Monday, December 31, 2012

A few days away and look what I get

Last week I had to head to Addis for a couple days to meet with Dana (ER's in country director) before he left to the US.  Didnt get to stay for long, but the short time back was spent well between pithy conversations of future organizational development with the boss, and of course a few beers and plenty of good laughs with friends.  I love Addis, but the city life is always a bit much after more than a month in the country   Anyone that's visited a developing country and then made the mistake of heading to a big box store (home depot, target ect.) during their first week back in the US, has a decent idea of the feeling that I get: overwhelming abundance of far too much. That, and of course the smog, open sewer lines, crammed mini buses  and negotiation for everything.  I might be a bit jaded, or I just live too much of a locals life with foreigners face ;-). 

The day I left Azedebo cob mixing was going well, the rocks were going in, sorted and becoming a floors foundation, the framing was finished, and the rafters were up.  Today we loaded the last room full of rocks (foundation to be finished tomorrow, the cob mixing is almost complete and ready for application, and the roofs almost ready for corrugated.  Temesgin, Ejigu, and Sallamnesh worked effectively while I was gone to manage the work site, though I am not surprised.  My crew is a great one, made of reliable and skilled friends that I am thankful to have.  Check out some of the products of their hard work.

The ladies hands out hear put my leathers to shame

A spacious library coming together

Breaking rocks in the shade feels good

Azedebo ladies putting in a few tons of rock work

Prepping the beam for diagonal supports

Trimming the rafters for a perfectly level roof.  Matios has two arms, hes just showing off his perfectly balanced form.
Where we are 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A trip down to Azedebo

The following entry is offered up by Jim Mitchum, an avid Ethiopia Reads supporter that was kind enough to pay the Azedebo community a visit a couple weeks back.  He's more then a tad flattering when it comes to descriptions .. shucks, thanks Jim.

Wede bollager eheadallo (Down country I am going) by Jim Mitchum 

We are driving down a bumpy asphalt road about 150 miles south of Addis and come to a complete stop for a herd of sheep walking in the opposite direction. Nothing unusual in that. It's taken about 4 hours to get this far, and we still have a ways to go in our hired Toyota van driven by a nice guy named Tesfai. We swerve around women bent over with enormous burdens on their back (usually firewood) and sometimes there are donkeys carrying the same. Not much difference here between a woman and a donkey other than the donkey can carry a bit more. You don't see many men carrying burdens...probably too busy doing manly things.

It's getting warm now and not a cloud in the sky. The ancient volcanic landscape of the Rift Valley is sparse...a few eucalyptus and acacia trees, lots of reddish rocks and some small fields of grain being harvested. Men are cutting teff (similar to wheat) on small plots of land using hand sickles...nothing mechanized. We keep rolling through small towns where down-country buses stop to let off and pick up passengers traveling cheap.

The two lane road is fairly wide so there are often 3 or 4 vehicles abreast. No lane stripes or "do not pass" signs here to confuse you! We go around overflowing carts pulled by donkeys, slower cars, buses and fuming diesel trucks when we can. Tesfai pushes the van as hard as the road allows, sometimes playing "chicken" with vehicles coming at us. Seat belts you ask? Ha!'ve got to be kidding.

A couple of more hours and we turn off the paved road onto a "gravel" road that lost most of its gravel to the rainy season just ended. Now there is just a washboard of ruts. For the next 25 km (about 15 mi.), Tesfai negotiates the rough road, moving from side to side to find the way least likely to break an axle.

Dust swirls in the windows and we are soon coated from head to toe. It’s too warm to leave them closed; too dusty to leave them open. A large crowd appears in the road ahead, and we slow to a crawl as Tesfai respectfully nudges aside people in what turns out to be a funeral procession with the nose of the van.
The land around us is mountainous and has a primeval beauty that is hard to describe. Finally we see the village of Azedebo where ER is building new buildings (for a pre-school, kindergarten and library) next to an existing government school (grades 1-8) and today's destination. After a cool morning start, it is now 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside.

We attend a ceremony to mark the building progress...already one of the buildings is framed, an outhouse dug and chicka pit ready to go. The walls will be covered in a fermented mixture of mud, straw and manure, called chicka in Amharic, and the pit is where 14 guys will stomp the mixture until it is ready to apply to the frame...something like stomping grapes but you wouldn't want to drink this stuff! After the chicka is applied, a cement coating is added to protect it from the elements. If it is maintained, cement covered chicka over eucalyptus, the indigenous building materials of Ethiopia, will last for decades.

The construction manager is Cien Keilty-Lucas, a 28 year old from South Minneapolis who could easily be mistaken for Brad Pitt with a crew-cut. Amazingly he has been in Ethiopia leading school construction efforts for ER for the past three years, living in conditions where most of us wouldn't last a night. The current project has been underway for less than two months and will conclude around the end of February 2013. After that, he and his small team of 3 Ethiopians managers will move to a nearby town and build a similar school and library there.

As I listen to one of the village elders (who is also a teacher in the adjacent government school) make a speech about the project, I realize that Cien has won their trust and hearts by hiring local labor, showing up each day before anyone else, working harder than anyone else and leading
what they see as the most helpful project in their village.

He mentions that other groups, like UNICEF and World Vision, have come in with people who didn't involve them, stayed in hotels and drove big vehicles...but the projects were sometimes of low quality. He spoke about how Cien is living simply (he rents a room from a local family) and has organized the entire village to build something that will benefit their children for many years. Later he takes the opportunity to tell us that they could use a water well and a clinic never know what these ferengies will come up with if you just ask!

Later the same man asks me to tell him again the name of the organization, and he writes Ethiopia Reads down on a piece of paper. He still can't believe that ER (an organization he has never heard of) is accomplishing so much and that its people are so dedicated. I take a picture of him with his brother and another man and show it to them on my camera. I tell him he looks like Haile Selassie (the former emperor of Ethiopia). He is delighted with that and tells me that from now on he will call himself Haile Selassie. We all get a big laugh from that but somehow I think he is serious!

Later we head back the same gravel road, needing to get back to pavement before the sun sets. I open the side window of the van and the acrid smell of burning eucalyptus hits me in the face. I look over to see wraith-like ribbons of smoke leaking from the conical-shaped thatched roof of a nearby gojo. Boy, does that brings back memories from my youth.

In the van we get into a discussion with Cien about the creative construction techniques he came up with for the massive outhouse hole they hand dug. They had to be careful to avoid contaminating the unusually high water table and also figure out how to keep the soft mud walls from collapsing (with wire mesh and eucalyptus supports). Using a little basic math, we calculate how many years the pit should last with about 200 little daily contributors.

Just as soon as we reach the pavement the sun sets, and Tesfai starts playing "donkey dodge" on the dark road, occasionally coming to a complete stop when obstinate animals try to cross in front of us. My butt is killing me sitting on van seats that seem to have no padding left in them. An hour later we are in the town of Hosanna and pull into the hotel parking lot. I just pray my $10 a night room will have hot water and not fleas.

A few of Jims shots from his trip out:

Me and the boss man Dana

I was given the honor of cutting the bread

ER group shot.  Left to right.  Temesgin, Tesfahoune, Dana, Menna, Me and Ejigu

Bringing in the felt

A few students hanging out on our scrap pile

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Where we are

The following shots showcase Sallamnesh leading the way in creating the boulder foundation for the schools floors, and Temesgin and I's work on framing out the roof.  They speak for themselves.  

Genut assisting with the rock foundation 
Sallamnesh leading the way.  

Sallamnesh directing traffic

Too much sun, but a shot of he library space none the less. 

Rafters overhead

Temesgin and I working on securing the last of the rafters.

The days done

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lolo's days on the job

Lolo is spending about half her days with us at the jobsite.  Her days off are shared with my family in their compound full of barnyard animals. She seems to enjoy herself in both locals, but shes really taken to the day's with the work-crew.  Most of those days are spent relaxing in the shade, or playing security guard.  The picture below catches Lolo napping at her post, though the community will attest to the fact work-site intruders are not welcomed by the 4.5 kilo Lolo.  It will be a few months until shes taken a little more seriously, though for the time being her effort is appreciated by everyone.  I love that shes all ready so protective over, what she must be assuming is Lolo's jobsite.  

Tired out after a long morning of security work 
When Lolo's not standing guard shes usually searching out one of the cob mixers's shoes.  Notice most folks are hanging theirs on the fence these days. 
I never show up on here. Here I am, after one of my log and stone exercise routines. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I'm still here

Iv’e not become a recluse.  The pace of the usually sluggish but functional internet service (using my USB CDMA modem) in rural SW Ethiopia has been close to at a standstill of late.  Upload times for a single have gone from 20 mins –upwards of an hour, and that’s when service even allows me to get on Blogger. Woe is me huh?  Not really, I just don’t want my readership thinking that I've gone and disappeared on you.
Oddly enough my old 3g iPhone , when standing in the right spot, or of course at the top of the roof-line sends and receives emails and international whats app texts with ease.   Unfortunately the blogging app doesn't work.

That said, this early morning I was able to load a few shots.

Rafters are almost finished up and the cob mixing has begun.  The roof will be installed over head and the cobs first layer will be being applied in the next 2 weeks.   After that, I move to the next site to start another. Updates to come, as long as the wires and tubes of Ethiopia's internet allows.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

5 weeks in

After five weeks of living in Azedebo, this is some of what we have accomplished.

First week of meetings with community, village elders, and local government officials.

The digging and framing of the schools pit latrine.

Weeding and leveling 45 meters by 45 meters of chunky farm land.

The creation of a fence that wraps around the schools entire perimeter and has a nice little pocket for the schools bathroom in the SW corner.

Planting over 250 timbers, some in excess of 6 meters into the ground.

The primary, secondary and tertiary framing of the two structures.

The creation and installation of nearly 2000 felt (split timbers)  

The hauling of over 40 square meters of dirt into the mixing pond (to be explained in detail later.

Moving 10,000 of pounds of boulders and rock into classroom spaces for the eventual creation of the foundation.

The list goes on and on.  

We are going to finish up the felt work and start mixing the cob (5 day process) Monday morning.  Along with that we will be finishing out the framing of the roof (rafters and perpendicular bracing for the corrugated), and  carrying in the rest of each classroom's foundation rock.  By the end of the week we will be ready for cob application and the installation of corrugated.   

Lolo and I are going on or first run this afternoon.  I'm hoping for a couple kilometers at a walk and jog type pacing.  It should be interesting. Enjoy your day.

Measuring for diagonal braces.  

Usual scenery

Felt Team A

Felt team B

Hammer's take allot of abuse out here. When handles snap we just make new ones.

You can really see the shape of the classes coming together.

View from the rock pile.  The cob mixing pit is right in front.

Framing and felt complete 

A days work

Where my fresh habasha ibe (feta like cheese) comes from.  We are always eating it at the  house.

Sahi roasting some Kolo to go with the coffee for our early evening snack.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thoughts from across the globe

Another day finished, with an exhausted smile.

We toil in a scalding equatorial sun each day to bring the opportunity of early education and literacy to Azedebo.  The work is physically draining, though little thought is paid to our labors.  We are resilient and strong. We understand our efforts are only a small, but important phase of the ER’s greater project, and we are grateful to be a part of it.  Our work is literally laying the foundation for education within the community.

Regardless of the amount of sweat lost, and aches reverberating throughout our bodies we are overcome not by our discomforts, but by the potential of our work.  We are Azedebo, and our efforts will create a better future. 

As I wait for the days photos to load, I am taken back by the heinous events that took place earlier today. We all at ER send our love and thought to the families and friends of those directly affected. Centers of education the world round can be magical place’s that inspire, and ignite a s spark that can one day change the world.  As concerned parents, educators,  students, politicians, citizens, let us walk away from the blame game’s and come together to ensure that our children are safe in and outside of our schools.  

In Azedebo the day was spent working to finish the felt, and building and installing ventilation points boxes to allow for the buildings passive air exchange.  Basically just boxes with screens to let hot air escape the structures rooms.
Cutting the milled boards to size

Lolo making the most of some temporary shade 
Temesgin leading Tarakin and Wendomu through the construction of the  vents.

Hoisting a vent into position

A few temporarily secured.  Tomorrow each will be leveled. Notice the felt is nearing completion.

A days work

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Back and forth

Over the last two days I have had the rare opportunity to spend some concentrated time with Dana Roskey.  The very busy head of Ethiopia Reads.  He, Jim Mitchum (a friend of ER), and some of the ER office crew came down to visit the Azedebo build, and check in with Kololo.  I was able to take nearly a full day away from Azedebo (Temesgin took the reins) to catch up on ER programming, work with kololo staff, and talk through potential future projects.  We made sure to take some time for football chatter and a  beer or two, but almost the entirety of my latest time away was spent in productive conversation.  

Kololo was Kololo. Beautiful and full of smiles. 

The Azedebo worksite moved along just fine.  Take a look.  Yesterday and today's effort combined to finish up the roofs perpendicular supports, and nearly complete the felt in a majority of rooms.  As long as the roofing material is delivered in the  next 5 days, the corrugated will be going up next week.

Always good to be back in Kololo 
Degefe and Genut working together to fill some gaps in the felt.

Temesgin measuring for the tashagare (perpendicular roof supports).

Back end of the storage/office space.  Dont worry theres 2 windows for the office that are not pictured.

Where we are.