Archive for August, 2009

24 Hours in Addis Ababa

Posted on August 30, 2009, by Hanna Ingber, under Crime, International.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — I have been in Ethiopia for less than 24 hours and have had my first experience with armed robbery.

I was walking around an open-air market – in broad daylight – in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, with a friend who has lived here for over a year. The Merkato is considered the biggest open-air market in Africa. With the exception of an Ethiopian contemporary art gallery, it was the one thing in Addis I really wanted to see – mostly for the photo opportunities.

My friend and I, the only two white people there, spent the afternoon strolling through the market.  She chatted with the men and young children calling after us. I took photos: men sitting on the street selling everything from sneakers to power cords to videogame controllers; Muslims lined up on their knees for the afternoon prayer; stalls selling bushels of leaves called chat that men chew as a stimulant; women in a variety of dress – some Ethiopian Orthodox Christians wearing white veils for church, Muslims in headscarves and some, presumably Somalis, in gowns that fully covered their bodies with only slits for their eyes. One wore a long black gown, fully covered, and as she walked, pretty silver high heels peaked out.

As we were on our way out of the market, two young guys ran up from behind us. One grabbed the digital camera out of my hand. The cord was wrapped around my wrist, so he had to tug. As I soon as I realized what was happening, I let go easily. Just in case.

Then I saw the other young man struggling with my friend for her clutch purse. She put up a decent fight, even running after him a little. Damn it, I thought as I watched my guy take off through the stalls, I should have put up a fight.

But the second guy pulled a knife out on my friend. As soon as she saw the knife, she dropped the purse and fell backwards on the ground. He ran off.

People gathered around, watching. No one ran after the guys or even asked if we were OK.

We quickly found a taxi and jetted away.

I have told a few Ethiopians about the incident, and the reaction has been the same: the Merkato is known for theft, but armed robbery? That is very rare here, they say. A fellow writer told me that armed robbery is almost unheard of in Ethiopia, and that the crime rate here for serious crimes is very low compared to other African countries. He also said that had we gone to the police (which we didn’t – how could they find these guys in a huge market?) – and they had arrested the men, the men would have gotten 10 years in prison.

I am in Ethiopia with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which will be taking me around the country to visit their maternal health sites. Today we will visit teenage girls who have fled their homes in rural villages due to child marriage and have resettled in the capital. Many now work under harsh conditions as maids for very low-income Ethiopian families. UNFPA helps educate the children and give them life skills.

People in Addis have been friendly; many men and children see a white woman and eagerly begin practicing their English. “You! You!” “Hello.” Or they shout out the Amharic words for “Foreigner!” and “White Face!”

The city is not exactly “attractive.” Tiny shops line the streets selling beer or snacks. And then out of nowhere, these huge, incredibly gaudy modern hotels pop up. Shack – shack – shack – huge gaudy hotel—shack – shack – shack.  To be fair, I have only been here for 24 hours. Maybe the beautiful parts of the city are hiding.

Luckily, though, the modern hotel where I am staying has Internet access in my room, a big TV and a clean, comfortable bed. I will spend much of the week outside Addis, where I hear bedbugs prevail. I will get my rest in Addis, while I can.

Despite the fleas, the rest of the country should be very beautiful – thank goodness I brought a second camera.

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Leaving for Ethiopia, with Piles of Cash

Posted on August 27, 2009, by Hanna Ingber, under International, Uncategorized.

I leave tomorrow for Ethiopia. One of the things I love most about going somewhere new is the anticipation and excitement the night before. And the ignorance. No matter how much you read about a place, you have no idea what it will feel like until you arrive.

And given that I have done a lot of reading about maternal health for my trip, and very little (ok - none) about tourism in Ethiopia, I have no clue what to expect. (Mental note — Add “buy Lonely Planet Ethiopia” to the do list.) In many ways, though, the not knowing will make the arrival all the better. What will the airport in Addis Ababa look like? Will it be basically one large, dusty room like in Rangoon? Presumably minus the soldiers and men in longyis grabbing your suitcase and then demanding “tea money.” Will it be modern like in Bangkok, where you can buy a Starbucks after collecting your luggage?

The Addis-based communications consultant at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which is sponsoring my trip, told me that I should bring plenty of cash. I will be arriving on the weekend, and ATMs might be out of money.

She also told me Addis will be cold, and I should bring a warm jacket. Oops. I guess I can remove the bikini from my suitcase. Wishful thinking.

I will spend about nine days traveling around Ethiopia with the UNFPA, visiting their maternal health sites and then writing about my trip for the HuffPost. We are going to look at how UNFPA is teaching midwives to do surgeries because of the country’s lack of doctors. (Only 6 percent of pregnant women in Ethiopia have access to skilled birthing attendants, including midwives). We are also going to visit a fistula hospital, meet women who have faced gender based violence, and chat with girls who have been victims of early marriage and are trying to rebuild their lives.

Plus, I hope to eat a lot of delicious Ethiopian food — with my fingers, enjoy the Addis nightlife and meet women who have gone through great hardship but are surviving. Hopefully some will even be thriving.

No matter what lies ahead, the trip is bound to be fascinating. I can’t wait to arrive and be overwhelmed by culture shock, and so inspired and in awe of this new place that I want nothing but to snap photos and write stories home.

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Fixer: Interview with Christian Parenti

Posted on August 22, 2009, by Hanna Ingber, under International, Media, Politics.

“Fixer: The Taking Of Ajmal Naqshbandi” is an incredibly powerful documentary that tells the story of the Afghan war through the relationship formed between an American journalist, Christian Parenti, and his Afghan fixer, Ajmal. Here is my Q&A with Christian. He talks about war reporting, Taliban “citizen journalism” propaganda, the Afghan election and why he thinks Obama’s Afghan policy is doomed to fail.

American journalist Christian Parenti and his Afghan interpreter travel to southern Afghanistan to conduct an important yet very dangerous interview with members of the Taliban. The moment comes when the men fear the interview may turn ugly, and they quickly grab their belongings, jump into their taxi and race off. In the car, Parenti asks his fixer, Ajmal Naqshbandi, if he will tell his fiance about the interview. Hell, no. The men laugh. Telling the fiance would be more dangerous than meeting with the Taliban.

In another scene, the documentary flashes forward six months, and the same fixer, Naqshbandi, stares into the camera but this time without the look of the jovial young man who was laughing in taxis and eating dinner with friends. Naqshbandi has been kidnapped, and his lighthearted expression has been replaced with one of fear. Sweat drips down his cheeks as he tries to reassure his family that everything will fine.

By juxtaposing scenes of laughter and friendship with video images of kidnappings and beheadings, HBO’s “Fixer: The Taking Of Ajmal Naqshbandi,” directed by Ian Olds, uses the relationship formed between an American journalist and his interpreter to tell the story of the war in Afghanistan.

The HuffPost sat down with Parenti to talk to him about the film, modern war reporting and why he thinks Obama’s current Afghan policy is bound to fail.

Continue reading here.

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