July 16

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Challenges Getting Started

How to pack for 6 months in Ethiopia?  Start by spending some time on the internet reading posts from previous Pulse volunteers, world travellers, and Peace Corps volunteers.  Recommendations typically included malaria prophylaxis, all medications and first aid supplies you may need, sunscreen, toiletries (including TP, Kleenex, and wet wipes) to last a couple months until local sources of similar products are found, special food items, rain gear for ‘winter’ (the rainy season), bug spray, camera, reading material, and clothes to cover a variety of temperatures.

After all of the planning, shopping, packing, and initial travel to Washington DC, I was physically and emotionally ready to board the plane for Addis Ababa (the capital city).  However, one of the very things I am going to Africa to experience also delayed my arrival and project start: a different sense of priorities and time/pace.  I knew there would be many challenges getting used to a new country, time zone, climate, nonprofit environment, new job etc.  What I didn’t anticipate was having significant challenges just trying to enter the country.  I now realize that I had a self-centered “Western” attitude: surely they were desperate for help and would do everything possible to help me get into the country for my volunteer assignment.

I’ve previously applied for African tourist visas and tend to have fairly good attention to detail when it comes to following Embassy instructions.  I knew a business visa would be more involved and started collecting the required documents nearly 7 weeks before my scheduled departure from the US.  Alas, a new step in the procedure, not disclosed on the Ethiopian Embassy US website, was added in January, so my application was rejected.  I did not have the required preapproval from the Main Department of Immigration and Nationality Affairs in Addis Ababa.  The Embassy assured me this was easy to obtain; however, it required the country director to personally go to the immigration office with the appropriate documentation.  Due to various factors, obtaining this approval caused a delay much longer than expected.  Not knowing if or when I was leaving the US was a daily frustration.

I did everything I could think of to foil Murphy’s Law without success.  I finally obtained a 30-day, single entry, business visa on 09 July and arrived in Addis Ababa on 11 July (24 days later than originally planned).  The visa will need to be renewed in 30 days, and then I’m being told I have to leave the country to restart the process after 60 days. A slow start, but hopefully getting settled will have fewer barriers.

There is an Ethiopian proverb that seems quite appropriate for my situation: “In its own good time, even an egg gets up and walks on its own legs.”  This early lesson learned will help remind me throughout the next 6 months that my ideas about the way things should be prioritized and accomplished will be vastly different from the ideas of my new coworkers.