Tag Archives: andrew tadross

RPCV Projects

Tree-lined boulevards, lush urban parks, cosmopolitan plazas

The “New” Addis Ababa as presented through a landscape architecture course at AAU

by Andrew Tadross (Endodo, Tigray & Mekelle, Tigray 2011–13)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s ever-expanding capital city doesn’t evoke images of tree-lined boulevards, lush urban parks, or cosmopolitan plazas. The city is most attractive when looking up at its gleaming new hotels set against the backdrop of 10,000 foot mountains. When you look down, things aren’t quite as inspiring. However, there is new hope for Ethiopia’s urban landscape. In 2015, the  Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction, and City Development (EIABC) opened the first landscape architecture masters degree program in the country (there is no undergraduate LA degree). This year, ten graduate students will become the first crop of landscape architects to contribute to the transformation of Addis Ababa into a more livable, resilient city.

Upon earning a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Colorado/Denver, I worked for several years with the City of Houston Parks Dept. and at Rialto Studio in San Antonio. Having taught in Mekele during my service in the Peace Corps and finding a great deal of satisfaction in academia, I jumped at a 1 year teaching contract with EIABC in 2016. With a staff of only four, our young program has a curriculum that is similar to most American landscape architecture programs, but caters only to students with previous background in architecture (thus Autocad and basics design courses are not included). My classes included Construction and Site Engineering, 3rd Semester Design Studio, and two sections of Introduction to Landscape Architecture — an undergrad course for over 160 students.

English is a 2nd or 3rd language for most of my students, and initially I deciphered the students silence as boredom, fascination, or confusion. For the Introduction class, I decided to teach landscape design through case study. There would be 30 groups of 5-6 students, with each group studying a different landscape in Addis. Some of these sites included well known spots such as the splashy gardens and fake Axum obelisk at Bole Airport, the oasis-like Ghion hotel, the historic Meskal Square, and the impressive Bole Medhanalem Orthodox church. Some sites were lesser known — the sprawling park Hamle 19 (near the US Embassy), the new Hope University campus, and the truly unique use of marginal space at Gotera Square — aka Confusion Square.

Each group studied the hardscape (pavements, walls, fountains, drainage, etc), as well as identified trees and shrubs planted on site. They generated perspective sketches, as well as plan view drawings of their site, at two different scales. They were also expected to research the history, ongoing management of the site, and critique the design and facility operations. It was a holistic approach to the study of public spaces, addressing many of the diverse professional skills in the field of landscape architecture. Addis Ababa does not have any books or treatises specifically on landscape architecture or parks – and certainly this body of research would come in handy for starting one.

EIABC student sketches

The staircase at the Ghion Hotel

Pillar at the Ghion Hotel

Red Terror Museum

Overall, I was impressed with the projects submitted, including some exquisite drawings. The research and writing by several groups were above expectation.

If one were to look at these projects in a collection, it is evident that Addis has surprising amount of green spaces dispersed throughout the city. It has been observed that many of the large parks (Peacock Park, Bihere Tsegey, Sheger, Yeka, etc) are often empty — even on weekends with beautiful weather. What is the reason? The 2–10 birr entrance fee might be a deterrent for impoverished citizens, but its not too much of a burden for many residents. Some parks have litter problems, but there seems to be active efforts at periodic cleaning. Safety might be a concern, but every park had security guards. Perhaps it’s a cultural matter. Ethiopians are in the new era of satellite TV and mobile phones. Could it be that an impact of globalization is that they joining the rest of the world in spending their leisure time indoors staring at a various electronic devices?

Another observation is that parks in Addis don’t really inspire a great deal of physical activity. While Ethiopia is known for marathon champions, you are unlikely to see a jogger — or a path — in the local parks. Dog walking is non-existent. Playgrounds are rare — and either ill maintained, or locked up, such as at Africa Park. Many of the parks are overly wooded. In a sunny country, shade is valuable, but excessive trees and shrubbery can obstruct vision and make places feel less safe. Many of the parks are divided into small “islands” or “rooms” by boxy hedges that seem to create a cluster of small spaces rather than expansive open space. Another issue is that most of the parks have a single means of ingress/and egress. While required for security, it’s an obstacle for visitation.

The Addis Ababa Beautification, Park and Cemetary Department is the city agency that is tasked with bringing Addis parks to a level where they can significantly contribute to quality of life and tourism. As with most big cities, funding (low tax base) is a challenge, and evident in the deficiencies in park maintenance and investment. There are income generating activities such as cafés at several parks, but this invites conflicts, as green spaces are increasingly privatized and commercialized for profit. Another issue is the fact that open spaces, unless tightly guarded, end up being unsanitary living quarters for the homeless.

Looking at American history, the great park building eras coincided with industrialization and urbanization. Ethiopia is in the midst of this phase, and will be for decades to come. City leaders have recognized the need to provide recreational spaces for the residents and to keep Addis attractive as a diplomatic hub. The National Green Infrastructure Guidelines are recommending 30% of the city be used for green areas or public space. Most of this would be reclaimed from flood prone areas and slum clearance. Already, significant swaths of forest are protected in the hills above the city within Gullele Botanical Garden, and a patchwork of protected areas. Down in the city, there are concerted efforts to plant street trees (mostly exotics) to shade crowded sidewalks and absorb some of the air pollution.

The almost-completed ECA Park, designed by our chair holder Aziza Abdulfetah, features contemporary looking earthworks, water features, sturdy shade structures, a basketball court, pool and café spaces. The site (between ECA and St. Estafanos) was once an informal housing settlement on the edge of a fetid urban river, but it now serves as a visual treat for office workers in the surrounding buildings, and passengers gliding past on the newly built light rail.

The newly developed Aser Park located near city center of Addis Ababa was one of many projects examined by students in the Landscape Architecture course at AAU.

The newly developed Aser Park located near city center of Addis Ababa was one of many projects examined by students in the Landscape Architecture course at AAU.

Aser Park located on Bole Road, which will occupy the underside of Rwanda Bridge in Addis Ababa, was one of many projects examined by students in the Landscape Architecture course at AAU. It doesn’t offer much in the way of dirt and grass, but it offers impressive fountains, clean restrooms, a playground, and a café for weary pedestrians to escape the sun.

Gotera Square is a park that makes use of a kind of no-man’s land wedged in between a caucaphonous rail line and freeway fly overs. It is a colorful, extensive hardscape of pavers dotted with seating and raised planting beds in a modernistic grid. The verdict is still out on whether these new parks will be active and inspire further investment, but they do represent a new thrust in park development.

Problems abound in translation of design to construction documents to installation. The grandest dreams of designers can be crushed by the reality of what is actually built by unsupervised contractors. However, these new projects in Addis represent great opportunities for the nascent landscape architecture field. If the economy continues its aggressive growth, there will be continued expansion of resorts, sports complexes, universities, and “everything under the sun” that keep landscape designers employed.

I consider myself fortunate to play a small role in this area of development as I try to pass on some of my skills to a younger generation. My students are very talented, as well as technically proficient. I expect to return to Addis sometime in my 40s and see the great work they’ve accomplished. With rapid urban growth pretty much guaranteed for the next few decades, I’m confident these graduates will have no shortage of work. The challenge will be to convince people they need to hire a landscape architect. That’s not easy to do here — most people haven’t heard of Central Park or Red Rocks Amphitheater. They just think of walking paths, trees, and gardens as the work of layman, rather than a trained designer. So, beyond just getting a job, my students have to promote their own profession to earn the respect it deserves.


RPCV Projects

From PCV to Author/Publisher

By Andrew Tadross (Endodo, Tigray & Mekelle, Tigray 2011–13)

In 2015, I did something I never thought I’d do . . . I authored a book . . . about a language I’d previously never heard of .  .  . from a country I never considered visiting. But such is the beauty of Peace Corps — especially the “old” Peace Corps where your assignment was not necessarily by choice, but you went where you were asked to serve and let the experience unfold. essential-guide-tigrinyaThe name of the book is The Essential Guide to Tigrinya:  The Language of Northern Ethiopia and Eritrea.  A few months later, I completed the The Essential Guide to Amharic:  The National Language of Ethiopia using the same template. I’m currently in the process of putting out a similar reference book for Afan Oromo, this time as editor.

If you are a writer, consider yourself fortunate to live in the era of self-publishing. There’s no telling how I’d reach such a specialized market in the 1960s — or even the early 2000s.  Today, I can crank out a book, publish it online through CreateSpace, sell it on Amazon; 24 hours later someone anywhere in the developed world can buy it, and a month later I receive a royalty check. Many people don’t write books because they think they are “too late to the game” i.e. it’s already been done, or it is too much work.  I believe we are actually just getting started, and I think now is the time to do this — especially if the information you are providing is either new, or better organized than what currently exists.

When I was in Tigray, I was desperate to find a helpful Tigrinya book for foreigners. The PCV handbook left a lot to be desired.   I found one rare book in a market that had words and phrases spelled phonetically — it was a Godsend, but it was still poorly organized and left a lot of grammatical confusion. There was also an American-authored book from the 1970s .  .  . but all the translations were in Ge’ez script, and a lot of it was Bible verses — not so relevant for Peace Corps work. I knew I could organize a more functional guide to Tigrinya, so I began the project, after developing many pages of essential vocabulary.

I met my co-author Abraham Teklu while visiting Mekele, and staying at the hotel his wife owns.  After I moved there some months later to teach at the university, we decided to begin this book venture together. It was very fortuitous. I had discussed the book idea with some other Ethiopian acquaintances, but nothing had jelled. Abe has turned out to be a good friend and business partner with whom I communicated easily. Abe’s role is that of the language expert, and my role is to organize the book. As a foreigner/PCV, I knew exactly what I wanted out of a language guide. He translates, and I try to flesh out the grammar rules — which is not an easy task. We also devised a phonetic code so people can read it simply.

A side benefit of the whole project is that I’ve included my original sketches and artwork, and those of fellow RPCVs Eldon Katter (Harar 62–64) and Brittany Franck (Tigray 2011–13), as well as several Ethiopian colleagues.

Selling my books
Peace Corps does not allow you to make a profit while serving. That was fine; I didn’t finish the first book until a year after I was home. Today, The Essential Guide to Tigrinya  is the #1 Tigrinya book on Amazon.

essential-guide-amharicI didn’t think the Amharic book would sell as well since the Lonely Planet phrasebook ($9.00) and Colloquial Amharic ($50) seemed to be widely available in Ethiopia. Yet now, three months later . . . The Essential Guide to Amahric comes up first on Amazon search. I expect Afan Oromo will also do well on Amazon as there is very little available.

By the way, I’m not talking about NY Times bestseller . . . a typical month’s revenue for me barely pays my grocery bill. It won’t change my lifestyle much, but I find it satisfying to look at the sales figure every day and see that 1–2 people bought a book overnight. November was a great month — with almost 90 sales. Usually I sell about 40 per month, but I can attribute the growth to marketing with postcards sent to various Ethiopian churches, restaurants, and organizations.

I used CreateSpace to self-publish, and retaining my rights to the book royalties through self-publishing was a great idea. It motivates me to market the book and keep improving it. Rather than accept a one-time payment from a publisher, I can earn revenue as long as the people are purchasing the book online — and I can change the price if needed. I’ve found CreateSpace customer service to be excellent. They even offer a service to adapt the book format for Kindle. There was zero up-front cost, except to form an LLC (mainly to cover protecting my personal finances in the unlikely event of a lawsuit).

I don’t need to have a garage full of extra books since the books are sold by “print-on-demand.”  I can also purchase books at cost (less than $5.00) and distribute them without Amazon taking their cut. For instance, I can buy 100 books and sell them at an Ethiopian festival for $10 each.  So, there is a lot of flexibility – to do as much – or as little marketing – as I like.

With my Amharic book (and the upcoming Afan Oromo book), I was invited by Marian Beil to self-publish under the Peace Corps Writers imprint. This provides the benefit of a PCW cover label, promotion (interview, review, etc) of the book on their website (peacecorpsworldwide.org), and the opportunity to be amongst the many fascinating publications written by RPCVs.

Most of all, I’ve enjoyed creating something that I know people will find useful.   Twenty years from now people might be buying the book still and have no idea who I was, but the work that I did will still be helping to further communications with Ethiopia. That is the great thing about a non-fiction book — you write it once, and it keeps serving its purpose into the future .  .  . until someone creates a better book.

The Essential Guide to Tigrinya: The Language of Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia
Andrew Tadross and Abraham Teklu, co-authors
March 2015
160 pages
$25.00 (paperback)


The Essential Guide to Amharic: The National Language of Ethiopia
Andrew Tadross and Abraham Teklu, co-authors
A Peace Corps Writers Book
September 2015
162 pages
$25.00 (paperback)


To order a book from Amazon.com that has been  mentioned here click on the cover, bold title or the format of the publication, and Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance to support its RPCV Legacy Program.

Books and more

Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia — Revisited

photos by Hoyt A. Smith (Addis Ababa 1962-65)ethiopia-revisited
& narration by Theodore Vestal (Associate Director, PC/Ethiopia 1964–66)
October 2014
$45.00 (Click for more information and to order)

Reviewed by Alan Smith (Debre Marcos, Gojjam, 1971-73)


A PICTURE IS WORTH a thousand words. One hundred and ninety five pages, many with multiple pictures, are surely worth 195,000 plus words!

Hoyt’s pictures from his 1962/65 “Ethiopia I” PCV time and travels in Ethiopia fueled in me a flood of memories and a desire to review my own memorabilia from 1971 to 1973 in Debre Marcos as an “Ethiopia XVI.” His striking pictures showed not much had changed between our dates of service. When I received this Christmas present to myself, I sat down to view a few pages and ended up finishing the entire book! The beautiful people, artifacts and landscape photos capture the essence of Ethiopia. Hoyt’s photos helped me recall the red mud pulling at my rubber boots, the brilliant blue sky from 8,700 feet, the gathering of children as I walked through town or country side, the smells and sites of Saturday market, and the students gathering before the AM and PM sessions of school.

Hoyt’s revisited pictures “50 years later —2012” helped me, as someone who has not returned to Ethiopia, envision the different/same Ethiopia of today. Theodore Vestal’s introduction and historical text embellished an already stunning pictorial essay. My site of Debre Marcos has increased from 7,000 to over 70,000 in population, one secondary school to multiple institutions of higher learning, and a simple post office to satellite communications! Ethiopia has undergone many changes as shown in Hoyt’s pictures. Ethiopian Airlines 787 Dreamliners, high rise buildings, elevated light rail systems of public transport, satellite dishes on roofs, and multilane roads are a few of the changes recorded. However, his photos depict what has remained unchanged as well — small open markets, cows and donkeys in the streets, eucalyptus scaffolding, blue taxis and horse carts, and traditional tukuls. I see the resilience in the faces of a people who have endured turmoil, social and political change, and pressures from a modern world and have remained solidly Ethiopian.

I can easily recommend Hoyt’s book. His historical and modern photos are a good view into Ethiopia. It would be enjoyed by past, present, and now training RPCV/PCVs. Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia – Revisted as a coffee table book in my home has started many conversations with non-RPCVs about my time in Ethiopia. I shall personally revisit this book as an aid to maintaining my memories of my service!

Mellow Yellow – Dead Red

Bawdy Boutique Mysteries Book 3

mellow-yellowby Sylvia Rochester (Jimma 1964–66)
Whiskey Creek Press
304 pages
$3.99 (Kindle)

Reviewed by Mary Myers-Bruckenstein (Addis Ababa, 1968-70)


I JUST COMPLETED READING this quick mystery. It takes place in Louisiana, an area known to me from vacations, thus I was easily able to relate to both the lifestyle and terrain.

The book’s mystery is resolved with the positive cognition of ESP, feelings, visions and sights. Once these aspects are credited, the mystery is quickly solved.

Today, most people rely on “facts only” and skip the very real events that occur, a change in a person’s soul. We are all only souls living in a body.

The use of this aspect in criminal case mystery may make more aware of its true nature and use in explaining events that occur around us.

The book is direct in its organization. It is enjoyable. Well worth reading. I would read any other books written by this author, which include: The Corpse Wore Cashmere (2014) and Disrobed for Death (2013), both in the Bawdy Boutique Mysteries series.

To order the books mention here  from Amazon.com click on the cover, bold title or the format of the publication, and Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance to support its RPCV Legacy Program.

The Essential Guide to Tigrinya

The Language of Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia

essential-guide-tigrinyaby Andrew Tadross (Endodo, Tigray & Mekelle, Tigray 2011-13)
and Abraham Teklu
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
160 pages
$25.00 (paperback)

Reviewed by Janet Lee (Emdeber 1974-76)


THIS GUIDE TO TIGRINYA will surely meet a need for Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia, members of the non-profit community and other travelers to this northern region in Ethiopia called Tigray. “It features over 3,000 essential words and phrases . . .” (back cover), is nicely bound on heavy paper and should hold up well in a backpack.

The authors, Peace Corps Volunteer Andrew Tadross and native speaker Abraham Teklu, provide an introduction to the basic background of the language of Tigrinya, regional differences within the region of Tigray and the commonalities with the Amharic language.

There is a detailed explanation of pronunciation including a pronunciation guide on the use of the Fiedel, the “alphabet,” complete with an explanation of vowel sounds, consonants, explosive consonants, and special sounds. This is followed by an overview of basic grammar including punctuation symbols.  Verbs are conjugated in present and past tenses.

As with all languages one cannot translate phrases directly from one language to another. The authors provide helpful hints on when to use or not use forms of a word or phrase, such as the use of pronouns. For instance, in most cases, pronouns are not needed because the pronoun is implied in the verb.

The charts are clear and illustrative of use:  English * phonetic equivalent * Tigrinya.

Finally, there is a lengthy section of useful words and phrases beginning with greetings and conversation starters and essentials such as numbers, telling times, days of the week, parts of the body and medical terms.  Business, transportation, occupations, and education terminology are each grouped together as are food, drink, and related activities such as the coffee ceremony. Occasional illustrations break up the text throughout.

Perhaps one day there will be an inexpensive Kindle edition that the Peace Corps office could purchase and distribute to all Volunteers serving in or traveling to Tigray.

To order The Essential Guide to Tigrinya  from Amazon.com click on the cover, bold title or the format of the publication, and Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance to support its RPCV Legacy Program.

A Heartwarming and Award-Winning,
Full-length Documentary Film


Melissa Donovan, cinematographer

Reviewed by Alice Gosak Gary (Harar 1964–67)


SOMETIMES THINGS HAPPEN BY CHANCE. Some would say they happen through miracles. The meeting of a small girl, a medical doctor and a cinematographer who was trailing him was either — or both.

Zemenework (“Golden Moment”) was 8 or 10 years old at the time Dr. Rick Hodes exited a coffeehouse in Gondar and saw her. She was small for her age, malnourished and suffering from kyphosis and tuberculosis, causing her to have a deformed back. Dr. Rick, a specialist in diseases of the spine, immediately recognized Zemene’s condition. Filmmaker Melissa Donovan, following Dr. Rick on another project, was drawn to the small trusting girl with a luminous smile.

Melissa accompanied Zemene and the girl’s uncle to the village of Belessa, where the grandparents who lovingly raised the girl, lived. Thinking she would pass the footage on to be made into a documentary by someone else, Melissa did not realize that she would spend the next five years with Zemene and make the documentary herself. It went on to win awards at the Boston Film Festival and others in the United States.

It would be a spoiler to tell how the film progresses and ends. Suffice it to say that it presents a cast of real and impressive characters. The interaction of Zemene’s family is not only a glimpse of life in a poor highland village; it is a look into the loving hearts of Ethiopians. The scenery around the village will make anyone who has once been dazzled by the green that follows the rainy season homesick for its beauty.

Learn more about this film and view the trailer at www.zemenefilm.com.  The film will be shown at film festivals in Sarasota, Florida and St. Paul, Minnesota in April, at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival in May and in Portland in September. (Note:  Zemene is not yet available on DVD)

Contributions can be made:

End of issue 20 — 4/24/2015