Monday, March 26, 2012

Kololo...The First Glance

Lt. Dan (Our trusty Guard Dog) and a mountain panoramic
My first day in Kololo was great. In short, I met the work crew: Cien's top 20 workers that he weeded from a pool of about 50 people who he began the project with. I met the kids. I got a tour of the school build site. I had some local food. I slept in a mud hut. I got to bathe in a pool just above a waterfall, after a 30 minute hike up a mountainside.

When we arrived, Cien let me know about a few things: 
  1. There are hyenas in them there hills! The locals call them "jib" and they are massive beasts with one of the strongest jaws in the mammalian kingdom. They sleep in holes during the day near the top of the mountain, and come out after dark to feed. 
  2. There are leopards in them there hills! They live in caves along the side and bottom of the mountain.
  3. There is no shower. Or sink. Or running water for that matter. Or wired electricity. Or a stove. Or a non-dirt floor. Or meat to eat. Or other people fluent in English. Or candy. Or local store. Or people who have seen an African American. Or bathroom that doesnt consist of an assortment of heavy sticks strewn across a hole 10 feet deep that you have to balance on while hiding behind other sticks and leaves without falling through into a slippery and utterly disgusting demise. Or toilet paper. But we did have two solar batteries that could power our cell phones, and two lights. Not bad, eh?
  4. People will stare. I am tall for this place. And Cien is white. Together we will be known as "TV" or "The Polar Bears"....TV since people have nothing else to watch, and "foringies" are curious creatures to watch, and The Polar Bears since people have nothing else to watch, and "foringies" are curious creatures. 
  5. Don't give away money. And Cien no longer helps people publicly. Apparently he is known as "the magical white man" because he helped send a kid with a chronic illness to the hospital, and the kid was healed...."magically." He then was flooded with dozens of people walking hours to find him in search of a cure/treatment/Jesus or Midas touch. he advised them to spend the nickel on worm medicine and to wash their bodies which many people laughed. He remains "the magical white man."
  6. Tinish Tinish (slow slow, in Amharic): your body, your spirit, and your health will all suffer if you try to do too much too soon. Whether that is hauling rocks, eating avocados, or running up a hill....Africa will always win. 
Lieutenant Dan (Beige) and Flea Bite (Black Dog)
await our breakfast scraps!
After my pep talk, we began my first day of work. The villagers greeted me enthusiastically at the worksite. Everyone was all smiles and "Salomno!" (Hello! in Amharic) for hours, then Cien "da Boss" showed up. Cien don't take no guff, and he don't take no lazin' on the job neither! He runs a tight ship, and things get done efficiently when he oversees them. We found upon our arrival that some major decisions had been changed that he had explicitly requested not to change while he was gone, so he spent the first day asssessing the damage and fixing it. 

View of the waterfall where we
found our makeshift bathtub
The job he does here in Kololo, and other rural areas across Ethiopia, is tough. He builds schools. That's fine in America, but try getting raw materials, creating employment contracts, negotiating fair prices, and developing leadership in places where they have traditions and customs that have been ongoing for decades, if not centuries, do not speak English, and have very little in common with Americans in ....yea. Tough. Kololo reminds me so much of North Lawndale. Cien's first hill to climb was the design of the 3 buildings. he went around to various huts, homes, and businesses looking at their construction and taking notes. He then took the best of what he found and added in his own extensive experience in construction as a contractor in America. He designed what now looks to be the sturdiest building in the region. Nobody was on board. They all told him it was wrong, and his dimensions were off, etc. But he went on anyway. Well, by the time Iarrived, it was 4 months intot he project, and it was only about 6 weeks from completion. When people SAW the design off paper, and rising up along the mountainside, they all agreed it was a fine building. It will last for at least 15 years, as opposed to the traditional 5 for most buildings built there. He cuts no corners, and accepts nothing less than perfection. I was amazed at his aesthetic detail, as most people who build things that I have met just want the damn thing up...caring less about exact symmetry and "the look of it all." Function over form, as they say. Well this school not only is sturdy, it is also pretty! 
Lt. Dan and Flea Bite, looking Magestically vigilant
as he guards us from the....fleas....that he cant guard
from himself

It reminded me of the importance of visions in visionary people. Everyone cannot see what you see, but that doesn't mean you should stop pursuing your goal. Seeing is believing for most people. Odd how many parallels this has to my own life and struggles in low income community development, my faith, and my trust in people. In some ways, I guess I am a visionary leader, but in many others, I am the doubtful follower.

As the good book says, "Know thyself." This journey is an attempt at that, and it is coming along nicely.

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