Monthly Archives: April 2013

Coca Cola Road Race

As the Hash is a drinking group with a running problem, we get informed about various running events going on around town. This morning was the first of three 7K races through Addis sponsored by Coca-Cola. It’s a cool idea for getting people out and exercising: you run the same course once a month for three months, you have a timing chip for an official time, and the goal is to improve over the course of the three months. Obviously, there are the serious Ethiopian runners, and their goal is to win, but everyone gets an achievable and personal goal, and one that will hopefully encourage them to exercise more than previously in between the runs. Sadly, I am not here for the other 2, so I will never know if I’ll improve, and I won’t get my medal.

pre-race festivities
pre-race festivities


Back-up at the starting line
Back-up at the starting line
Threee professional runners carried this while running the course. And they were still about 3x as fast as me.
Threee professional runners carried this while running the course. And they were still about 3x as fast as me.

I thought we would be walking, since Berhanu has a bad leg. Well, I ended up with a fabulous Hasher named Charlotte, a nutritionist aide worker based in Malawi but here in Addis for 6 months, and we did about half walking (uphill) and half running (downhill). I’m pretty sure Charlotte’s daughter Ellen is about my age, but that didn’t stop her from totally kicking my ass and making me go faster than I would otherwise have gone. I obviously jinxed myself in the last post, since the day after I wrote it, I woke up with a sore throat that developed into a nasty cold. I blame Mike, who also had a cold last week. Had I known we were going to run, I’d probably have gone back to bed. Anyway, I am incredibly proud of my official time of 66:20 for 7K with said cold, at 8200ft, and with photo stops. We also ran past Charlotte’s office so popped in so I could have a peak. So, clearly take off 5 minutes for the photo stops, 6 minutes for the head cold, and 5 minutes for being well above the altitude at which I was born. Then, it only took me 2x as long as the female champ.

After the race, the awards ceremony was presided over by none other than the man, the myth, the legend of Ethiopian running: Haile Gebreselassie (black warmups holding mic. The other two are also professional runners, and if I understood correctly, one won the Boston Marathon this year?). This man is the Michael Jordan of Ethiopia, and is truly and justifiably a national hero because 1) he has chosen to stay in Ethiopia rather than move to the US or Europe as many have, and 2) he has invested a ton of money in the Ethiopian economy – he owns apartment buildings, hotels, businesses, etc.


Charlotte and I ran into a white guy who had been on stage during the ceremony as we were leaving, and we didn’t know why he was onstage so asked him. He said he was the CEO of Coca-Cola (I’m guessing for Africa), and so Charlotte started giving him a hard time about a soda company sponsoring healthy living events. He took it well, we invited him to Hash, and he might even show up (not holding my breath, though). I had been horrified that Coke was the only choice at the beverage stops, which forced me to pop over to a roadside kiosk to buy a small water, also adding a minute to our time…

So, two more activities checked off the Ethiopia life list: participate in the national sport (running) and see up close and personal the most famous athlete. Maybe I will be ready to return Stateside in just over two weeks. Although I very much doubt it! But, I am looking forward to pants that stay up without some serious belt action. Is it that it’s been months since they’ve seen the shrinking power of the dryer, or because the GI problems and change in diet (for the better? – no processed food, although far more carbs) have caught up with me. I am also very much looking forward to a proper towel!

Adventures with Antibiotics

My American friends know that I am almost never sick. I’m pretty sure my Ethiopian friends think I am sick all the time, which is fair since I’ve had my share of health issues this trip. The antibiotics have been getting a workout on this trip. I have now tried four of them. Cipro is God’s gift to humankind travelling in the third world. It’s a tossup whether amoxicillin or erythromycin is God’s punishment for a lifetime worth of sins.

The first two antibiotic adventures were the typical ones you get here in Ethiopia. You eat something that doesn’t agree with you, and there goes the GI system for a few days. The first wasn’t so bad – I wouldn’t even have taken anything but Holyad made me take Metronidazole (actually, I’m not sure if that’s an antibiotic – will have to WebMD it one day). The second round was my classic, GI system really empties, I’m confined to bed for a day, and then minimal eating and 10lb weight loss over the next week. Cipro to the rescue!

On to the latest two-part adventure! Last Saturday, I woke up with a sore lymph node in my neck. I was worried that half my face would swell up again like it did in December, making it impossible to talk or eat. I made it through Hash and a Bahai prayer ceremony and dinner, and then came home to bed. When I woke up Sunday morning, swelling was in full swing. Holyad first took me to a clinic near my house. For 50 birr (about the same as a plate of pasta), I had a “doctor” take one look at me, declare that I had mumps, and joke about how you can catch viral infections anywhere here and that my US mumps immunization was meaningless here.

I was sure it was bacterial, not viral, so we went to the hospital next. There, for about 300 birr, I got a full examination including blood workup (mostly useless tests), and despite my telling the doctor I was allergic to penicillin, he prescribed me amoxicillin. I was too miserable, plus had no Internet access at home, to investigate the drug and learn that it is penicillin-based. So I started taking it. On the bright side, the swelling in my face disappeared the next day. An unfortunate side effect was that Monday night, my hands started tingling; Tuesday morning, I awoke to find my fingers replaced by giant, bump-covered sausages. Fingers are not meant to be as swollen as mine were, and it hurt like crazy. I couldn’t hold a pen, much less an airscribe, so it was a rather unproductive day at work. At that point, Holyad took matters into his own hands and got me erythromycin. He’s an epidemiologist and has a special ID that lets him get whatever drugs he asks for at a pharmacy without a prescription. Wednesday was fine, but Thursday I was so nauseous that I spent the day curled in a pile of foam padding at the museum watching about the entire first season of Nashville. Despite starring the incomparable Connie Britton, it’s no Friday Night Lights. That night, I decided I had suffered enough and would take my chances by stopping early (sorry Emily, I know you don’t approve).

Six days later I am still alive. But, three weeks until I head home. What will the next medical adventure be???

On On!

Our sponsor for the timing of this post is: drumroll, please: antibiotics! I love how on WebMD, they remind you that your doctor had a reason for prescribing antibiotics, so you should suck it up and deal with the side effects. So, take that nausea. You may make me too miserable to work, but writing seems like a doable activity. Plus, much as I love Connie Britton, three episodes of Nashville in a row is three too many, so…

My advice to anyone living abroad who likes the outdoors and/or beer (preferably both): join the local Hash group. To the uninitiated, like me before I moved here, I promise this is not what it sounds – there’s no hookah involved, it’s perfectly legal, and is a really great way to meet some really interesting people, both locals and foreigners. Thanks to the Addis Ababa Hash House Harriers, I’ve seen a lot of the beautiful countryside around Addis, gotten my lungs accustomed to running at altitude, and most importantly, made friends.

As someone who does not have a car, I’m especially grateful for the opportunity, for only 20 birr per week plus your beer/water/pop tab, to get taken up into the mountains. I love Addis, I really do, but it is a congested and dirty city. Too many consecutive days in city limits is suffocating. And so Saturday is the best day of the week because it means clean air, beautiful views, and freedom. Last week, the trail was up in Entoto, and included winding your way downhill at top speed through the eucalyptus forest –magical if you can forget what a destructive invasive plant eucalyptus is. On the flip side, the last time we were on Entoto, I hashed with an Aussie, who said it made him feel right at home.

hash view

So what is hash? “A drinking group with a running problem.” A trail run with beer and merriment awaiting at the end (and sometimes in the middle). The day or morning before the hash, the hares set the trail. They make the hash circle at the starting and ending point (see picture), and then leave a trail of shredded white paper to mark the course. Now, one of the keys is that this trail shouldn’t be too obvious or straightforward; there should also be lots of uphill and a beautiful view (sample photo above). Part of the fun is working as a team to find the trail, and, of course, short cutting when you realize you went in completely the wrong direction. At some points, the hares leave small circles of shreddies, and then the runners have to spread out and find where the appropriate path is. Some trails end in X’s. One is correct.

hash circle

After everyone makes it back again, the hash circle takes place. The GM (General Mismanager) leads, choir provides rousing and generally unruly songs, hares are critiqued, and the virgins, returners, and leavers are welcomed/bidden farewell. Then, the spiritual advisor takes over to address “sins” that occurred during the hash. Sample sins include new shoes, egregious short cutting, talking on the phone… And I should note that, like in all exclusive societies, members get irreverent, through hopefully not irrelevant, nicknames. So, my Hash friends include Short Cutting Bastard, Hand Cream, and Tennis Ball, to name a few.


The Addis Hash group is a really terrific set of people. A fun mix of old and young. Expat and Habesha. And by expat, I don’t just mean white people – we have folks from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and more. Diplomats, marines, tour guides, UN folk, aid workers, teachers, architects, you name it. No other paleontologists, which is a good thing, because I’ve gotten a chance to see how some of the other 99.999% lives. And, let me tell you, many of them have really cool lives and a lot of amazing stories!


This week, Tesfay, Mike, Holyad, and I set the trail up on Gojem Road, which is far, but well worth it for the isolation, beautiful scenery, and hyena sightings. The benefit (?) of setting the trail is you get to do it twice in one day. So Saturday was a glorious 15.2km of walking and running in the woods. And, in the circle post hash, we had a short ceremony where I finally received my Hash name. Sorry, I can only reveal it to you in the circle: rules are rules.

Being Duchess Catherine

This extremely long delay between blog posts has been brought to you by: the NSF Earth Life Transitions program, the University of Wyoming, my father (visit to be covered in later blogs), the Addis Ababa Hash House Harriers (also to be covered in another blog), and the Paleontological Society Short Course. All good things, but all took a lot of time, and after sitting at my computer working on grants, PowerPoints, and manuscripts for the better part of the day, I really had no interest in using my free time to blog. This post has been in the works for a while, so, without further ado:

After three and a half months in Addis, I think I can relate to how Duchess Catherine must feel whenever she goes out. The instant recognition, appraising glances, stares, lack of anonymity, greetings from absolute strangers, random people telling her how beautiful she is. Well, actually, I could get used to the random people telling me I’m beautiful. This never, ever happens in America, and I’m ok with that because there are so many things I’d rather do than spend time on hair, clothes, makeup, and shoes. But my white skin and unaccompanied status make me incredibly desirable here, and I have no shortage of admirers. It’s a bad day if at least 3 perfect strangers don’t use beautiful, gorgeous, or synonyms of these in reference to me. I think one guy struck it on the head, when he said to me, “You are beautiful but ugly at the same time.” I interpret this as, “You’re white so you’re pretty, but you need to primp more.” On the other hand, it might just be that his English wasn’t good enough to actually understand what he was saying.

However, I would wager that strangers are not nearly as forward with Duchess Catherine as they are with me here. Here is my favorite experience, although it was frightening at the time:

One day on my walk home, I got joined by a rather annoying man. I thought it would be the usual, guy starts talking, walks with you for a couple hundred feet, and then with a lack of encouragement goes his own way. Well, despite my not making eye contact with him and essentially grunting responses to his bizarre questions (are you a simple girl or a complicated one? are you a cat lover or a dog lover? please, I just want to learn about you.), he stayed with me for the entire walk. Now I didn’t want him to know where I live, so I bluntly said goodbye to go into a small convenience store to lose him. He had spent a good 5 minutes convincing me that everything happens for a reason, and we were meant to meet randomly like that. Well, gosh darn it, he was right, because that convenience store had a whole shelf full of oatmeal! My favorite breakfast food, which I had been missing tremendously! And oatmeal with fresh papaya is ambrosia.

Everyone here wants to know what my name is. That is, of course, a difference between the duchess and me. Except in the case of little kids, I find this an invasion of privacy and hesitate to give out my real name. Most days, I am able to restrain myself, and I am Elizabeth (pronounced here, Elzbet) from Great Britain or Lina from Sweden (yes, I borrow from people I know in real life) or Hilda from Germany (sadly, no, I do not actually know a Hilda from Germany).

One day, though, I may crack and try out the following, bonus points to anyone who can identify all the references:

– My name is for my friends.

– I am Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight and friend to Captain Solo.

– Bond, James Bond.

– Sons of Ethiopia, I am William Wallace.

– I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir to Illendil.

– They call me the Fridge, and I’m the rookie. I may be large but I’m no dumb cookie.

– I am Arthur, king of the Britains.

CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow.

Brewster – Take off the B and what do you get? Rooster. And what does a rooster do? It crows. And where do you like to go hunting? On the Velt. Crowsvelt, Crowsvelt.[Well, this one may not work so well, but having happy memories of watching this movie as a kid with my mama.]

– You can call me Al.

– And, last, but certainly not least: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

PS – I occasionally have fantasies of what my life would be like if it were a musical or, even better, a Bollywood movie. My trip to and from work every day: I’m walking along down the street, minding my own business. Random men approach me and break into: “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe.” And then we could have a dance number. One that involves me dancing in a circle by myself without anyone getting close enough to touch me.

PSS – As long as we’re talking about walking around Addis and the random thoughts that go through my head, Addis is a city of smells. And many of them are atrocious. So, at least once a day, I channel my best Harrison Ford sarcasm and think, “What an incredible smell you’ve discovered.”