Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Day 9, 10, and 11 – Contemporary Ethiopia Atlas January 29, 30, 31

Working in a developing country to teach geography faculty new skills with GIS towards a new digital geographic resource for Ethiopia has been truly an honor. I have realized how different and difficult this task really is. 

Typically, workshops that come to Ethiopia or to other developing countries are right out of the box, often in a controlled environment and at a location that has tremendous support staff. We have none of this – and it is so tremendous. In fact, there is so much awesomeness about this week so far that I can hardly contain myself. We have tried to tailor this work shop to focus on development. Development in a developing country – nothing new right? Wrong – we are focused on academic development. My colleague Johnathan and my student Emma and myself have tailored this workshop to consider each participant skills and interests in geography and match those with the product of collaborative efforts to begin building a national atlas that can be used for curriculum geographic knowledge. I have met some amazing Ethiopian geographers! The last few days I have only gotten about 11 hours out of 72 in sleep, but it has been so worth it.

Serious GIS data crunching and data creation!

My favorite driver in Bahir Dar.

Bus stop in Bahir Dar

Ethiopian geographers are so challenged in many ways. One of the biggest is data poverty. There are lots of types of poverty and data poverty is one of them. Ethiopian geographers are not able to work with geographic data because they lack significant access to it. I and others have been working to eliminate that problem and over the last year have built and extensive geospatial database for the geography Ethiopian faculty to use with GIS. The last two days has been brilliant! Seeing my colleagues light up with joy as they explore their country with relevant, meaningful, and detailed data at the Woreda level is beyond words. I have engaged with them in many ways and it has been a real privilege to work side-by-side in collaboration to change the ways GIS and geography are taught in Ethiopia. Johnathan will continue the work after Emma and I leave this Saturday.


Discussing data and map creation assignments

Creating a 500 meter interval contour of the whole of Ethiopia on a 20 meter resolution DEM

Mastering GIS!

GIS data exploration with NDVI and RFE2 precipitation data

. There is still so much to do in academic training, skill development, pedagogy, and friendship. I meet with the university President tomorrow. He indicated that he wants to hire two new GIS geography faculty and wants to ask for advice about candidates. ANDREW QUACKENBUSH, would you be interested in Bahir Dar University Geography as a faculty member?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Day 8 – Gonder Glory January 28

Today we left Lalibela for Gonder, another city in the north. Having a tremendous amount of history, the city of Gonder has been home to many kings of Ethiopia and a key access point to the land to the north. It his situated about 180 kilometers north of Bahir Dar. 

We flew to Gonder from Laliblea (the ticket was $35). Kindly the university had a driver waiting for us and we traveled into the city to see the famous castle of Gonder and the most beautiful church in the country.

The castle was very impressive. Not only was it a joy to walk through and hear the vast history of all the occupants, but the grounds kept expanding further and further. The footprint was quite large indeed!
I can’t possible do it justice, so you will need to investigate more thoroughly on your own, but in the meantime here are some pictures to inspire your pursuit of new knowledge:

The church was  located on one of the 7 hills on which Gonder sits. The priest was gone, so the church was locked. L. We took pictures on the outside. It is apparently the only rectangular shaped church in the country and resembles the Jewish Temple that twice stood in Jerusalem. The interior has paintings telling the Biblical story of Jesus’s life to death to resurrection. There is also a map of Ethiopia I have been told. The ceiling is impressive as J. Bascom described. There are something like 104 angels painted on the ceiling looking to the four corners of the earth. At the front of the church, in front of the curtain to the Holy of Holies stands a cross and at the foot of the cross is carved the leader of the country who sits at the foot of the cross in need of the saving grace of Christ.  Wish I could have seen it with my own eyes – another time in another visit perhaps?  Here are some pictures from the outside:

We then drove south to Bahir Dar with our fast driver. I just got a few pics of the amazing landscape. 

In Gonder

 Just a tree I liked

Man in papyrus boat just at the head waters of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana

Back to our home for this week at Bahir Dar. It's a pleasant 75 degrees each day. Sorry everyone who is in the snow right now.

 Yep, definitely back in Bahir Dar. I love these things. and only 1 Birr! (That would be about 4 cents per ride).

Tomorrow, geography faculty arrive and we begin the mapping a new digital geography of Ethiopia in the evening with 24 Ethiopian geography faculty representing all the departments across the country.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Day 7 – Lalibela Massif! January 27

Today we woke up early – about 1AM as the Timket celebration for Saint George continued all through the night. I tried to sleep, but basically the celebration was so full of drums and dancing and people talking on loud speakers till about 8AM that I hardly slept. No matter – the day was full of Lalibela!!

After a quick bite to eat, we met our Spaniard friend Jesus and Moshei, our Israeli friend around 8AM and with our excellent guide Asafowe, tackled the rock-hewn churches. I have too many pictures to share here and the bandwidth I have to work with is so limited that I can’t possible upload too many pictures. Here are a select few I can share with you.

Our hotel courtyard. 

The back wall window of Bet Medhane Alem. The design at the top represents the parting of the Red Sea and the Israelite's fleeing Egypt. The bottom design represents God’s people wandering in the desert to the promised land.

At the entrance area of Bet Medhane Alem.

The back wall of Bet Maryam. The three windows at the top represent the Trinity. The left the Father, the center the Son, and the right the Holy Spirit. From the center top window, the next window down represents the part of the Trinity come to earth as Jesus . The bottom row represents Christ’s salvation represented on the cross with the window on the left bottom the thief who did not repent, notice the lowest left window pointing to Hell. And to the right bottom window the thief who did repent on the Cross and accept the grace that Jesus gives. Both Jesus and the thief on the right have small windows above them indicating ascendance into Heaven.

Inside the Bet Maryam church. Looking at the ceiling to the left of the Holy of Holies, which is in each of the 12 churches.

Window to the personal worship chapel of Priest King Lalibela.

Rock carving and painted of an Apostle in Bet Gogota.

One exit out of the Northwestern cluster. This also has interesting symbology. The cross in the center represents Jesus Christ and to the left and right the two thieves on their crosses. The lower left hole is a representation of the Tomb of Adam.

One of the original wooden doors in the Southeast cluster at Bet Gabriel-Rafael.

Bet Emanuel in the southeast cluster.

Bet Giorgis – Saint George church. This is the iconic image of Ethiopia. Completely carved out of the basalt rock in the Lalibela region.

Bet Giorgis. Noah’s ark was the inspiration for the church design. The bottom level with the doors represents the level of the ark with the heaviest animals, like elephants, giraffes, and lions. The second level up represents the level where Noah and his family lived. The third represents the level with light animals like birds and lizards. When it rains, the water hits the cross on top and flows out of the spots at the centers of the cross. 

The Timket festival where the Ark of the Covenant for the church of Saint George is returning after the Timket celebration of one week ago. Dancing, singing, and celebration. It was amazing to witness!

After our time at Lalibela, we said good –bye to Jesus and headed to a restaurant at the far east end of the town. The restaurant is called Ben Abeba. Check it out at http://www.benabeba.com. The inspiration for this amazing 360 degree restaurant that overlooks the mountains and valleys comes from a women who moved here from Scotland, named Susan. She joined forces with an Ethiopian to open the restaurant and has been training her staff to get better and better at preparing meals. They feature a new menu every day and have a 4 menu rotation during the week.  She is continuing her bent on development as she has planted 30,000 trees in the area!! She is harvest local ingredients to supply her menu and supports her workers with housing and accommodations like a washer and dryer. We met with her and she was kind enough to share her vision to us. Can I just say, that was SWEET! Here are some pics:

JB and Emma talking with the owner Susan.

We walked back to the hotel and on the way I picked up a few souvenirs for the family – but it’s a secret. J. I plan on simply working the rest of the day on GIS and perhaps will go get a coffee and maybe another Ethiopian glass of wine here at the hotel. I really miss my beautiful wife and three children so very much! As I watched the sunset, I thought of how beautiful they are and how deeply I love them. I miss you all so much!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 6 – Off to Lalibela! January 26

Certainly the best things that have ever been created are:
1.     1.  Water (sorry Kellie – had to steal that one from you)
2.      2. Duct Tape
3.      3. Rain-X
4.      4. Ciprofloxacan (Here is a shout to Nurse Barb at Calvin College)

Thanks to 750mg dose of Cipro, recommended by Nurse Betsy Bascom, my stomach aliments from last night subsided. Just in time!  

This morning we caught a flight to Lalibela from Bahir Dar. Then we drove from the airport to the town to our hotel called the Jerusalem hotel. Here is our hotel room view.

So what is Lalibela?  Lalibela is a place of wonder and majesty! One author writes it like this,

“The strange, isolated town of Lalibela, set high in the mountains of Lasta, is famed for its rock-hewn churches, and is arguably the one place in Ethiopia that no tourist should miss. Known as Roha until recent times, Lalibela was the capital of the Zagwe dynast, which ruled over Ethiopia from the 10th century to the mid 13th century, and its modern name derives from that of the most famous of the Zagwe rulers, the 12-century King Lalibela” (Unknown Author, page 335) – got it from J. Bascom’s files

On our way to the rock churches, a follow-up to the most religious day in Ethiopia called Timket (one week ago across Ethiopia) came upon us. They crowd was singing and dancing (and are still as of 10PM at night here in the town) to bring back a famous picture of Saint George to the Saint George church in town. I’ve read the story of Saint George slaying the dragon and that is what the painting is of. I have a video, but I am not sure if I can put it up on the blog yet. Here are some pictures at least. 

The churches of Lalibela are so amazing. These are not little churches cut into the rock. They are HUGE!!  There are two structure complexes a Northwest cluster and a Southeast cluster. Here are some initial pictures of the North west cluster that we took today. 

Bet Medhane Alem

 Bet Medhane Alem
 At Bet Meskal

 Bet Mayam

 Back entrance

We met two others there, Moshei from Isreal and Jesus from Spain. They joined us in this adventure to save a little on a tour guide, who ended up costing too much so he left and we went on our own with just some simple explanatory material. We have a guide for tomorrow at 8AM, which should be fun!

To end our day we had some Saint George beer, which is the oldest brewed draft in Ethiopia and comes from Gonder in the north (yes, you should look up a map and find it and Lalibela). Here is a painting of Saint George slaying the dragon shown in Bet Danaghel at Lalibela.

I decided to settle my stomach a little further and had some Ethiopian wine instead. Diner was fun with Moshei as we discussed a variety of things, including travel, Israel, faith, and Ethiopia.