Sunday, November 04, 2007

Back in Addis

I tried the internet café down the street. Located in a short shipping container, it had two old computers and a baud width of 31.2 kbps. Enough to really test my patience, which, though it has increased dramatically since leaving the States, was not enough to handle the two-minute waits between button pushes. I finally got my own computer screen to turn on, so I am going to see how long it takes before my mouse freezes up. Hopefully a long time.

I had the weirdest reverse culture shock driving into Addis. After only 10 days down South, I was blown away by the money here, and even more by the availability of food. The fruit stands filled with normal size, plump tomatoes, potatoes and even beans.

At a coffee shop chain started by a young woman and patterned after Starbucks, called Kaldi’s, I saw numerous Chinese people, kids sporting ipods, and well dressed business typing away people on laptops. I also had one of the best cappuccinos of my life. The foam was covered exactly in half with a thick coat of powdered cocoa. I was glad to hear that the coffee shop chain was not owned by the Saudi sheik that seems to own everything else here, the Sheraton, the malls, Home Depot and pretty much anything else that is new and big. He is also building a glass-fronted hotel in Soddo, and I imagine may be helping to build the big mosque there as well. It is he that is mentioned in the articles about Starbucks not paying the coffee pickers a living wage. He owns the farms.

I’ve been thinking a lot about living wages. David and I have this discussion often. On one hand, if you are making $1 a day and before you were making nothing, then your life is improved. But, how can one live on a dollar a day, and how did the person now making $1 live before that income? When doing research on the parents of adopted children of my friends, I found that a number of the birth moms made between 30 and 50 birr a month ($2.50 to $4.50 a month) making injera for a living. Injera is the local bread, made entirely of fermented teff flour and water, usually cooked on a clay plate over a hot fire made in a small hole in the ground. It is similar in look to a large pancake, but grey, with more air pockets. Teff looks like long grass and has tiny black seeds, which may be ground into flour. It grows in the higher regions.

So, here are women with at least two children making $3 a month. I asked five different people what it cost to feed a family of four. The answers I got ranged from 10 birr ($1.10) to 25 birr ($3.00) a day, if the family does not eat meat or much fruit. I spent that range on each meal I purchased just for myself. For a meal of injera and goat meat pieces, it cost 20 birr in the hospital cafeteria. The cheapest thing on the menu was 8 birr. The really cheap food is false banana, and if you see them growing, you are almost guaranteed to find a round house next to them. Inset, or false banana, is made from the stalks of trees that look like banana trees, but bear no fruit. Tastes pretty much like stalk, with basically no nutritional value.

Most poor people drink ½ a cup of water per day, which Dr. Ruth says accounts for many of their health problems. I learned that here, when you are dehydrated, you no longer feel thirst. It happened to me a few times, crept up on me, when out walking for a few hours, I felt weaker and weaker until I got home and forced myself to drink. Only after about two glasses did I again feel thirst.

My daughter’s birth mom lives in a government rent controlled mud hut. It is one room, with a door and a wooden cover for the single window. The room is as wide as the length of her bed, but not big enough to fit my king size bed. It is 25 birr a month to rent. She has a 25 watt light bulb on a wire. No running water, no bathroom, mud floor and walls.