I thought I’d add all the back posts I have written so far and then update you all on what’s going on here. Today was day one of the workshop, which has gone well despite some of the difficulties you might be hearing about in town. There’s been some political riots since the OAU summit is going on here (if I get time I’ll give some of the background I got from Prof. Makki before I left) and clamp down in retalitation to that. However, we are all safe here in the ILRI compound which is outside the city. We’re not going into the city and nothing is happening out here. What we are hearing is through word of mouth and the Internet. It is like another world out here–campus buildings and green manicured lawns and conference spaces–very separated and very odd to hear about what’s supposed to be going on in the city. I’m getting your emails (thanks everybody!) but am having to snatch time between workshop sessions to reply and post to this blog (we go from 8:30 Am – 6 PM). Mom, I’ll call you again tomorrow during lunchtime (very early morning your time-sorry!) since I can only make international calls during working hours (8:15 AM-5 PM our time here, which I think is about 1:15 AM – 10 AM your time). But I’ll try to keep up the blog regularly so you can hear how things are going. You can also leave me comments here or email me (both will get emailed to me).
So far, all I’ve seen of Addis has been the airport (new) and the ILRI campus, which is just near the airport and very nice. It’s all it’s own little gated town actually. There’s housing (both guest and permanent), a club with swimming pool and tennis courts, a cafeteria, and research buildings and a clinic which I haven’t seen yet. We spent most of yesterday preparing for the workshop and today giving it all day. Tonight I’m going back to my room to type up my other blog entries so more to come. . .
ETA: Update on the Actual Day (added 11/5/05)
So day 1 of the workshop and lesson one in “things in Africa will not work how you expect them to work.” I am trying to phone Elizabeth Giorgis, the director of the Institute for Ethiopian Studies who Professor Ayele Bekerie suggested I contact, at 8:30 like I said I would, find out after some tries that I need to add a 0 to the number I’m dialing, then try again and after no success learn that the number I’m dialing is a mobile number and only fixed lines can be dialed from the rooms. Anything else has to be called from reception. So I go over to reception and they put me through and I talk to Elizabeth and arrange to try to come to the Institute and the museum the Monday before I leave, if the troubles aren’t still happening. So, happy that I have made a contact and got that much accomplished, I decide to change money in the 15 minutes I have left. But I have to get my passport and it’s becoming clear that all of these things are processes that are going to take much longer than I think.
I head into the workshop where an administrator from ILRI welcomes us and then Gracian starts. Looking at him work you can see how long he has been doing this and how well he does it. He just makes it all looks natural (which I learn from experience, it is not). He’s clear, professional, engaging, charming and interactive. Everybody is good but I realize I have a lot to learn. Lesson 2 in things will not happen how you expect comes when we start to look at the logisitics of packing 23 people into a room with 13 computers. Also I start my presentation and find we cannot log on two of the computers and the live internet demo, which I didn’t even think to mention, can’t happen until I am actually hooked up to the Internet. There are only a small number of connections available in the room and the laptop that we were presenting on wasn’t one of them. Gracian and Steve sorted me out and things got under way though. I’ll know next time what seems to the African trainer’s motto: “Plan, plan some more and then have another backup, just in case.” All this slowed us down some but we got through.
The hardware and software discussion worked very very well. I think we got good info (I stopped taping which I regret but it felt like it was inhibiting things) and Sarah from Aidword who sat in should be pleased. It’s amazing to hear the conditions that people are working under. Some have dialup connections that always time out. One institution has 5 computers in the library; another 8. Some just got hooked up to the Internet a few months ago. Others only have certain departments or even people who have access. One person had to ask the Director’s secretary if they wanted access since she had the only Internet-connected computer in the institution. Also if they have Internet connectivity it’s often very expensive (the government telecom-ETC—has a monopoly), much more expensive then here. One participant pays about 500-600 birr/mo (like $60-70/mo) for dialup access and he just gets that on his personal computer at home. But there’s no other way for them to do their work. Otherwise, they get no access to any current research for their work, can’t compete for research grants, can’t publish. People were blown away when I told them that we had a T1 line with 100 computers at Mann alone (not even counting office computers), not to mention the access for the whole of Cornell and the discounted rates we get for telcom.
During the tea break (yeah, we’ve got tea and coffee breaks—it’s cool), I went to the branch of the Wegagen Bank and changed traveller’s cheques into birr. The guy who processed my transaction had a computer but the woman who typed up my receipt did it on a typewriter with about a thousand sheets of carbon paper, which I hadn’t seen in I don’t know how long.
Also that afternoon, Steve did his bit which went well, esp. the hands-on at the end about freemedicaljournals.com and Highwire and I actually got to help TA a lot. And then Vimbai did his bit on search strategies which went very well too; he brought people up to explain things, associated it with their own interests, had them do hands-on to see the differences in field searching. It was great. I wish I’d taped it actually (which was a refrain I would would feel often throughout the sessions when I would switch off the recorder just as somebody did something funny or we had a particularly good discussion. Also, I wish I could have taped some of the conversations that I had but then if I’d been taping I probably wouldn’t have had them. The perils of documentary–everything observed is changed).
We had a brief interruption when the Addis people had to go catch a bus and they weren’t sure they were going to come back so one guy asked for the materials and his certificate. I felt at a loss—I could say yes of course but would it happen and it seemed churlish to hesitate in the face of mass political unrest. Also Sarah from Aidworld said she and her colleagues were leaving town because the two guys had gotten caught up in the riot in the morning and that stuff was going on all around their hotel and even the British embassy. These brief notes of crisis erupted into what seemed a pretty ordinary day of conference training. We heard later that about 30 people had been killed by government troops during the protests.
After the workshop, I caught up a bit on email and the blog and we went for dinner. I sat with Gracian, Isabelle and Carla. The latter two are from Mozambique and they are here learning how to facilitate for the workshop in Maputo in January. We talked about Mozambique—how it is up and coming and how difficult it used to be for traveling (in terms of road conditions, illegal roadblocks by barefoot gun-slinging military and visa hassles) and how it is growing—as compared to Zimbabwe (which has great infrastructure but the recent political troubles have collapsed the economy and made fuel reserves scarce. Carla asked me why Americans don’t care about what happens in Africa. I floundered about an insular comfortable country and Gracian stepped in with the fact that we don’t even know a lot of times. He said most Americans were very nice; we just had no conception of Africa except maybe South Africa and Ethiopia and Darfur. News coverage is also so abysmal that we never hear about anything unless it’s a major disaster [ETA: Kornelia said she hadn’t seen anything on CNN or anywhere else and so didn’t know about the troubles in Ethiopia until she saw the blog and checked the BBC website]. Our educational system doesn’t teach us about anywhere else either (though everybody else’s educational system teaches them about us.)
So after dinner went to the club and hung out and talked about the workshops and cricket and languages and vacations and the like. That’s one form of international exchange I guess.
So the day just ended was on balance a good one overall. I think that people learned something and that the hands-on sessions tomorrow will be especially useful. I think the constraints of only being in a presentation format and then hands on and then presentation mostly might necessitate some rethinking of how things are done (at least on my part). I’m so used to just jumping on a live connection and I forget it’s not as easy here. It’s also a lot of listening unless you make it as interactive as the other trainers make it, and it’s not as intuitive as it looks. I’m certainly learning a lot, about training, about Africa, and life in general.