Dr. Rick and Tesfa are back at it again.  

With the assistance of Liz Mcgovern from Madula Water, a current construction employee, Berhanu Lamma of the Kololo build, has been sent to Addis.  Starting last week, Berhanu met with Dr. Rick and his staff to have his ameloblastoma reviewed.  Dr. Rick and his support staff are in the process of planning strategies for short term and long term intervention.  Berhanu, his family, and all of us at Tesfa and Ethiopia Reads are ecstatic about the great news.  

Of course word got out that the ferengies were sending locals into Addis for surgery.  Soon after Berhanu left, a father brought in his young boy.  His child is suffering from a congenital deformity known as club foot.  So we took a couple photos and got the word up to Dr. Rick.  A few days later we heard back, the young boy should report to Addis ASAP.  It seems that the boy is an excellent candidate for surgery.  Amazing news once again.   The father and son should be traveling to Addis by early next week.  I will keep everyone updated on any progress in the upcoming weeks.

The travel and living allowances of patients and their families are not expenses currently fully covered.  While Dr. Rick is working tirelessly to fund-raise for his numerous patients, he needs support as well. Our project budget does not have additional funding built in for such costs.  However, there is a facebook group headed by Liz and friends, that  functions to help with fundraising for all Kololo related medical cases.  Please visit the page to donate or learn more.

Just got into Hawassa.  I will be here through the weekend posting away on the blog.  Believe me, there is plenty of juice to share.  Including potential surgeries for Kololo residents, Thanksgiving feasts, project updates, and even a somewhat gruesome trip to the local ER, video and all.  The last by yours truly.  On a brighter note. The weather has been great, and we finally got a handle on those bedbugs.

Sunday Funday... well more like relaxing in the sun day.
Be sure to check in over the next few days, or plan on a good chunk of reading on Monday morning. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

12 dump trucks of rock and 150 bags of cement later, we are nearly finished with the school site's excavation and retaining walls.  By my rough calculation, we have moved over 3,400 rocks larger than a breadbox (and thousands of smaller rocks) to form the three tiers of retaining walls. The walls are 50 cm thick at the base, reinforced with rebar and a cement mixture much stronger than what most Ethiopian contractors use. In short, the school will not be going anywhere soon.

The excavation required 11 days of 32 villagers digging, carrying, and sweating in the Ethiopian sun. The community worked diligently in highly coordinated teams to excavate the three tiers of soil needed to properly level the land for the school's foundation. 16 interchanging workers traded off on carrying loads of dirt for entire 8-hour work days. Without expensive wheelbarrows, dirt is transported in two-person conveyances, little more than trays between two poles.

The bathroom pit has been completed – about 260 square meters of earth – and a majority of the approximately 170 post holes have been dug. I am happy to announce that much of the hard labor and toil is behind us, and the school framing will begin next week.

It hasn't been easy. But as the school site starts to take shape it's fair to say that everyone from the community feels great sense of gratification in the work.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Awe Shhhhh...

Woe is me.  So just when I think all is well, I woke this morning to discover that my Kindle (a handy digital device that allows one to easily carry and read a multitude of digital copies of written work) decided to fizzle out on me.  Up until now, I have been enjoying the ease of toting around 200 books on the  notebook sized devise, and even got a little cocky, and neglected to bring any actual books along with me to Kololo.  It’s a shame, I was just getting into Bill Bryson’s Home.  A good, and appropriate read. It is a well written and thorough history of humans development, use, and personalization of homes.  Fortunately, Daniel brought two actual books,  one of which is Huxley's Brave New World.  I am surely happy for now.  But once we run out of the decent reads we can find in Hawassa and I am reading Newsweeks from 1998 (old news magazines are all over the city  streets,) the bitterness will surely set in.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Digging the hole

3x3 meters and hopefully 8 meters deep.  We are planning for the future with this hole.  The community looked at me a little skewed when I joked that we were digging until we could not dig anymore.  Since last Wednesday, six men have worked in two shifts to excavate about a half meter of dirt (in overall depth) a day. The photo shown is the result of the first 2 days of digging.  In preparation for the very deep depth, we cut down a couple Eucalyptus (a tree that grows like weed throughout Ethiopia, and is used for a majority of residential building) and built a 7 meter long ladder.  It looks a bit ridiculous sticking out the 5 meters it is currently, but the ladder will be a must by next week.  

So those familiar with building toilets in rural places are aware that there are a few options to choose from.  To name three of the common choices...  

1. A pit latrine.  A large hole in the ground, that allows for some leaching of material into the surrounding soil.  When the hole is filled, the bathroom holes are plugged.  The housing is raised from the foundation and placed on top of a new dug hole.  Pit latrines can be drained and reused when drainage trucks are available. Supposedly, there are no such trucks available in Kambata. 

2. Septic . A carefully balanced plumbing system largely used in rural locations around the world.  Simply put, bacteria and PH levels are monitored for the most effective material management.  There are large leaching fields to allow for pr material to dissipate into the surrounding earth.  With general maintenance and system monitoring, properly designed septic systems may last well into the future.

3. Organic options.  Human waste is hygienically managed to be recycled in farming use; similar to manure.  Bathrooms that are usually used in smaller populations.  Solid and liquid contents are separated for different uses. Solid contents are mixed with ash and or Lyme and saved in removable collecting bins.  While liquid is saved through a variety of storage means. Depending on the population size the contents are utilized on daily, weekly, bi weekly, or even monthly basis. 

Because our school is sitting among numerous farm plots (we do not have the proper amount of space to allow for effective leach fields, and do not want to negatively affect local crops), and the population using the bathrooms is over a few hundred (we would have to collect material much too often with such a large population), we are forced to use pit latrines.  We estimate that the current pit, without being drained, will be functional for the next 5 to 7 years, and will reuse the housing structure (it is designed to be removed and transported for future pit latrine use).  

Sure its not a fun topic to imagine.  But it is certainly important.

A few reasons why I do not always sleep well

If its not the flies its surely the fleas.  And that is damage done while equipped with an insecticide treated bed net, permethrine soaked sheets, and a bug bombed room.  I shudder to think what sleeping on the floor would lead to. 

Work contracts signed

Before work could get started, we conducted a variety of meetings detailing Ethiopia Reads and my own expectations of the community during the build.  The dialogue concluded with each of the community members (who were interested in working) signing a  temporary employment contract/ liability waiver.  These photos are of a few of the community members assisting us in translating (the docs are written in English and Amharic, though some of the village elders only speak local Kambata languages) and obtaining signatures from all interested parties.

If folks are curious to see the contents of the contract/ liability waiver, I can post the doc as well.  Just let me know. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Tiger" ate some goats

Egads!  They exist, or at least something just as deadly as a tiger!  So the communities chatter about the so called waterfall tigers was more than just talk.  According to numerous eyewitnesses, last evening, two tigers made their way into the village and ambushed a herders stock of goats.  The circle of life surely showed its self on our little bit of pride rock, as a Kololo farmer lost two of his herd to a well coordinated ambush.  In a startling blur, the creatures tore through the riverbanks tall grass, and swiftly made off with the animals as if they were but a fourth of their actual size.  The hearder, and all other community members were unscathed, but all were put an alarm of the lurking menace. Daniel and I were at home resting when Ijigu came back early from a failed shower attempt .  The community filled him in (possibly embellishing a bit) and advised Ijigu to forgo bathing that evening.  I am pretty confident that from now on, the three of us will always be a bit weary of late afternoon, and early evening  trips to our local bath.

A few photos from our favorite water way
 Ijigu posing for the ladies.  Well, really just his mom and wife.  This photo will be on his wall in Addis, no doubt.

 The view upwards from our bathing lagoon.  We usually have some company lining these rocks.  Mostly kids, but also elderly woman and men washing clothes, and cattle herders bringing there animals to drink.

 A nice view into the Kololo valley.  The school is only a 8 minute walk down and to the right from here.

 Our infinity waterfall pool.  We bath here daily. 
 Look mom I have a furry face.

The view from up top.  Though remember, this is only the medium sized fall.  The large one is further down the river.

Some of our tireless fans

 This is Ishetu and his little sister.  The owner of our rental lives with his family in their back house, directly behind us.  As a result, Ishetu family and friends are constantly perched on our lawn. Usually sneaking peaks through open windows and doors.  Or waiting for Daniel and I to go outside and juggle, dance, play our harmonica's, or simply just sit there.  The two of us are the closest thing the community has to a T.V., and they never care what is on.

 The beginings of a dance off.

 Resting between shoulder shakes and foot work.

The kids are terrified of Daniel. This guy is the brave one. He bolted when Daniel reached out for some hand jive.

What we are eating

Since first arriving, we have each shed a few pounds.  And it is certainly not do to not eating enough.  We figure that on average, we each consume in the neighborhood of 5,000 calories a day. And plenty of protein.  Yet no matter how hard we try, swinging shovels and pick axes in the African sun keeps melting away the fat. Here is a few examples of our usual meals.  
Moo powder and chocolate syrup to start.  Followed by eggs, onions and hot peppers.  And capped off with a few avocados.  

 Plenty of oats and peanut butter.  And of course bananas, lots ant lots of bananas.


Me playing with my soon to be dinner. Also sporting my new hat.  A supremely functional fashion statement. Which is happily worn daily.

What was left of our Sunday night Dorro Wat.  An Ethiopian favorite, and adored by ferengies and hababashas alike. 

 Messages from food
 Sometimes our food speaks to us. I kid you not that avocado was not carved, I scooped out the meat like all those before it, and this time was told No.  A little weird, especially on Halloween.  There is a oven i n the nearest town with electricity.  We order a few biscuits almost daily. 

 Ijigu, being Igigu
 Ijigu proudly showing off his daily breakfast; bananas and avocados, washed down with scalding hot sugar laden tea.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How much dirt was excavated

The almost final product.  And a few rocks from our first of 10 truck loads. The rest should be on site by the end of next week.
 The first step of removal is breaking up the top soil. We have two teams of three "diggers" working all the live long day to loosen up the ground for our shovlers to load up the barrelas. This is the third tier.
Our barrella's  hard at work.
 Daniel wrapping up our level line after digging our first level trench, two to go.  You can also see our solar panels in the background.
Daniel standing over the beginnings of our second trench hole.  While the first tier is still being dug out.

The work began Monday the 23rd and finished two days following a neglected Halloween.  After 11 days of 32 people digging, carrying, and sweating in the Ethiopian sun,  the three tiers  have been completely excavated… by hand.  The community worked diligently in highly coordinated teams to excavate the soil needed to properly level the land for the schools foundation.  16 interchanging workers carried 8 barrelas (two person material transporter) for the entire 8 hour work days.  The foot powered transporters made upwards of 30 drops an hour (because of the exorbitant cost, and low quality of Ethiopian wheel barrows, barrellas are an economic, and effective substitute)  while two teams of 4 diggers, utilizing a variety of pick axes, inverted pitch forks, and hoes, continuously loosened and dug the compacted earth, while two teams of two to three fillers shoveled the earth into the barrelas.  

With the pit latrines, drainage ditches, and retaining wall foundations yet dug, there is still plenty of excavating to go.  However, with a little rough math, Daniel and I figured that the approximant amount of earth moved to be in the neighborhood of 260 square meters.   That’s a sperm whale or so worth of soil. Not bad right.

What we are building

This is the design that we are bringing to life in Kololo.  Because of some land restrictions, a few of the room dimensions have been roughly modified to fit the alotted space. We decided on this layout based on the land that was donated to Ethiopia Reads for the build.  It makes for a lot of digging, but it will be a beautiful school with gorgeous view. And a big thanks to our architectural consultant, Troy Gallas, who created this computer genrated model and assisted on the design concept. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Waterfall Tigers

After a long day of community meetings, and exploring the reaches of Kololo and its neighboring villages, the waterfalls are a refreshing escape. We rarely, if ever, are able to escape curious onlookers; yesterday 50 villagers (mostly children) stood in constant vigil as we rested in the cascading water, and upon the sun-warmed rocks. Upon leaving I asked one of our audience members why so many people were interested in watching us, and one nervously replied that they were actually worried for us. It seems that the community has a small population of large cats that live in Kololo’s valley, the same valley where the final waterfall crashes down from roughly 35 meters above. Behind that cascading waterfall hides a large cave, which most in the community fear even to go near, concerned that the supposed tigers that call the cave home will lay chase to them as they do nightly to the communiy's free-range live stock.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


In Kololo comfort surely has a nemesis; the relentlessly swarming common housefly (zimb). Inside or out, sun or shade, body cleansed or reeking, we are engulfed in an unwavering buzz of bacteria-laden insects. We are only able to relieve ourselves of their constant presence by running or taking refuge under our insecticide-treated bed nets. It is quite reminiscent of the constant bouts with horseflies during my summers spent canoeing through the Boundary Waters, though thankfully without the welts (those are bestowed upon us nightly by the fleas). We newcomers do have a distinct advantage over our nemesis; our ability to swat the things. And seeing that the community is accustomed to the ever-present annoyance, and rarely if ever bother to momentarily rid themselves of it, our reactions are much more timely then the flies ever see coming. To put it into perspective, the three-for-one, is actually somewhat common occurrence. Community members, especially children are accustom to the pesky, public health nuisance, but I doubt Daniel and I will ever allow three to nestle themselves comfortably in our tear ducts (don’t worry; public health tutorials are coming). Let alone allow them to rest even for a moment on the desk that my computer presently is perched on. Splat!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

We are here

We're here, with a car full of goodies – less than planned, but we are certainly here. Equipped with three foldable cots, 7 rolls of duct tape (one roll was used to fix one of the two cars it took to wheel us down here), a couple machetes, solar panels, water filters, suntan lotion, hot sauce, amongst a few other things: plenty of wherewithal. Since arriving, we discovered the wireless EV-DO sadly does not service much of the rural south, including Mudula and its surrounding townships. So this post, though written under solar powered light at my Kololo home, is being delivered by Tesfa Foundation founder Dana Roskey. So though I will continue to generate posts, I will only be able to upload on average every two weeks. Picture a hose with a severe kink, that will flow freely, when finally unbound.

Since Wednesday, Daniel, Ijigu and myself have spent our time gradually asserting ourselves as new members of the community. Tattoo-clad, white, and twice the size of most, Daniel and I are finding our way a little more gradually than Ijigu. But we will be just fine.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The shopping has begun

        For the first time in two years, I ventured into one of Bole’s (one of Ethiopia’s wealthiest neighborhoods) supermarkets.  Crowded with chin high shelves stocked with Heinz, Nestle and Proctor and Gamble products, I was taken aback by the assortment of materials available.  Yet somehow powdered drink mixes (pretty crucial when your drinking only water and home brew for months on end) were unavailable, though there were 8 different garlic presses to choose from. We made the most of it, and found a majority of the bulk staple items we were in search of. Though a store clearly for the wealthy, the incandescent lighting, stark all-white d├ęcor, and array of foreign products, gave a feeling of being back in a freshly stocked Family Dollar.  It was an odd experience in Ethiopia.

        After 30 minutes of zigzagging through the aisles, we left with our first purchase for the Kololo project.  The food, and home necessities will fuel our swinging shovels and cleanse our sweat salted clothing.  Not to mention, offer a few comforts along the way.  Kololo is currently between harvest seasons.  Other than avocados (which we will be gladly eating by the dozen) and potatoes, there is very little home grown energy laden food available in the village.  In a month’s time, many other fruits and vegetables will be ripe for picking.  For the time being, we will largely be relying on rice, kenche (a tasty barley like grain), white oats, peanut butter, powdered milk, and pasta to provide the 4,500 or so calories a day we will need to sustain ourselves.  Over time, the initial diet may become  monotonous, though as the season changes, a potpourri of local foods will emerge.  Believe me, we are all exited for Mango’s with hot sauce, mountains of bananas, and bakolo (when dried, local trail mix) by the kilo.  

      We leave for Hawassa on Saturday and Kololo Tuesday.  While in Hawassa (Ethiopian Southern Nations capital, and 3 hours from Kololo) we will making the brunt of our tool and living material purchases, as well as add to our food stores. By Monday,  we will have small truck stocked with everything we will need to contentedly live in Kololo for the next 3 and half months. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Getting acquainted

These are a few photos from Ijigu and I's first trips to Kololo. We had a chance to meet a number of the soon to be students, as well as agree on land for the build. As you can probably tell, these photos were taken at the end of the dry season. You will be surprised to see the same plot of land next week. It will not only richer, but the community has been volunteering there time to begin leveling the the land for construction. I am very eager to see their progress, and start getting dirty.