Gary O'Neal - General Journalism Projects in Ethiopia
Addis comes at you from all directions. For someone who lives in southern Oregon in the woods, Addis is a big change. First, you have the people. They are everywhere! With a population estimated to be over 6,000,000, you are never alone. This is not a problem, really, but takes a little getting used to, if you come from a quiet, rural area. And they are so friendly! If you have any kind of a problem, like finding the correct shared taxi, or where to get off once you are on, someone always offers to help. And Addis is a very safe city, much safer than many large cities in the United States.
You do, however, have to watch where you walk, especially at night.Many of the streets are dirt or rock based, and can have bumps and holes. And during the day, the traffic can be daunting. Busses, trucks, shared taxis, Lada taxis, cars, and even a few bicycles and motorcycles are everywhere! Oh, and I forgot the hand pulled carts, donkeys, and flocks of sheep! So you need to watch where you are going. Vehicles do not normally stop for people, and you have to look both ways before crossing streets, and also be careful when crossing driveways, especially those with lots of traffic, such as gas stations.
And the sun and sometimes the wind: At over 8,000 feet elevation and near the equator, the sun can be very warm. I put on sunscreen lotion every day, and still am developing a very nice tan. The wind comes and goes, and cools things down. It can also raise dust, when it really starts to blow, which can be a minor irritation.
Little shops and stores are everywhere. You don’t have to travel far to get what you need. And you don’t have to pay much for what you get. Everything is so inexpensive! To travel around the city in a shared taxi costs about US 20 cents, and a nice meal in a restaurant is about US $2.00. It costs a lot to get here by plane, but once here you can live for almost nothing.
Living accommodations are tight, but adequate. My wife and I have a small room of our own, and share a bathroom with another volunteer, which works out fine. Our family is wonderful! They are constantly trying to please us, and there are no words in English to adequately describe how friendly and helpful they are. If we have a problem, it becomes their problem, and they resolve it. They cook, they clean, and even do our laundry - for a small fee. The food is very good, and we get lots of it. In fact, we often get too much! Sometimes, I think, eating and food are equated with satisfaction and happiness. The more you eat, the happier they are!
My job in journalism is quite interesting. It involves editing articles for a weekly business newsletter, and as I edit I read and learn more about Ethiopia. Poverty is a serious problem here. Yet the economy is growing very fast now, about 10% a year, and new buildings and high-rises are going up everywhere. The country has enough land and water to support its 70,000,000 plus people, but good governance has been a problem in the past. The per capita GDP is about US $100.
I was frankly worried about the fishbowl effect before arriving here. You know, the idea that you are always being looked at, that little kids will be pestering you all the time, that you may be hassled a lot… But this has not been a problem at all! Addis is a very accommodating city for foreigners, and problems are few.
Without a doubt, this month with Projects Abroad in Ethiopia has been one of the highlights of my life, and this is from someone who has lived in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, and who has visited other countries as well. Ethiopia is unique, its people are genuine, hardworking, and honest, and being here has truly been a privilege.