Building Houses in Ethiopia
Day 0 — Friday, March 28th 2014 — Preparation
I hate packing. Left everything until the last minute. Spent $180 on work boots. Water proof and goretex. Think they will be well worth it if it rains. Was gonna get some cheapos from Marks Work Warehouse, but then Brandon started making fun of me while we were at the Eatons center. Had a good point.. Even if it rained for 1 day, was it worth it to save $80. Got a bunch of $5 dollar t-shirts and a sweet windbreaker for $25. Also, crushed Shoppers drug mart for a ton of small items. Have never spent so much time preparing for a trip. Usually I am much more Laissez-Faire. Actually had a print out of all the recommended items! When I got home, I borrowed a backpacker bag from Brandon’s cousin which came in really handy. Had Brandon send over a video of how to pack it.. Turns out you just need to roll your clothes to maximize space. For some reason, I thought there was a trick to it. Was super anal about the food I brought, so I took a ton of vitamins, raw nuts, some greens powder, a tub of protein and glutamine and also tons of bison bars. How obsessive is that? However, now that I am here, it was totally worth it.
The Journey Begins.. March 29th/30th — Saturday + Sunday
Woke up at 7am and cooked an amazing breakfast w turkey bacon, avocado, eggs and broccoli. Went to the airport super tired in an uber with Brandon and Sahand. Jokes started right away. Chirping Brandons double chin because he was already eating McDonalds. Everything went quickly at the airport. Bought 4 protein bars (Simply Bars) and a kale salad for the flight along with a busted turkey sandwich just in case. Ended up eating everything.. Including all 4 protein bars. Spent the flight reading an amazing book — new Ben Horowitz bio.. Maybe one of the best management books I have ever read and super applicable to what happened at Roamly. Also slept for 7 hours which was lucky. Few weird things on the flight..
Both Brandon and I got shafted for our meals. Stewardess literally came by and gave both guys beside me their meals 20 minutes early.. I was the last person to get them on the entire plane twice, plus she skipped me for the sandwich. We were questioning potential reverse racism? Brandon kept pressing the help button and they would just come by and turn it off. Also, we were the only white people on the plane which was a first for me. Funny quirk, when the plane landed.. all the ethiopians make a mad dash for the exit. Literally tried to trample you when there is nowhere to go.
There was a huge line for immigration and this one guy was standing right behind Alex, leaning on him trying to sneak through. After about fifty families cut in front of us, we made a human shield. We let the one guy through but then didnt let his family pass us. Brandon chirped him that he would have to leave his family behind if he wanted to cut. Seems to be a cultural thing here. After the airport, we met everybody from our team and took a bus to the hotel. People were super jet-lagged and the truck carrying all our gear almost crashed with a flat tire.
We passed the truck and got dropped off at the hotel. Hotel is pretty awesome for Addis Ababa standards, I was expecting something in more of a rural area… Hotel has wifi and big, clean rooms. Spent the first few hours getting breakfast and lunch and introducing ourselves to the team. Had an omelette for breakfast with some injera (ethiopian national dish that is like fermented millet with tomato and onions). Chef wouldnt let me have a second omelette, so I got somebody to sneak one for me. I have been eating about 5 meals a day. For lunch, I had a chicken curry with vegetables. After lunch, I literally passed out so hard… Woke up to Brandon punching me in the leg with a giant key. Was planning on working out, but laid down for two minutes and was done. Next we went to the orientation and learned about the build, habitats presence in Ethiopia and what we would be doing. Found out that we will be building a water sanitation project or toilets on two different sites that will be used by over 100+ people, so was pretty pumped about that. Also found out we were the 99th team to partake in GV Ethiopia which was pretty cool. Spent the evening having dinner with the team. Found out that Brandon and Sahand snuck off to some local bar during the day and tried some kind of honey wine that acts as a slight narcotic. Had dinner as a team near the hotel. This was our fIrst time eating traditional Ethiopian food which was pretty good. Was a bunch of ground meats and spinach on top on the injera. Also ate some grilled fish. Started to really bond with the whole group. Ended up in bed around 9:40pm and just KO’d.
Day 3 — March 30 — Monday — The Build Begins
Woke up at about 3am. Couldnt sleep. Tried looking at a management book called Running Lean on my phone that is great. Giving me new ideas for how to move forward on a wireless power deal I am working on. Did that for a bit and then decided to go for breakfast with Alex (were sharing a room together) around 5:30am. Had an omelette and some injera and porridge. Then decided to go out looking for a pull up bar to throw in a workout. This was our first adventure outside the hotel on our own. We walked the streets in the dark for about 30 minutes. It really does look like a warzone. Very poor infrastructure and extremely dense population.
We tried to break into a construction sight to use some scaffolding for pullups (they actually use sticks of wood as scaffolding). It looks so dangerous. There were also packs of dogs cruising around — so you need to be a bit careful. Everybody stares at you (assuming because we are minorities), so that is a bit disconcerting at first, especially because it was still kind’ve twilight. However, it doesn’t feel dangerous at all.
There aren’t any aggressive people. For the most part everybody is friendly. We ended up finding a tree in the garden at the hotel that we used for pullups (alex just jumped up one handed and started doing them which was impressive.. I could barely even climb the tree to reach the branch).. We also did a full workout on some old playground equipment (8 sets of 50 reps of different exercises), so it was a sweet start to the day. Followed up with some protein shakes and supplements and a second breakfast.
Sure enough, we were supposed to start at 8:30am but the team was about an hour late to start the build. Apparently, the contractors kindve just come when they want to, so sometimes its tough to get things organized. Everything is on a laid back pace. Brandon and I were getting a bit irritated because we really wanted to build and were getting concerned it would be a hack operation. Once ready, we took a ten minute bus ride to a slum area of Addis and checked out our build site. First we split into two groups.
We started the build with a group of six habitat workers and a bunch of locals. The foundation for the build was about 10ft by 20 ft and was already in place. It was a bunch of wooden boards and rebar over a 20 foot hole.
To start, we needed to tie the corners of each set of rebar with wire and pliers and also start mixing concrete for the foundation. The concrete materials were carried with a wooden box with long sticks on both ends so two people can share the load. Process is as follows:
- Fill box 4 times from a gravel pit
2. Fill box 2 times from a dirt pit
3. Place two bags of cement over new pile and mix together with water
4. Once pile is completely mixed, it is carried in a metal box by two people to the foundation and laid
5. Concrete bags are 50KGs, so pretty heavy
6. Locals used machine to remove air in concrete
7. Throughout the day we spent about 6 hours doing hardcore digging, I would guess we made about 18 mixes (used about 36 bags of cement). We pretty much finished the foundation during the first day.
We were really pumped up, so we tried to push it hard all day. Both Brandon and I thought we had lower back injuries by the end from so much shoveling. Cement bags were legitimate 50Kg bags. This one girl on our team crushed it. She was ripping cement bags and was only about 130 pounds.
At around 11am, everybody takes a break for homemade coffee and bananas. I don’t usually drink coffee, but for the time here, I have decided to enjoy it.. Also provides some extra energy for the build. Its supposed to be some of the best coffee in the world. The locals put together a little ceremony every morning where they burn frankincense along with the coffee. It smells amazing.
They also serve roasted seeds called Colo. For lunch, we took the bus to a local restaurant. The whole ordeal took around an hour and a half, so its not super efficient, but it was nice to take a break.
In the afternoon, we really worked at a fast pace. We were so close to finishing the concrete lay but it started pouring rain. Like a monsoon. We all ran into one of the locals houses (completely dark, with only two small rooms and made of tin… so not that safe in a thunderstorm = also, six people lived there). It was really uncomfortable, especially because we didn’t want to sit down as we were filthy. Its weird, when its sunny out, everything is super fun and relaxed, and when it starts raining, you really notice how dirty it is.
Overall, I quite like the city and the relaxed environment though. When the rain died down a bit, we made a run for the bus.. We ended up soaked and then got stuck in traffic because of the rain. Traffic here can be crazy (3mm people live in 4km radius). It took us over an hour to get back. I saw about 4 accidents right in front of our bus. We have some great footage. People will crash their cars and then just drive away. When I got home, I hammered advil and aleve and a bunch of vitamins to recover from the build. I also watched Alex use Tinder, which he does frequently. It’s a big source of making fun of him on the trip… he found a girl in our habitat group that also uses it, which was pretty funny. He pretended to turn her down, but we know he was trying to get with her. We all laughed about that. For dinner, we went to the Ethiopia hotel. Because of the traffic, it took 30 minutes to go about 2 km. We couldn’t walk because of how busy the streets were. The habitat leader is a bit timid and discourages us heading off on our own, even though its pretty safe (there is a bit of petty theft), but other than that nothing to worry about. Dinner was pretty mediocre. We had some wine and beers and our group (Brandon, Alex, Sahand and I) decided to go out afterwards to see the city. We went out to this 150 year old building on the top of a hill called Addis Ababa Restaurant. It used to be a palace. It was so weird…
They had a ton of office style lights on (think those flickering bars of light you see on the roof of old building.. with a small tv playing blurry music videos and meditation music in the background). It was empty except for two other Ethiopians and some English weirdo.. Couldn’t for the life of me imagine what he was doing there. The restaurant is known for making homemade honey wine called Tchetch? It tastes like orange juice + vodka + cigarette butts.
The after taste is so gnarly. We had about two bottles between the four of us and really forced it down. It has a weird effect (kindve of a mild narcotic) and soon enough we were all howling and laughing so hard about nothing. The guys really want me to braid my hair, so we have been thinking of dares all week to bet on. I offered that if anybody drinks a bottle of warm tchetch during a build day, I would do it. After the two bottles, we took a taxi home which was quite the experience. The taxi driver told us there are night clubs on Friday / Saturday for tourists, so we are thinking about going out during one of our days off. On Saturday, we work a half day with shopping and museums planned for the afternoon and on Sunday we are to travelling to a rural Habitat village (5 hour roundtrip). We are considering doing something else Sunday instead to cut down on the travel time (maybe a trip to a nearby village or national park). On the way home, the driver also offered us some hash from Afghanistan (some of the best in the world). He stopped in the middle of the intersection to light up a little joint and pass it around the cab. Alex and I avoided it, but it smelled like really good quality. Brandon was lit up, which was pretty funny. The driver kept stopping in the middle of busy intersections to light the joint. When we got back to the hotel, we saw some people from our group and relayed the story of this place. It would be fun if we could get some of the older members to join the next adventure.
Day 4 — Tuesday April 1, 2014
After the Tchetch last night, the wake up today wasn’t as good. Was in a pretty grumpy mood and feeling a bit down. Yesterday, was feeling amazing all day. Really felt good to not be worried about work and to focus on helping people. Also, felt super relaxed and uplifted. Spent a few hours reading Looptail — Bruce Poontip and the start of Onward — Howard Schultz. Read about 70 pages of each. Both are mediocre so far. Started the day with a breakfast — no workout this morning!! Getting a bit sick of a small omelette and porridge every morning. Followed it up with a bunch of vitamins and started to feel a lot better. When we got to the build site, I was super tired and sore from yesterday. Nothing was really ready to go and this was fine with me. I wanted to have a coffee for breakfast to get a jump start, but I decided to wait until the ceremony mid-day. Unfortunately this didn’t happen until 11:30am today, so I kindve tanked it until then. While we were waiting for setup, Brandon and I walked through the nearby market and bought some “chat”.
This is a leaf that you chew for 3–4 hours and is supposed to give you a small high like caffeine. Its legal and also popular here. We bought it at a small red shack and definitely paid double the price (100birr or $5)…
Classic gringo scam. We saw a local pay 50 birr. Also, now is a good time to mention how cheap everything is here. A meal is around $3–5. A top notch steak will max out around $5. So you can eat pretty much whatever you want and the food is pretty good. Taxi rental is $10 for the hour. Food is a bit limited (no real fish like salmon, and not much variation of sauces, vegetables or desserts), but outside of that its fresh and filling. There are a lot of curry type dishes, so no complaints on that end. By the time we got the chat and went back to camp, we decided against chewing it today. We are going to chew it tomorrow morning and see if it gives extra energy for the build. The build today was much different. We were building up the walls. This included:
1. Mixing mortar (4 parts dirt, 1 part cement)
2. Moving cinderblocks from a truck to the foundation area
3. Putting mortar down in the foundation and laying bricks
4. Leveling measurement for laying bricks
5. Filling holes with mortar
6. We finished about 5 levels of cinderblock on all four sides. Work really sped up in the afternoon. In the morning, I was having trouble measuring the mortar. By the end of day, I was ripping through it. Everybody sort of starts to specialize in a task and you get into a rhythm. It was actually frustrating at first as you learn how to become more efficient at the tasks — especially while being tired, but at the end of the day, my mood really started to improve.
Massive thunder clouds came in around 4pm. This time, we knew what we were in for, so we all ran back to the bus.
We were able to miss the traffic and didn’t get stranded in somebody’s house. It seems when it rains the internet is down, so there isn’t much to do. Most of us are just chilling in our rooms reading and getting ready for dinner. After dinner, Alex and I ran stair sprints and skipped for 20 minutes. Some other things that have happened over the past few days –
1. Epic Bison bars are unbelievable — brought about 15 of these from home. Come in really handy and taste amazing. Grass fed as well… Like a healthy beef jerky. Good balance with the veggie bars… Big debate about which ones are more important. Inventory is starting to run low.
2. A lot of chirping of Alex because of how tight his shirts are. Pure compression gear at the build. We think hes trying to hook up with one of the girls in the group.
3. Brandon didn’t know anybodys name in our group until today.. Pretty sure he still doesn’t know 40% of people on our team — there are only 12
4. We have spent a bunch of time with the four of us joking around, but also a lot of time with the team. Everybody is really friendly. We had our first really good bonding session today at dinner (we spend all of our meals together). Aside from two girls near our age, everybody is much older (45+). We played a fun game where you make up two truths and a lie to get to know each other.
5. The bathrooms on the site are awful. Terrible experience. The current bathroom is at the bottom of a tin slum house. The smell is so overpowering. It is a little room with a hole in the ground and two pads for your feet where you squat down. These pads have piss all over them. Its very dark with a single light bulb overhead. Some of the time I am in a really good mood and enjoying the adventure and life seems magic and great, however certain things make you realize how abject the poverty is and kindve shock you. This bathroom is a shocking experience. There is no way I could use it to shit. So, you need to be careful how much coffee you drink, because you’re dreading using the bathroom while you work all day.
6. Alex was fully asleep first day in a random locals house. It was caught on camera.
7. One of the houses had open sockets during the rain storm. Super dangerous.
8. Tons of friendly banter between the two teams job sites and how much work gets done each day.
9. Some of the Ethiopian workers are machines. They dig so fast and some only wear sandals on the construction site. Also, some are super lazy. One guy would come out for a few minutes and do a gravel run and then head inside to watch soccer until his mom yelled at him.
10. We have like 5,000 pictures and about 3 GoPros taking video all day, so the footage we have will be amazing. Cant wait to look through it all and send it around. Were going to make a combined blog with all the videos, pictures and combined notes.
11. Kindve bummed that I didn’t sign up for a safari or to climb Kilmanjaro after with Alex, but am also looking forward to being in my routine at home. Funny, when I used to travel, I would miss home so much and be so worried that I was missing out on what my friends are doing and wonder what parties were happening or whatever… As I get older, I could care less. However, I don’t think I am the type of person that would like to spend 3 months abroad.. I like to have a set routine and take a lot of satisfaction from living what is a perfect week to me (diet, work accomplished, exercise, meditation, reading, learning, etc.). Then again, I have been loving the relaxed vibe and atmosphere and the fact Im not getting 100 emails a day, or having to solve the same problems at work over and over again. Its nice to finally be rid of Roamly and its problems and its even nicer to realize that the failing of this Company really will have no negative impact on my life (at some points, it felt like the world would end). After such a shitty year, I am feeling a lot more happy again!
12. One of the security guards at the Addis restaurant looked like a tall mummy. Looked like Mumm-Ra off of thundercats cartoon.
13. Using the word “tank” left right and center. One old guy on our team has earned the nickname “Tank Abbott” because he doesn’t do anything.. Literally, nothing. Just wears his watch and tells us the time.
14. Brandon and Sahand have written off the team manager. Sahand got searched at our hotel by security and had a flip out. Team manager Tammy is a Mormon and doesn’t drink at all.
15. Alex was being a pussy last night but then decided to come out. He does special ops elite training (sleep deprivation, getting dumped in the ocean blindfolded, etc.) but couldn’t come for a drink after a six hour habitat build. We chirped him hard for that.
16. Food has come down to a full bartering system. Depending on Brandons mood, one bison bar will get me two veggie bars
Wednesday April 2, 2014
Spent the day at a new site. Kindve a bummer… Had to redo the mixing / digging again in a new site that was very small and cramped. Took much longer to rebar, and pour the concrete. There was an error on our first site (not enough privacy in the bathroom) so villagers asked for one of the walls to be knocked down.
Started the day with some Khat. Ate it all morning.. At first, I would just put it into the corner of my mouth and slightly chew it. It had a very bitter taste. Later on in the day, I would chew it with gum. After a chewing for around an hour, I started to get a relaxed feeling and some additional energy, but overall it wasn’t that interesting. I thought maybe the Khat wasn’t good, so I bought another bushel in the afternoon. They sell it on every street corner and people will heckle you to buy some. A lot of the locals thought it was funny that I was trying it and would cheer as I walked down the street with the big bag. Brandon was calling me the Khatman. During the day, the construction was the exact same as the first day. There was some nice sun and again, we worked pretty hard. My specialty seems to be mixing concrete and digging… kindve a pure brute = will get into my lack of masonry skills later.
We had lunch at the first hotel ever built in Ethiopia. It resembled an old hunting lodge with huge arched ceilings and old wood. They had a live piano player and children choir singing while we ate which was pretty cool. Alex ended up getting sick and had to go home. At the end of the day we played foosball against a huge group of kids — probably like 10 of them. We ended up giving them some extra money to play and they got really into it.
Everybody was cheering — think they were also cheating us on the score, but Brandon and I managed to make a come back and win by one goal. We also saw somebody carrying a full bottle of warm tej through the streets which looked gross. Brandon bet me that he would finish the 2L bottle if I shaved my head.. Never took the bet, but that would’ve been devastating. My hair is in bad shape here.. Its so straggly and has cement in it from the build. Hygiene in general is pretty low. I have cement stuck to my arms and parts of my beard that is hard to get out. When I came home, Brandon and I did an awesome workout (Cindy = 5 pullups, 10 push ups, 15 squats in 20 minutes — ended up doing 16 rounds). Brandon lasted all of 8 minutes. Was feeling awesome after this and we went to dinner at the most popular museum in Ethiopia (Lucy).
At this point in the trip, the health started to decline a bit (less concern about vitamins, daily workouts and specific diet) and a much more relaxed attitude in general. At dinner we had carbonara pasta, a pizza, and an arrabiata pasta which was all delicious. Brandon, one of the girls on the build and I ended up staying at the restaurant after and drinking 3 bottles of wine. The restaurant was half indoor/outdoor and built in kindve a mini-jungle with giant huts everywhere. After dinner, we walked into one of the huts and watched an amazing spectacle unfold. There was a live band with a singer that would also tell jokes. He was playing a long violin/guitar with one string and some type of saw. Brandon bought one as a souvenir. During his set:
1. He made fun of Brandons haircut calling it an Alpha and Omega (not sure what that means)
2. His backup singer asked for a piece of my hair to string the guitar with
3. He kept calling the girl we were with Kevin and saying how beautiful she was
4. He made us all get up and join in a huge dance and then roll around on the ground — this is on video
5. They asked Brandon if he was a movie star
6. Overall, this really set the scene for the night and had us smiling
After the first stop, we decided to head to a club beside the restaurant. It was like the cheesiest promoter you could imagine designed the place (neon, belvedere logos, black lights, bottle service, electronic music, pictures of naked girls, a picture of the last supper but with black people in suits),,, It was like being in a strip club — it was called Jelly. It was Wed night (which is a fasting night), so there were only about 10 people there and most were tourists. We ended up sitting down with a group of ultimate goons from South Africa that were travelling on business. Brandon ended up arm wrestling one of the guys at a table in front of the whole bar. We had a ton of laughs with these guys and sure enough by the end of the night we had invited them to Canada for a ski trip to whistler ?? We ended up heading over to a club called Stockholm with them. On the way there, the guys were leaning out the window of the car and pretending to paddle it and trying to get the cabs to race. The next bar was a small lounge with electronic music and everybody had a huge dance party. I rarely dance, but I was drinking whiskey and busting out my one step move and some titty shakes. May have even taken off my shirt and played some air guitar. One of the South African guys was hitting on the girl on our build so hard it was hilarious. She gave him the wrong cell phone number and he showed up at our hotel at 8am the next morning to try and get on the build. Ended up leaving his business card at the front desk for her. On our way home from the club we were pretty blackout and stopped for pizza and burgers. I passed out in the back of the taxi with crumbs all over me. Overall, it was a pretty hilarious night. Ended up getting to bed around 4am, so the next day was just brutal…
Thursday — April 3, 2014
Today was the worst day on the build by far. Woke up super hung over at exactly 8:33am. On my first wake-up attempt, I told Alex to fuck off. I got ready in less than 3 minutes and ran down to the bus. Brandon was in just as bad shape. Had a full bandana on with sunglasses for sure.
Sure enough, this is the one day when there are no clouds or rain and a scorching sun. Started the day off with a coffee and a white bun and chocolate cookies. Overall, felt pretty sick for most of the day. Mixing is really hard in that state. I also learned today that I will never be a mason / brick layer.
My lines are never level, so usually the contractor comes over and needs to fix them. Have started to specialize in putting mortar in the holes between the bricks that have been laid and also anything to do with the shovel.
Brandon and I went and bought these super shovels from the hardware store that make life much easier and more efficient. The other ones we had were broken, so the team was really happy. The new ones are electric blue, some might say “high coolness” shovels. Cant believe I am in a mind state where I was excited about a new shovel.
At the very end of the day we tanked it a bit. Tank Abott who we had mentioned before was so happy.. Probably the best day of his trip as he could be lazy without anybody bothering him. We spent a solid 30 minutes sitting in the street and watching people. The streets are so vibrant with all kinds of different activities.
Its hard to describe. I had a lot of good conversations today with other members of the group. Talking about why they joined, what they do at home, etc. Brandon and I lead our group in a ton of comedy and make sure everybody is laughing and having a good time. We also spent more time today hanging out with the families around and some of the kids.
The little kids will run up to you and hold your hand or just you. There was this one super cocky teenager that came to help carry stuff and was yelling.. When he left I gave him a hug and a pat on the back and all the cement from my glove made a huge hand print.. It was accidental, but super funny and everybody on the site was laughing.
A lot of the families that will be using the bathrooms help with the build, make coffee, play music and watch. There was a 70 year old man that was killing it. For the most part he was getting in the way, but he was trying to do everything.
He kept trying to take this vibrator machine to smooth the concrete and the other contractors would get so pissed.
After work, we went out for dinner at the same first hotel in Ethiopia. Dinner was pretty uneventful, but we had crepes for dessert with chocolate and biscuits and they were amazing. The group is really starting to gel. Its awesome how after spending a certain amount of time with people, you get comfortable. Everybody is starting to tell jokes and be comfortable. I am really looking forward to the R&R at the end of the trip. Think it will be super fun with the whole group. That night, I felt terrible after dinner and slept from 9pm — 7am the next day. Was getting some anxiety and feeling kindve sad = typical hangover feeling. Shitty to see that this still happens even when I am on vacation.
Friday — April 4, 2014
Woke up sneezing and thought I was gonna be sick. First feeling where I kind’ve wanted to come home. Immediately went down for breakfast and had a ton of vitamins. After a shower, I was feeling great and ready to go. Excellent day at the build. I brought my phone for the first time and took tons of pictures. Spent a lot of time today talking with some of the kids.
Also bought some avocados from a street market vendor. They are a strange purple color. Back to healthiness today. Our team was on fire. Everybody knew their role and moved quickly. We completed our initial job site today.. Basically built up the walls (10 bricks high on each side).
The only left to do is fill the corner moulding with concrete. We had an amazing picture at the end with everybody on our team.
Found out that the three sites that we have built will house 35 families or more than 210 people.
There was a cute old lady that thanked us. Also, whenever we are walking through the streets there will be tons of people that come up and say thank you. It really makes me feel good.
One old man said that “its great what you are doing here” in broken English. It was really sweet. Nothing new at lunch today = kindve getting repetitive, so no new stories. Spent some time wondering what it will be like to come home — especially seeing the ritz carlton or some luxury like that. Overall, I don’t feel that affected by the poverty here yet. I am not sure why that is. People seem happy and the days are fun. Even using the bathroom doesn’t seem that bad anymore. There are still some moments that put you into shock — like when we saw a man with only one leg that needed to pull himself up a hill using only his arms.
But overall, I am not sure if the experience has been as emotionally jarring as it was for Barbie. I think it’s a bit different because we are staying in a hotel in a city with access to all different types of food. Its not a rural build. Also, we are working with multiple families so you don’t get as good a connection to the villagers.
You don’t exactly understand what a typical day is for them, (ie, what jobs are available, what is family life like, etc.). Nobody speaks very good English, so its hard to communicate past basic details. Right across from a serious slum is the prime ministers house which takes up about 10 city blocks. I am really curious to see the affluent area of addis. I wonder what the houses are like and if they have the equivalent of “mansions”.
We have been talking all day about starting our own build next year. Brandon and I are going to do it for sure. Brandon wants to be team leader and we are going to organize with 12 of our friends… All young and fit people and really crush the build. I think it will be cool to have an area of my apartment with pictures and souvenirs from 4–5 builds over the next few years. Tonight is a very busy night in the city. We are taking it easy with dinner in our hotel. I am going to do a quick workout after and then we are going to start the night at a pool hall beside the hotel (a tin shed with a pool table beside it). Will definitely challenge some locals. After that, we are bringing everybody on the build to the first bar we went to where we tried the Tej. Its going to be hilarious. The whole team is going to come out with us after. The build is only a half day tomorrow, so everybody is looking to have some fun and check out the city.
After dinner, it turned out to only be a group of five of us that wanted to go out. Alex, Brandon, Caitlyn and Sherry. Caitlyn is around our age and Sherry is 40 and a mother. We started off in a cab to Addis Ababa restaurant for some Tej. When we got there it was closed. So the cab driver suggested a club called Memo. It took us around 40 minutes to get there and then the cab driver tried to charge us $25 which was a huge rip-off. This whole scenario took a lot of steam out of the night as we were packed 4 in the back seat and led to an altercation and yelling match with the cab driver. When we finally went into the club, there was nobody there and they were serving watered down drinks. We stayed for a few minutes and had a drink but it was too loud. Funny enough, they had pictures of Puff Daddy on the wall. We left this place and a driver took us to a legitimate Tej bar as it was still too early to go to a club. This place was really cool and very traditional. It was filled with wood carved stools around tons of short tables. The whole place had tons of Ethiopian artwork and objects including a giant pouring glass that must have been 15 feet high. We sat down and had two bottles of Tej, of which the girls thought was disgusting. We had a few good laughs and were approached by some strange white guy that was wired.. Apparently he thought we should “know” him because he was Josh of Rawrr rolling papers?? He invited us to another place called Stockholm. That was our next stop. Again it was super busy and too loud to talk as a group. We never saw Josh there either. The group went to a few more places that night and everybody got pretty blackout, however there wasn’t much interesting that happened. The night ended with Alex, Brandon and I passing out on a table while ordering pizza and Brandon starting another altercation with the third cab driver to try and rip us off. Overall we got home around 5:30am and needed to wake up for 8:30am.
Saturday April 5, 2014
Today was our last day on the build site. It was super sunny, and surprisingly after the previous night, Brandon and I worked really hard. The day was pretty simple (it was only a half day). We made a few concrete mixes and poured them into the corners of the foundation. To do this, one person needed to climb scaffolding on each side and pour in around 20 buckets of mix into each corner.
I was one of the pourers which was a pretty fun job. We ended at 11am. We found out that of the 6 groups to do the water sanitation project with Habitat, we had completed the most work. We spent lunch enjoying coffee as a group and signing our names into the cement on our site. We had plans for that day to go see a museum, however our group was beat, so Alex, Brandon and I spent the day relaxing in the hotel. I took a long nap, did some work, posted some photos and tried calling some people back in Canada. After a night of drinking, the emotions are dulled a bit, so there isn’t as much self reflection. We are travelling to a rural habitat community tomorrow and are considering renting a car. Kindve thinking against it as it might alienate us from the group a bit.
Sunday April 6, 2014
Woke up early today feeling pretty good. Havent done an official workout in a few days and have been eating pasta, pizza, etc. The food is starting to get a bit monotonous and I am finally starting to get excited about going home. Being trapped in the hotel everyday wears on you. Really looking forward to the R&R though. The rest of the trip is pretty easy, so that will be nice. We started the day with breakfast and then a three hour bus ride to Debra Bhrihan. I spent the bus ride listening to an audio book called An Entrepreneurs Tool Kit — Norm Brodsky, it’s a little basic, but entertaining. It’s the story of a company called perfect courier. The bus ride was long and took us up another 1,000m through the countryside. The roads were better than I expected (at least the highway), but the surrounding area was extreme poverty. Sheds would surround the road with little villages of one story huts with tin roofs. We were going to a Habitat Community where 70% of the aid has been provided since 2003. There are over 600 houses in this community along with a high school that have been built by habitat.
These house provide shelter for people from the city along with work for local contractors that help with the more complicated parts of the build. The roads here were all made of dirt. We were initially thinking about ditching this part of the trip due to the long bus ride, but it turned out to be by far the most emotionally impactful.
When we got there, all the villagers were waiting in a line along with the Habitat Chairman who is blind. We took turns greeting them all and shaking their hands. Next they hosted a lottery process which was one of the most emotional experiences for me in a long time. All of the villagers help with the new houses and they don’t know which one they will get (this is to encourage them to work evenly on all properties in the community). They had a jar filled with rolled up papers and one by one we picked numbers out for each village. These were the numbers that would be used to determine their exact house. After each number was read, everybody would cheer and sing. This is a very rare experience and not something that all groups get to take part in. My number was 600 and it was for a lady with 3 children. The lady gave me a hug and was crying saying that it was a very “good house”. She told me thank you three times.
After that, she gave me a tour of the house. It was a super special experience. The bathrooms in the house still had the hole, but they were much cleaner than those in the city.
After presenting the houses, the villagers performed a song and dance as a thank you. They were all chanting lee-lee-lee-lee and doing sort of a one-two step crip walk and a chicken dance. We recorded the video.
Was thinking about joining in the dance, but wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate. After the dance, we were escorted to a tea ceremony where they served fresh baked bread and honey. It was delicious. At the ceremony, we also got to try Arekh. It is a home brewed vodka made in the village. It was extremely strong and a single sip heated my core completely. After the tea ceremony, we went outside and played soccer with a bunch of the kids.
The altitude made it very difficult to run. Literally, after one sprint you would be weasing. It was like playing hockey. The kids really enjoyed playing with us and afterwards we gave them Frisbees, a soccer ball and a jump rope. At one stage, there was a kid in a full suit running after a herd of goats and whipping them.
We were dying laughing. We found out that all the kids in rural villages attend school for free. It is amazing that Ethiopia is so safe with the amount of poverty around. Especially considering its neighboring countries are a disaster (Somalia, Sudan). People told us its because they have a strong government, that’s more a result of culture than a good reason. One of our guides said that they were never colonized.. They are very accepting of religion, sexuality, etc and have strong morals in general. After we left, I literally fell asleep as soon as I got home. There was a rainstorm, so we slept through the evening.
Monday April 7, 2014
Today we completed our build. We spent the morning building support for the roofing. We then used wooden ladders to climb up to the top and pour concrete into the roofing. Thankfully, we only needed about 2.5 mixes to finish the job. We didn’t get to finish the roofing as its too complicated a job for habitat workers. After we were done, we spent the rest of the morning taking pictures with the whole group and a Canadian flag which was pretty fun. Brandon and I got pics taking chin-ups beside each other on the doorway. In the afternoon, we went to Habitat headquarters and had a coffee ceremony with the Ethiopia Habitat team and a bunch of Ethiopians that would be using the toilet. It was cool to hear how happy they were. We learned that the current toilets they are using are almost falling down and are very dangerous. At the coffee ceremony, they recorded a speech from our team leader and also the Habitat Chairman. It was translated for both groups. At the end we were presented with a certificate and a small gift (plaque that could be hung on the wall). After this we had a free afternoon. I used it to do some work and workout with Alex. It was a pretty pathetic effort. I am really starting to feel like coming home. I am getting antsy to get back to work and I miss Meghan. I also am looking forward to seeing Barbie next weekend. I feel like after about 7–8 days, the food starts to get monotonous and you start to miss the comforts we have at home. We went out for dinner with the team during the evening for traditional Ethiopian at one of the bars we were served Tej before. IT was called Yod Abyssinia. Some of the team tried Tej and they also thought it was awful. I ate a massive plate of the Ethiopian food despite the fact that I don’t really like it. They had a really cool traditional Ethiopian show on at the same time. It consisted of four people playing strange instruments and tons of dancers in multiple costumes. They came into the audience and would dance with us and they had some excellent singers. I am trying to organize testing of our wireless prototype in Israel tonight, so I was a bit distracted and wanted to get back to the hotel to confirm. Whenever I am thinking about work, it makes it hard to relax.
Tues April 9, 2014
Today was the first day of R&R. For this R&R we travelled to Wenchi Crater in Wolliso. It was a cool experience, but we were in the bus from 8am — 3pm and then 6pm — 8pm. A 9 hour bus ride for a 3 hour hike, doesn’t really make sense. Our group is a bit pissed off, because we could’ve travelled somewhere Monday evening and had the whole day to enjoy the outdoors instead of sitting on a bus. We also could’ve organized a three day safari for a similar price. We are sort of bitter that we didn’t take better advantage and plan something ourselves (3 day safari in Tanzania could’ve been completed for $800). The hike at Wenchi lake was pretty cool. It was a 40 minute descent to a lake that is in a crater (70M deep even thought he whole surface area of the lake is only 500m). We went down a more adventurous path with very steep cliffs. The view was amazing and the water was very colorful. There was also an option to ride a mule down and back up, but we chose the additional exercise. The village was very unique. There were tons of kids running around asking for money and saying hello. It was weird to see a 4 year old taking care of a two year old. There was also a closed in fence with about 6 or 7 very young children. We joked that it was a prison for babies. It is a bit uncomfortable to have kids asking for money, especially because they don’t speak English so the only words they know are “give me money” which sounds like a demand. They were also asking for pens for school and we were kindve upset, because had we known in advance we could have brought boxes of pens. We still weren’t sure if this was because they needed them or if it was to sell. At the bottom of the crater we took a boat ride over to an island with a monastery from 1200AD. IT was a very tranquil place but was closed. We spent some time walking around the small island and our guide explained how the religious ceremonies and temples were built. Everybody in the crater makes boats and comes to the island for ceremonies on a weekly basis. We also learned that Ethiopians fast for 165 days per year. I quite enjoyed the island and found the atmosphere to be very relaxing. On our way back the hike uphill was much more challenging. My calfs were burning and I was completely out of breath. After the hike, we spent two hours driving to the Nagash Lodge in Wolliso. We all had dinner and then basically went to bed. Brandon, Sahand and I and two of the other team members drank some Arkesh (Brandon brought a bottle for the trip) and played Heads Up for about an hour before falling asleep.
Wed April 10
I think today will be my last journal entry. There is nothing super exciting happening at the moment. Alex and I woke up this morning and had a nice workout in the sun. Today is the first relaxation day where we have absolutely no plans and can spend the whole day in the sun. It is amazing. That being said, there is not much excitement left for the trip. I am primarily focused on trying to be healthy again and coming home. I am now really homesick and excited to see Barbie and Meghan this weekend. I am looking forward to my routine, to hockey, pilates, weights, seeing my trainer, seeing all my friends, going to farmers market in the morning, sleeping in my bed, starting work next week at Marks office, getting this wireless deal off the ground, etc. I am primarily thinking about what I will do when I get home and planning my first few days. I also really need a haircut! Spent most of the day at the pool. At first, I thought it was a bit unclean, but after a few minutes, I really enjoyed it. The pool was filled with natural hot springs water so was quite a nice temperature. We spent a few hours laying around. I was reading the book called Looptail — by Bruce Poontip. It’s the story of G Adventures ($150 mm annual sales = Canadian Company) and how to build a company culture. I want to visit their head office in Toronto when I return. Alex and I spent a bunch of time stretching in the pool which was really nice. The resort is cool. Its very run-down, but its about 15 lodges on a very jungle-y grounds. There is ping pong, billiards and a decent restaurant. For lunch, we had some traditional Ethiopian again along with fish (really bad) and a warm gazpacho soup which was good. There are a ton of monkeys on the property and they are a menace. There are two types (small brown ones and bigger black ones with a white streak). We watched them rip down the ping pong nets and also steal a pool ball. At lunch, they would sneak up to a table and steal bread right off. They would jump right over people and hit them if they were not looking. I don’t think you were supposed to feed them and I believe they started to swarm after Brandon gave them a bunch of cookies. Once the word got out, the bigger ones started to come and cause havoc. One of them got in a tree above us and peed all over Brandons bag. That was enough for us and we went inside. Monkeys are dirty animals. There is not internet at this place which is very annoying. After the day of swimming, I came back to room and took a nap.
Overall, in quick conclusion.. The project was amazing. I was happy I pushed myself to try something new and look forward to doing another one.