Sunday, November 20, 2011

Home is where the beer is

Greetings from Ethiopia.

People keep asking me, “What are you doing in Ethiopia? I thought you worked in Ireland now.”

Shall I remind you that I work for a humanitarian organization, and that, while Ireland certainly does seem to be on the edge of a crisis, it’s been a loooong time since the potato famine. And that yes, a diet based primarily on cured pork and potatoes is probably not the most nutritious, there are still plenty of children out there in the world not getting even that. So indeed, I did not actually move to Ireland to lead an emergency nutrition intervention there; Dublin is just a base for me to be able to travel out to other countries with more pressing needs.

Last week I attended an international conference on nutrition, and met many accomplished and fascinating people from governments around the world, as well as universities, the UN, and donor agencies. This coming week I will be helping our Ethiopia office develop their program design for several new projects.

It’s nice to be back ‘on the continent’. While I can’t say I miss the traffic, or the pollution, or being conspicuously foreign, I have been reminded just how friendly and the expat community is, how easy it is to fall into comfortable conversation over a cup of tea or a glass of local beer. The challenge of working in difficult contexts still feels like an interesting puzzle to solve, rather than a frustration.

This is my longest trip away from Dean I’ve ever had to make, and I’m a bit worried the little stinker will learn to walk while I’m gone, but travel is just one of the things I’ve become accustomed to over the years. I miss my boys, but I know they will be fine until I get home.

At the moment I am staying in my organization’s ‘guest house’ in the city of Addis Ababa. It’s been a very, very long time since I stayed in a guest house like this, and it brings back such funny memories of the months that I lived in Sudan. Guest houses are funny places. They are filled with odd little remnants of past guests, such as nearly-empty jars of Nutella with only a bit of dried out paste left in the bottom. At the same time, there never seems to be enough of the most basic items, as no one wants to buy stuff only to have everyone else use it up. We’ve been out of sugar for days now.

Guest houses are always bare and undecorated, but also usually have extensive libraries of paperback novels and gossip magazines. People drift in and out, sometimes stopping to have long talks over the dining room table, sometimes not seeming to return to the house for days. There is always a vague feeling of it being a fraternity house – as if not too long ago, someone threw a kegger and no one ever got around to completely cleaning up afterwards.

While I’m grateful for the space and the comfort – a kitchen to cook my dinner in, internet access a BBC on the TV – I have to say I will be most delighted to return to my pokey little Dublin apartment in a week.


ghkcole said...

I enjoy your travels vicariously, but always find myself missing you as I read, wishing you back to Cali.