Sunday, January 30, 2011

Monday Memory for Blogplicity Group.

My Monday Moment  is dreaming of returning in May, to Namibia, and EHRA Elephant- Human Relations Aid, an organisation working to reduce conflict between locals and elephants, by building rock wall protection around waterpoints so elephants can still drink but not bust down anything, and we sleep on the ground, no tents  in our billion star open air hotel,...and we pay to do all this.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Coffee, Real Coffee in Ethiopia: And New Life For Women.

Memories of Coffee in Ethiopia.

The smell of fresh coffee wafts into my nostrils: they flare sympathetically in response, drawing deeply on that comforting aroma, reviving Ethiopia memories with each intake. As we cut through the shopping mall car park, Davies' Coffee trailer has a quartet of waiting customers this early morning. I won't succumb to the temptation, as there will be more of that delicious aroma percolating through the pedestrian railway underpass, from the coffee hole-in-the-wall on the Paraparaumu railway platform. Waiting commuters clutch their discardable cups, fortifying themselves for the hour long trip to their cubicles- if there isn't another delay or breakdown on the lines. On those mornings, I just manage to avoid sarcastic grins at the hundreds of frustrated commuters as we wander past them on our 20 minute walk to my workshop. Thank goodness I don't have to join the throng of commuters. Dragging my dog Lilly's nose out of the bush where she's been exploring doggie smells, we head on over to my workshop where I can make my own special percolator brew. Almost looks as good as Davie's. But better, much better as it's made from coffee we brought home from Ethiopia.

Coffee beans on tree at Lake Tana, Ethiopia.
Machiato- Ethiopia Coffee
Coffee these days, brings back memories of our time in  Ethiopia, the primary home of the coffee plant, , Coffee Arabica , from where it spread to Yemen then throughout cultures around the world. Little wonder the Italians had to invade Ethiopia- some people would die for a great coffee! After they got kicked out, their parting legacy was found in an aromatic concoction called Machiato- fresh roasted, ground and brewed in front of you, served in a small glass or cup with hot milk floated on top. Fantastic. But order a double shot - one small glass is just not enough. You can afford it- a serving may cost you 40cents US.

Walk into most restaurants in Ethiopia and near the entrance will be a woman tending to a brazier, roasting and brewing to each patron's order. She stokes the fire with charcoal, gently coaxing a not too fierce glow rather than flames, the beans resting in a pan so she can shake them constantly, ensuring the beans on the hot plate are gently roasted and not burned. Here is the secret to serving coffee that has a depth of rich, almost chocolaty taste, an aromatic nose, a sense of freshness, and retaining just enough sweetness to need no added sugar. Meals are all the more pleasurable, as she may walk around the restaurant with the roasted beans, so the smell fills the restaurant, titillating your sensory membranes with its promise of gratification to come. Being prepared to your order, no additives, beans picked, dried then roasted and served within days, lends added enjoyment from its freshness, you may never find back home.

Ploughshare Women's Skill Centre.
We had breakfasted early, and were on the road by 8am heading towards Gondar, ancient capital, and home of romantic castles and palaces. But first a stop at the Women's Ploughshare Trust project. This is a live-in training organisation funded by Government, and donations, to train women in skills they can use to earn a living in their villages.

About 65 women, mostly solo mums, who may have lost their husbands through AIDS, live there and are being trained in basic crafts such as pottery, weaving, sewing and animal husbandry. Apart from basic home making experience, women generally do not have the skills to be able to earn an income. In many countries, women who lose a husband are marginalised, even ostracised, because along with the death of their husband goes their means of living. Often prevented from gainful employ, by tradition, cultural mores or merely lacking in skills, widows may be reduced to a life of begging, or prostitution. At Ploughshare, as they become proficient in new skills, they will return to their village and in turn train others, thereby sowing the seeds of micro-business for others in their communities.

I thought it a very effective way of making a difference at the grassroots level where assistance is most needed.
Here we were to be able to observe a very targeted way of contributing to getting people out of the poverty trap, by training them in crafts necessary at local village level. And by creating a network of small training groups throughout the country, as another mother takes her newly acquired skills back to her village, and forms a group to train others.
After being shown the various sewing, weaving and pottery studios, we were treated to a full coffee ceremony in the meeting building. Traditionally, coffee or bunna (boo-na) service is a ceremony as much to honour you as a guest, as it is to serve it at its best to bring out the maximum aroma and flavour. The meeting room was thatched roof, with sticks herringbone patterned around the sides, but very airy and cool. Once again the coffee beans were roasted carefully, and ground in a wooden mortar ( mukecha)  using a heavy metal pestle, then steeped in a pottery coffee jug called a jebena. We were served in small china cups.

It was while waiting for coffee to be served, I was able to watch the birth of a calf, by the lone cow Ploughshare had separated from the herd. It struck me as symbolic of what Ploughshare stood for- new life for these women.

No, that calf has not broken out of a large egg- it's some sort of broken ornamentation now used as a water trough.

Ploughshare, and the birth of the calf, spring to mind vividly these days with each cup of coffee as the aroma takes me back to Ethiopia. My last bag will run out this week and it will be back to a quick fix with my 'nuke' brew- 50/50 milk and water, microwaved until near exploding, then granulated instant spooned on top, resulting in a thick marbled foam top.
We spent 1 week in Addis Ababa, before joining Gap Adventures Ethiopia Explorer DEN tour.
It is wonderful to know the work Ploughshare are doing amongst Ethiopia's women is supported by Gap Adventures  by incorporating this as part of their itinerary. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and bought good quality handwoven scarves as gifts for family back home.
Video here-
Ploughshare Women's Crafts Training Center

All photos by Jim McIntosh


This Moment: Friday ritual.

My Moment-{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A photo – no words – capturing a moment. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

A moment you want to pause, savour and remember.

“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by the Wee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane
This is my moment!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

TRAVEL PHOTO THURSDAY. Sorry I'm Late....but still Thursday other side of World.

Over at it's Travel Thursday so on Friday I put up a photo that helps illustrate a great time on our travels.
This photo sums up the vastness of Mongolia, how few people populate such a huge country, and it's a reminder of how their lifestyle is so dependant on their livestock, particularly the horse.

I took this shot as we were leaving our nomadic family homestay. The horses seeking relief from the mid-summer's sun, cooling their heels in the stream with no trees in sight to seek shade.
Livestock there is very hardy, having to endure summer temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius, to minus 20 during the hard, long winters. Some perish, only the hardiest survive.
There is a reflection showing on the left as the photo is taken through the window glass of our bus.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Child Pornography: Are Parents Pimping Their Children?

“Yeah, we’ll get that sorted and back to you end of this week. Won’t be a big job.” Chris, reassured, nods relief to the computer repairer and heads out the of the shop, planning a raid on his kids X-box, about to become a week’s dose of methadone for his daily computer fix. Just a few days to get through. He can make it. Well, only just. Out the back room, away from public gaze, Reece plugs the computer in, then navigates into ‘Pictures’, selects ‘Baby’ and ‘Kids photos’, then copies and saves to flashdrive all the images.

Josie checks a competition website, skimming through the forums and categories. There it goes- another “Baby in a Bath” contest has been listed. She can enter her gorgeous 2 year old cherub’s photo, the really cute one, in the bath with just a few bubbles all around her. On the baby product company’s website, Josie fills out the registration and uploads her precious child’s photo. Bursting with parental pride she copies the weblink and broadcasts to all friends and contacts a plea – “Please vote for my babies photo!” Soon Facebook, and competition website posts appeal the same, and friends answer the call, spreading the message and photo web link far afield.

Reece finishes copying to his website, the kids photos saved from Chris’ computer. There’s a new request for more photos of babies, preferably taken at bath time. Reece googles “baby in bath”, and smiles at the new rich source of images, and income. Fresh meat! Josies’ photo is copied and saved.

Josie’s photo of her little girl, the 2 year old cherub so innocently pictured in a few inches of water and bubbles, will be sold through Reece’s network of pedophile sites. Copied and distributed a 1,000 times over, forever circulating to appear in secret, closed sites only the pedophile world will access.

Or the police if they can gain undercover access.

How does a parent feel when police advise them, their child’s photo is part of that criminal web?

Computer repair man’s offending ‘disturbing and sinister’

“A computer repairer who stole images of naked children from unsuspecting clients computers goes to jail for 2 ½ years.”

Reading his morning paper, Chris is incensed by the headlined story, as he recalls his computer was quickly repaired by that really nice guy who didn’t charge that much at all for cleaning out that last virus. And there were all his family and kids photos on it- all those early photos of bath time, and running nude on the beach on that wonderful family holiday.

“I hope that bastard gets what’s coming to all perverts in jail!” he exclaims to Josie. “People selling photos to perverts should be castrated !”

Josie responds, “How can someone do that? Steal all those photos and put them online for all those pricks to drool over?”

Another baby product company lists its latest marketing contest. Josie registers, uploads her precious cherub’s photo, then types “Please vote for my baby’s photo”….
Footnote- As parents, we need to realise that posting your child's photo online is not the same as times past, when you could enter their photo in your local shopping mall baby photo contest. Are you 100% sure of the integrity of all your Facebook friends?

Once your child's photo is copied, you have no control over where it may be trafficked

Why are baby product supply companies using you, the parent, to contribute your child's photo, with no controls to stop them being copied, just to push their sales and chase profits?

Computer repairer jailed.  Parents please read that link. It will help illustrate just how ingenious these pedophile photo traders are.
parents warned of facebook model scam And check this out also. Keep your kids safe. Know what they are doing on Facebook.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

This Moment: Mongolia Magic Sunset.

..{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A photo – no words – capturing a moment. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

A moment you want to pause, savour and remember.

“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by the Wee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane and responded to by me.

This is my moment!

If you have a Moment please share your link in the comments section and I will pop in to have a look.

Travel Friday for Thursday Photo. Hure' and Horse.

A precious photo given to us  in Mongolia. Today is Friday, so for the  photo to link in with  Budget Travellers Sandbox Travel Thursday  I post on Friday.
Hure' (pronounced Kurey, the written H is a hard K. ) is proudly pictured with his most prized possession, his horse. This is a photocopy of an old film photo but even so, the colours are rich and in good contrast. In 2006 we travelled to Mongolia, staying with Mongolian hosts as part of a Friendship Force exchange. (More on Friendship Force coming, otherwise check out that link.) We were taken out onto the vast plains near Har Horin (Kharhkhorin) and our group drove up to nomadic herders ger tents, and our hosts would then introduce us and leave us to stay overnight with the various families. No previous arrangements had been made, it just got sorted there and then, rather late in the day. It was after dark by the time the last of our 25 strong group were being foisted upon an unsuspecting family in an adjacent valley.
I'll blog about the wonderful experience later, but the host family's hospitality, genuine warmth and welcoming, and willingness to put themselves out to accommodate presumptuous, unannounced , wealthy Western guests was etched in our minds forever. This family touched us deeply. We had taken a few modest gifts for the children- school supplies, as we were aware of the obligation you placed upon a Mongolian if you present them with a gift. You have created an obligation for them to respond. For a nomadic herder, who has scant possessions, apart from those for their family's daily survival, you create a huge impost, unwittingly.
What can they give in return?
Hure', the male head of our family had nothing. But just as we were leaving, he presented us with an envelope. The above photo was enclosed. When we opened it, we recognised this as a photo taken on his wedding day, perhaps his only photo of that time. He had given us perhaps one of his most prized possessions. Not wanting to offend we accepted, but we made sure we got their post office box address in their local main town. Nomads will have one where any mail can be uplifted occasionally, as they relocate 3 times a year.
Upon our return we sent the family a photo album of all the digital photos we had taken of  the family, and the extended family who crowded into the ger that night. We included several copies of Hure' and his horse with blown up pics. Hure's gift to us is precious as it is an original. Hopefully Hure' now has several copies in return.
How could we deprive Hure' of something he prized so much?

Community Caring : The Mortar Between the Blocks of Significance.

Small towns can seem to be such uninspiring places. Boring, not much happens, no real sights to engage the senses. Small towns you may travel through, seldom are they places you travel to- merely the journey's gap fillers. The mortar between the blocks of significance.

Morning's coffee, sunshine, tuis singing in our kowhai trees, our community newspaper spread open. I skim through each page, headline surfing.

Front Page 1. Head Over Heels For Circus

Miss Huanhuan Zhang, 20, is pictured upside down, balancing by one hand on 6 chairs. Zirka, the animal free circus from China is playing in town. Wonderful to see humans perform, rather than deplorable animal acts.

Last time a circus came to town, my daughter with a banner demonstrated out in front of it, trying to highlight the plight of circus elephants, getting verbal abuse and physical threats in response. Shortly after, Jumbo the last remaining circus elephant in New Zealand was released from her lonely life, and is now in Franklin Zoo south of Auckland. Still lonely but she appears a lot happier there. Ideally she should be with others of her kind, but shipping costs to another elephant sanctuary in Africa, or the Tennessee sanctuary are enormous.

P 2. The summer starts here with events and pursuits.

4WD group trip fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity this weekend. Get your buggy, bikes or boots out. A long list of walks, hikes, bikeathons and buggyathons throughout the area is detailed. A Creepy Crawly Critters morning for kids to discover bush life, and feed the eels. The Deerstalkers Club open day. Fly fishing, Day out for Dogs, Discovery walks for rare North Island robins, and much more.

P 3. Tick bites may Paralyse

An emaciated spoonbill at our Waikanae Estaury, rescued by a bird tour guide who spotted the sick bird, and drove it to Nga Manu Nature Reserve, where it was found to have a severe paralysing tick infestation. Over 70 ticks removed from it's head and neck. We generally do not have a tick problem in New Zealand thankfully, tick species being few, and of very limited dispersal. This bird is thought to have collected it's unwanted parasite guests while nesting within an area where seagulls also nest.

P 4. Keeping an eye out for Poachers.

Local volunteers patrolling our protected shorelines to stop paua and shellfish poachers. Paua are a local shellfish delicacy, of the abalone species. Really yummy, sliced finely, and poached with  onion, cooked as patties. A huge trade in illegally harvested paua exists, fuelled by high prices for the flesh in demand locally and in Asian Markets. Some coastal areas are being stripped of these marine snails and populations threatened everywhere. Really encouraging to read of local communities taking on protection responsibilities.

P 5. Perfect places for family outings.

Department of Conservation announces new 32 bunk hut to meet increasing demand in our adjacent Rimutaka Forest Park. That's bound to get more people out hiking our natural forest walks.

P 11. It takes 2 and a lot of community support.

Pictured - Maria, and her son Rory not even 1 year old. Needing cochlear ear implants, and because our Government health system will fund only one implant, the community has raised extra money to enable both. Many people within our community raised funds through a variety of projects ensuring Rory got two implants. What a caring community!

Waikanae Lions Super Garden Trail advertisement. Visit many of our community's most outstanding private gardens, to raise funds for Wellington Free Ambulance. The area's annual charity fund raiser.

P 13. Wild fare forage turns up tasty treats for your summer table.

Full page article, and pictures of Rob and Johanna gathering nasturtium and wild fennel from our wild areas. I've long had Johanna's blog, bookmarked so it's good to see her featured here. Better stick an extra plastic bag in my pocket and pick a wild salad while walking the dog later. Wild rocket, and fennel would mix well with that tasteless but crunchy supermarket lettuce. Oh, and it's blackberry time also. Shopping bill will be low this week.

P 14. Pike River Miners Relief Fund donation appeal
Full page advert. The appeal kicked off with a $500,000 donation from major shareholders. Public donations are steadily flowing in for this terrible disaster where 29 miners died. As of today, the mine cannot be cleared of gas, and the finality of leaving the bodies entombed is being taken hard by the grieving families.

P 15. Kitting out new education centre.
Our local Nga Manu Nature Reserve, announces the building on site of its new children's wildlife experience facility. Set right amongst native plants at the swamp forest reserve, this will ensure children can get up close and learn about bird life and eels there.

P 22. The art of lavender.
The annual lavender flower harvest festival, at the Te Horo Lavender Creek Farm, is a great day out for the family to enjoy the gorgeous smell of lavender during the process of harvesting and production of oil. Grab your cameras for a colorful day out. The fields are lush with lavender in full flower.

Going potty for new garden art
Otaki Pottery Club's annual Festival of Pots and Garden Art this week. Potters and Oamaru stone carvers will be demonstrating their techniques. Our Kapiti Coast seems to have a complete alternative society peopled by the widest range of arty farties. They drink out of strange looking mugs, eat off weird looking plates, and have the strangest looking things growing in their gardens. Unreal.

I look up from rereading this small community's newspaper for the third time, and notice the tui has flown. My coffee has gone cold.
Small towns can be such inspiring places....

Footnote: The above community newspaper exists. Each page and headline is real, but I have supplied the accompanying editorial from reading local newspapers, and my knowledge of our area's attractions and events.

Acknowledgement must go to our Kapiti Observer for it's portrayal of our community. I thought this weeks copy was a truly positive issue, and thought it worth writing about. My community here on the Kapiti Coast.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Meeting Hanna. Child Sponsorship- Why you should!

My wife and I have written this about visiting with our sponsored child in Addis Ababa Last August 2010.

Visiting a sponsored child can be a humbling experience for the sponsor. We come armed with gifts of a practical nature, but the sincerity and joy with which these gifts are both given, and received far outweigh the value of the gifts themselves. This sums up our feelings after meeting Hanna in the overcrowded city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It’s a city where over half the inhabitants endure unsanitary conditions, many living with no amenities- a corrugated iron and plastic shack may be home for many. Poverty is in your face. Having suffered decades of warfare and famines, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Peace has brought a new opportunity for everyone. To us, it seemed reflected in every face, was a joy that stability now means a chance to build a new life for themselves and their families,...however fleeting it may turn out to be.

We were picked up from our  Ras Hotel in downtown Addis Ababa by Saba from the Childfund backed project and driven several kilometres to the their compound. This comprised of several modest buildings of offices and school rooms, set around a central roughly paved courtyard.

Here we met our lovely Hanna, who is no longer a child, but a very attractive 16 year old.  We have sponsored her for 6 years now. She presented Kay with a bouquet of fresh tulips. Overjoyed to finally meet her, we spontaneously hugged Hanna to establish ourselves as friends and  banish the initial shyness. We were careful to discuss with Saba beforehand what sort of greeting and physical contact was culturally appropriate. We were able to chat via our interpreter Saba although Hanna knew some English words. An office was made available for us to continue our meeting, and it was there that we gave Hanna the letters and cards children from Kay's childcare centre in  N.Z. had made for her. Her excitement and pleasure at opening these was apparent. Instinctively we felt she had no great expectations about receiving lots of gifts, so her pleasure continued as we gave her lots of clothes and a stuffed kiwi. We wanted Hanna to have something special from N.Z. and the kiwi seemed a good choice as it is our icon and very special to us. Other gifts included toiletries and stationery. We also had gifts for her family which comprised of Mum, Dad and Grandma.  Hanna's Mum could not jeopardise her job just to meet us; jobs are not easy to get in Addis Ababa, but we were delighted to be able to meet Hanna’s Dad and Grandma.

Grandmother and Father
Hanna's Grandmother could speak no English, but she communicated by her emotions just as much as one could ever say. Here is a woman who had grown up through the rebellion, warfare with its atrocities and destruction, and the starvation of the 80's, probably having experienced the loss of some family members or friends. To look upon her face was to feel the joy she radiated. The odd tear we saw was not wiped away, she probably was enjoying these tears of joy as much as she could. Deep lines upon her face hinted to me she'd shed too many for other reasons.

At the compound, the NGO also operates a school for the kids of families too poor to afford the few Bir (Ethiopian money) it costs for their government schools. These children receive some basic education and one meal each day. Our sponsorship is helping not just one child and her family, but also the wider community.
Hanna seemed a healthy, happy child and if we were to compare her to many other Ethiopian children whom we saw in our travels around the country, we could not help but think- if it was not for our sponsorship, she too would look as undernourished, barefoot and ragged. It made us realise that we really were making a difference.

Our travels took us north of Addis Ababa, where we were surprised by the beauty of the clean, green countryside. It was the rainy season and our days were interspersed with thunderstorms which lasted a short time, an hour or so. This much needed rain provided the water for the crops such as tef, barley, corn, wheat and broadbeans, which we saw growing in many areas. The craggy topped, and usually heavilly terraced and cultivated mountains  provided the backdrop for these rural scenes. There was very little plastic rubbish lying around, and our guide Ashenafi said people earned a small income from cleaning up the rubbish. Shepherd boys, some as young as 7 years old cracking whips which made a sound like a rifle shot, could be seen taking their family herd of animals such as goats, cattle and donkeys out to graze on the roadside. School is compulsory but most schooldays are half days, partly because they don't have enough teachers and also because the children are needed to help with their family's animals.

Although our days were long, sometimes up to 13 hours, as we travelled between historic places, we were never bored. I called the road we travelled "The Highway of Life" and that's exactly what it was- a highway where everyone from villages and towns travelled on foot [usually barefoot] with their families and animals, often going to a market which could be as far as 20kms away. For us it was a unique opportunity to observe how these people lived their daily lives, every family activity is carried out along those highways. Water carrying, firewood gathering, crops being tended, goods being moved on donkey or camel backs ...the roads were vibrant with life, and we had to drive through it all! When we stopped by the roadside for a break we often chatted to these people as everyone wanted to practise their English. We would be surrounded by children, who seemed to spring out from the bare earth, although the reality was that a single child herder spotting us would call out. Any other child who heard that call of  "Money, Money, Moneeeeeee" would pick it up and echo it further afield. You could see a completely bare vista of hills, plains or valleys suddenly come alive with kids running towards us from all directions. I guess the stopping of one lone tourist bus was a welcome break to the tedium of watching their animals.
Life is hard for most Ethiopians. 80% depend upon agriculture for their survival. And children often miss out on schooling because they are essential to the family's survival. The youngest have to shepherd the few sheep or goats foraging the uncultivated areas of land, often just that thin strip of grass between road and field. Older boys would tend cattle or donkeys further out in the hills. The half day schooling allows for these kids to get an education after their animals have been seen to.

Children in the cities would also have a responsibility to help the family survive. Collecting any recyclable plastic, metal or glass for a few Bir. Shoeshine boys are thick on the sidewalks. Trayboys hawk cigarettes, tissues, chewing gum etc. just to earn a little. This is the life of many kids growing up in Addis Ababa or any other of the larger cities.

Our sponsorship of Hanna through Childfund, means not only 1 child has a chance at getting an education, and attending higher schooling to create a future for her, but also assists many others. The NGO backed by Childfund, administers 1600 child sponsorships in Ethiopia, making it possible for other community programs to be implemented. So your donations targeted in this way, have an effect beyond just that 1 child. Maybe she becomes a teacher herself?  Whatever occupation she does follow, education has created those options. Hopefully the education Hanna receives may give her whole family a better chance for their future.

Ethiopia has a fast growing economy, and a tourism industry that is taking off, and unlike other African oil producing countries, much of that economic growth is reaching the ordinary people. Government policies have improved crop prices to farmers, and we could see that happening. Everywhere we travelled, farmers are building new homes  and communities are investing in farming technology. Markets everywhere were full of produce, healthy livestock for sale. With that little bit of assistance our dollars provide, a young girl, her family, and community are better placed to be part of that growth.

I'm adding a coment from Kiri at Childfund with relevant info here-
Kiri Carter - ChildFund said...

Thank you, Jim, for posting your experience of meeting Hanna. What a fantastic visit! Every year about 40-50 sponsors from NZ visit their sponsored children and I talk to quite a few of them on the phone. It's always a life-changing experience.

What does sponsorship entail? Through ChildFund New Zealand, it costs NZ$44/month. You can exchange letters with your sponsored child which is a really great thing to do and you get a report on how your child is doing. How long the sponsorship lasts depends on the age of the child when you start. Usually sponsorship will stop when the child comes of age (typically 18 years), gets married, moves away from the project or starts a full time job. In some special cases sponsors have been known to fund a sponsored child's university education. If you have any more questions check out our FAQ section ( or call us on 0800 223 111.

The kudos for sponsoring children should go to my wife Kay. She's the main reason why we have been long term sponsors.
If you would like to read of our visit to another of our Childfund sponsored children,
 read here. The Village Pump


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sunset over Kapiti this week.


We often sit out in our courtyard and admire sunsets as brilliant as this.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Terror at the "Red Terror" Martyrs' Memorial Museum, Ethiopia.

 It hit me hard. Just as I walked through the doorway of the "Red Terror" Martyrs' Museum in Addis Ababa, it came at me...all around and into my mind. A wave of emotion...feelings of pain, loss, despair even...enveloping my senses...but yet not threatening. As if there was something unseen there, wanting to desperately share and communicate deep grief with another empathetic soul...another who could understand the pain. Was that going to be me? I didn't expect this...I didn't know enough to share the grief...I had no connection in this world to any one's loss or grief here in Ethiopia. I was an outsider, a mere ignorant tourist, with scant knowledge of Ethiopia's recent turbulent history.

 What was this presence? I got the impression there was not just one...many...why would they want me? But the other part of me wanted to surrender...accept the honour...understand why it was that spirits of departed ones revealed themselves to me. What were their stories? What could they tell me? I could feel it was pain and anguish, but there was also a sense of desperate hope...hope that they could tell their story.

 Red Terror Martyrs' Memorial Museum opened in May 2010 as a monument to the 10's of 1,000's murdered, and also the millions who died of starvation during the regime known as the DERG. The socialist DERG had come to power with the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1979. Parallels exist with the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia where a popular uprising, and its socialist ideals, is taken over by one man with an extreme ideology, and a determination to eliminate any opposition to retain power. Local militias were armed and given licence to kill any other villager thought to belong to the opposition - many an old grudge was settled, or property taken under this pretext. Torture and death for you and your family were your payment for questioning. Eventually, rebel groups throughout the country began to coordinate, and form a credible guerilla threat to the DERG, which was finally ousted in 1987. Although atrocities were committed by both sides during these conflicts, the majority were committed by the ruling DERG...and of course history is memorialised by the victors.

 We knew nothing about this museum prior to our trip to Ethiopia last July 2010. The very modern, newly opened building had grabbed our interest as we drove by in a taxi to visit the Ethiopian National Museum in Bole Road, and we noted it to visit if we had time. Next morning we walked into the reception area and asked at the desk if we need to pay. The staff indicated we could make a donation if we wished. Quite a cheerful exchange as we explained we'd like to visit just to learn more about Ethiopia's recent history. We entered through the door on the left, expecting just some historical portrayal of that period.

I took two steps through the door and stopped.

"Kay. There's something strange about this place."
"In what way?"
"There's something weird I can feel here."

 I could explain no further. I was confused with what I sensed around me, knowing only the power I was feeling. We separated, and I moved on alone. At times like this, I would normally slip into quick meditation, to try and sense what otherworldly influences were there, but I was unwell and letting one's mind go blank was impossible. Something else could let go if I relaxed....

 If you have ever buried a loved one, you will know how I felt- the same emotions of loss, sorrow, and pain. I have experienced this before, many times, but more frequently over recent years. An experimental meditation in one of the torture rooms of Tuol Sleng, S21, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, scared the shit out of me, where a similar wave of anguish arose around me with apparitions appearing. At Cable Beach Buddhist Sanctuary I experienced a welcoming, tangible feeling manifesting in my fingers, hands, and arms as if being charged with a glowing, tingling energy.

 But why was this happening to me here? This was just a museum, like many others we've been to, seeking the history of countries we have visited. Normally I am the one that reads every notice, peers at any exhibit, and wanders through so slowly Kay will be drinking coffee in any nearby cafe long before I come out. But this was very different. I moved on through, unable to view all but a few of the graphic photos and exhibits. There was something ahead of me, as I had the strongest impression I was moving toward death. What form it took I could not know, just a sense that it was not threatening to ourselves. At times the emotions transmitted to me were almost overpowering...I was feeling the anguish that others had was not mine...but I was sharing it.

 As I walked around, towards the end of the exhibits, I came upon a display of several coffins laying on the floor to my right. Each one open, and full of many items of equipment or clothing from those killed during the 'Terror'. On the left side of the display corridor, was a doorway opening to another room of about 10 flag-draped coffins laying on the floor. This was where the 'feelings' felt strongest. By the door was a sign which states that the relatives, of the exhumed remains, want these to remain in this museum as a reminder for this to never happen again.

I was looking at the 'death' I felt I had been moving towards, and I felt I was feeling the despair and anguish of those who had died so painfully. The Lord's Prayer came to mind, and I felt myself repeating as much of it as I knew - I'm not religious. But as those words flowed, the 'feelings' subsided, and a peace came upon me, and the ambiance of the place seemed to change. Ethiopia is over 60% Christian. I'm sure they appreciated my intent because they seemed to be content - no longer getting at me.

Once we cast off the straitjackets around our imagination, and let our feelings soar, perhaps we're revealing portals where communication beyond this world can be found? Perhaps spirits sense a mortal's ability to sense them, so reveal themselves? I don't know, but perhaps our intuitive and perceptive abilities may be capable of much more than science can accept? Others perhaps seek this connection through prayer, meditation, even drugs or other mind-altering substances?

Outside the museum fronting the entrance is a monument. This is the only photograph I took. Sometimes I feel it's time to put the camera away....

The Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum is located on the corner of Bole Rd, and Meskal Square, central Addis Ababa.
Entry is free, but you are encouraged to leave a donation.
Further information:
Try this very informative site-Velvet Rocket/ red terror
I cannot recall seeing the recreated mass grave exhibit Velvet Rocket speaks of.
Perhaps the flag draped coffins we saw, were being held there awaiting reburial in that exhibition.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

After Effects of the Christchurch Earthquake. How would you cope?

On September 4th 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, badly damaging parts of the city, and homes over a large area. My November 3rd post  Effects of Christchurch  Earthquake was by a friend who lived through the event. With family and friends affected there, we have been very concerned with how they have managed with the stress of constant aftershocks, loss of homes, and the ruination of many businesses. Large aftershocks on Boxing Day brought further stress to an already strained community. 2010 has not been kind to our beautiful South Island: earthquakes, and the Pike River Mine disaster costing 29 lives, have affected many familes. It's hard to appreciate the depth of the effects these have on our friends and relations.

A friend we'll call "Grumpykiwi" has written the following to help give us some insight to how people just have to make do, and put their lives back together as best as possible.
After Shock

Even though we have enough earthquakes for our Ozzie friends to refer to New Zealand as the "shaky isles" none of us really know very much about them. However 3 months on from 4 September and Christchurch is full of amateur seismologists. Seminars are run to overflowing audiences. We just can’t get enough information.
In August 2010 no one had heard of GNS (Department of Geological and Nuclear Science) and the Geotech website. Now thousands have the site as a "favourite" on their phone!
What we thought we knew, was that a quake would all be over quite quickly, with perhaps a few small aftershocks. It would be a bit like going to the dentist, but without the anticipation. We would all have a bit of a laugh over morning tea on Monday and compare breakages.

twitpic Christchurch Earthquake
 Yeah right! It hasn’t worked out quite like that.
We slowly took stock on the Saturday morning. Most of the city lost electricity; some parts also lost water and sewerage. It seems the Electrical system protects itself by shutting down, so power was back on quite quickly. Similarly the water was back soon although for a few days we had to boil it, just to be on the safe side.
Water can be pumped and you can do temporary repairs by laying a bit of pipe along the road. You can even put bottles of it in trucks and take it to people. Not so with sewerage. It seems shit doesn’t flow uphill. To make things worse the earthquake occurred at high tide forcing the sea back up the pipes breaking things. Or it might have been low tide…whatever, sea water did some serious damage to the system. Even after eight weeks some houses still did not have sewerage. These suburbs had "porta potties" as part of their streetscape for weeks and the novelty well and truly wore off.
Still, we are a resilient lot, it was a case of "keep calm and carry on". Mostly we coped. Some better than others, but generally we coped. The emotional stuff was much harder to deal with.
The first few weeks from September the 4th was like living in a maelstrom. Christchurch became a city of sleep deprived, irritable people. Discussion of the most recent quake replaced ‘Hello" or "Gidday" as our usual greeting. There were constant tremors. One GNS report suggested we could expect an aftershock in excess of "6" on the Richter scale. I went to pick up my dog from the groomers and the first comment was, "We had a 5.9 today!" Then we discussed the pooch’s behaviour while his hair was cut. Up until today, 11 weeks since 4 September, there have been 3134 aftershocks. Actually the term "aftershock" does not do any justice to what is going on. These are all "earthquakes" in their own right.
Fair enough, we haven’t felt all of these. Arm chair experts among us will admit their knowledge is quite general. We know measuring an earthquake involves a squiggly line. We know the Richter scale is "logarithmic". Once we dredged the depths of 3rd form maths we remembered about the power of "10". We know that means a 5 is 10 times stronger than a "4", which is 10 times stronger than a "3".
Never mind the science, we know that only a sissy cares about anything less than a "3" .We know that a "4" will move you around a bit in your chair, light fittings will swing and a little knot starts to form in your tummy. We know that 4.5 is quite a lot stronger, stuff will roll on your desk and draws on your filling cabinet will rattle. The knot in your tummy gets a bit tighter and your throat goes a bit dry.
A "5" is really interesting! The filing cabinet draws roll completely open, books fall off shelves, bricks off walls and another hundred or so chimneys collapse. The stuff that was weakened by the first quake finally breaks. You heart is pounding and you have a waterfall in your armpits. There were 11 quakes over "5" in the first week! 7 weeks after the first quake we had a "4.9" that was close to the surface, and centred on the very edge of town. Apparently the nature of it meant the earth moved as much as it did for the 7.1!
Each of these quakes was preceded by quite a distinct noise so there would be a rumble a few seconds before any shaking. Unfortunately a truck driving down the road produced similar noise and similar anxiety. This was most annoying on clear calm nights when you were laying in bed trying not to think about going to sleep.
Christchurch is now a city on edge. Most of us were sleep deprived. Everyone was in "escape mode". Friends would tell you they were sleeping in their clothes just in case they had to "run for it". We put our mattress in the lounge as it was nearer the doors and escape. Besides, the entrance way seemed to have lots of framing and there were a couple of nice strong roof trusses above it. Our truck was full of camping gear. If houses around started to fall we our plan was to camp on a local football field.
The family member most pleased by all of this was our rather senior pooch. Any dog owner will tell you, "Dogs are much better than cats." Most cats had taken off for wherever it is that cats go. At one stage the SPCA had a list of over 450 lost cats. Many just returned, had a feed, licked their paws and went to sleep. Dogs on the other hand stuck around to make sure their masters were ok, besides that’s where the food was.
Our dog really liked the sleeping on the floor in the lounge part. He would patrol around the mattress, checking for the best place to sleep. Every now and then a wet nose would be stuck in your ear. There is nothing quite like a furry nose in your ear to drive up the anxiety levels for someone already stressed. Once he was satisfied everyone was asleep, he would gingery tip toe between us, and give himself away by collapsing on the bed. Once in a while he got to stay. It would have been amusing enough if only he would stop farting!
After about a week of this we came to the conclusion that "escape mode" just added to the anxiety. It was either "become a wreck" or "get over it." The best thing we did was unpack the truck, and put the mattress back on the bed. We told ourselves it was safer inside than outside. (Which it is)

One of the hardest parts of this was for those that worked in modern, safe high rise buildings. They are designed to flex. In anything approaching "5" the movement was quite spectacular! While the office was "rocking and rolling" you had to really fight the urge to get out and to stay inside, perhaps moving away from glass.
The city also had to deal with was "show pony" politicians looking for photo opportunities. Poor things, they can’t win. If they hadn’t been there they would have been accused of not caring. Still the constant exposure rescued the incumbent Mayor campaign that had until then been "dead in the water". The biggest indignities suffered was from a "special" edition of the TV Breakfast Show
There were some significant effects in the first few weeks so many were reporting for chest pains etc that the Cardiology Department cancelled all routine visits. The A&E had less problems dealing with alcohol related issues; it seems the reduced access to the cities "party zone" had an effect. Still no one had died. We all got a bit nervous about this being mentioned in case we were tempting fate. But it was true.
The rubble will be cleared and buildings rebuilt. Life goes on and in the fullness of time this will be a few pages in the history of a rather nice city. We are just a bit worried about the fashion that will be used in the "dress up" part of any re-enactment.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Where did this past week disappear to so quickly? This photo should have been up yesterday to link in with Budget Traveller's Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday , so forgive me for being late.
Taken from our beach looking out towards Kapiti Island.

A seagull wings over the surf.
Kapiti Island dominates our Western horizon. It is now a Nature Reserve, where all introduced predators (possums, stoats and rats) which prey on our native birdlife and their eggs, have been eradicated. You can take a day trip to Kapiti Island where you may hike through mature native forest to the highest point of Kapiti Island, Tuteremoana. Bird species you may see are kiwi, tui, bellbird, weka, kaka, kereru, north Island robin, saddleback, hihi and takahe. The takahe being one of our rarest birds.
Enquire from these companies about day trips and permits to visit -

Overnight stays can be arranged at -

Pictures of tui are here- Song of the Tui

This moment- – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words ....

This moment- – A Friday ritual.  A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Angelina, Brad and Shilo make huge donation to Naankuse!

What inspiring news to wake up to today- Brad, Angelina and Shilo making a huge commitment to wildlife conservation in Namibia with a $N13,000,000, or $US2,000,000, donation to Naankuse Namibian Wildlife Sanctuary.

Way to go for celebs to really help make a difference out there. We've recently seen Prince William, as Patron of the Tusk Trust ,  make a strong speech for wildlife conservation at the Trust's 20th anniversary celebration.
 Perhaps we may see a trend for more celeb people to take leadership in conservation.

Paris, wake up and make some use of your space!

More info on Naankuse, volunteering, and of our family's 2 week volunteer stay there is here-
 Naankuse 2009

You'll find more info and pics under Africa 2009 in Archives. Scroll down right hand side of this page.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"My Land" : Song of the Tui.

Photo taken by Tom Rix. Native New Zealand Tui perching on New Zealand flax. Photo Crop by Samsara.

The "My Land" posts on this site are a series that look at the New Zealand I know. Places, environment, and features that the traveller who takes the time to get off the beaten tourist track will find by exploring more of our natural wonders. To start off the New Year, I wanted to offer you all a really positive post to set the tone for the year...hopefully we all have a great 2011.

Tuis, one of New Zealand's native songbird species, are noted for their iridescent blue and green colours, and their delightful song. At this time of year they will have moved on from feeding from kowhai (Sophora species) trees, our national flower, to seeking nectar in our flowering native flax, or harakeke  (phormium tenax) plants.

The following was written by me- a verse here, another there- as I watched tuis feeding in the kowhai outside our kitchen, and while listening to them singing in the trees at my workshop. One day I showed a few verses to my wife and she thought they were beautiful. I put them together then I recognised the 8-7 tempo as being somehow familiar, so I searched for a favourite song of mine from the Cold Mountain soundtrack,  Like a Songbird That has Fallen (you can listen at that link) and found the lyrics fit so well. So let's hijack the song, strip out  the lyrics and fit the following into it.

  Leaving island's mountain cover  
  iridescent wings beat me
                  rising thermals take me over                
    seas that surround Kapiti.

          Reaching mainland's coastal view plain
        refuge sought in green embrace
        draping highest, steepest mountain
         keeping Nature queen of place.

      I'm a songbird that has wandered
    seeking boundaries to expand.
    See me, hear me, love, adore me
      I will spread song through this land.

Photo by Kevin Brown.
Tending kitchen window's kowhai
planted, nectar to produce
                                 I'll repay in tuneful refrain                                    
 sung for my mate to seduce.

I'm a songbird that has found love
cast away your worldly strife.
See us, hear us, love, adore us,
we will spread song through your life.


Island dominates horizon,
slumbers peaceful Kapiti.
Human helpful intervention
keeps our island predator free.

Some may question, some may ponder,
why it is the tuis sing?
Joy of living, nature's wonder
help inspire this song we bring.

Seek outside and hear the songbird
perched on yonder kowhai tree.
See us, hear us, love, adore us
songs of joy we'll sing for thee.

Photo by Matt Binns- Tui on flax or harakeke.

Our offshore island of Kapiti is a Nature Reserve where introduced predators such as rats, o'possums, and stoats have been eradicated to allow the bush to regenerate, thereby providing a secure breeding habitat for our native birdlife. Today it acts like an incubator- as the bird population on the island grows, adult birds spread across to the mainland.

If Bonnie ever reads this, it's dedicated to her to put a little cheer in her life.

Kapiti Island photos by Jim McIntosh.
Middle photo of Tui in Kowhai is by Kevin Brown of Simple Signs