the BIGGER picture


Just a glimspe. Susan's Perspective.

The Truth is Often Stranger Than Fiction

Recently I was informed that a good friend of mine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia had been thrown in jail for a crime that he did not commit. Allegedly, my friend was charged with vehicular homicide of a street boy. If you are not familiar with the Ethiopian justice system or the jail accommodations, let’s just say they are the epitome of “unforgiving”. From what I have been told, my friend was at a bar watching a football game on the other side of town during the time of the accident. Witnesses also have said that the car that hit the boy was a white Jeep whereas my friend drove a black truck, which had no dents or damage. Out of the 4-5 million people in Addis Ababa, the police only knocked on my friend’s door. Fishy might you ask?! Sounds like someone influential wants him out of the way if you ask me!

On another note, my former roomie has dedicated her career to working with causes that fight injustice throughout the world. After her post in Ethiopia, she continued to challenge herself and took up another one in Darfur, Sudan. She has recently returned home to the US after being held captive for 105 days.

As for myself, I’ve had similar experiences while working in Africa. No, I have not been kidnapped nor slept in an Ethiopian jail cell; instead I was stuck in the middle of 2 battling influential businesspersons – corporate warfare is a bitch and way more volatile in a country such as Ethiopia where things can just “happen” or people just “disappear”. Think about China 25 years ago. I was lucky to be able to move on unscathed.

I think it’s easy for others to criticize the choices that my friends and I have made. Some would even accuse us of bringing it upon ourselves and sabotaging our careers. Friend #1 is a respectable entrepreneur and engineer who chose to leave his career in Europe to return back to his roots in hopes of giving back to his people – literally “building” a future for the community. Friend #2 is not crazy for going to Darfur. Yes, that region may be plagued with conflict and violence; but it is because of people like Friend #2 that those places and people have not been forgotten by you and I.

We are not stupid nor naïve for believing in opportunities in Africa. We may run into brick walls here and there. And yes, bureaucracy still hinders many businesses and development projects on the Continent. However, opportunities also exist and they are tangible. We can all do our part to contribute to Africa’s continuing prosperity. As the impressive lone female African head of state, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf likes to say, there are no poor countries, just rich countries that are poorly managed. Through ambition, hard work, determination, perseverance and sheer luck; it is possible for dreams to become reality.

Musician Judith Franklin reminded me of Shirley Horn’s “Here’s To Life” today. Shirley truly sang this song with every ounce of her soul and her lyrics…well, nothing less than inspiring. End result, absolutely stunning.

No complaints and no regrets.
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets.
But i have learned that all you give is all you get, so give it all you got.
I had my share, i drank my fill, and even though i’m satisfied i’m hungry still
To see what’s down another road, beyond a hill and do it all again.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life the dreamers and their dreams.
Funny how the time just flies.
How love can turn from warm hellos to sad goodbyes
And leave you with the memories you’ve memorized
To keep your winters warm.
There’s no yes in yesterday.
And who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away.
As long as i’m still in the game i want to play
For laughs, for life, for love.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life, the dreamers and their dreams.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.


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

Re-Integrating at Home and Packing Tips for Expats

The Holiday season has officially wrapped up for me! Christmas, New Years and the month-long festivities of Chinese New Year have made my return to Canada from Ethiopia, bearable.

After more than 3 years of calling Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as my home, being back at “home” is definitely bittersweet. With the daily small successes, challenges and bureaucracy of working in Ethiopia in my memories, I’ve been indulging in the small luxuries of life that I had come to live without.

My sister, “Princess Master Packer”, was nice enough to come visit me in Ethiopia just before I left for good. Princess Master Packer, is a gifted packer and is spatial-visualization inclined. I’ll be the first to admit, without her supervision, skill and additional baggage allowance; I don’t know what I would have done! Packing up 3 years worth of memories, essentials and just stuff was intimidating and one of the hardest things I’ve done (made climbing Mt. Kenya 5008m look easy)!!!

Seeing Ethiopia through Princess Master Packer’s eyes was certainly entertaining. Things that I’ve come to embrace seemed completely foreign and outright absurd to her! I wonder if I was like her when I first stepped foot on to African soil 3 years ago…F.O.B. (fresh off the boat)

If you’re an Expat that has accumulated a lot of stuff like me…here are some packing tips:

1. How to embrace outdoor equipment when packing:
– Water bottles, Nalgeens and other hard plastic containers may seem like space wasters in your suitcase, but
they serve as perfect canisters to pack small items such as shavers, tampons, jewellery, medication, sunglasses etc.
– Rug sacks and mountaineering backpacks should be emptied and flattened to line the bottom of your large

2. Additional piece of luggage
If you know ultimately you won’t make the baggage allowance and your only option is to pay for an extra piece of
luggage, then invest in a good cardboard box and cling wrap at the airport. As an oversized cardboard box, you can
place all of your heaviest items in that carton. Airlines are generous with weight with extra pieces and if they’re in cartons since you’ve already paid extra.

3. Anything odd shaped or cardboard MUST be wrapped with cling wrap at the airport! Don’t be a cheapo and opt out
of the wrap thinking it won’t do much and is cheaper to buy wrap from Wal-mart to DIY. You’ll be surprised how well
the cling wrap at the airport is able to distribute stress away from the corners of a bashed up box and not to
mention keep things inside the box.

4. Always have extra USD enough to pay for extra/overweight luggage. USD is the only currency that no matter how
rural and off the map you are, people will accept. Don’t depend on credit cards because as I have experienced, the
only credit card machine at the airport might be broken. Or, you only have Euros but the staff insist on USD only
and the currency changers are all closed!

Remember to expect the unexpected!

Women of the Hamer Village in Omo Valley looking into the African sunset photographed by Susan Wong

The sun sets into a peaceful Hamer Village in Southern Ethiopia photographed by Susan Wong

Crossing the Omo River 20km from the Kenyan-Ethiopia border photographed by Susan Wong

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

Unleashing My Potential: Finding My Way Through Inspiring Travels in Kenya

Wow! It’s been 1 year and 4 days since my last entry! Shame on me, but please readers have a forgiving heart because a lot has happened in the last year; and hey, it’s never too late right?

I’m writing to you from my very cool temp pad in the thick of Downtown Nairobi, Kenya. For those that are familiar with my happenings, yes, I am on another break from Ethiopia. I’m on an involuntary vacation….more on that later.

As I was flying into Mombasa, Kenya a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded why I had always been intrigued by this country. My fourth time, and still I was overcome by a sense of joy and awe as we flew over the beautiful shades of greens, yellows and earthy browns of the fields of hardworking farmers, patched eloquently together.

The colourful patchwork of the land below, much like an unmistakable Pucci print, reminded me of all of the experiences, emotions, dreams, challenges, drama, successes and even the failures from the past 3 years; and that have made me into the person that I have become. We are the result of the patches of events in our lives. We are our own distinct fashionable, stylish and catwalk-worthy piece of patchwork.

More on what’s really eating me up later. For now, enjoy some of the inspiring moments I have witnessed during my trip to Kenya…

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

Jet Lag

Having just completed my densely packed first week back in Toronto, I am now hibernating at home on a Friday evening. This 6-week trip thus far has been more challenging than my last. It seems that I’ve been hit with a severe case of jet leg or perhaps my week of untimely fatigue has been due to the “Developing Country Withdrawal Syndrome” – readjusting to the culture shock of home. Anyhow, my last week was basically spent readjusting to a new residence, new community, frigid weather, helping my sister’s pre-wedding projects, and fixing and reorganizing stuff. Whenever I’m back from Ethiopia, I’m always consumed with errands and things to just take care of. As much as I would like to relax and enjoy a slower pace of life at home, it seems more like a rat race in the dead of winter.

The other day while renewing my passport (I filled up all of my pages!), I witnessed a classic case of an inpatient woman’s lethal episode of “I have no time for such a long wait!” Nothing I haven’t seen before, but for some reason I was deeply bothered by the way she was verbally attacking others with her tone of voice and melodramatic body language. Since when was I so sensitive to a public shouting match and demonstration of heartless conduct? ‘Overreaction’ people called it. Perhaps well actually undoubtedly, my perspectives on everything have changed. In Ethiopia, I know who I am whereas back in Canada, I now struggle to find a place to fit in.

Anyhow, most people have no idea why I’m still in Ethiopia for, but all I can say is that I’m pursuing my dreams and realizing that to make them become a reality is only possible if I have the freedom and the means to accomplish them.

Don’t sacrifice tomorrow’s dreams with today’s inaction. But navigating the maze through the many turns and twists that we call life can be a daunting and a confusing journey. You simply don’t know where to begin. For me, every door of opportunity that has opened, I’ve literally pushed myself to walk through them. Real experience is the only way to really find what your true passions are. I can’t say I have an answer to it all, but at least through experimenting, failing and succeeding I’ve found more clarity. As they say in the financial world, higher risk historically is associated with higher rates of return. The same goes with finding our passions and realizing our dreams. Are we going to just wonder about the ‘what ifs’ or are we going to seek them out? If we’re afraid of risk, we’ll never step past the protective walls of our comfort zone. Take a leap of faith. Whatever it is, just give it a go!

Crystal clear photographed by Susan Wong

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

Belated Holiday Greetings

Belated holiday greetings to all! I’ve been quite busy celebrating twice and then some more. Ethiopia uses its own Ethiopian Calendar. As a result, after celebrating Christmas and New Years, we end up celebrating it again a few weeks later.

This year was my second Holiday Season on the African continent. Contrary to last year, I was hit severely with a case of homesickness. I missed it all: the crisp refreshing air on cold Canadian winter mornings, the fresh white blankets of fluffy snowflakes, the painful feeling from getting smacked with a snowball, the popular ski and snowboarding hills, a steamy hot cup of cinnamon apple cider, the creative applications of Christmas lights on everyone’s home and buildings, watching the lighting ceremony and fireworks at Nathan Philips Square, Christmas carols, “Midnight Madness” – the mad dash to malls for gifts, embracing familiar faces….and Santa and his reindeers in the star-filled sky of Canada.  Anyhow, I managed to throw a last minute Christmas Eve feast with friends at my place…but it just wasn’t the same. Actually, I was wondering when and if ever I would get homesick. Almost 2 years later, a happy belated homesickness to me!

For Ethiopian Christmas, I joined a couple of friends to the South (Arba Minch) to visit my Ethiopian family and their orphanage. Besides the dreadful roads that nearly broke my tailbone and the maddening insect bites, the trip was incredibly rejuvenating. Fresh tilapia grilled to perfection, beautiful and inspiring panoramas, mouth-watering fruits, Africa’s largest crocodiles, thousands of pelicans, grumpy hippos, kilometers and kilometers of golden fields of wild grass, entrancing sunsets on the lakes, and many genuine new friendships later…I was back to my peaceful self.

Expanding myself into business has been a very trying experience, but nonetheless rewarding. As an entrepreneur in a foreign country with an emerging market, the potential is absolutely limitless. However, to harvest the fruit it has proven to take a longer period of nurturing, and extensive perseverance and will power. After a while, you only end up eating and sleeping business – scary. You slowly forget everyone around you and you drown in your own worry. A dark and deep black hole. What’s to worry? I have said it many times and I will say it again, I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and depending on your perspective, you may frown or you may rejoice. Deep down I believe we are all capitalists, it’s just a matter of where you stand on the scale. I only hope that I will maintain development and social aspects to all of my endeavors.

Anyhow, while in Dorze, a few kilometers outside of Arba Minch perched on a mountain that overlooked the grand Lakes separated by a low plateau suitably named “The Bridge of God”, in a dingy local Tej Pub (Honey Wine bar), I was surrounded my seemingly euphoric people who knew nothing but happiness. Perhaps it was the alcohol content of the Tej, a bright orange colored liquid served in a chemistry flask, but in the high sun of a weekday I didn’t feel like they were simply just a bunch of drunks. There was just something about these happy people.

There was one middle-aged woman that absolutely glowed of happiness and joy. Her eyes danced in the light and her gaze was so soft and genuine that you couldn’t help but to engage in a conversation with her. Nevertheless, language barriers and all, she managed to teach me the proper way to hold a Tej bottle and how to drink this honey fermented beverage. After flicking the first mouthfuls of Tej out of the bottle, we gulped down the sweetest and tastiest Honey Wine I had ever tasted (the Tej at weddings are revolting sometimes). Bottoms up!

I can’t wait to go back to the colorful South!

Learning how to drink Tej "Honey Wine" in a Local Tej Pub in Dorze, Ethiopia photographed by Susan Wong

The skilled Tej Waiter in Dorze, Ethiopia photographed by Susan Wong

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

THE STARS ABOVE and Dealing With Obsessed Ex-Bosses

Since my resignation at the Company I had been working at for the past 8 months, and my return from my Kenyan vacation, I have been trying to get use to having all this NEW free time for myself.

Back Home, I was one of the most social yet obscure people. I loved being a people person, but I also enjoyed hibernating. I just like to clear my head…and to try and keep myself in check. Anyhow, for the past 1.5 years in Ethiopia, I have been admittedly, too busy even for me. This break has eased me back into the person I nearly had forgotten, reminded me of the dreams I wanted to pursue, and most importantly put everything back into perspective.

I have grown increasingly homesick these days. Perhaps I miss Home because I miss having a “normal” life… I will be returning back to Toronto soon for my Sister’s Big Day…maybe that’s also one of the reasons why I miss Home. I miss being a part of my family and friends’ lives. I miss the magical stars that illuminate the Canadian sky in the North, the colorful leaves of Autumn, the feeling of the refreshing Canadian cold, the sounds of Nature in the pitch darkness of a forest…you’ve never seen so many stars….more white flickers than the blue-black sky….shining so bright…and there’s just so many….too many…indescribably beautiful stars….like holes to Heaven…

Thanks to the Stars above, I have been busy with new projects, new ventures, and new possibilities! When you’re overcome by inspiration to do something, trust that feeling and use that passion to pursue it. Don’t give any chance to regret. So with that said, I’m still under Ethiopian stars investing in my dreams, future, and purpose.

p.s. The evening I arrived in Ethiopia, my former boss called to say…
OBSESSED RICH LADY: I heard you were back in was your trip?!
ME: Great thanks. What can I do for you? (I was really thinking, what the hell is this woman calling me for?!)
OBSESSED RICH LADY: Oh nothing, I just wanted to tell you I knew you arrived in the country at 8:04pm. Take care.
ME: Thanks…bye. (I was thinking WTF!? Is this woman really trying to intimidate me?!)

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

Happy Ethiopian New Year…it’s the year…2001!

Unintentionally, for my 1 year anniversary (in Ethiopia), I spent 2 weekends ago in Awash National Park. Located 3-4 hours south of Addis, I was so relieved to finally enjoy some quality time with good friends, out of the city, and most importantly, away from the damp and gloomy weather of the Capital.


It was great to be in a hot climate again. I think my body nearly had forgotten how spectacular the roasting sun was for my flea bites….and for my sanity. The Ethiopian saying, “13 Months of Sunshine” is true after all, despite the depressing rain of Addis, no one said the saying actually included Addis.


As expected, we saw various endemic bird species and animals roaming in the wild: Antelope, Oryx, Baboon, Wild Boar, Fox, and Hyena etc. The 2m high termite mounds were a common sight and their enormous sizes were just unbelievably massive. Signs of the remnants of a shortened wet season were visible with scattered yellow wild flowers peeking through the dry and dusty earth. In areas where rain was abundant, never-ending fields of tall wild grass swayed effortlessly with the occasional gust of wind. The grass flickered in the sun like gold, and was the perfect backdrop to lush green mountains. The color contrast was spectacular. The beauty of our surroundings was just overwhelmingly breathtaking. Even a talker like me, spent most of my time with my mouth shut to take in every detail possible.


We finished off the day with a visit to the 110m waterfall. The notorious waterfall gushed with such power that our ears were deafened by the strength of the current. With no fences or railings to prevent us from falling into the water, we descended to the rocky cliff edge for a better view, where we were literally centimeters away from slipping into the current. It was incredible. With our close proximity, even for me, a seasonal visitor of Niagara Falls, I was amazed.


As suggested, we spent the other half of our short vacation in search of a natural Hot Spring in the Park. To be honest, I was skeptical of how “amazing” the Springs would be. The last natural spring pool I visited was quite disappointing (Ambo), small in size and more or less converted into a public swimming pool. So this time around, as we drove on unpaved gravel roads and mud pits through the Park for more than 1.5 hours, I secretly doubted what, if anything spectacular laid ahead.


The mandatory Park Rangers, with their AK47s, accompanied us for security reasons. The local Afar People have been known to be quite demanding and unwelcoming with their machetes and guns when threatened. So, when the Rangers suggested for us to park our vehicle while members of the local tribe approached us, believe me when I say I felt a little bit “uneasy”.


In such a dry region, no one would imagine seeing a huge swamp with Palm Trees springing up from the earth. After hiking for about 400m into what seemed like the thick tropical forests of the Amazon, small pools of bubbling water gave us a taste of what laid ahead. Struggling to cross fallen Palm Trees bridging a steaming stream, the amused Afari men would lend a helping hand here and there. Drenched in our own sweat from the 35 degree midday heat, the idea of dipping into this illusive Hot Spring cooled me down. When the Rangers told us we had arrived, I struggled to see what we were looking at. As I slowly brushed away a dangling green palm leaf, I found myself overlooking an emerald and turquoise blue pool of crystal clear water sheltered from the strong sun by the tall Palm Trees. The 10 square meter pool was small in size but to me, seemed like a majestic treasure of nature. This was like an episode out of Gilligan’s Island! Who would’ve thought a 45 degree Hot Spring existed in Ethiopia? Anyhow, the water was great…but super hot! It probably wasn’t the smartest idea to take a long dip in the pool. We were exhausted from the heat already, and now we were diving into a pool hot enough to cook eggs. Stupid Ferenjis aka Foreigners. After a couple of minutes, we climbed out with our heads throbbing, dying of thirst, dizzy and faces as red as lobsters. We were completed exhausted for many hours later.


It was an amazing weekend. Short but straight to the point…getting reacquainted with Ethiopia’s beauty. So often do I feel tired of Ethiopia because of daily annoyances from the big city. It all gets too tiring and before you know it, you’re so drained that you make false generalizations of the entire country – which is completely irrational. By no means is Addis representative of Ethiopia, so it’s always great to get reminded of what Ethiopia has to offer, and perhaps what was the point of staying in this country in the first place.


I’m grateful for the timely reminder, but I think for me, hitting the 1 year mark, has been a difficult time. Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking what the hell is wrong with me, but when a positive person like me gets bogged down by negativity, every day becomes a huge challenge. You can choose to feel like a victim of poor judgment or as an adventurer taking in every experience as a lesson from God.


I choose the latter.


Awash National Park photographed by Susan Wong

Awash National Park photographed by Susan Wong


Hot Springs in Awash National Park photographed by Susan Wong

Hot Springs in Awash National Park photographed by Susan Wong

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

Random Window Thoughts in Ethiopia

I’ve always enjoyed looking out the window. But, for some reason in Ethiopia, I feel drawn and absolutely captured when I peer out a window. This morning, as I took a minute to enjoy the chirps, and the gold and green flickers of the front garden, I finally realized that there were no ugly screens on any of the windows. Imagine, unobstructed floor to ceiling single-paned windows that open entirely…WITH NO UGLY SCREENS! It literally feels like there are no boundaries between the indoors and outdoors. Love it! That’s one thing I don’t miss about home, window screens.


Ever think about why window screens are necessary in North America? I mean, in Africa, there are a whole lot more annoying insects than in Canada. Well, at least in urban areas. Windows without screens are just unthinkable! Ok, so an odd fly or mosquito might get in to the house, but seriously are we so paranoid about pint-sized insects that we have to cage ourselves in? Or, maybe it’s just great marketing.


The system in Ethiopia is so much more idyllic. An insect mistakes your home as an outdoor playground…all you have to do is open another window and it will eventually find it’s way out. It’s that simple. No electric swatters, insect repellent candles, rolled-up newspapers or tennis racquets. Insects and humans, live in harmony over here. Take my case for instance, I’m covered in scars from last year’s flea epidemic….and I still don’t go around swatting everything in sight. Is it tolerance, acceptance or have I freed myself from our North American paranoia? I guess a bit of each.

Here are some long overdue panoramas of my expedition to Mt. Kenya (Dec 20-26, 2007). ENJOY!

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

A Regular Addis Ababa Sunday in the Rain

The Rainy Season in Ethiopia is an entertaining time of year full of surprises, new adventures, and thousands of millimeters of Mother Nature’s rain. Most Expats (aka foreigners) disappear from the Addis Ababa social scene and retreat back to where their hearts are, home. Of course, one only has so long for a vacation, but if you’re working for one of those government organizations, your vacation could be anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks. Crazy eh? So stragglers, like myself, working for local or private organizations, depending on how you see it, “choose” to rough it out in the never-ending pouring rain. Many of you are enjoying the beautiful sunny summer in Toronto, while I’m spending my summer months in damp and cold Africa…well, Ethiopia at least … no need for pity. Not exactly what people had pictured. I guess I just have to look on the bright side, when it’s minus 30 degrees (Celsius) without wind-chill back home, I’ll be enjoying sun, SUN, and oh-so-plentiful SUN! Last year, when I first arrived in Ethiopia, I managed to luckily catch the tail end of the notorious Rainy Season. I was seriously thinking, “Wow, thank goodness I’ll be gone by the next rainy season!” hmmm … guess not.

Just to give you an idea how “rainy” the Rainy Season is, here are just a few common highlights and attractions you will come across in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

  1. Unbearable damp and cold nights (a fireplace or space heater is definitely needed, even in Africa);
  2. Cracks of lightning too close for comfort;
  3. If you’ve got an aluminum roof (most homes and factories), reduced hearing is quite possible after hearing pounding rain drops *PLOP*. It’s like you placed your ear right beside the base drum of a drum set. Yikes.
  4. You’ll see rain droplets so GINORMOUS that you’ll see an ample amount of severed dragonfly wings on your window ledge. Poor insects, they probably didn’t even know what hit them!
  5. Did I point out this was flea season?! And, as I have mentioned before, I am unequivocally the preferred insect meal!
  6. Every single “good” road flooded during downpour….poor drainage planning (some roads become impassable with 1 m deep water). Just imagine the “bad” roads?!
  7. Ethiopian women wearing stilettos struggling to jump over mud puddles. It’s quite funny actually because you can totally see them trying to figure out the optimal way of crossing a puddle;
  8. People standing bizarrely under a stranger’s roof waiting for the rain to end. Even if they need to wait an hour knowing they will miss an important meeting, they will wait. Another common rain cover location: doorways to buildings;
  9. Plastic bags on heads…have to protect that new perm or weave!
  10. Hail…yes, HAIL. Hail so big it hurts! (Ethiopians call hail “snow”…they need to visit us in Canada);
  11. And of course, the drought ending! Yay!

But, as fast as a sudden downpour comes, that’s how fast it ends. Usually, even on the most depressing and gloomy-looking days, after a nice street-cleaning downpour, the beautiful sun will cast its rays for a couple of hours before it rains again. Just long enough to cheer you up and dry you off before the rain starts again.

You know, whoever came up with that phrase “13 Months of Sunshine” to describe Ethiopia was seriously lying! LYING! Haha I’ve just been spoiled with amazing weather for many months, so a little rain won’t hurt. Just a little.

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

the longest update from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!

Eleven months ago, as I was boarding my plane to Ethiopia for the very first time, I was excited and scared for the adventures that I knew lay ahead.  It’s been an incredible rollercoaster ride, and I must say, I am so blessed to have experienced so much already at such a young age.  I have seen and lived through experiences that screenwriters would only hope to write, and been to places people only dream about.  What can I say…God is the ultimate screenwriter.


As most of you know, I have left the development sector and started a new career in business.  To be honest, I had a crap time at the local NGO I was working with in partnership with the Canadian Government.  I would always remind myself that if I could persevere through this kind of working environment, I could manage through anything.  It was true…but now a bigger challenge looms ahead….


I believe traditional aid is still necessary in Ethiopia, however after half a century of inefficient assistance; perhaps we should try something new.  Trade not aid.  So, in a way I am still working in development, or shall I say with a “development mentality”.   But, like anything else we do, what really matters is our own mentality and perspective.  At my new company, grassroots capacity building through enriching Ethiopians with new skills and new dreams is what we strive for every day.


It’s incredibly encouraging to see tangible results in such a short time.  Working with the locals as an equal, rubbing shoulders with them as a team member and not as a consultant or a know-it-all foreigner…is so much more conducive to the transferring of skills and culture.  People are just more receptive.


It’s absolutely inspiring and motivating to go to work every day, and to see your hard work pay off…  but, where there is a lot of sun, there is also a lot of shade.


For reasons I will share later, I am unable to disclose much about what happened to my millionaire boss.  All I can say is that he has left the country.  I’ve been extremely stressed and challenged for the last 2 months from being placed in the middle of a whole a lot of crap.  I was the “pin-cushion” of corporate warfare.  I’m still here, and that’s what matters.


Aside from the whole Hollywood drama and espionage episode, my studio apartment was robbed by my most trusted friends – my maid, guard or possibly the landlord.  It was my money to lose since I had placed it at home…I tempted them.  However, I can not be accountable for someone’s actions, like stealing. 


For the Nth time I’ve encountered the Addis Ababa police,, I was pleasantly surprised this time.  For one, I was not openly asked for money, two, the vandalized anti-corruption poster had finally been removed, and three, the superintendent immediately sent me home with a fingerprint “specialist”.  Well, not really.


The Inspector in charge of my case shipped me into an unmarked vehicle with 2 other men to go pick up the fingerprint specialist.  On the way to the crime lab, I discover that the 2 other men were not officers in plain clothes, as I had assumed, but instead were victims too.  So, I was in a car with absolute strangers….lol Anyhow, after picking up the so-called specialist, the entire entourage went to victim #1’s residence.  We chatted…collected evidence…and enjoyed the sun.  Wait, oh right…we still had to go to my place.  Fine, the entourage accompanied with evidence from Victim #1’s residence head over to Victim #2’s compound – mine.  Anyhow, the news scoop is that nothing has come out of the investigation.  So, I took matter since to my own hands, and have since moved.


On a brighter note, God has once again surprised me with how giving is incredibly contagious.  At Bright Hope Bright Future Kindergarten, the school year has finished, and a new batch of graduates has successfully completed their studies, against all odds.   This year, 16 new graduates will be looking for placements in government-funded public primary schools…well I hope.  Anyhow, these children are the lucky ones.  Early childhood education like KG is not funded by anyone.  In the end, those stricken by poverty, will once again be disadvantaged when they start primary school with other children (who’s parents could afford KG).   Anyhow, the ceremony was great and I felt like a proud parent!  My colleague had mentioned to a client about this KG and what I was doing there….instantaneously this man decided to donate a lot of his dead stock t-shirts for kids!  Amazing.  We had enough t-shirts to give to the neighborhood children, who don’t go to school, and all of their faces lit up!  Don’t underestimate the power speaking and sharing with others about what you do in your spare time…..miracles happen.


So there are highs and lows…no different from Canada.  The only difference is that I don’t have my family and long-time friends by my side.  Like I mentioned before, where there is a lot of sun, there will also be a lot of shade.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means trying to complain.  How can I?  Here I am on a delightful Sunday morning soaking up the sun on a glass mosaic terrace, looking on to our 30-year old mature garden, enjoying breakfast with freshly picked strawberries with my housemate, accompanied by soothing acoustic renditions booming from our BOSE speakers and the musical chirps from birds indigenous to Ethiopia…. It would absolutely be a sin to complain.


Ethiopian child graduating photographed by Susan Wong

Ethiopian child graduating photographed by Susan Wong


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

Through My Eyes


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