Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The beginning of the end

It's amazing Roger has any hair left.  For more than four months, he tried to get a new drilling division operating for a group of Ethiopian investors who were accomplished businessmen, but had no experience in drilling.  Drills were drilling, but the investors wanted to operate the company themselves and didn't mind making expensive mistakes despite Roger's efforts to do things right the first time.  As in other countries, Roger was a strong advocate to have projects run safely, to train local help in becoming drillers and to help elevate their standard of living.  At every turn, he met opposition.

The tipping point was when, on our return from Dubai, Roger had to enter once more on a tourist visa.  The company had assured him they would have the documentation necessary for a business visa, but once again, they dropped the ball.  The lack of proper visas for Roger and the rest of the expats from Canada and various other countries in Africa put Roger at increased risk because he was the company representative in the country.  As the U.S. Embassy website stressed -- fines up to 3 years in prison were conceivable for those working without the proper visas.  Discussions with lawyers in the UK and Ethiopia confirmed we should leave sooner than later.  Yes, being jailed is definitely not part of our adventure plans.

In the week leading up to our departure, my trusted bajaj driver, Gerai, wanted to take me to the Monday market where anything with four legs was for sale.  It turned out to be one of my favourite Mek'ele experiences.
The market with packed with animals, shepherds, and men drinking homemade beer in tents
I think I was probably the only faranji to walk through the market




This donkey looked like it was trying to make a break for it
Donkeys were selling for $130 CDN that day


Gerai said camels were selling for about $1,000 CDN

I admire the stately presence many of the Ethiopian men exude in their suits, robes and staff.

These men were happy to have their picture taken -- a rare opportunity for me as many refuse in fear that their spirits are taken away

I love this picture.
The cows look better here than in the butcher shop

These school girls loved posing for the camera



The car wash at the river
As Brad said, we leave a trail of sad taxi drivers and workers in our wake when we leave a country.  It is these people that leave a mark with us -- more than any monument or church.  It is the people we are privileged to meet and learn about their lives in a way, being a tourist can never accomplish.

One thing I try and do is give people pictures of themselves.  For many they have few, if any, and it is such a small gesture that means a lot.  We also brought back T-shirts from Dubai, and inevitably, they were wearing them with great pride.

Our guard, Gerai, and our maid, Birhan

Our bajaj driver, Gerai, and Roger at the warehouse

Lewte, seen in the green T-shirt, liked to visit our house with his friend.
 Lewte was a young man who Roger saw from the very beginning as someone he'd like to train to work on the drills.  He spoke English, was taking night classes to be a mechanic, had a positive attitude, and was a hard worker.  Roger couldn't get approval to hire him for a mere $300 month. 


Lewte was devastated when Roger told him we were leaving.  The night before we left, he arrived at our doorstep with a big bag.  Inside, were traditional Ethiopian clothes for us.  With a bit of squeezing in, we posed feeling a huge sense of pride.


The outfits were traditional right down to the shoes!
Saying goodbye to Gerai, the bajaj driver who treated us like royalty
 
Our guard, Gerai, was very sad to see us go

This was the first time Roger pulled out of a job and it was a decision we wrestled with.  We are sad for the workers who will continue to struggle and are exploited by their own countrymen.  It appears that it will take expat companies to pave the way for increased safety and higher wages.

Ethiopia was a tough country to live in, but it also a great experience and held many surprises. 
  • northern Tigray where we lived and Roger worked, was spectacularly beautiful.  
  • our visit to the Danakil Depression where we saw the sulphur hotsprings and camel caravans will rank up there with the top 5 travel experiences of our lifetime.
  • the people that helped us -- our guard, bajaj driver, landlord, and workers all hold a special place in our hearts
Would we hurry back to Ethiopia?  No.  Do we have any regrets?  No way.

"Every end is a new beginning."     Proverb

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