Building for Ethiopia, Again

Returning to Ethiopia, a RPCV finds that being knee-deep in all that chika can be very rewarding

by J. Fred Gage, Gondar, Addis 63–65

Coffee in Debre Marcos

THE POT'S ON: the coffee ceremony in Debre Marcos

How does it feel to be a volunteer in Ethiopia again?  In a word: Terrific! Last September I volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity building project in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. I arrived in Addis a few days early to adjust to the altitude and explore the city once again. Leaving Addis before daylight we drove northwest on a much improved highway, stopping in Debra Marcos for lunch. After lunch we attended a coffee ceremony in a Habitat home. The aromatic plants scattered on the floor, the smoldering incense and the roasting coffee beans brought back a flood of memories. An old man present talked of the first Peace Corps teachers, the Norman Rockwell visit, and of a Volunteer who developed a special relationship with the Emperor because of something he wrote home.

That evening in Bahir Dar we were greeted at the Tana Hotel with news that the government had sold the hotel the week before and that room rates had increased 100%. After much haggling we decided to stay there, but eat elsewhere.

The build was a 25-minute drive away in the shadow of a colorful Coptic church perched on a hill. As we approached the work site for the opening celebration, we could see an undulating line of Coptic priests with their colorful umbrellas and hear the pulsing drum and the clapping of children in pink pinafores as they sang sweetly in Amharic of Jesus turning water into wine. Our band of twelve H4H Global Volunteers was being welcomed by the community of Bahir Dar.

Under construction

CHIKA-READY: a H4H house under construction in Bahir Dar

For ten days we worked side-by-side with new home owners and volunteers from the community in digging foundation holes, raising pole structures, pounding nails in green eucalyptus, and carrying rocks to build foundations that would not only preserve the structural integrity but also keep out water. We leveled floors and built stout walls of chika, that all too familiar mixture of mud and straw. Building with chika was a delight.

CHIKA, CHIKA: on your hands, on your shoes, everywhere

We rejoiced in the tactile sensation in gathering the chika, the satisfying splat as we slapped it on the walls and helped the owners, some whose fingers were diminished by leprosy, smooth the walls. It was hard work but curiously satisfying. Each day we had a morning and afternoon coffee ceremony. The women in the group were invited to dress in Ethiopian style and preside over the coffee ceremony. They also got to practice their injera making skills.

At the end of ten days we dedicated six homes by giving six new proud homeowners a bible and a key to their new homes. As Ato Yoseph of our Ethiopian staff explained, the bible was to remind the new owners of the covenant they had made with their neighbors and community to care for their new home.

We made no wine but through our labor we transformed mud and straw and eucalyptus poles and rock into homes. As the dedication ceremony wound to a close, dressed in new gabis given to us by the community, we all sang together .

This year in Debre Berhan
This August 14-27, 2010,  I will be leading a Habitat for Humanity build in Debre Berhan. I cordially invite you to join the team of twelve volunteers who will once again be building improved chika housing. Because of a rapid and steep 120% increase in cement prices caused by country-wide power shortages, chika remains the building material of choice. Habitat has been working in Debre Berhan since 2005 successfully completing more than 250 homes.

The Eva Hotel where we will stay is located close to the center of the town and owned by famed long distance runner Gete Wami. It is a relatively new hotel and provides both Ethiopian and European dishes. For more detailed information about how you can participate in this rewarding project back in Ethiopia go to the Habitat for Humanity website.  Or email me directly at fgage@wcupa.edu. Already E&E RPCV President Marian Haley Beil (Debre Berham 62-64) has signed on to join our team this summer.

Join me for an opportunity to build decent, affordable housing and experience Ethiopia once again.

One response to “Opportunities

  1. Gloria Gieseke Curtis

    Fred, thank you for the wonderful article about H4H and your chika-bet adventure. Will look forward to your report after Debre Berhan event this August. And thank you for being one of the most outstanding EE2 members. We knew you were special in 1963, and it seems nothing has changed.

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