the BIGGER picture


Just a glimspe. Susan's Perspective.

The Giggler

I love to walk. And, now that I have my sights set on the peak of Mount Kenya, I love to walk even more! Apparently I walk with a smile on my face. 🙂 Walking is just such a great stress-reliever, as is cooking. So I encourage you to walk with a smile; and cook with a smile!  By the way, smiling actually fools your brain into thinking you’re “happy”.  As a result, you will feel more happy because of the influx of neurochemicals, which are believed to be the perpetrators of the feeling, happy. (I was a Psych major :P)

Today, as I watched school children power-walking past me trying to beat their school bell, a few of them decided to join me on my walk to the minibus. Though it was obvious there was a language barrier, we joyfully walked together and giggled about absolutely nothing. It was a beautiful way to begin the day. I miss the Kechene orphanage.

I’m quite busy with work these days. I’m working on a few projects and “in-charge” of one of them. The project I’m really focusing on is to develop our existing helpline to a nationally accessible, toll-free 3-digit children’s helpline. It’s a slow process, but I’m happy things are actually happening. I don’t know if the Ethiopian Government and Telecommunications Corp. will acknowledge their social responsibilities, but hey, people said it could not be done and now I’ve got a couple of meetings under my belt. Realistically, I probably won’t be able to implement everything before I leave. But I trust my co-worker will follow up with the project and you know I’ll spam her with emails! I know it’s too early to think about the finish line, but it feels good to imagine the moment when you reminisce and think, “Wow, I was part of that.”

So my Christmas holidays are officially set. I’m going to meet up with my friend, Jason, in Nairobi and then we take on the difficult 6-day trek up Mount Kenya. Though Kilimanjaro is ranked 4th in the world and Mount Kenya is down at 32nd, apparently Mount Kenya is a much more difficult, demanding and a much more beautiful climb. For the Asians, just to put it in perspective, Mount Kenya is taller than Fuji! I’m stoked and can’t wait to set my foot on this baby! I’m itching to breathe the thin air and to be consumed by her beauty. Wow, I’m going to be climbing while the sunrise illuminates our path. Incredible! Can you imagine what it would feel like to say a prayer atop a mountain with a whole country at your feet after an exhausting and challenging climb?! Speechless I’d say.

Anyhow, after the exhausting trek I’ll be spending 2 weeks in Mauritius for some well deserved “horizontal” time on the beach as J puts it. Sooooooooo true!

Always amazed by His grace. If you let Him, He will amaze you as well.


p.s. BOO!  Have a safe Trick-Or-Treat!


Addis Ababa Sizzling Asian at Hilton by Susan Wong


Filed under: Africa, Canada, Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , ,

Susan vs. Ethiopian Fleas

I think I’ve adjusted to life in Ethiopia quite well aside from my apparent “flea problem”. Well, it’s not really a problem per se, it’s more like I get special attention from these insects. It never really bothered me much before. An itch here and there and a few sporadic scars doesn’t inconvenience me that much. Actually, my “hyper-flea-attention” acts as a deterrent to creepy men at the tennis club and swimming pools. Pretty good I’d say.

Most of you know that I’m prone to insect bites, so getting bites in Ethiopia was expected. I can’t help myself if I have sweeter blood than most people. Perhaps it’s an implication of how “sweet” I am as a person. 🙂 I only get itchy in the neighborhood of my office. Specifically, only a 50m stretch of one specific road. Sometimes I can feel a flea sinking it’s teeth/stinger into my juicy flesh while I’m on a packed minibus. I don’t have fleas at home, I don’t get itchy anywhere else but in this flea-ridden sub-city of Addis Ababa! I swear I’m not dirty!

Anyhow, I must’ve walked through a cloud of Navy Seal-like-fleas one faithful day last week. Just on my right lower leg, the bite count has risen to 45-50. Not to mention the thigh area and the rest of my body! I must have hundreds of specs! If I were a dog, I wouldn’t blame my owners for naming me “Spot” or something. It’s that bad. The worst are the bites around my bra. Not to mention the itchiest one located smack in the middle of my breast bone. Scratching it isn’t that indecent, however I sit facing an older male colleague. It just feels and looks wrong. So, I’ve resorted to making frequent washroom breaks to relieve my itch!

Ethiopian Fleas seem to be immune to all bug repellents. Not even the Extra-Strength Fishing stuff from Canada works. Frankly speaking, I respect these fleas. They’re tenacious, stubborn, hard-working, focused, resilient….the list goes on. They bite/sting through the toughest of fabrics; I don’t think even Kevlar would do any good.

Most foreigners and the odd Ethiopian are victimized, but a couple of my friends and I really are special. Thank God I don’t have allergic reactions to these bites. Perhaps I will if my bite count gets any higher.

I take multiple showers, Polysporin-proof myself, Benadryl-ed my body, swim in chlorine water…someone please help me! The preceding are great for addressing the itch, but it’d be nice to learn about some preventative measures. If you’ve got any, please share!

It’s been 2 months, and I have yet to even stare a flea in its eyes or squash one in mid-bite just for my own satisfaction.  I want to know the faces of these illusive perpetrators!

Things can only get better!


ECA in Addis Ababa by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , ,

My Eventful Run-in with the Addis Ababa Police

For the readers of this Blog, please understand that it is not my intention to offend anyone nor to criticize others. My wish is to share my experiences as honestly as possible, mind you from my perspective. I was brought up in a different culture and I understand that often times there are cultural miss-cues, however there is a difference between being tolerant and “turning the other cheek”.

This morning I jumped out of bed frantically afraid that I was late for my appointment with the police. I had promised Tania that I would meet her at the police station again, this time at 7:30am as her witness. Seriously, I am experiencing Addis Ababa and Ethiopia from all angles. God truly wants me to see “the Bigger picture”. And, I thank Him for that.

My coworker and friend, Tania, has been having a terrible time with her housing arrangement. Though she lives in an upscale area and she pays a huge amount for the house, she is harassed constantly by her landlady and neighbors. Actually, most of my friends who have rented houses in that area or are currently living there, all have problems with their landlord.

Bole Homes is known as an upscale and peaceful area. It is to some extent. Situated across from the airport, there are always plenty of police in addition to the guards watching over the neighborhood. Beautiful gates and well-pruned bushes line the paved roads. The scents of rose bushes and Calil lilies welcome you as you walk past stately houses. It’s luxury compared to the majority of Addis. However, the landlords are children of a different generation. A generation that believes they are better and of higher class than others. A generation that does not tolerate other cultures and strips others of their freedom (e.g. They referred to me as the “Korean..Chinese…Japanese…THING“). They have the funds to send their children abroad for school, therefore “apparently” are more educated than others. They bully their tenants out of the house upon receiving their rent. They verbally harass tenants and enter your home when you are not there. They trespass and do not allow visitors. It’s incredible how “feudal” they are.

Last Friday, Tania’s landlady and her neighbors trespassed, verbally harassed and physically assaulted Tania in front of myself and a few other friends. We all knew about the things this lady was doing, and in fact our Office knew about them too. However, they had chosen to dismiss Tania’s complaints and had blamed it on “misunderstanding” and “cultural differences”. This was the first time the landlady laid her hands on Tania; that was enough. We had to enforce our rights, and that’s exactly what we did.

Let me tell you, finding a police station was a huge challenge. I understand that Addis Ababa is revered as one of the safest if not the safest city in Africa. But still, you have to have clearly visible, easily accessible and enough police stations to serve your community. If going to the police was such a huge ordeal, how do you expect people to seek help? Most people here don’t even know what the emergency phone number is! And if you ask for the nearest police station, they give you vague directions because they don’t even know exactly where it is. Anyhow, after asking locals and confused traffic police  for more than an hour, we finally arrived at a police station. I really don’t know what we would have done if we were not accompanied by our Ethiopian friends. We probably would’ve been just a bunch of stubborn and desperate, yet hopeless foreigners roaming the streets of Addis in the blanketing darkness of the night.

In the poorly lit police station, we tried to file a complaint. However, the police officers kept on bullshitting us in hopes that Tania would just walk away like most foreigners. Sorry, but they were dealing with people who knew their rights and who were prepared to enforce their rights at all costs. Was it so wrong to fight for our rights? Was it naïve to believe that the police could and would help us? Is it absolutely impossible for foreigners to be victimized? Incredible. We were dealing with poorly trained police who did not want to enforce the law. Wtf?!

When another coworker arrived to try and settle the situation, I felt ashamed that I even worked with this man. He strolled in smelling like alcohol, and before we could tell him what had happened, he dismissed us and told the police officer, “Chigra yeulem, baka…”, which means “No problem…enough”. Another foreigner friend and I immediately said, “No, it’s not chigra yeulem!”. He was surprised we understood him. He was clearly not all there, because he started intimidating the witnesses and picking fights with us. Instead of consoling Tania and protecting her, which he should have done as a superior in the office, he called the landlady immediately and sided with her. It was evident that they had some sort of agreement under the table. It was incredible how stupid he was. He threatened all of us and he was doing all of this in the presence of the police officer. Anyways, the police officer pulled him aside and not long after, our coworker left.

The officer reassured us he would file the complaint tomorrow, during “office hours”, and they would proceed with arresting the landlady. However, when Tania went back the next day the same officer refused to take the complaint and just kept on referring to our coworker. In other words, they had made a deal. Another under the table agreement. The next officer actually indirectly asked Tania for money. Tania continued to persist and mentioned her VIP friends in the African Union, so finally another police officer filed the complaint but requested her witnesses to come on Monday morning, today.

When I arrived at the station this morning, everything seemed unfamiliar. Perhaps, everything looked different under the illumination of the hope-filled morning sun. For the fourth time, we were going to try to tell our story. It was evident that the police did not know the law or their protocol for that matter, so we brought another Ethiopian friend who was a practicing lawyer to the station. He was extremely unwelcomed by the police, but they knew they had to listen to him.

As we waited for our individual turns to be questioned, we sat with locals on a squeaky bench in a long and narrow hallway. I hadn’t noticed the first night I visited the station, but the walls were all painted a cheery sky blue. How nice. Perhaps they knew the colour blue was a calming colour and would ease the long line of irritated people waiting to plead their cases.

Anyhow, my eyes gravitated to a lone poster on one of the walls. An anti-corruption poster that read, “—– Corruption is Instrumental in the Development of the Country!”. Actually, someone had ripped off the first word, most likely “Fighting”. That poster said it all. It was so symbolic. Daily, police officers walk past that poster numerous times, yet no one has bothered to remove it. Why? Mentality. Corruption is everywhere and deeply rooted. Fighting it is clearly not a priority on the front lines even though this government is trying hard to change that mentality.

Like a lot of things and in reference to my previous post, posters and other PR things are great, but in order for any type of sustainable positive change to take effect, everyone’s mentality needs an overhaul. It’s one thing that I can sit here in my office all day to criticize and make suggestions on how Ethiopia can improve, but it’s entirely different when Ethiopians tell me this is exactly why their country is regressing.

Don’t shoot the messenger.

P.S. The story gets worst, but due to the sensitive nature of this story I shall leave it at that.

P.P.S. This past week has been full of first-time experiences, challenges, surprises and lessons in life. That’s precisely why I like living in Addis, I’m never bored. You come across things everyday that challenge and really push the essence of who you are to the max. But when it’s all over, I know myself that much more! It’s a workout, a rollercoaster and ultimately a trippy experience…all from God. Now how cool is that?! More stories to come…

Filed under: Africa, Ethiopia, Life, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , ,

Don’t Look Back

Another long-weekend, another opportunity to see Addis Ababa for what it is.  I spent the past Saturday morning at a Children’s Parliament meeting held by ANPPCAN-Ethiopia and Save The Children Sweden. It was the first time I felt excited about working on a Saturday! Choosing work over sleeping-in was unbelievably worthwhile. Really.

When I arrived at Menelik II Primary School, one of the oldest schools in the country, I asked myself, “Why in the world would Torontonians complain about their education system?!” Seriously, if you think our education system back in Toronto is falling into shambles, I encourage you to visit Ethiopia or any other nation in transition for that matter. You will soon realize and appreciate the numerous opportunities the students of Toronto are entitled to. You will see that the quality of education should not be judged by the number of facilities of a building or how many school trips your child is attending. Rather, the quality of education is completely dependent on the quality of the teachers. Personally, I know I had great teachers. But I can tell you, I only had 3 outstanding teachers who have undoubtedly shaped me. So this is my humble attempt to encourage the future teachers reading this blog entry, strive to be outstanding because your students will appreciate your efforts years later. I know I do.

Anyhow, Menelik II was surprisingly situated on many acres of land and had multiple buildings. Though the soccer field had evolved into a livestock-grazing patch over the years, I could still see the gleaming smiles of children running freely into the refreshing October breeze. They sure knew how to enjoy their long-weekend. There was a rundown basketball court to the right of the compound. I felt it screaming out to me for a fresh coat of paint. It was craving for some quality court time. Or, maybe I was. 🙂 There were boarded-up buildings with crumbling bricks and the aluminum roofs were beyond repair. As I looked to my right, a couple of new towering school buildings were being finished. The demand for education is high here. With the rolling Ethiopian Hills in the distance, regardless of the poor conditions of the buildings, this was a place for quality education. I could feel it.

The 50 children who attended the meeting were no older than 18 and represented the numerous sub-cities in Addis Ababa. The majority were around 13-15 years old. There was a relatively equal number of boys and girls. That was an encouraging sight. After my boss and a couple of other important people finished their speeches, the floor was given to the children. That’s when the magic happened.

First of all, you have to understand that these children were part of the first generation of Ethiopians to really understand their rights and were born into a time of continuing change. They’ve only read about the huge famine in their history books and they’ve watched American cartoons for most of their lives. They weren’t shy or submissive like traditional children, they were exuberant and outgoing. Outspoken and opinionated. Humble but eager. Educated and eloquent. Secondly, you have to remember they were only 13ish! These were “children activists”. Literally, the future of this nation.

The meeting was conducted in Amharic, but somehow I felt like I could participate as well. A little too optimistic, but I managed to understand enough to know when it was my turn to introduce myself. Pretty good huh?! 🙂 Anyhow, even with the obvious language barrier, I couldn’t help but listen attentively. I could hear the passion in the childrens’ voices. I could see the determination in their eyes. I could feel their undying spirit. More importantly, I could see they were actually doing something about it. Change was happening before my eyes and I could only imagine what kind of country Ethiopia would be in 10 years.

There was one boy, “S”, who really stood out. He was always the one who presented group work and he was a natural. He was charming, humble, eloquent and funny. He was a born leader. He didn’t have to try and was elected chair by his peers. He could effect change, in fact all of them in that room could but “S” was different. And, I told him that afterwards. I didn’t want to inflate his ego prematurely, but I wanted him to know that he had a gift. He was “overflowing” like crazy! I encouraged him to keep on studying and to not be afraid of originality. The next 20 years in Ethiopia will depend on original thinkers. Don’t be surprised if you hear more about him in the coming years. He was definitely an inspiration.

I know this entry is quite long, but just one more thing. One of the kids asked me to take a photo of him and I gladly obliged. It felt great to document these amazing kids through images. Anyhow, after I took the photograph, he jokingly asked, “So how much money are you going to give me?” That wasn’t funny. This kid was suppose to be a leader of children in his sub-city, and he was jokingly begging for money like the others just because I was a foreigner?! Why did he sell himself short like that. It doesn’t matter how much you participate in these workshops or how opinionated you are. If you don’t have the right mentality, change will just be an illusive dream or the “cool” thing to talk about. Don’t look back, please.


p.s. If you’ve said “Yes” to God. Then don’t look back either. When I struggle, I just ask myself, “Why SHOULD I look back?”…

Keep truckin’ folks! 🙂

Filed under: Africa, Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , ,


Work is finally getting better. There are so many challenges that come with working abroad, let alone at a reputable Pan African Child Rights NGO in Addis Ababa (Diplomat and NGO Central). All I can say is that if I can get through this internship, I can put up with anything! Bring it on!

Frankly speaking, being an intern sucks really bad sometimes. It doesn’t matter if you’re brilliant, qualified, dumb or even lazy. Once you’ve been labeled as the “intern”, you are simply an intern. It takes time to build your credibility, and for me my coworkers are finally permitting me to use my “voice”. It takes time, all things take time. I’m just glad I’m earning their respect, finally.

Most people go abroad to a developing country with the naive belief that they can do so much more and how they can make things right. Well the truth is, there’s a huge disparity between what we want and believe we can do, and what we can REALLY do as interns. It’s not that simple. Some have the heart to do it, but don’t have the means to do so. While others have the means, but don’t care about whatever they’re advocating for. Somehow they always manage to blindly spin out funding proposals like crazy. Damn assembly line.  Anyhow, there’s a lot of bureaucracy and politics. African NGOs are not as transparent as they seem and should be. But I’ve learned to look past the limitations and just embrace the little opportunities I have to make a difference. It doesn’t matter how small and trivial my contribution(s) may seem, at the end of the day, I still contributed.

I’m going to try to use my personal time to work with other organizations, NGOs that really need the help. I really want to make the most of my limited time in Ethiopia. I want to keep that passion and fire going. I want to use my Holy Discontent. I’m not going to let the dull atmosphere of NGOs dampen my spirits. Remember last year’s theme for Genesis? Overflow. I figure if I keep “overflowing”, eventually someone will notice right?!


P.S. The sunrise in Addis Ababa was absolutely phenomenal. It didn’t look any different from the sunrise in Canada, but since I was perched high above the city known as the “Roof of Africa”, it was just inspiring …. you don’t get to do that everyday! A priceless gift, THANK YOU.


Life is so sweet when you let Him take full reigns. Seriously, just surrender. It’s worth it.

The Sunrise of Addis Ababa

Filed under: Africa, Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , ,

Discriminated in Ethiopia

 I didn’t want to post this at first, but after thinking about it for the past few days, I’ve decided theBIGGERpicture should be a transparent blogA blog that reveals the truth. The following post was written a few days ago….


So I’ve been here one month and today is the first day I feel like total crap. I guess that’s a pretty good statistic. The beggars, office politics, corruption, harassment and racism that I’ve experienced daily is finally making a small dent on my optimism.

I was walking yesterday with Tania from work to the gym, and an Ethiopian man in his traditional dress cut across my path, turned and spat at me. Though his disgusting spit did not land on me, it only missed by centimeters. And, he had the nerve to stare right into my eyes the whole time. I just ignored him and kept forging ahead, but inside I could feel a fire burning uncontrollably.

I know this is not from God, but right now I am still so enraged! I think back into my past and I remember exactly how I would deal with racial comments, discrimination and unjust incidences. Those were the youngan days when I let stubbornness blind me. But today I wish I wasn’t as tolerant as I am now. Where did that bite go?! Or, where did that inner bitch go? Thank God.

It’s weird how I’ve had so many great days here and have been the recipient of numerous Ethiopian random acts of kindness, yet I let being spat at really affect me like this. Perhaps it was his gaze, a disgusted gaze that I will never forget. A racist gaze. What did he have against Chinese people anyway? What did he have against me? Did I deserve to be spat at (he was going for my face). Moreover, when I shared this incident with my Ethiopian friends they just dismissed it. They found ways to justify random spitting and argued how it must’ve been a coincidence. They made it sound like I lied.  Geez. Is it so hard to believe that there could be a bad Ethiopian on the streets? Man, I need to dive into the cold pool at the gym.

Anyhow, only today have I questioned why I subjected myself to stuff like this. Why did I travel to Africa to be discriminated? Why this, why that… I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I know I trust God. Things happen for a reason. I’m just happy “Ethiopia” happened to me. 🙂 No one said it was going to be easy. If it was, everyone would be a CIDA intern.

I rolled out of bed this morning and I was so tempted to call a trusted cab to pick me up for work.  I didn’t feel like braving the crowds or their curious murmurs.  Nor did I want to be called “China” 25 times during my 30 minute commute.  I just wasn’t in the mood. In the end, I put on my hiking shoes and walked to the Minibus stop. I will not let one isolated incident deter me from having a fulfilling experience here.  I will not generalize.  I will not let ignorance win.  Everyday is a new day, with new and beautiful things waiting for us to discover and appreciate.

Lord, please forgive me. Give me the strength to make it somehow. Somehow so far away from home.

Filed under: Africa, Ethiopia, Thoughts, , , , ,

Finding of the True Cross

Ethiopians are generally very religious. I’ve arrived in Addis for 3 weeks and I’ve had a few Holy days or “Holidays” already. Life is good.

Last Thursday night I joined an estimated 200 000 + people at Meskel Square to celebrate the Meskel holiday. Meskel, is the religious celebration of the discovery of the True Cross in the 4th century by Queen Eleni aka Saint Helena. According to the Orthodox story, Queen Eleni was inspired by a dream to light a giant bonfire of wood. And when she did, the smoke rose up high in the sky and returned to the ground at the exact same spot where the Cross had been buried. Aside from Easter, Meskel is the largest religious celebration of the year.

This year’s celebrations were marked by the lighting of a huge bonfire to re-enact the finding of the True Cross and a beautiful display of fireworks for the Millennium. Thousands of spectators braved the mud from the rainy season, huge crowds and random body searches by the Federal Police. We were not disappointed. The celebrations preceding the climatic bonfire were absolutely beautiful. Imagine standing shoulder-to-shoulder, toe-to-toe with thousands of onlookers wading in mud in peace, eagerly awaiting the cue to light their candles. In the distance I could see people passing along their flame to one another. Moments later, I was surrounded by a sea of flickering candle flames. The warm glow from the candles and the soft chanting of believers transported me to an incredibly peaceful place.

The atmosphere inspired me to pray. And during that moment, I couldn’t hear anything but my words to God. Though I’m not an Orthodox Christian, it didn’t matter. You either believe or not. Frankly, it’s the same God so why does it matter if I’m Non-Denominational or not. I was so encouraged by this sight of tolerance: absolute strangers, Ethiopians and Foreigners, standing centimeters away from one another passing the flame and just enjoying each other’s company. It’s possible, anything is possible if people are genuinely compassionate.

It was amazing.

p.s. Photographs will be on Facebook soon…

Meskel Candle by Susan Wong

Meskel Celebration Candles by Susan Wong

Meskel Celebration Candles by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Ethiopia, Ethiopian Millennium, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , ,

Through My Eyes


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