A few words on my week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

On the first day I felt as though I had landed in paradise, and that feeling has not lessened in the few days I’ve been in Addis Ababa! Of course everything is relative, and most of the people I’ve met here have grumbled and complained about life here, but as I’m coming from Liberia, this is relatively close to paradise! It helps immensely that I’m being hosted by my friend in her cosy house with wonderful garden. She’s introduced me to all manner of interesting people and we’ve eaten at several lovely restaurants. Aside from the intimidating government (they just banned Skype) and the lack of big modern shopping centres with well stocked shops, I can’t think of anything to complain about! Addis does not feel like a city of 5-7 million people and the parts I’ve seen of it have been easy to move around. I admit I’m moving in the expat world, but I move in the expat world in Liberia too and I know which of the two I would prefer! This is not Nairobi, or Dakar, or Joburg, but there’s a lot going on because it has the African Union HQ and there’s a big presence of UN and international organisations. There is potential for things to move ahead and in the meantime, its definitely possible to have a comfortable and interesting professional life in Addis. I will continue to explore the options!!

Hopefully these few photos can be uploaded….

I don’t know how many people have heard of InterNations, but I had the chance to go to the 5th InterNations event in Addis and it was so cool! For people who move to a new country to live, InterNations helps to connect people to the expat network so that they can find their way around the new location as well as meet like-minded interesting people. The whole objective is to ‘bring global minds together’! It worked so well in the last event, a dinner at Top View restaurant in Addis (my photos are on the IN Addis website). I’m a member in Liberia’s InterNations network, but I don’t think they’ve ever had an event in Monrovia. I will be curious to see what potential there is to activate such a network in Liberia.

It’s been a fruitful and amazing holiday in Addis. I will come again! When I return tomorrow I will fly with a head full of ideas and plans which should sustain me for the next period in Liberia and also help me to do something to rescue my pathetic career! Cheers for now!

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The road to Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County

The main thing everyone mentions in reference to Gbarpolu County is the road! Oh my goodness…the road!! We drove to Bopolu City in March and it wasn’t the worst road I’ve seen in Liberia, but it certainly is tedious. The things is that this road is repaired and cared for. Beyond the county HQ into the more rural areas, the roads are worse. Three of the six districts are inaccessible by 4×4 for most of the year. The UN military engineering unit was out repairing the road before the onset of the rainy season, so here are a few photos of them in action.

Personally for me, the main problem with Gbarpolu is not the road, it is the lack of food! If you don’t have contacts or people to care for you, then the constant drama of daily life will revolve around food and the never-ending question of “what am I going to eat for my next meal?” The UN staff there rely on each other to bring supplies every time they travel from Monrovia and that is what sustains them. We only saw small stalls such as you see here and there was no fresh produce to be found anywhere.

The oddest contrast of Gbarpolu is that it has the largest newest court building I have seen outside of Monrovia. It is almost completed but not yet connected to generators or operational. Why they need such an audacious building in a remote and humble county, defies my logic.

Just so you do not think that UN staff live in luxury – this is a photo of the guesthouse accommodation provided to us by the UN for a nightly fee of USD35! I had nightmares of imprisonment but cannot think what might have brought that on!!

So that’s Gbarpolu County. The HQ is only 3 – 4 hours driving up from Monrovia, but due to the bad road it feels as isolated as the counties in the south-east that take 10 hours+ to drive to. There really is nothing there to comment on and life is spent in the compound every evening and weekend just to enjoy the power and internet. It is not an easy life at all. As usual I admire all our staff who do good work and make it tough in rural Liberia!

Welcome to Cestos City!

At the end of the dusty track is a small town on a peninsular between the Cestos River and the Atlantic Ocean. But you have to drive the 4+ hour journey yourself to fully appreciate the humour to the sign, “Welcome to Cestos City!”

We visited there recently and stayed in a local guesthouse which provided me with a far better sleep than I’ve had in UN guesthouses in other parts of the country. A clean simple room with a mosquito net, large bed, sea breeze, and a bucket of warm water to wash with in the morning – what else does a gal need for her US$25? If it were not for the generosity of the Ghanian peace-keepers who provided meals for us, it would be difficult to manage as a visitor. Food is not available on the streets and I don’t know how often there is a local market. The only way to make it for a long stay is to find a house/room to rent – you may have to find a partly constructed house and complete the building yourself – and set up a means to cook for yourself everyday with supplies brought in from Monrovia or Buchanan. You can get fresh or smoked fish which is the enormous benefit of living on the coast! Our staff spend most of the evenings and weekends in the office where there is 24-hour power and internet access most of the time. (Cestos does not have a functioning light or power grid nor running water as is the norm for all places outside of Monrovia.)

The County Superintendent (who has just been reappointed by the President for another term) is quite active. He moves everywhere with his iPad showing photos of building projects and he has quite a few plans to develop the county. He has started a new road and wants to encourage people to eventually move to a new part of the town as sea erosion will eventually inundate the current town centre. Unlike many Superintendents he spends most of his time in the county and he appears to enjoy the job and be competent to plan and manage the work well.

Somehow despite the difficulties, I quite like Cestos. It is a quiet village with a restful feel to it. Perhaps I like it better because it is on the coast I have an affinity for the beach),or perhaps the functional County Administration brings a different sense of hope, but whatever the reason, if you get posted to Cestos you should not be too despairing – there are many worse places to be!

These photos will illustrate some of the sights of Cestos City…

2011: Every holiday was a safari!

Well I must say that the true genius of 2011 was my holiday planning!! On that score the year rocked! If anyone questions my planning and organising skills, I’ll just point them to my awesomely planned holiday schedule!! Aside from my annual journey down-under, in 2011 every holiday was a safari!!

I won’t gloat too much, but 2011 allowed me to enjoy safaris in 3 national parks in South Africa, plus a sublime month-long safari which took us through Botswana, Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania/Zanzibar!! I simply haven’t had time to edit the 15,000+ photos I took in that month!! What a blast that was…2011 was the ‘year of the safari!’

So, allow me to indulge in a few safari references to illustrate the year that was.

The 6 am rises for the morning game-drives quickly settle into the ‘safari rhythm’ and you start to appreciate the momentum of the morning dawn experienced while bumping across the savannah and the sundowners enjoyed to the fading light of the sunset. [2011 was my 3rd year in Liberia and life had developed a largely dull and unchallenging routine. I can’t say that I like it much, but I am grateful to be here and there are some enticing opportunities emerging on the horizon.]

The anticipation of the chase and the kill are definitely high adrenelin moments of any safari. You have to be alert and ready because even though the hunt can take time, the kill can be over in seconds. But after the kill, you do think of the victim – the sweet baby antelope that just happened to become the leopard’s dinner. [There were moments in 2011, when I felt like I was being hunted by a pack of nasties trying (and failing) to make me their victim! Lesson: stay alert and don’t become anyone’s ‘kill’!]

 

 

 

 

 

The safari experience is best enjoyed with like-minded friends and/or photography buffs. Sharing the vehicle with restless bores is definitely excruciating and I find I don’t have patience any more for difficult and complex people in my social life!  [In 2011, more friends left my social circle than entered it so I have ended up in a deficit of like-minded people around me…except that my new friends are outside my work-life and they’re pretty cool!]

Open spaces, rare opportunities, and splendid skies. Safaris always restore my sense that it is great to be alive and moving in god’s creation, spotting rare wild creatures under an enormous blue canvas sky. [Even though Liberia’s skies are often hazy and grey the wet season can bring some spectacular thunderstorms, enormous clouds, and beautiful sunsets. Whatever the weather, I am grateful to be here: alive, exploring, and ready for more!]

I hope that 2011 was a splendid journey for all my friends and readers.

I wish that 2012 will be a superb safari for you all!

A year of adventure, unexpected surprises, natural beauty, 

and wild possibilities!!!

Life is a safari!

Real Man helps his Wife in the Home

This is my favourite social awareness sign in Liberia! I pointed it out to the three Liberian men I was travelling with while in Voinjama recently. Two of them who drive past the sign daily, claimed to have never seen it! The billboard is part of the programme to stop Gender Based Violence and is a fabulous effort but I’m not sure if any Real Man is paying heed to the message!!

Real Man Helps His wife in the Home – I certainly hope so 🙂