Last day of the workshop. Gracian did a quiz first thing to test people on what had gone before. It was mostly on acronyms and terminology but he made it so engaging, auctioning off 40,000 Zim dollars (basically nothing with inflation so everybody just laughed; again I wish I had been taping) so that even though the participants were a little rattled by the idea of a quiz they were having fun. I’ve got to say the guy is good. Later on that day I snuck in my survey on finding citations, search strategies and current awareness and it didn’t go nearly as well (not least because I hadn’t planned it then and didn’t have enough copies but also because I think my approach wasn’t nearly as smooth. I think I felt a bit like I was waltzing in from the exterior and putting people through their paces). I got very interesting and encouraging results though. People really seemed to get it for the most part.
Then Vimbai did a good module on IMARK and we broke for tea (I have to say I like that custom). After tea I did copyright which I knew was going to be a tough subject from the reaction in the AGORA sessions the day before. Flatiel straight grilled me on things like fee-for-copying, e-mailing to other institutions including NGOs who were working on the same research and had better connectivity, and the harshness of the penalties for abuse when librarians can’t control individuals (denial of access to the whole country for at least a week). As well he should have I suppose, since many of the provisions are things that we gloss over even in the US and the penalties are nowhere near as severe as in Africa (for instance nobody cuts off access to ScienceDirect for the whole US just because one student decides to autodownload every issue of Agricultural Ecosystems). It’s hard to stand up and justify that in a situation where people can’t pay for permissions, they need the access really badly and they often are under other constraints of connectivity, eligibility and budget. I felt like I did in South Africa when I had to tell people that they had no access there and they said it was like double apartheid (cut out of access because supposedly they were a rich (white) country when really the population of the country that they were actually serving was low-income and very much fit the profile of those who are denied access (it was like a digital divide argument in the US). On this visit I have found myself in the position more often than not of saying, yes well that doesn’t seem right and shuffling my feet awkwardly. I admire how well Gracian handled things—he stepped in and saved my bacon by saying this is what they had to work with (basically they were lucky to be getting access at all so they had to play ball). These were the terms and they could take them or not have any access—he said it nicer than that and with a great deal of sympathy for where the participants were coming from (a rock and a hard place) but he said do the best you can to prevent flagrant violations or you’ll be cut off like Ethiopia was for HINARI just this week (they had to turn access back on especially for this workshop). Those are the hard facts but it seems Africa and Africans are used to the hard facts.
This became more apparent during lunch when I talked to several of the participants about the continuing and expanding troubles. Riots have broken out in many of the other cities in Ethiopia now, not just Addis, and they weren’t even sure how they were going to get home since transport has pretty much stopped in Addis (no taxis though flights out are still going and ILRI has a driver). People are stressed since this latest crackdown seems to be the worst yet. A couple of people specifically pinpointed the government and its hold on power as the clear problem. As I had heard from other people, it seems like the May elections were rigged and unrest and dissatisfaction are only spreading rather than dying down. It seems like a case of those in power wanting to hold onto it, as often happens in the African context (apparently Mengistu was in power for years and years; Mugabe in Zim has been and is looking to extend his term again, postponing elections on the grounds that he wants to sync up the presidential and parliamentary elections). One participant said that it seems like those who were once on the bottom (the current ruling party used to be the beleaguered opposition) have forgotten what it is like and now are trying to hold on to power by any means. And the shame of it is he said that it’s mostly young people who are dying, children and students, who are maybe being influenced by politicians. What are they going to do, jail the 20 or 30 thousand young people or kill them? He says AIDS is killing a lot of the younger generation and the government is taking care of a good portion of the rest. He said this while laughing but was deadly serious about the trouble for the country’s future. Another guy said that the country was ready for a change, that the riots in the rest of the country were because most of the country except for regions like Mekele, the seat of the government’s power and where the prime minister was from, wanted a change. Someone also pointed out that the US and UK governments often spent a lot of money supporting and supplying the government militarily and economically and calling the heads of state African success stories while they were killing their citizens.
At the ending reception I talked to a guy who had to go 250 km back home. ILRI was dropping them off in center of town and he was going to see if he could get a bus directly to his town (a 5 or 6 hour trip anyway) or, failing that, a bus to another town and then a bus from there to his town. Some people had 2 day journeys. Any transport at all is uncertain is the plain fact though. Loza said she saw one taxi today with no one in it (many cars on the road are getting their windshields smashed in by protesters).
People were much more vocal today about their views on the political situation and about their questions about the US. I don’t know if it was because the situation seems to be getting worse (for everybody else, if not for us at ILRI in our little bubble). Most of the participants weren’t sure how they were getting home by the end of the day and Loza came in at the end to brief everybody. All hell broke loose after that because it seems that there was misunderstanding about the transportation arrangements. A good many of the participants were under the mistaken impression that the organizers (i.e. us, the funders and facilitators or ILRI) were going to pay for their transport back home. This was not the case but many of the participants didn’t have the money to get back home (or so they said; Gracian said they may have just expected it since international funders had gotten them into the expectation of having their transport paid as well as per diem just for attending)and given the already precarious transport and general situation, tempers were frayed to say the least. A group cornered poor Gracian after the end of the workshop and gave him an earful and he went to talk to Loza about what exactly had been communicated in the letter ILRI had sent. In the meantime, at dinner we also heard a bit from people who felt that they had been cheated and were unfairly being asked to manage transport bills in a time of unrest after they had been promised funding for travel. Gracian sorted out the situation with remarkable aplomb—negotiating with ILRI for a 200 birr advance for each participant for travel (if Loza can actually get into town tomorrow; if there’s no violence, if the banks actually open), which the funders will pay back so that people aren’t stuck (for reasons other than violence in town). People were much happier after that.
Despite this tension, one thing that struck me today was how many people were cooperative, understanding, and willing and even eager to share their views of their country and mine, how often the theme of talking to one another to get information and know one another better came up. People wanted to know what I thought about Africa, Ethiopia in particular, and to assure me that this present trouble aside, that their country really was a beautiful place (plagued by a bad government and a troubled, war-torn history—for 40 years one guy said) but not defined by famine or violence. And though what I have seen of the country has been confined to about 30-40 people on a small institute campus, it seems pretty clear that with the general intelligence, humor and perseverance that people approach their situation, the strides they make and the opportunities they take (my God I want to drop off any whiny freshmen who complain about print resources here for a little bit and say “Here, now try to do research and see if you do half as well!”), that there is far more to this country and to the continent than I’ve seen in the (scarce) news reports and brief descriptions.
Also this whole workshop organization thing is much more intensive than I thought. I knew that there was a lot to be organized and that Gracian and Vimbai did tons but I didn’t realize that they had to pull minor miracles out of their asses on a regular basis. In talking to them and the Mozambican participants about the upcoming workshop in Maputo, it became clear some of the hurdles—including budget (apparently Mozambique is very expensive because infrastructure for tourism is so new that the hotels can charge a lot and get away with it because there really isn’t anywhere else to stay). Airfare is also just about as or more expensive in-country than an international flight from the US and roads are bad. Flatiel is also going to have to double check on a backup generator because power cuts are not infrequent (Gracian said they had planned for a generator at 2 previous workshops, the power cut at both of them, and they still couldn’t go on because in one case the promised generator had to power the first floor before it powered the second floor and the generator wasn’t strong enough. In the second case, the site had just gotten the generator and hadn’t supplied it with gas!)
Another small sample from this workshop: the AGORA/HINARI CDs didn’t come. Now this was major because about every second word out of the participants’ mouths since the beginning of this workshop had been “So where are the handouts? Can we have the materials? Where are are our materials?” I had no less then three or four people personally buttonhole me to ask this. So if we didn’t come up the CDs there would have been hell to pay. Turns out FAO hadn’t sent the CDs the first few days because of the riots, yesterday was Eid and then the office just up and closed today without any warning. So no CDs. Gracian and Vimbai had to have someone buy blank CDs and burn copies from the copy Gracian had. Bigger example: participants up in arms about not getting their transport paid (which hadn’t really been budgeted or actually promised) during a riot situation where it was entirely possible no one could get home anyway whether they had the money or not. And Gracian said this wasn’t the worst it’s been. I’ve got to say the guy’s a trooper and an organizer and I don’t know how anything would be happening without the ITOCA office.
After the reception and dinner we went for drinks at the Zebu Club again, took pictures of everyone and talked. I had a good conversation with the women from Mozambique, Carla and Isabelle, about their lives, work and our respective views of Africa and America. They had been shocked by the Katrina footage, wondering was that America or Africa? We also discovered that sketchy, annoying guys are universal and called it a night.
So thus ended the first workshop of the two. Against this whole backdrop, I am planning on spending the weekend lounging by the pool, reading the books and listening to the CDs I got in SA (boy, am I glad that I did all that shopping in Johannesburg now because I think those are the only presents and souvenirs I’m getting), catching up on e-mail if we can get into the computer lab, and working on my blog and RSS workshop presentation. Then we’ll see if the participants for the next workshop can actually get here and if they can, if they’ll take the chance oncoming or if we’ll have to call the whole thing off and fly out of here like the Aidworld people did. Surreal. . .
Oh my God, I might be drinking the Africa koolaid. No good can come it. It’s like falling in love with a beautiful and damaged person. You know they are gorgeous and have so much potential but you know there’s a long road of heartbreak ahead. But what beauty:)