Chapter 7. Down South - Michael McCaskey Photography

The next leg of our journey was to explore the region south of Addis Abeba. As a Peace Corps teacher forty years earlier, I had only briefly visited this part of the country so I was eager to see it now. Driving south from the capital you descend from the highland plateau and into the Rift Valley lakes. The temperature is warmer, the landscape and vegetation show more arid and you can see camels from time to time. We passed an enormous rose farm that exports to Europe and I wondered how much water it consumes.

Asefa had urged us to visit his warehouse operation in Nazareth.

The workers sort and clean different types of beans and then bag the beans for export to the Middle East.

Since the Ethiopian economy is heavily dependent upon agricultural products, businesses like Asefa’s highlight the potential role of a commodities exchange. Particularly in the case of coffee beans, small farmers were often disadvantaged in selling their crops. Prices, quality, delivery and contract fulfillment could be highly variable.

Into this chaos stepped a Stanford-trained economist, Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin. We had the pleasure of meeting the highly energetic Dr. Eleni at the Women’s Conference in Addis. She graciously invited us to visit the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange that she founded.

Many recognize the need for a greatly improved system that will guarantee fair pricing, product quality, delivery and payment. The ECX has made a good start in providing such a marketplace and in encouraging the development of related infrastructure.

During the hectic trading session, both men and women were executing trades.

Traveling in the south, in the town of Awassa, we passed some schoolgirls on their way home. We asked if we could take their picture. At first they were shy but soon entered in the spirit of the occasion.
Forty years earlier, maybe 15% of my students were girls. Today in response to a concerted effort (remember the Women’s Conference), the percentage is much higher. As was true before, education is the principal path upward for most young people in Ethiopia.
The following morning, Demeke, a former student who now lives and works in Awassa, took three of us to breakfast at his wife’s restaurant. Afterwards, he was kind to help us go shopping for fabric with tribal designs. It was a fun outing and our ladies found some fabric shawls they really liked.

That afternoon we stopped at a roadside stand. I got a kick out of seeing familiar products like Pepsi written in Amharic script. Since I know most, but not all, of the 276 Ahmaric characters, I can slowly puzzle out what a sign says.

While in the south, I wanted to be sure to see the Awassa Youth Campus. The AYC was founded by my friend Donald Levine, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. Young men and women come to the campus to pursue a wide variety of activities after school. They engage in theatre, music, juggling, boxing, aikido and more.

The boxing coach on the left was tough and demanding. The young men seemed to prize that he would challenge them relentlessly to improve.

In the background you can just barely see the first all weather surfaced basketball court in Ethiopia.

Don is himself an expert in Aikido. He believes that it is a useful discipline for young men and can be tied to learning non-violent ways to resolve conflicts. Since the southern region is home to many different tribes and languages, skill in resolving or mitigating conflicts is invaluable.

We also saw the music room where a young drummer was preparing for a rehearsal with his mates.

We were very impressed with the AYC and wished we could spend more time, but we had to return to Addis for dinner at Asefa’s home.

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