02 June 2008

i guess it rains down in africa.

Pardon the almost-certainly nauseatingly bubbly idealism...it's been a
good (couple of) weeks. I even had broccoli and a vegetable woman in
the market is now bringing cauliflower and lettuce to Assela, saving
us trips to Adama. On the downside, we seem to alternate days with
and without electricity, hence the long delay in posts.

Our current record-longest dry spell is approximately 12 hours. Two
hours away, in Welenchiti, is a desert that's seen two days of rain in
the last two weeks. A few thousand feet of altitude makes all the
difference. Speaking of altitude, I had my first "I live here and am
used to the lack of oxygen" moment during a tour of the Assela Biofarm
with a group of NGO and AU representatives. As we were hiking up a
steep hill of terraced gardens, a breathless American asked about the
altitude and I realized I'd stopped noticing. Well, only while
walking - I still can't run to save my life.

On the topic of that tour, Biofarm is an Ethiopian NGO that does
research in sustainable agriculture and trains farmers in low-cost,
eco-friendly, organic techniques. They have eight sites around
Ethiopia, including a massive one in Assela, all of which are powered
by biogas (derived from the fermenting excrement of a dozen cows or
so). I'm just bursting with excitement about working with them - they
espouse a well-rounded approach, adding some conservation, health
education, and family planning into farm training (because what's the
point of growing extra food for profit if you still have too many
mouths to feed?). They run a kindergarten and college (degrees in
natural resource management and environmental science) in Addis and
are basically my dream work partner. The director is a jolly
energetic man who is almost as excited as we are to work with Peace
Corps volunteers and is incredibly supportive of even our most
outlandish pipe dream proposals. It's so nice to feel productive and
useful at last!

I'm working with Biofarm Addis to develop a partnership with UF (the
Gator Nation is everywhere...) and create a eco-tourism branch of the
organization to increase publicity and provide some income to fund
start-up grants for farmers and other groups. In Assela, I'll be
working on a resource library and establishing an information-sharing
network with the other sites. Since their primary purpose in life is
training people in sustainable farming, I'll be trying to partner them
with a variety of groups for income generation - PLWHAs (see below),
commercial sex workers, and prisoners, for starters. So excited I
could soil myself.

When it rains, it pours (literally and metaphorically). The PLWHA
group I met with months ago about income generation has woken back up
and things are suddenly moving forward again. A group of commercial
sex workers has joined, but since giving up that work is a
prerequisite for membership, starting IG projects has become more
urgent. They were recently evicted from their office (since these
groups rarely have money, any land or facility they use is usually
gifted to them by the municipality, who can reclaim it at their
pleasure), so while a VSO volunteer and I attempt to guilt the local
government into donating some new, more permanent land, the members
are preparing budgets for start up costs so we can apply for grants.
I think we'll start with chicken-raising (eggs mainly, but also meat)
since it's low-risk and has been extremely successful with other
groups. If we can get the money and/or land, we want to expand to
cows and vegetable gardening (with help from Biofarm, naturally) for
both nutritional support and profit.

I just stumbled across a new English Language school in Assela that's
looking to start interactive teaching (as opposed to the strictly
lecture-based style prevalent in Ethiopia), so that'll be a fun
project too.

It's such a refreshing feeling to have enough going on in my work to
warrant scheduling in advance. I'd almost forgotten how to say, "No,
I can't, I already have something that day."

At long last, photos:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2480158&l=25661&id=2001205

Sarah and Mary Ann, thanks for the packages!

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