Friday, February 24, 2012

Ethiopian Housing

I should probably begin with my overall perception of the trip. I had an absolutely wonderful time in Ethiopia. Everyone I met was kind and generally, in a pretty good mood. The weather was clear and sunny for just about the entire time we were there, and the food was wonderful. Especially the fresh fruit.

While we were in a suburb of Addis Ababa, we stayed at a guest house where for a very modest fee (by western standards), you had a warm bed, some running water, electricity and meals. The green shacks along that back is housing for the guards. The food was outstanding. Something that I didn't expect were the walled compounds with 24 hour guards watching the building. The guest house was a fairly modest 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home with a large dining room/family room and a small kitchen. The courtyard is large enough to bring in a couple of vehicles if you so desired. You are continuously reminded that you were in a third world country by water and electrical outages.

There were a large number of condominiums built by Chinese investors and they all look identical and very utilitarian. They are located on the same land that used to house a refuge camp and the 15k refugees had to move elsewhere. Barbed wire fences seem to be really common and seem to be aimed at managing people rather than animals. Large multi-lane streets are being put in to handle the anticipated traffic from the new middle class.

Just to the north of the condominiums is a refugee area adjacent to the hospital and the housing here is mud mixed with straw with corrugated steel for the fences and roofs. In the city, there are a lot of beggars on the street and this is the area where many of them live. Even in these areas, the concept of a compound existed to limit access to the living areas. We visited several families in this area some of whom were HIV+ and in most cases, six or eight people lived in about 80 ft² with no limited utilities. Sometimes there was a tap on the electrical wires up on the pole supplying power to a number of homes.

Many of the compounds have concrete homes and are surrounded by an eight to ten foot tall wall usually topped with razor wire and in some cases, broken bottles. All to keep out thieves.

This is the wall surrounding the guest house where we were staying. Upon arrival at night, there were packs of dogs and the occasional hyena running around and they are considered pretty dangerous. Adjacent to the refugee area is the dump and there were quite a few wild animal sounds from that direction at night. Whenever that was a power outage, the guards seem to get pretty busy circling the compound aiming their flashlights at the top of the wall. Supposedly to let people know they were there and watching.

One of the goals for the trip was to help construct some additional classrooms behind the church. The group sort of had the idea that we would be showing up and actually building foundations, walls and roofs. The reality is, we westerners (including a couple of engineers), were completely clueless on how they build using locally available materials and labor. I learned quite a bit from the skilled laborers doing the construction. Here are a couple of the new exterior walls being painted. The framework is steel square tubing welded together and the steel skin is spot welded to the frame. I will go into the foundation construction in a future post but it was a lot different than we do around here...

Next post - Food


Trobairitz said...

Wow, it is hard for me to imagine all of the compounds and that much security. Did you feel safe or were there tense moments?

Thank you for including the picture of the goats. I have a thing for goats. I guess because we had a couple when I was a kid.

Looking forward to the food post. ;-)

SonjaM said...

Many years when I visited Tunesia I felt intimidated by the amount of guards, barbed wire fences and security. I was on vacation, alas I felt like a prisoner, but it was indeed made to protect the travelers from people, not from wild animals. I never returned, to learn more about that country. A pity.
Thanks for opening a window into a world so different from ours.

RichardM said...

The existence of the compounds was a surprise to me and their existence everywhere surprised me even more. I never really felt threatened though one of the local guys we were with in the refugee area strongly suggested that we keep moving at one point. Generally, if he made a suggestion, we followed it.

RichardM said...

We weren't in a touristy area but at one point we visited the Sheraton in Addis Ababa (to have ice cream). Their compound had armed military in addition to the private security guards. Metal detectors and passport checks for the pedestrians though we weren't sure what they were looking for as one of our group had a LeatherMan that didn't warrant a second look. Maybe it was all for intimidation.

I never really felt liked a prisoner in the compound though I didn't get out and wander the streets as I usually do while traveling. Generally, I was pretty exhausted by then as walking everywhere was the norm. Given the opportunity, I would return in an instant.

redlegsrides said...

Interesting housing and way of living over there Richard. I too had been unaware that such conditions existed.

Thanks for the report....not sure I'd be as willing to return to such an environment.


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Bluekat said...

Amazing post. I'm just speechless. A very different world. I too hadn't thought about all the walls/fencing, and enclosed compound like settings, rich and poor it seems. It would make me feel uneasy and hemmed in, and I don't think I'd want to venture too far.

Brings new meaning to the term freedom. I mean we think of freedom in a big patriotic, glorious kind of way, but this is about the basic, day to day freedoms we don't really think about. Hope that makes sense.

RichardM said...

I must admit that I hadn't done any research before going but wasn't shocked by the poverty. I was surprised by the compounds.

I never felt threatened by anyone or by any of the conditions and would welcome any opportunity to return,

RichardM said...

After we were there just a short while, one individual in our group mentioned that it seemed like we've had already been ther a long time. Since everything was so different than the environment we came from, it really felt like we were in a completely different world, I had never thought about the freedom aspect. One thing to be really thankful for...

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Richard:

Thank you for posting this. My daughter is going to Rwanda this summer, and passing through Ethiopia. Any information of this nature is likely to prove useful to her. I have some questions:

1) Did you have to take preventive measures against bedbugs in the guest house, and if so, what were those measures?
2) You made a point of saying that no one lost their tempers, but the guards were there for some reason. Did the the guards ever appear shifty or questionable?
3) Was your escort through town armed?
4) Was there a rabid animal alert in force and would it have been dangerous to leave the compound at night?
5) Did you drink the water from the tap?

Your blog episodes are always educational.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Fondest regards,

RichardM said...

I am sure that your daughter will have a wonderful experience in Ethiopia. I have heard that Rwanda is beautiful

1: No preventative measures. The guest house was clean and except for the occasional spider, bug free.

2: If similar traffic existed anywhere in the U.S., there would have been a lot of angry people screaming and gesturing out of their windows. That was not the case here and I hear in many other areas of the world. The guards were always courteous and generally elderly.

3: The only ones armed were the military and some police. So, no.

4: I didn't not hear that there was a specific rabid alert in force but even before we left, we were instructed to assume that any dogs we see may be. The dogs seem to get much more aggressive in the dark and we did see and hear hyenas around the neighborhood at night. So walking after dark was discouraged.

5: No, all drinking water was bottles and fruits and vegetables were disinfected with potassium permanganate or bleach solutions. But tap water was used for washing and rinsing but everything was thoroughly dried before using. Some in our group did get sick from the water when this rule wasn't religiously followed.

I hope this helps.

Dar said...

We take so many things for granted in the Western world, where we think we struggle to survive. I always tell my daughter that she is so very lucky she was born where she was, otherwise her life could have had a completely different outlook. Your pictures are wonderful Richard and they make me thankful for my blessings.

RichardM said...

Yes, we really do tend to take a lot for granted. The whole time there, we wanted for little except maybe a shower after a few days with no running water. But that was a "want" not necessarily a "need".

Thank you for the compliment on the pictures. I am still learning...