Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Our favorite person in all of Kololo

If our general experience in Kololo was to have a face, it would be this one. The 31/2-year old Tashagare.  He projects style and comfort, usually by wandering Kololo's maze of pathways with his hood up, and no pants.  He is well accustomed to the rigors of village life; he doesn’t waste energy to flinch as flies incessantly pester the corner of his eyes.  And in a world that towers over him, Tashagare functions without fear, when not singing to him-self and sometimes while is, Tashagare wields a menacing twig and impressively hurls dirt clots to assist in his family in herding livestock.   

Coincidently, his name actually is very similar to the local word for a buildings supportive truss.  He is also is one of the few Kololo toddlers that approaches Daniel and I, and doesn’t run off when we approach him for a high-2 (our version of the high-5 for the Kololo kiddies, imagine two peace signs connected).  More than anything, the little guy is awesome, just look at him. 

Framing…. yea, there’s plenty more

Once each of the 160 or so vertical wall members, or studs, is firmly in place, we are free to begin nailing in perpendicular supports.  These are the horizontal beams that connect and section off the studs into, on average, meter lengths.  Together this build method allows for the creation of long vertical pockets to eventually fasten the walls cob base. Its tough to find effective descriptors, so I implore you to rely on the following photos. 

This is on my favorite part of the build.  It’s like your putting together/ playing on an adult jungle gym.  

At least three workers handle each beam to ensure if one guy slips the beam
does not come crashing down.

A shot through unseateated ridge supports.  This gives a
pretty good idea of how warped most of our lumber is.

The first tiers buildings are coming together. Also a nice view of one of two
very handy, up to four person ladders.  There heavy and awkward, but well
worth the extra hassle.

Ijigu and Daniel watching as a ridge beam is trimmed and put into position.

Two teams of workers cutting stud walls to the perfect angle and hight.  The
string helps keep the angle constant for each of the 6 cuts.
The first and second tiers secondary framing is nearing completion 
Daniel and Tagessa bringing up a rafter for the second tier.

Our garbage disposal/security/entertainment

Most rural Ethiopian villages have a very odd relationship with their collection of stray dogs.  Villages such as Kololo depend on dogs to alert the community when a hyena or leopard is cruising for dinner, yet this harrowing act goes unappreciated. With the exception of the occasional slaughtered animals’ lower leg, skull, or entrails, the community does not feed dogs with anything but scraps of table scraps. As a result, dogs have become opportunists.  If a family leaves their door unwatched, dogs will scamper in their hut at attempt to sniff out something edible.  Every now and again, they find a banana or avocado; that’s when most outsiders would start to get uncomfortable.  Ill just say the community dogs are weary of being near any of the villagers. 

Ijigu is one of the few animal lovers I have met in Ethiopia.  He especially is fond of dogs.  He pets, plays, and even speaks to them.  Yes, this sort of behavior is commonplace in the US, but not at all in Ethiopia.  Picture the same routine with a raccoon. You get the picture.

Daniel, Ijigu and I also don’t always finish our meals.   Commonly we share our uneaten injera, wat, or gommen with 2 or 3 of the community’s four-legged pariah.  However, we do draw the line at the door, because of their fleas, and not wanting to set a poor precedent, we will not allow dogs inside our home.  The dogs are now somewhat trained, they contently wait for us/food in our veranda.   The added presence is appreciated for our late night trips to the bathroom.

So now, though mostly Ijigu, have a loyal flea infested following.  Our three closest friends, even bully neighboring strays away from our house.  The comfort of not being feverishly chased with rocks provides great incentive. One in particular, often happily follows Ijigu to work.  It’s quite endearing, although the rest of the community just thinks of us as nuts. 

Between the tattoos, work out routines, and the no salt or butter in our coffee (I am not kidding), it’s certainly not the only reason why they think were a little off.

A local friend paying Ijigu a visit. Check out Marcos's
face (to the left) and Petros's pose in the background.  

A photo taken from my hammock.  The community keeps the dogs skittish,
but the fleas have got to be worse.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Ill continue to play catch up tomorrow.  Heres a taste of whats to come. Dirt moving, secondary, tertiary framing, water management systems, kids of kololo, and some artsy farsty photo editing for fun.

Tamesken taking in the view. 

Framing a school for 400 or so children

With the retaining walls complete, we were able to start the framing process. The following photos give an idea of what all goes into the primary framing of a school structure. Each of the school classroom ceiling’s ridge-beam (the schools max height) rests at just over 4.5 meters.  That does not include the 1 meter that goes into the ground, and the 60 centimeters or so that rest in rock and concrete.  Meanwhile, the average diameter of these posts is about 20 centimeters.

What that means… Our center supports are long and heavy.  For those too lazy to do the math, that’s about 20 feet and an average diameter of 8 inches or so.  As a result, some of these beams weigh in excess of 250 pounds.   Its a group effort hoisting said beams into place.

The following photos share how we work with such monolithic pieces of lumber, and how we are able to build a level, plum, and square structure out of mostly crooked trees.

Nearly 30 percent of the wood used in the Kololo build was either donated by or
 purchased  from Kololo community members.  This shot shows Daniel and Ijigu
totting back a 8.5 meter ridge beam (freshly cut tree) from the Kololo Daniel's
farm.  Its a lengthy uphill walk.  
Trimming down trees one by one, with the power of two mens arms
and a bow saw.

Tamesken marking level for the cut.  Sallamnesh (far right)
has knack for "borrowing" Ijigu and I's hats.

We attach level lines to our outside center posts .  It makes the
task of  finding level  and plum much easier on everyone.

On average it takes three people to carry a ridge beam support to its hole,
and four people to safely  raise it into position.  

What 5 days of measuring, lifting and twisting looks like.

This is about 1/5 of the amount of wood needed for the framing phase of the build.  

A proud crew poses down amongst their hard work.

From left to right: Marcos, Sallamnesh, Worke, Ijigu, Cababush, Dabebe,
Tamesken, Petros, Matio's daughter, Saqanesh, Legessa, and Andiso.

Retaining walls revisited

At the end of November, we were finishing up the retaining walls.  I neglected posting a few photos of the work in progress and what the finished before the framing was erected.  Here are a few photos of the last week of work.  

To give folks an idea of the general size of each of the walls; the walls are 14 meters wide nearly a meter deep and anywhere between 1.5 to nearly 2 meters tall.  My apologies, I think in the metric system these days.
Ijigu checking the level line

Daniel and Yacob shaping boulders into workable chunks of stone.

Andiso working on the first tiers post holes, while the rest of the crew is working on the second tier's retaining wall.

Temesken leading the way while his assistant steadies the internal rebar support.

First and second tiers complete.

Two walls finished, and Daniel taking care of the first tiers 60 or so post holes.

Finishing work being applied on the first tiers classroom door opening, while the third tier is nearing completion.

All three tier's retaining walls are complete.  There was a lot of finish work needed to be done.  We are waiting to the end of the build to take care of all the minor touch ups.

Some explaining

Once again its been to long.  So I am offering up a lot of words and then a lot of photos with pithy descriptions to play some much needed catch up.  Thanks for sticking around.

6:39 sunrise shedding morning light on the Kololo valley

Many of you may be wondering where the blogging has gone.  And that is for good reason.  I have gone from making weekly posts, to providing merely a couple in the last month.  I offer my apologies to all the curious and possibly frustrated parties.  There  is an explanation behind my digital absence, a good one, and  it is about time I shared.

The day before the ferenji  new year, Daniel and I packed up for a 9 day trip to Addis.  We were to renew/extend our expiring visa’s, enjoy new years celebrations, and attend a mutual friends wedding.    We were due back in Kololo on the 9th of January to finish up the build in early February.  Unfortunately, we were unable to stick to our schedule.

New Years and the wedding celebrations went as expected.  All of our weekend nights slept away in a mud hut, surely stored up an adequate amount of partying energy.  It was the visa’s that got us where we are now.  Presently,  I am taking a rest from lumberjack chores on my father’s Serbian farm, while Daniel is catching up with friends and family in the US.  Sure, the convenience of not having to answer nature’s midnight call with a crank flashlight and a dulling machete is appreciated, but we both wish we were in Kololo.

On December 29th, all structural work was complete, a majority of the roof was in place, window openings were leveled, squared and ready for frame installation.  Hay and heavy soils were blended in preparation for the creation of cob.  Construction was going soundly, and community relations were at a peak.  Daniel and I were both were discreetly offered wives.  We respectfully declined.  We left for Addis on the 30th, while build assistant manager, Ijigu, remained in Kololo.

Ijigu, is a trusted friend, 7 year Tesfa employee, and in 2010 was my assistant manager for a similar school build in Ekodaga.  Just as with Kololo, Ijigu aided me in construction planning, ordering materials, delegating labor, and dolling out payroll.  Because of his previous experience, and the communities respect for his leadership, we decided to continue the build in my absence.  Ijigu was to supervise the process of mixing and applying the first coat of cob to the exterior of the schools 3 buildings; he is well versed in this messy exercise, and was ready.  I left Kololo very confident in Ijigu’s ability to manage a worksite.    

In country visa processing has never been a streamlined activity. Tesfa and Ethiopia Reads in country director tells many a ghastly tale of his trips to the Ethiopian immigration office.  Every year it’s something different, and the officials responsible for processing paperwork become more and more inept. Officials arbitrarily hand out visa extension amounts, with no standard protocol, just based on your interaction, and their mood that day.  Daniel for instance was in luck, after the office lost his visa, the ball was in his court, after some back and forth chatter, he was given that days maximum visa extension.  Meanwhile the very professional gentleman behind him was provided a single day.  Very little reasoning was offered.  

I on the other hand was not looking for an extension, rather, I was hoping to renew my two year business visa.  To do so, I had to fulfill a scavenger hunt of requests; proof of employment, in country banking information, a organizational information, project proposals (for those I implemented),  and many other “certified” documents, all this including a full and might I add a very thorough health exam.  In a blur of nearly round the clock activity we fulfilled all of the immigration offices requests… Only to be thwarted. Other documents were requested, while others needed different stamps of approval.  It was ridiculous. As time ran out, we worked with a lawyer to acquire a 10 day extension.  We got it.  The office visits and scavenger hunt continued.  After 9 more days of certifying original graduate diplomas, rounding up an array of stamps, visiting with countless officials, and spending a few thousand birr on cabs, we were still without a work permit, temporary residence, and of course time to figure any way out of this mess.   I am now working with Serbian consulates and Tesfa/Ethiopia Reads management to acquire a visa from outside of the country.  Oddly, the process is much tidier from a far.

While this melee was taking place in early January, I caught some sort of stomach virus, and my computer’s battery  refused to take charge.  I was sicker than I have ever been, and was without a means to watch type emails, blog, or simply watch a movie to pass the time.  Things were not really going my way.  Meanwhile, Daniel’s visa extension was gradually expiring.  We all were consumed with taking care of my paperwork, consequently Daniel’s was never finished.  Things were obviously not going his way either.  Well, except that he now is now able to attend this year’s New Orleans  Mardi Gras festivities.  

So we both, mid-build, were forced out of the country, the same country that are were trying to assist.  Uncomfortably ironic isn’t it? 

Since I left, Ijigu and I have been in steady communication.  While in country we spoke every evening to discuss the day’s progress.  Work was going as planned.  We were going to use almost all of the dirt that excavated for the school’s foundations to construct the structure’s walls.  Organic recycling at its best. I now have been in Serbia for 7 days, allowing Tesfa management to relay phone conversations with Ijigu to me via email on a regular basis.  There has been minimal complications, and right now, the first coat of cob is complete on all interior and exterior walls.  The first 2 structures second coat of cob is nearing completion.  Ijigu expects the cob portion of the built to be finished by the end of the month.  At that point, work will stop, and Ijigu will return to Addis, enjoy some family time, and wait for my return.

When we return to Kololo on the 11th or 12th of February, we will finish the final phase of the build;  laying the floors for the buildings, erecting the bathroom,  painting, the installation of glass in the window frames, and finishing the water management system, including our numerous foot bridges.  We expect that barring anymore visa complications, the work be completed by the second week of March.  

I am very excited to return.

Tool belt, temporarily hung up.

One note: These sort of experiences are representative of the drawn out processes involved in many developing world bureaucracies.  A delicate balance of patience and assertiveness is critical in our work.  However,  Ethiopia’s political environment is more stringent than ever, and regardless of tact, many of these such road blocks are becoming common place.  I can assure you all, our wealth of project implementation experience, and effective management communication will ensure project success.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Construction on the rooftop

What goes into making a roof?  In short, a lot of trees, in a variety of sizes, a few cartons of nails, and a bunch folks that are not scared of heights when ER's are very far away. The raised peak once outfitted with corrugated and screening, will provide much needed ventilation to all of the classrooms, office, and library. 

High ceilings and cob walls do a wonderful job retaining the cool of the night into the day.  But a classroom of children, tends to build up warmth in an enclosed space. Thus, vented roofs and windows that open, are ideal for additional heat exchange. The African equatorial sun gets pretty steamy, especially at 2,000 meters.

Working together to make the vented peak just right.
Our assistant manager Temesken putting one of the corrugated
support braces in place.
A view from the top. And no the school is not on a cliff,
just a pretty steep hill.

Andreas is trimming down some warped supports, while I am in
the background hanging and hammering.

I promise no major injuries. Although, hammers tend to suffer from a magnetic
force between folk's finger nails.

One of the roofs two perpendicular supports being hoisted
into position.

Christmas in Kololo

Always goes down smooth. 

      I gave the 160 birr to our cook and asked her to pick up a few pepsi's a couple liters of cooking oil, some rice and a little (couple spoons full) of the local cheese. A sour curd like substance that has the consistency of feta, but not much redeemable flavor. However, it usually works with spicy wat quite well. I didn't get any change, because she evidently bought all the cheese in Africa.


Here are some photos of our white Xmas.

Daniel using his hand to show perspective.
 Me and the beard are concerned that we don't have

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

       Three or four weeks back I was
rummaging in our black hole of a
storage space for our forks (which
Two free range Chicken
we at this point assume grew legs)
when I stumbled upon a Ziplock
bag full of powdered American
flavors. Amongst the gravys, taco
seasonings, and ranch was a Gen-
eral Tso's chicken mix. All of a
sudden, I had no qualms about
eating my pasta with a spoon, and
was focused entirely on finding
flour in a town that lacked ovens.

      Our thanksgiving was a mem-
orable one.Two girthy chickens,
a kilo and half or two of "local" flour,
and a small mountain of onions and
garlic were searched out. The little
guys were killed, gutted and cleansed,
& then the real fun began: getting
Ijigu's thrifty stove purchase running
on all cylinders.The stoves fuel feeder
relies on gravity to usher in the needed
gas. But the lines were clogged up like
most wealthy Ethiopians artery's so 
plenty of fiery antics ensued.

Head light, more than just a fashion statement.

        As Daniel and I prepared the fried batter mix created little onion poppers, and prepped the oil,
(our cook and Ijigu sat back in wonder and surprise) we simultaneously gave the glass gas feed a constant shake to lure its content out and into the flames. All was working well enough, until one of the clots broke free... then we had us a real fire. In a matter of comical seconds, the entire stove was up in flames.

Adjusting the flame to just right is a group proces

             The chicken and poppers were really
cooking, but for safety concerns concerns,
Ijigu decided to hoist the fuel source out of
its receptacle,dumping more fuel onto the blaze,
and offeringup a few great photos, and took the
what lookslike a bloated gerbil water dispenser
out the backdoor.We shared a coughing and
laughing fit,and then went back to tasty business.
A sooty hour or so later, the general Tso's packet
was gleefully ripped opened, sprinkled in, and a
nauseating aroma of all you can eat Chinese
buffets filled our smokey mud kitchen.

           Some how, during all the chaos, we
managed  to prepare hot peppers and create
a fluffy mix of  basmati that was still steaming
as the last of the spiced globs of chicken was
pulled from bubbling oil.

The finished product.  Not including our onion poppers and sambosas

        At about 9 pm, we started at 4:30 or so, we sat and ate until it hurt. We then ate a bit more, suffered a few odd stomach trembles, and lurched off to our cots. It was a while ago, so I may have forgotten the finer points, though I am sure we each gave thanks to only loosing knuckle hairs, rather than eyebrows.