Dear Paul, Opening days in Addis….

Hi Paul,

Great to hear from you and thank you for Abbas’ details. I will definitely contact him later in the week.

I landed in Addis yesterday morning however I’ll refer to today as Day 1 as Day Zero was pretty turbulent.

Touch down!

I’ll admit that yesterday might have been a difficult day even if I had not been forced to leave the airport without one of my checked bags and one of my laptops. Sleep deprived and soaked through by the big fat rain drops that fall here, I found it difficult to warm-up; physically and mentally. People, temperatures and vistas are all so different and I wondered had I underestimated the undertaking…. That said, the latter part of the day brought some victories; Skype is NOT illegal, Viber works, my luggage was located in London and IVY!!

Ivy is my GSK colleague (from US Pharma) who has already been here 3 months volunteering with Save the Children. Ivy knows what’s needed and how to get it. She has a commanding presence from the get-go. People here respect my US colleague, and probably owing to her, irrepresive smile, like me, already they like her. With Ivy at my side, my grim room was upgraded to a kind of one bed apartment (still no heat or hot water though and there’s a crack in the wall that let’s in water when it rains!), I got an Ethiopian mobile no and a wifi/3G package for my laptop so I’m on-line!

As we trailed some of the streets, my eyes started to adjust. I have to remind myself that this is one of the main streets in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and the seat of the African Union. Damp, muddy paths lined on one side by corragated sheets of iron, a busy, beeping, unruly road on the other. All of the cars look as if that they were originally produced in the 80’s, driven into the ground , scrapped and have somehow miracously come back to life – just about. Multi-coloured doors, mismatching tyres, pull-up locks and wind-down windows. And these are mostly the taxis!

In between the rusty metal and the impatient drivers is what I’m trying to take in without looking too hard. Mostly, everyone is black with slender, sometimes almost sharp facial features. Pretty faces with beautiful eyes. They don’t seem to be a very tall people and have narrow carriages, especially the men.

This is what Janet gently prepared me I think. People are mostly busy in the street with a great variety of activity; old men rest rifles on their lap in doorways, whilst in theirs, mothers squat on street corners with their young, suckling infants. Then there’s the young boys darting about, selling phone cards and chewing gum and the groups of teenage girls chatting and giggling just like teenage girls everywhere. Most of the younger generation wear western clothes; the boys look tousled and their clothes beaten up but the girls appear carefully put together. My most enduring memory so far is one of a beautiful little girl (age 4/5) on the street outside the Friendship Mall. Upon catching my vulnerable eye she ran up to me and thrust her arms out, wearing the widest smile. She was adorable, begging politely through her smile, eyes wide open and skipping alongside me. She caught me on our way back too. I really wished I could have been alone so that I could have stopped and given her something. I’m sure I’ll see her again but if I don’t I hope it’s because she’s come upon better fortune.

It’s an interesting melting pot with the haves and have-not just like so many other places. Only here, I feel the have-nots really have very, very little. Very little shelter and very little food. Limited options too I suspect. I really feel for them because it’s cold (i’m cold even though well dressed) and they look hungry.

I wasn’t hungry because I had Ivy! She took me to the Restaurant Amsterdam.  Unbelievably I had Penne Arabbiatta with chicken – one of my all time favourite meals – and it was good! It cost £12 for bread, two main courses, two glasses of wine, tax and service charge. Cheap, I was surprised how much so.

As exhausted as I was, sleep was still hard to find last night. It all felt so new and different and I was apprehensive about starting a new job in the morning. That brings me to Day 1 which is what I had intended to write you about – lol! That will have to wait as it’s getting late here now and it’s been another long day. It started unhappily with no hot water but ended well with a mercy mission to the airport and recovering my luggage! In between, it was filled with surprises such as warmer temperatures this morning, a massive electrical storm this afternoon, seeing Bill Gates in person (!) and the on-set of altitude sickness (I’d forgotten I’m 7,400ft above sea level vs London’s 49!).

All said and done though, it was my new work that was the most exciting outcome of Day 1. Learning more about the Millenium Villages Project and what my role will be… it seems that there is scope for me to define my objectives based on where I believe I can have the greatest impact and will likely spend more time in the Tigray region than in Addis. I am really looking forward to speaking with Abbas especially as one of my three project areas will be silk worm farming. Unbelievably (to me at least), Dr. Hailay today spoke about the lady you and Janet mentioned and her produce (Janet mentioned the beautiful scarves), I will be trying to arrange a visit to her. For its 78 million population, I’m starting to think that Ethiopia might actually be as small as Ireland!

Anyway, I hope this finds yourself and Janet well and I’ll write with more news soon.

Take care for now,


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  1. Pingback: Dear Paul, Opening days in Addis…. | GSK PULSE Volunteers
  2. Great stuff, Niamh. Your Granda Fitz would be so proud of your blog. Like auntie, like niece, my first day in New York in a different century was so difficult for many reasons, mainly that our US host had died suddenly while we were actually somewhere over the Atlantic. My first letter home is heartbreaking (I all but begged my parents to come get me!!) but the second one is much more positive and I never looked back. Took a while to settle in though, no mobiles; no internet and international phone calls had to be booked days in advance! You will be grand, pet. All our love. Colette and the Gang XXX

  3. Hi Niamh, I removed your phone number since it’s generally not a good idea to post it publically. Great post though- good luck getting settled. I’m glad you found Ivy 🙂

  4. Hey Niamh, I feel like a rock star. Thanks for the honorable mention. We will continue to explore together regardless of what.

  5. Thanks Niamh for taking the time and effort in posting your blog. Looks fascinating yet kinda scary too. We are so well looked after here. Keep up the blogs. Take care and have fun.

  6. All sounds so intriguing and full of life.Feels like watching a movie but you are in it. It also made me think that we are so hooked to our internet connections, telecommunications. I think only with these kinds of experiences, we get a chance to go deeper into ourselves, finding reflections of new people on ourselves and getting to know ourselves again. Your gifts will be on the way to you tomorrow. Lots of Love – when is best to call you? Ishil x

  7. Hi Niamh, Happy New Year to you. I have been following your blog sent a reply earlier in the year and it has not appeared. Never mind – it was to say thank you for sharing your journey and insights and to congratulate you on giving Michael Palin a run for his money lol. Your descriptions and accounts of your time in Ethiopia and how the cultural differences assault one’s senses reminded me of my time in Senegal. There is such a contrast between how little these people have and yet how rich and gracious they are in terms of giving of themselves. I have enjoyed the photo’s and it’s great to hear of the projects you are embarking on. Really pleased and proud of you – take care Pauline Woolford x

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