At GSK one of the key behaviours highlighted for good performance is flexible thinking. Africa excels at this behaviour in so many ways that once you have experienced it you will never say “I can’t do that” again. The can-do attitude is inspirational and astonishing, and it makes you realise that the small opportunities can suddenly open doors to make incredible things happen.
Back in Addis Ababa, after the first field visit, I had a day at to explore before heading out to the south hub for the second half of the trip. Finding my colleagues at the guest house we went for a day of exploring armed with a photocopy of the Lonely Planet. I didn’t go with high expectations for the city given the listed top attraction, Merkato was described as “rewarding as it is exasperating” followed by “You may also find that your wallet has been stolen and that you’ve got stinky excrement on your shoe.”…..GREAT -SIGN ME UP!
Merkato did not disappoint, but not for the reasons listed in the guide book. The bright colours, rabbit warren of mud tracks and endless ‘tour guides’ was a real adventure and I was glad I got to experience Africas largest market. I didn’t come away with any gifts for the family, mainly because my suitcase wouldn’t fit one of the many millions of mattresses, tinsel or jelly shoes on offer (gutted, as I do love a jelly shoe). BUT I did see many examples of how with a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit and that Can-Do attitude people can find ways to make the most of the resources available to them.
There wasn’t much time to take in Addis before moving South to Hawassa for the next part of the visit.
Hawassa is the capital of the southern state and is a beautiful up and coming tourist destination set on the side of the lake. The city has JUST opened an airport, it was a bit of a different experience to Heathrow, probably best described as rustic and no queues! The plan was to visit more feeding sites and get an appreciation for the challenges faced in different parts of the country in collecting distributing and analysing programme data. As we arrived at the South hub our agenda was thrown in the air as the only access road to the feeding sites were along a route that had reported rebel clan fighting along it. The South Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), has around 50 clans, with as many languages. This can occasionally lead to clan fighting over land, however on this occasion it was more to do with anti government protests. There are ongoing disagreements across the country with the ruling party, and clashes occur frequently, particularly when students go back to university.
Some of the objectives of the visit were to see how CMAM report works for programming, learn from experiences on the ground to share with other users and get feedback and recommendations for future developments of the system.
So a change of plan, which actually worked out well for the project. It gave me longer to conduct focus groups with the emergency nutrition team who were all so open to sharing their experiences and had some really good learnings to share on methods of training, how the system can work in emergency settings and adaptations that can be shared with other groups, showing how flexible the tool can be when applying flexible thinking.
I was in town for the religious festival of Meskel-“Finding of the True Cross”. This is an Orthodox festival, but is embraced by all beliefs (and a public holiday). It is believed that after Christ died on the cross, the crucifix was split into 4 quarters and buried around Africa. One of the quarters was found in Ethiopia-the foundation of the celebration. I was lucky enough to be chaperoned by my host and other SC staff to the main event. Holy readings were sang, accompanied by hypnotic dancing and after about 2 hours of ceremony a cross was burned on a bonfire. Everyone celebrating in the city wears white, apart from the church members who wear brightly coloured robes depending on the church the belong to (I didn’t get the memo and turned up in black!). This may have been the reason I stood out enough to be approached by Southern TV for an interview. I had to ask for a quick crash course in the history of the festival and managed to blag my way though (luckily it wasn’t live!). The street parties, fireworks and sacrificing of cows went on all night –it was a real carnival atmosphere!
I was also privileged to be invited to my hosts family house to share the Meskel breakfast with them. Amazing home made curry, injera, bread and an Ethiopian history lesson from my hosts dad! It was a fantastic experience I won’t forget.