Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mother Nature and the Metropolis

As those of us in New York (and the entire tri-state area) wake up today to the stunning effects of flood, wind, and rain after Hurricane Sandy slammed into us, it’s hard to ignore the power of Mother Nature.  

If you have ever walked the streets of Manhattan, you can appreciate the imperious influence of man; from towering skyscrapers to bustling subway lines, this is a confident metropolis. Our lights blaze through the night and we come and go without any concern for time or tide.

But we’ve been humbled by water today.

View of East River and Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Promenade
The pier is being transformed into a public park.

View of East River and Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Promenade
(as the storm and the high tide arrived)

A view of East River and Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Promenade
10/29/2012  (high tide).
The river run through the park and over the piers.
Most of downtown
(but for the new World Trade Center building) have gone dark.

A view of East River and Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Promenade
10/29/2012  (high tide).
The river runs through the park and over the piers.
 Much of downtown has gone dark. 

Friday, October 26, 2012


 When I run in Ethiopia, I look out and see eucalyptus trees and rivers. – Haile Gebrselassie

Because Ethiopia has been discussed in two of my previous conversations (Mebrahtu Waits for Snow and The Curious Mind), I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of my experiences as a traveler in the country.

I went to Ehtiopia during the Easter week of 2011.  There on break from my teaching job in Ghana, I had time to spend two days in Addis Ababba, and a few days each in the lake town of Bahar Dar and the fascinating city of Harar.

Vibrant religious images on a monastery in the middle of Lake Tana

Easter Sunday at the monastery

As Alem and Mebrahtu both acknowledge, many Americans fixate on images of poverty and strife when they think of Ethiopia.  I certainly went with some long-held notions of famine in mind, but it didn’t take long before I came to appreciate the beauty of both the people and the place. 

My week included an Easter morning tour of monasteries on Lake Tana, amazing meals in Addis, and an unforgettable journey through a town visited as much by hyenas as it is by tourists. 

Market Day in Harar
I traveled alone and on a restricted budget without any trouble.  It was easy to hop in vans that went from city to city, and once you've arrived, there is an adorable little vehicle called a “bajaj” that gets you anywhere you need to go.  And, if you want to take to the skies, you can book in-country flights through Ethiopian Airlines from Addis to some of the larger towns for a reasonable price.

I loved Ethiopia.  It’s unlike any place I’ve ever traveled before.  The history is complicated and gender inequities are undeniable, but there is so much more to the country than what the headlines would have us believe.

A multicultural and remarkable town

A girl in the Harar market

A Meat Market in Harar, Ethiopia
The crowded meat market

Sorting coffee beans in Harar

Where to stay when you visit Harar:  Rewda Guest House.  
This is a beautiful B&B.  You’ll need to consult Lonely Planet to get a working number for the place and you must book ahead.  Be prepared to encounter reservation problems.  Be open to staying at her sister’s place (Zubeyda Waber Harar Cultural Guesthouse) if your room is (for whatever reason) no longer available.  Cost: about $20 per night. 

Where to stay when you visit Bahir Dar: Kuriftu Resort 
This is where I highly recommend splurging on a fancy resort.  For $100 I got a gorgeous room with a view of the lake, a feather bed, a huge shower, access to the pool, three meals, a massage and mani-pedi.  It was heaven. http://www.kurifturesortspa.com

Where to stay when you visit Addis Ababa: Harmony Hotel: Good location, provides a free breakfast, and is within walking distance of some great restaurants. About $65.00 a night.  http://www.harmonyhotelethiopia.com

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Curious Mind

This interview introduces Alem, a passionate scientist and mathematician from Mekele, Ethiopia.  Raised and educated within the SOS Village of Mekele, Alem is funny, ambitious, and kind.  He has an incisive mind and an open heart.  

What excites you about math and science?
Both the theoretical and the practical applications of math and science have always fascinated me. Through Math and Science I was able to understand the logic behind the nature of the universe and how we can make the best out of it. I have always been very curious about why things behave the way they are and science was always there to provide me with satisfying answers.   

What thoughts, hopes, or fears did you have about leaving Africa for your university studies?

The idea of coming to the US to attend college education has been my lifelong dream; so you can imagine how excited I was about leaving Africa for University studies. I knew this could be a major life change that could shape the course of my life and I was so keen to make the best out of this golden opportunity.

However, it was not still easy to leave home, family and friends. And there is also the fear of culture shock. But I was able to embrace my fears by realizing how leaving home can mean new adventures and new friends.

Thus far, what has been the most difficult challenge of adapting to life in North America? (Food? Language? Culture? Etc)

Adapting to life in the US was not as much a challenge, not at least to the extent I expected.  I found it fairly easy to integrate with the society as the people are used to tolerating differences in culture and language. Well, I, of course, encountered a bit of culture shock but was not that difficult to handle.

What (so far) seems to be the biggest difference between life in Ethiopia and life in the United States?

One of the major differences is the extent of complexity of the society. Here in the US, life is highly influenced by technology and the society is somewhat sophisticated and more organized. On the other hand, life in Ethiopia is a very simple one in its kind and the system lacks organization. And, Ethiopians give more value to social life than their American counter parts.

What do you miss most about Ethiopia?

I miss my family and my best friends, who never failed to make me smile every day.

What do you (or would you) tell Americans about Ethiopia that they don’t seem to understand?

Not just Americans but most people of the world seem to have a wrong perception of Ethiopia. They usually perceive it as a model of war, famine and draught, which was the picture of the country two or three decades ago. While I can’t deny the fact that Ethiopia is still one of the poorest countries in the world; I can’t also negate the fact that my country is one of the fastest growing countries and one of the most stable, peaceful countries which could be a model to many African Nations.

Why did you choose to come to the US for your university studies? 

I choose to study in the US because of the Educational system of the country. I have been specially intrigued by the prevalence of liberal arts curriculum in most of the US Colleges, which is not the case in many countries including my country Ethiopia. I always wanted my college life to be a time to acquire diverse knowledge and experience from different endeavors, not just to be trained for a career.  I wanted to be taught the skill of learning itself and through the liberal arts education that many US Colleges offer I can have all this. And, thanks to God I have already started to taste the fruits of this kind of education.

Were you always motivated to succeed as a student?  If not, who/what inspired you?

I would say I was, because education was the only way I could see the bright future, the way to fantasize my dreams. And my passion to turn my dreams to reality motivated me to succeed as a student.

What are your goals as a student?

My goal as a student is to make the best out of my four year college life. I want the next four years to be times when I will be well trained to tackle challenges and obstacles. I also aim to pass at least three or four Actuarial exams during my 4 year period.