First Days in Ethiopia

After treeplanting for a month or so, and meeting some of my new favorite people, I returned home with what I thought was 3 days to prepare for my journey to Africa. I was very sure the flight left on the 17th, and was very surprised when on the 16th, I was unable to check in online for my flight, and realized that my flight actually left at 6am on the 16th. This was the first adventure of many, and I was lucky enough to catch up with my travel mates Dr. John VanLeeuwen and Valerie Monpetit at the Frankfurt airport. We arrived to Addis Abeba, a city of 4 million, at night, so we were unable to see the city as we flew overhead, but as we drove to our hotel, it was obvious that Africa is a different world.

The next day we drove for around 8 hours on what was a very nice highway with a young man named Safu, pronounced c’est fou in French. It seemed a suitable name as we weaved in and out of people and animals. At one point, a donkey that was walking in the middle of the road made the wrong last minute decision to turn right and ended up in front of a bus full of people that was unable to stop. The donkey was struck, and we stopped to help, but some people in the crowd that gathered assumed it was us that had hit the donkey. Luckily there were enough witnesses to confirm that it was the bus. We left the donkey and all the people, and we were informed that the bus driver would have to compensate the woman for her donkey, and that it can take an individual up to 5 years to save the money to purchase a donkey. There is a saying in Ethiopia,”if you do not have a donkey, you are a donkey.”

The next day we went to church and had our first opportunity to become culture shocked. We attended a church ceremony that happens only 3 times a year, and walked through a crowd of thousands of people. It was breathtaking and nerve-wracking, and quickly exposed us to the world we would be living in for our time in Ethiopia.

We then began our work on the farms. With Dr. Tadele Tolosa as our guide, we began our travels around the city of Jimma. Valerie and I quickly learned how to take blood from the underside of the base of a cows tail, as John and the farm workers restrained the animals manually. The cows are Holstein cross with local breeds and are therefore thankfully smaller than the Holsteins in Canada. The farms have around 15 cows each, sometimes more, sometimes less, and we have seen all types of arrangements of barns, from concrete barns that are very clean to dirt floors and mud walls, which is more common. We are testing for the prevalence of Johne’s disease in Ethiopia, which has yet to be studied, and each day we return to the lab and spin the clotted samples from the day before to extract the serum. The serum will then undergo an ELIZA test to determine the presence of paratuberculosis (Johne’s). It is very interesting work and an amazing experience.

On our day off, Valerie and I went to “the birthplace of Arabica coffee” where there was a plaque erected by the President of the region. We also saw a gene bank farm for coffee, which had over 500 different species of arabica coffee plant, and various other species of tuber and herb. It was a very nice trip. We then returned to our hotel room to watch Oprah interview Micheal Jackson’s mother.

Soon we will travel to Kenya, were we will go on Safari. Both Valerie and I are very excited about this. I will tell you more soon!!