Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ethiopia 2017 - Day 2. Wandering aimlessly through Addis Ababa

After trying many times to contact Dr. Getachew to no avail (I was using Skype, because of course my cell phone does not work here) I decided it was time to go looking for him in person. Crazy idea given that Addis has about 4 million people, but my friend Steve Engfer (my one person support team in California) had given me a general idea of the part of the city where his organic farming project was located.

But first a car. Renting a car is not at all straightforward, because none of the big agencies have offices in Ethiopia. Using the magic of the internet I located the ABC Rental Agency, conveniently located a mile or so from my hotel. Yes, they had a car for rent for 12 days for a modest 575 birr per day (about US$25). However, I needed to leave a deposit of 10,000 birr in cash, which was a lot more than the 4,000 birr I can get from the ATM machines in a day. Rats! Then I though I could go to a bank and get a cash advance on my credit card, but then I did a crucial mistake: The quantity became 100,000 birr in my confused brain! Fortunately the bank came to my partial rescue and said they couldn’t do more than 50,000 birr. “Fine”, I thought, “better than nothing”. I only realized my mistake until the helpful cashier placed a brick of bills in front of me! I kid you not, all 50,000 birr, in 50 birr notes, occupied the volume of a shoe box. Ay, ay, ay. Let me see, 1 dollar is equal to 23 birr, so 50,000 birr is the equivalent to US$ 2,174. Way too much.

So from now on I will be paying everything in cash, but I am pretty sure I am going to end bringing a lot of birrs to Ghana. I wonder if I can convert them there to Ghanian currency? I know what you are thinking: Why not convert them to dollars? Well, Ethiopia needs dollars, so they make it difficult to buy dollars. I wonder if Western Union would let me wire them to Faby? I will just have to play it by ear.

Putting financial concerns aside, I was now confronted with finding the so-called Bio Farm. But now I have a car, so I can get lost to my heart’s content. Yes, I got a bit lost, but I asked here and there and finally found the Green Valley Hotel, secured a room, and went out looking for the French Embassy (Steve had given me two landmarks, the French Embassy and the Yeha Science & Technology Academy). I had a vague recollection of both places, so asking here and there I finally found both places (they are about 2 kilometers apart along a wide boulevard I didn’t remember at all), but not the dinky cobblestone street that I remembered going to the Bio Farm 17 years ago. I was ready to throw the towel because everyone I asked shrugged shoulders and told me they knew nothing about a Bio Farm when suddenly a nice man in a car overheard the question, told me to follow his car, and delivered me to a gate right along the wide boulevard I had by then traversed several times. The boulevard was the dinky street I remembered!

Getachew of course was not there, but the guys at the Bio Farm called him and 10 minutes later I was able to embrace my old friend.

Dr. Getachew Tikubet is an entomologist by training, but over the last 20 years he has fought a one man crusade to promote organic agriculture, and the small integrated farm that can produce enough for a family to live comfortably year round. He is against the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and favors manuring, composting, and the use of the right bugs to achieve good agricultural production. He has now 40 Bio Farms across Ethiopia, and is widely recognized as one of the top agronomists of the country. He has the vision that cooperation with CSU universities could be tremendously helpful to Africa in general, and Ethiopia in particular, in the concatenated sectors of development of water resources, development of alternative energy resources, and food production (i.e., agronomy and animal husbandry). How to bring this vision to fruition is the challenge. “So we must meet to plan. Let’s do it on Monday. We can call US AID and the Minister of Education. Maybe we organize a Forum.” I like Getachew very much, and respect him for all he has accomplished in the 17 years I have known him, but I hope we don’t spend the next 12 days planning (I fully intend to wedge in some tourism and fun).

We finished the day going to the market place so I could buy a simple cell phone and its SIM card. So now I have an African cell phone! While in Ethiopia my number will be
+1 251 98 824 3966 (the 251 is the country code for Ethiopia). Cool! 

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