Sunday, March 29, 2009

Back in Innsbruck, again.

Farewell, climbing. Nalle Hukkataival has a new passion.

Today is a quiet day in Innsbruck, so we are taking the time to relax, eat some food, update blogs, and play our latest obsession, Tap Tap Revenge - the best ipod app ever. Having beaten Catchamouse we are now working on bigger better things, and I think that with the right people behind me I may be able to make a million points.

I have personally attended a couple more shows of Pure, and we managed to get some climbing in at Chironico last week. I had not been to the area for about seven years so it was nice to go back and see it all again. I completed one hard problem and then worked with Nalle on a very difficult problem from Dave Graham called 'From the Dirt Grow the Flowers' which Bernd was recently able to repeat. Nice one Bernd! Nalle did a quick send of Passo Ticino, a very cool problem in a tall dihederal for possibly the second ascent of this scary V12. From there, I took the train to Zurich by myself to check in with Adi, the owner of Minimum Boulder Club in Zurich.

Reini Fichtinger and Nalle dropped me off at the train station in Faido and I had time to take a quick self portrait before hopping the train northward. I was waiting alone on the train platform and it started raining and snowing and to be honest I felt a bit lonely and far from home.

Waiting for the train in Faido, Switzerland.

The show went well. Their screen and sound system is really nice so the quality of the presentation was superb. What else would you expect from the Swiss? Everyone came out for the show and had a good time. There was plenty of beer on hand. Fred Nicole was not able to attend because he is currently in China, but hopefully he can check out a DVD I left for him when he gets back. I may have some more news about Fred soon, so stay tuned. The train from Zurich to Innsbruck was very scenic and an enjoyable ride overall, but I felt quite under-dressed compared to the 50-something europeans sitting near me. Every now and again I would catch the word 'american' in their conversation and notice some sort of dismissive hand gesture in my direction. Not sure exactly what they were talking about but maybe my bloody knuckles and dirty shoes offended them somehow. I know it wasn't my haircut. The day before in Zurich I had a three-hour haircut epic at a fancy salon. Adi arranged for it as a way to fill the day, since the weather was not good enough for climbing. As far as I can tell, the hair cutting team spoke about 3 words for every hair that actually got cut. There was the cutter, the assistant cutter, and the artistic supervisor. The haircut is great. I really like it. So much that I took a photo.

Getting a haircut in Zurich

Day before yesterday was our show in Salzburg Austria. Kilian Fischhuber and Anna Stoehr were able to come to the show with us to sign autographs and hang out with the crowd. We had a boulder session before the movie which basically consisted of Nalle, Cody, Anna, Kilian, and myself trying and sending problems while people watched. It was really fun. One of the locals schooled us on a massive sideways dyno. I was able to touch the hold but if I held on it would have ripped my arm off. Luckily Nalle held it down for the Pure team and he stuck the lunge after a few tries. The movie went really well and everyone had positive things to say and DVD sales were pretty good.

The Salzburg show of Pure

Kilian Fischhuber, feeling sexy

Nalle and Cody decided to go check out the town afterwards and maybe you can read some more on Nalle's Blog. I went back to Kilian's brothers house and passed out.

One interesting thing that happened was when Nalle found a scooter and I found my camera. Then a whip got added into the equation along with a Kilian Fischhuber and it went downhill from there.

We have put in a few plastic sessions with Kilian and in a word, they were humbling. Kilian seems to climb two or three moves at a time. He seems to build momentum from the moment he leaves the ground and carries it all the way through to the end of the problem. I'm not kidding. I tend to follow the 'pull, grab, think.... pull, grab, think....' model of bouldering but Kilian follows the 'think, then flow'. method. Oh, and he probably spends about 20 hours each week engaged in high-effort bouldering sessions on plastic. At one point Kilian pointed out an 'easier' problem for me, which I sent after about ten tries and found to be about V10 in difficulty. I also hung out with David Lama for a while. He seems like a very cool guy and he let me try his project in the gym... getting a tennis ball to balance on a rounded handhold.

So the weather at the moment is looking bad, but maybe things will clear up tomorrow and allow for some climbing. The team has one more show in Italy this week, then I'll make my way back to Munich and return to the US. I'm enjoying the Pure tour but am also looking forward to returning to the US and spending a few solid months at home taking care of old business and learning a new camera system which I will receive in a couple weeks.

Have a great day!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Catch-a-mouse update: We have beaten the game. We are the rulers of the universe. If you have not played Catch-a-mouse you need to do it. Like whoa.

Last night was a great show here in Innsbruck. The community came out in force to check out the show. The venue has a great sound system and we played the movie at volume 11 so everything sounded awesome. It wasnt really a movie theater, but mainly a night club. The picture quality was good though, and after the movie we kicked the party off Austrian style.... meaning lots and lots of Red Bull drinks. I called it good after a couple beers and went to work on the turntables, closing the place down at about 3am after 2 hours of spinning.

We had a few representatives from La Sportiva Italy at the show. As the main sponsor of the film I was glad to be able to present them with such a good audience. I think they were psyched with the overall event.

After the party was over me and Nalle were standing around in the detritus and discussing the incredible contradiction of filming aesthetic natural problems in nature and then celebrating in a basement night club. Or to celebrate athletic achievement by slamming redbull and Vodka. I counted two people on crutches last night, and Nalle signed at least one cast. (photo above)

Anyways, we have a short break before the next shows in Zurich, Salzburg, and Verona so we will likely get some snowboarding in as well as some bouldering.

Photos of people dancing are always so lame. Its impossible to take a good dancing photo. Boy, am I glad that none of the photos from last night will ever get out, because I started doing the robot at about 11:30 am and I didn't stop until 1. If any of those photos ever got out that would be really embarrassing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Show number one, and Beat Kammerlander

Nalle Hukkataival, Cody Roth, Beat Kammerlander, and myself.

Tonight we had the first Pure show in Austria. We started in St. Anton which is a small mountain community about one hour west of Innsbruck. This is basically the warm-up tour, and our show tomorrow night here in Innsbruck will be the first big one on the tour. Tonight a very well known climber and photographer named Beat Kammerlander (pronounced Bay-Yacht) came to the show. He is a living legend. He is over 50 years old and recenty completed a 5.14 route on traditional gear... very impressive. He complimented the style of the filming in the movie and I was humbled to hear such nice things from someone such as Beat.

The show was well attended, and we had about the turnout we expected - just under 100 folks made it a nice small show to a pretty core audience in a small mountain town. Bernd Zangerl did a cool slide presentation before the film called Lost in Peru about his recent bouldering adventures there.

I am please to announce that Underground Chuck has come out of retirement, and he... ahem... I spun a set of drum n bass tonight after the show while everyone was hanging out drinking beer. Nalle grabbed my camera and snapped the photo.

It was a fun night and our tour is off to a good start.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Back in Innsbruck

I'm back at Cody's house in Innsbruck. Cody is sorting out the last details for our first few showings of Pure, and we are expecting Nalle's flight to come in later this evening. I'm psyched to be back in Austria and really looking forward to putting my film in front of some more audiences. We also have DJ's lined up for our after parties and I'm looking forward to bringing Underground Chuck out of retirement and spinning some vinyl... hopefully mellow stuff at first.

At this point, I've had the film in front of enough audiences to know that the reaction will be positive. But getting people to show up to a film is a hit-and-miss proposition at best. When you do hit a big crowd though it's a great feeling.

If you know anyone in the Innsbruck area, Facebook or otherwise, let them know that their presence is requested at The Weekender on Saturday night.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Athletik Spesifik

As a climber I'm always looking for ways to tackle those inspiring and often blank walls I find myself drawn to. It could be a variation to a contrivance I want to try when I'm out with my friends drinking PBR's on the weekend, or it could be the international dream project. After returning from Mallorca at the end of 2007 and being a little disappointed with my climbing there, I decided to start training with Athletik Spesifik. I was already pretty satisfied with my climbing ability but I wanted to see if I could squeeze the lemon any harder. Seven months later I went to Rocklands and had a great trip, having successfully elevated my climbing to my next personal level.

The value of training in a program like this is different for everyone. In my case, I already had the discipline and work ethic, just not the guidance. Dave's approach to training helps you put your effort where it pays dividends in climbing. He mixes it up, keeps it interesting, and Dave is a real hawk-eye when it comes to form and safety.

If you live in the Denver / Boulder area I would consider giving his program a look. Taking revenge on your project from last season is sweet, sweet nectar indeed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A new addition to the Milennium Boulder?

Photos from Kristen

This weekend was blessed with cool temps and good climbing conditions. Saturday I tried a variation on Fleshfest at the Satellite Boulders which diverts left and adds a hard upper crux. After falling from the upper move twice I realized I had sprained my ankle and so I called it a day.

Sunday I went out to the Milennium Boulder and was able to add a new line that goes between Ghost Dance and Moon Child. I had to break a few twigs off a bush in order to climb it, but I think the bush will be okay. Be careful if you go there to not break too many more branches. The line is almost completely independent... the only overlap is a single foothold which some people use as an intermediate handhold on Ghost Dance, but otherwise its a 100% stand-alone problem on great rock with a committing dyno at the top. Hard to think of anything that detracts from this problem... 5-stars? Okay, maybe 4. Real good though.

Unless it's been done before I would suggest the name 'Friend to Fanboy'.

I believe there is only one more undone line on this boulder, the arete left of Ghost Dance. Climbing the arete by itself without diverting into Ghost Dance may make this problem more of a contrivance than a line, but time will tell.

In related news, Stephanie Marvez finally put Captain Hook to rest on Saturday. A great effort there and worthy of the nine points she took for the send. Kristen did Nadeer on Sunday, getting six points in the bag. Productivity was high this weekend and I think the guys in corporate are going to be excited with the output of the team.

I'm leaving for Austria on Wednesday to reconnect with Cody, Nalle, and the Austrian crew to do a bunch of screenings of my film Pure. I cant wait to get the film in front of some more audiences. The film has been shown about a dozen times now and the response is great. Thanks to everyone who has attended a show!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pure in the Fort


Pure is showing tonight in Fort Fun, Colorado at the CSU campus.
Screening to benefit the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition.

Lory Student Center Theater

See you there!

Red Feather update from Jamie

I was just sent an e-mail from my good friend Jamie Emerson, who has been on a tear lately in Northern Colorado. Jamie has been training hard and he is psyched as ever. A while ago I challenged Jamie to a internet controversy battle but to his credit he didn't accept. Jamie is a well-spoken fixture of the bouldering scene here in colorado... a gentleman and a scholar. Here's the message he sent me this morning:

It's your pal Jamie. I just wanted to congratulate myself on some recent sending I've been doing in Red Feather. Last year you mentioned that your problem 'The Product' is incomplete and that someone strong needs to link the moves at the end to complete the problem. Well I went there and I couldn't figure out which end you were talking about so I focused my energy on the bottom end. After two days of effort I have managed to add a contrived variation to The Product that I feel is much harder. It uses the same holds as your problem, but instead of taking them with your feet I take them with my hands. This is surely the best variation in Red Feather. It adds over eight moves to the start of The Product, counting of course the well-known fact that the placement of each finger pad is one move. Check out the video: you can clearly see me taking the footholds with my hands and then proceeding up to the drop-off. I rule.

Sincerely, Jamie.

Mastodon V12 from Jamie Emerson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring / Summer Cloudveil Website

Cloudveil has updated their web site, and included in the new updates are several photos and videos I did last year and wrote about on my blog. Great to see the work get out there. I like the way everything looks, especially the photo above for obvious reasons such as hotness.

I hope to do some more stuff for Cloudveil this year. I'm psyched to be an ambassador for the company and also contribute some creativity here and there.

Pure is showing in Ft. Collins tomorrow at CSU. The show benefits the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition. Check my web site for details, and have a great day.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ethiopia Part 2

March 2nd

This morning at about 6am, Tameru from Glimmer of Hope came by the hotel to pick us up and escort us by plane to Bahir Dar, a short flight northwest from Addis. Our travel today should be easy, though we've already had some mild hassle. Ethiopian airlines has a 7Kg limit for carry-on luggage... about 15 pounds. The checker at the little carry-on checkpoint didn't even bother putting my bag on the scale. He tried to pick it up and then kindly asked me if I could put it on the scale. I calmly told him “well it's more than 7 Kilograms...” and he told me to check it through the normal luggage system. I said this would be impossible and after a brief debate and some help from his supervisor I was given the okay to proceed.

We're as far as the cafe in the airport now. Tameru has sorted out some awesome coffee and I'm showing him some footage from yesterday. I think he is pleased with what he has seen so far, though it's always challenging to explain what the magic of editing can accomplish.

Photo: Tameru, one of our Ethiopian hosts.

It's 10:30 in the morning now, or 4:30 in Ethiopian time. Ethiopians start counting from 12:00 when the sun rises, and then when the sun sets that's 12:00 as well. Works a lot more intuitively for people without time-telling instruments at their disposal. The sun rose two hours ago? Well then it's 2:00! We have arrived in Bahir Dar and are preparing for our first field trip from this area. The villages we will visit have all been notified that they are candidates for water projects, so we are expecting quite the 'faranji festival' (foreigener party) when we arrive. The landscape around Bahir Dar is mostly brown and dry... blonde-colored like Colorado plains in the winter. I'm feeling slightly sleep deprived so I think i'll take a quick nap before we head out.

March 3rd

I was too tired yesterday evening to update the journal. My head was spinning with the days activities. Since the moment we landed in Bahir Dar we were surrounded by thick layers of African culture. Overall the day was a lot of work but otherwise very pleasant, as we were visiting water projects that have been completed and are now in service. The people in the villages came out to model for us and they were very cooperative, though inexperienced models. Sometimes I would have the translator give a direction to one of the people, such as 'place your hands in the water', and the villager would do so, but maybe they would turn their back and completely block the view of the camera first. We visited four completed projects, and finished the day out at a village called Jugdana where they have a hand pump instead of a spring-fed system. Ryan and I took turns pumping water while the girls from the village filled up their evening water supply with clean, cool water.

Some of the footage I was able to get yesterday will be a coveted part of my portfolio for years to come. Today we are visiting villages that have been proposed for new water projects, and I think the next few days will be challenging because the places we visit will likely have sick children and communities in very poor health.

The coffee here is outstanding, I think I'll go have some now.

Three hours later we are in Gondar, a town much closer to the border with Sudan. To the west is a flat expanse of dry desert. Gondar seems a little more poor than Bahir Dar, though it's hard to put my finger on exactly why. We stopped in the center of Gondar and were surrounded by curious folks, but the pan-handling here was just a little more aggressive than what we've seen in other parts. As well, the skin tones of the people here seem to be darker than those we've been working with previously. Where as the color of the villages yesterday was a very dark red, many of the faces I see here in Gondar are black like charcoal. Filming such dark skin tones is a challenge so we'll likely have to use lighting that will reflect at shallow angles off the shape of the peoples faces.

We just met with the governor of the region or the 'administrator'. He oversees a population of about 3M people, and he gently mentioned his expectations of the charities and discussed the most acute problems faced by the villagers at the moment. He also arranged a private tour of a local castle, the major landmark of the area. I'm not sure what the history of the structure is but I guess we'll find out shortly. At the moment we're making out way through busy traffic and the claustrophobic bustle of downtown Gondar. Navigation here is a nightmare, not to mention the driving itself. I'm glad we have a driver because there are LOTS of issues unique to the driving here. All sorts of different machines operate on the roads of Ethiopia. 99% of the traffic on the roads is foot, people walking along with the classic relaxed African lope that is immediately identifiable. The other 1% is divided among donkey carts, cattle, sheep, goats, little 3-wheeled taxis sometimes called 'tuk-tuks' most commonly associated with India, and finally, passenger cars. We are at the castle now, so time for a tour.

We were just toured around the castle by the manager of the place. He had a great appreciation of the structures and the history of the buildings his knowledge was very detailed as well. He pointed out the spiral staircase leading to the king's chamber, and how it's unique because it spins counter-clockwise as you ascent, which is reversed from most staircases. 'Do you know why that may be?' he asked 'um... to protect from siege?' - I went with my stock answer to castle trivia... I've found that most castle questions can be answered with some variation on that response and it's usually correct. Either that or 'for religious purposes'. It turns out the king served as his own bodyguard, since he was an expert swordsman, but the king was left-handed. Spiral staircases were used for defense, limiting the attacker to one or two wide at a time, and a right-handed spiral staircase (the normal kind) gives the upper-most guard the opportunity to use their right hand to reach around the center column to attack, while the lower invaders have to use their left, which is generally the weaker. Because the King was left handed he had the stairs built for his defensive preference. The architecture of the castle was influenced by Portuguese, Moors, and Indian architecture, the guide said several times that despite the influences these other cultures, Ethiopian architecture stands on its own two feet as a strong, independent style. This is what you would expect in almost anything Ethiopian. As one of the only African countries to resist colonization (they kicked out an Italian occupation) Ethiopians are staunchly independent and proud of their land and culture. They have their own time (explained above) and as the billboards around town have informed me, we are approaching the Ethiopian Millennium, the year 2000.

Photo: Gondar Castle

We're here mostly for water, so that's been our focus. Today I saw a poster outlining how to ethically treat animals. It was basically a bill of rights for animals in Ethiopia, and though I'm sure it's not enforced, at least there is some initiative to take care of the animals, which often shoulder the brunt of the suffering in poor economies. I saw the poster at the Brooke Ethiopia North Gondar Programme headquarters, which shares facilities with some of the water authorities in the area. The purpose of the program is to provide work animals to people in need. If they have a donkey, they can engage in trading or other activities to promote some income.

We have also crossed paths with another form of economic stimulus. Micro-loans enable individuals to buy some basic capital. One example in place here is this: A micro-loan company will loan an individual enough to purchase a cell phone and a calling plan, and then they will position themselves on a street corner with the phone, and a tin, and collect some money from people who may need to make a phone call or send a text.

We have just sat down for lunch, we have 90 Km of bouncy dirt road to travel right afterwards. Our day has been diplomacy and handshakes, and a flat tire up to this point. I'm anxious to get out to the field and start shooting. We are behind schedule and it's tough to notify the villagers that we'll be running late. I understand they have been waiting at the water sites since morning for our arrival, and we'll not be there for several hours yet.

It's now about 3pm Ethiopian time. I am sitting in a hotel bar in a back room shared with about 15 random people drinking Dashen Beer from Gondar. We finished the day out and returned toward Gondar. We are in Delgi now, having not made it all the way back to Gondar. Driving here during the day is risky enough... driving at night would be extremely unpredictable. Today we witnessed the aftermath of five horrible car accidents, all having occurred recently enough that there were still fluids draining from the engines on the vehicles. We did not see a single emergency response vehicle all day.

Leaving Gondar this afternoon we tried several times to stop and get gas, but three of three gas stations in the town were out of gas. Lucky for us, the Land Cruiser we have has quite large fuel tanks and we will be able to get back to town safely as long as we don't get lost, have mechanical problems, suffer another flat tire, etc etc etc.

We are really out there right now. Close to Sudan, on the west side of Lake Tana. We are a long long way from home. Nothing makes you realize how far away from home you really are like thinking back a few days. Just a couple days ago I was in Addis Ababa, thinking 'wow, I'm really far from home'... now, from Addis Ababa, I've taken one flight, one short drive, then three hours to Gondar, then from Gondar three hours on rough dirt roads to Delgi, then on very rough 4WD trails for another three hours to the villages where the water projects are being installed.

Approaching the villages today, we knew they had been told of our plans to visit. I had some idea of the crowds that form around foreigners in the villages, but experiencing it for the first time was very exciting. As we approached the first village we got a glimpse of what to expect for the rest of the day. Children streamed towards the center of the village at full speed. I saw more than one face-plant today, including one that my skateboarding buddy Nelson would call a 'full scorpion', where your heels hit the back of your head. The people come from all around, summoned not only by the sound of our engines, but also from the horns carried by the sentinels and militia of the towns. As we approach, they sound the call through horns made of... well... horns. Cow horns to be specific. They use the horns to summon up the townspeople for meetings or other important events. People came towards us over a hill carrying red, green, and yellow flags. Not Ethiopian flags, which have a 5-point star in the middle, but three simple stripes of color blowing in the hot breeze from the west.

I just asked Tameru what the flags were, and he says they are in fact Ethiopian flags, but the people in the villages cant make the star for the middle so they just go with the red, yellow, and green stripes. Take a second to think about that.

Photo: Hand-made Ethiopian flags with no star.

I also asked Tameru if there were any reliable figures for infant mortality rates in the rural villages in Ethiopia. He looked at the floor and replied that he didn't know. In the following conversation I heard the number 15%, 30%, and 10%, and various ages that children generally die when they are infected with water-borne diseases.

NON-DEPRESSING FACTOID OF THE DAY: In Ethiopia, it's appropriate to get your waitress's attention by snapping your fingers or clapping your hands.

As we rolled into the village we were no fewer than four vehicles and about sixteen people. In addition to the 'core team' in our Land Cruiser, we had picked up some regional representatives, guards, translators, diplomats, local officials, government administrators, and militia-men. I thought for a moment about the importance of my video. To these people, my cameras are more than just lenses and lighting, they are likely the only window they will be afforded to communicate with the rest of the world. The film I make will be one of the main tools we need to raise the money to implement the clean water sources for these people. So I figure about 5000 people are counting on me to make a film - that will raise the support - that will build the wells - that will tap the water - that will PREVENT THEIR CHILDREN FROM DYING.

So... we arrived in the first village and went to look at the current water source. A crowd of about 400 people gathered in absolute silence to observe the goings on. There were a few women at the spring filling water containers. They took turns filling the containers and chasing away the livestock who wanted to have some of the water. At the very top of the small pool, the water comes out clear. I would say clean, but it is contaminated. However, it is clear. They carefully scoop up the water into hollowed-out gourds and pour the water into yellow water containers, generally old cooking oil containers. As we spent more time at the water hole, the crowd started getting more curious and closing in on the scene. One of the most crazy parts about being in a crowd of Ethiopians is how quickly they get out of your way when you need to go somewhere. In one instance, I was separated from my camera bag by a tightly packed mass of about 100 people. I made the universal sign for 'I need to walk here now'... basically a slow speed karate chop with my hand held vertically, and then I just walked forward at my normal speed. I did not bump a single person. A 4-foot wide path appeared almost instantly, then closed in again right away, then opened again as soon as I changed lenses and went back to the spring.

Photo: Ryan takes a GPS reading at one of the proposed well sites.

The feeling is tense at these places. In addition to being surrounded by strangers, I am also surrounded by men with automatic weapons. These are the local militia, a legal branch of the government used for protection of the villages. At one point today, I had to ask no fewer than four armed men to please exit the background of my shot. They obliged, but with the sort of body language that clearly said 'we will do as you wish, but don't forget that we're the guys with the guns'. Okay, done.

The people here know how media works. Normally the villagers would transport the water back to their house and drink from it there, but when the camera is around they are more than happy to grab a cupful of the dirtiest water in the pond and put it in their mouth for the camera. Honestly, not unlike filming with professional climbers... ;-)

At the third village we visited today, they had already dug the first part of the well that is proposed to be placed. Ryan and the folks from Glimmer of Hope are accustomed to this sort of effort. Tameru, our guide and knowledge-base for the project is accustomed to dealing with the pressure and constant strategizing from the villages as they grapple to get their needs to the top of a very, very long list of potential recipients.

At two of the three villages we went to today, we were offered some of the local delicacies. Chick peas and … wait for it... roasted chick peas... are the seasonal treat. I had some raw chick peas, which come out of the pod like the peas you eat at a sushi joint. Grilled chick peas are small and brown, and have a bland flavor and soft texture. I could tell from the way they were presented that these little peas were very valuable to the villagers. I didn't want to eat too many, but after a day of stress and shooting I had to indulge in a handful or two. They smell like microwave popcorn.

I was also offered honey wine, like mead but different. I was told it is alcoholic but I could not taste any alcohol. The fermented honey wine has crusty bits that float on the top of the container, and the people offering it to me gave it to me in an old tin cup with nails holding the handle to the container. The drink was good, but not too different. Tasted like iced tea mixed with honey. I said 'namase ganalo' (thank you) and went back to work.

There are a lot of things about this place that you would not realize, and when you read my account you probably have a different version of reality than what actually exists. If you collect your information about African culture from the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, and those travel shows that always tilt in favor of getting the host to eat the freakiest shit they can lay hands on, then you're like me: lots of false preconceptions.

As a filmmaker I'm fighting an interesting creative battle here. Do I portray the villages as the worst 3rd world poverty you've ever seen? Should I focus on the kids with flies in their eyes and distended stomachs? (there are a few) or should I also include footage of the guys on motorcycles who follow us around and stop every now and again to send a text message to their friends in a different village? (I saw two of those today). Do I shoot the women drinking diseased water from a pond they share with cattle? Or the evening beer-drinking session in the local bar, where men drink 70-cent beers and pass time? (surprised? Well so was I). Should I film from the standpoint of a totally detached observer? Or should I film from the standpoint of a marketing consultant who is trying to assemble the most convincing marketing program possible for my client? The fact is if Ethiopia pooled all their discretionary income... stopped drinking beer... stopped smoking... enjoyed no luxury items... spent all their spare time working on developing these clean water resources.... then they may already have provided wells to most of the people already, but in the process you would have turned the country into communists. If you were Rush Limbaugh, you could probably find half a dozen reasons a day to justify a statement like this: “Why the hell should I give up my hard-earned cash to help these people, when they seem more interested in smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and socializing with each other?”

I might reply: “Well, yes, it's possible to see some cigarette smoking and some beer drinking here in even the poorest parts of Ethiopia... and I have the footage to prove it. But I have one question: How do you propose I go about filming dead children?” – and to prevent Rush from jumping in here, I would have to quickly add - “who have already decomposed?”

march 4th

Today we have visited several villages. I'm sitting on the tailgate of the Land Cruiser typing this up as about 100 sets of curious eyeballs watch me from a perimeter about 20 feet away. If the kids encroach too much the guard chases them away by throwing cow dung at them. The children are quite content to stand around and just stare at me. I can see them comparing notes about Americans. 'Obama' is one of the only words I recognize.

We have visited six sites that are candidates to receive new water projects. The situation is bleak and the people here are not healthy. At one point the village school came out and lined up to show their support for the project. Since they were arranged so neatly I had my assistant hold our makeshift backdrop and I shot a photo of each student as they filed past. During the shooting I was mostly concerned with getting everyone in focus and taking the shot before they walked past. Afterwards, I looked at the photos and I noticed one thing in common with almost every face – asymmetry. The faces of the children in Ethiopia are not symmetrical and it leads to some interesting and very sobering portraits. The students would gaze into the camera with the sort of look that was at once curious and fearful. These kids have possibly never had their picture taken, and the expression on their faces is what you would expect from a person who has never looked into a camera. Since I was shooting African people against a white backdrop, the photos are basically black and white. One color I notice in the photos is the slight red tint in the eyes of the children affected with cholera or dysentery or chronic diarrhea.

Photos: Three of the students.

As I went from village to village today I was concentrating on collecting some audio from the various places. In a film, the background sounds you hear are called ambiance, as they serve to capture the ambient noises found in an environment. The gathering of filthy water takes place not to emotional ballads of strings and heart-rendering pleas for aid, but to the sound of birds chirping. Sick children transport the diseased water back to the village not to a voice-over of a charity asking for your money, but to the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze and the mooing of cattle. In short, the sound of people suffering is a lot like the sound of your last day out in the park.

NON-DEPRESSING FACTOID OF THE DAY: Spicy Najeera inside normal Najeera is called Furfur and is quite tasty!

This evening Ryan and I went to the downtown market area of the city and found some entertainment. We had our driver with us and he helped us locate a couple foosball tables. Foosball is quite a phenomenon in Ethiopia. For 3 Burr (about 25 cents) you can have a game of Foosball. As we hung out around the foosball tables a large crowd started to gather, eventually turning into quite a scene. The power in the town kept blinking on and off, rendering foosball impossible during the off times, so I ran back to the hotel and grabbed some headlamps which we used to keep the game going. I took some photos of the games, but eventually the town militia grabbed me and 'requested' (in the way that only 5 big guys with 5 big guns can) to have me take their picture. Of course, the answer was “yes it would be an honor to take your picture! Smile!”

Photo: The Delgi Militia

Thursday, March 5th

Today we got a slow start. For some reason the thought of eating Njeera again this morning made my stomach turn, so I think maybe I have mild food poisoning from the meal last night. When I was presented with some wheat bread my appetite returned and I was able to eat as normal. Breakfast and lunch today consisted of thick bean paste, scooped up in pieces of fresh bread. We also found some bananas and it tasted amazing to have some fresh fruit, which is a bit of a luxury in this area.

Today we got to witness the excitement as a village placed a cap on a completed well site. When we first arrived, all we saw was a hole in the ground about 8 feet wide and 25-feet deep. These hand dug wells work well here because the soil is (generally) soft and stable, and the diggers can hollow out the well fairly quickly (more on the opposite of that in a minute). After going down to the desired depth, the workers begin to place concrete cylinders inside the well. This will ensure that all the water that is drawn from the well will be free of ground contaminants. The workers lower each consecutive ring into the well one on top of another by stringing ropes around pipes and tying the ring off to the pipes. Then about 20 men can lift the cylinder and place it over the hole, and the ropes – wrapped several times around each pipe for friction – are slowly released and the ring is lowered into the well.

Photo: Getting ready to lower the cylinder into the hand-dug well.

After the column of concrete cylinders reaches the surface the people build up a platform of stones and fill in the gaps with concrete. After this cures they will build a wider platform that will serve as the filling station for the pump, affording enough room for the pumper and the filler to share the platform and collect water comfortably and safely.

We also visited two sites that are candidates for new systems and I shot some scenic material from around these locations. On our way to camp we stopped by another finished site and shot a few photos that Ryan will use for wall displays in the Wine for Water tasting shop in California. I've rarely shot for an image that will be blown up to the size he's talking about – 8 feet by 12 feet, so I had to make sure everything was exactly in focus and properly exposed. I got two horizontals and one vertical that I'm very proud of and I think Ryan will get a lot of mileage out of them. He estimates that about 10,000 people will see the full size displays in the wine store each year.

Photo: One of the shots from the completed project

Tomorrow we will begin our journey back to America. It will take us about five days of fairly continuous travel to return home. Not much by historical standards but in modern-day transportation terms that's a heck of a long time.

Every time I turn on my computer to jot down a note about my footage... wait a minute...

I was just handed a brimming cup of 'local beer'. Let me take a minute to describe it before moving on. Local Beer is a home-brewed concoction of water, sorghum, local grains (maize sometimes) and just before they ferment it they add honey. The appearance is extremely off-putting. Chunks of grain husks and other material floats to the top. The color is a greenish-yellow. The smell is unmistakably beer... but you can tell right away that it's not Fat Tire. The flavor, surprisingly, is manageable. It's weak by American standards. It's sweet but not too sweet. I'm not sure if I'm going to finish the cup I've been offered but it's a very nice gesture nonetheless and like most things here it's better than I imagined. Okay... where was I?

Every time I turn on my computer to jot down a note about my footage, a little warning bubble pops up from the menu bar and says 'wireless network not connected – no wireless network available'. I usually make an announcement to whomever is listening that “HEY GUYS... I'M NOT GETTING ANY WIRELESS! ARE YOU GETTING WIRELESS?” It doesn't take much in the way of humor to break the tension here, and there's plenty of tension to break.

Today our host from ORDA, one of the local agencies working to bring clean water to the region discussed with me the importance of trying very hard to find the funding to complete the wells we have seen the sites for. When the rainy season comes it can be very hard to implement the wells because the fields turn to mud and it's not a good idea to drive across food fields when they should be growing food. Our host is respectful and he is not giving us a hard sell. He knows that he's preaching to the choir but the situation here is desperate. Each village that does not have their drinking water secured by the time the rainy season comes will have to endure another year of child mortality and suffering, because the rains bring with them disease, spreading surface contamination into the open springs and creeks where the people are gathering water. Getting all ten projects implemented in the next few months is likely not possible because Wine for Water is such a young organization, and as a result it is likely that several... a few?... many? Of the faces dotting the background of my photos and videos will no longer be with us come next year.

NON-DEPRESSING FACTOID OF THE DAY: A lot of the people here carry herding sticks with them at all times. When they stop for a minute, they either crouch on the ground of the lean up against the stick and raise one foot to rest against the opposite knee. The position is iconic for Africa and as often as I see it I have not been able to draw my lens to it in time to catch a good photo.

I am at this moment sitting under a tree watching Ryan (try to) play Frisbee with about 20 kids at the same time. It was too dark for Frisbee about twenty minutes ago but they're still at it. Ryan accidentally pegged a little girl and she ran away. He tried to catch her to offer her a little present like a pen or something, but she ran away as fast as her little legs could carry her, screaming 'Faranji! Faranji!”.

I found out a few minutes ago that the well we visited today that they were capping is the one Ryan paid for out of his own pocket. He has pledged to find funding for the other ten water projects as well. At this moment, there are six ants on my computer screen.

Tonight we are camping at Jantegena and our gracious host Mulualem Ashenafi has arranged for some electric lights to adorn the campsite, which, he tells us, should draw quite a crowd.

And indeed it did. Tonight was a terrific celebration. About 150 villagers came out and they all brought picnics – Njeera with bean paste and chili sauce. Everyone sat around and watched the sun go down, and they also watched as I shot Ryan's portrait that he needs for marketing himself and his organization. Throughout the shoot, I have had lots of assistance from the helpful folks surrounding us. I rarely have to carry my own gear. Every time we stop at a village and open the back of the land cruiser there are several sets of dark hands reaching to help shoulder some of the load. After my initial surprise and reluctance to release my grip on my precious gear I got used to it and I saw this same work ethic and desire to help out in any way possible as a very pervasive trait of the villages seeking some clean water infrastructure. One of the guys always helping is Wonide Engeda, a full-time employee of ORDA (Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara) working in the communications field. I generally cringe to have other hands on my gear, but the team-effort mentality is essential around here. After dark, we started a fire and everyone danced around the fire clapping and singing. I made a fool of myself and tried to mimic the intense shoulder-vibrations that the people use as their staple dance move. Basically, to dance in this part of Ethiopia is really easy... just act like you're trying to shake your head off your shoulders. Keep the beat, keep a smile on your face, move towards and away from the old guy doing the singing, and you'll do just fine.

Photo: The village comes to party. Picture by Mulualem.

Friday, March 6th

We are stopped momentarily while our driver fixes another flat tire. This is number five on the trip, our spare tire is in good shape and we should be on the road again soon. We filmed a small amount at the well site today. It was a beautiful moment when they finally got it working and clean clear water started to flow. There was clapping and singing and celebration. It's funny though how culture pervades everything... here's a couple examples: In Oman, the Sultan developed a few water projects for some villages – expensive projects requiring deep bore holes – and everything was great until the townspeople started turning up sick with ailments you would not normally expect from groundwater. It turns out that the appreciative villagers had thrown chickens into the well to thank the spirits, and the chickens rotted in the well, polluting the water. Another example happened this morning. The people from the village with the new well are accustomed to having to scrap for position in line to get water from the trickle of a source they have available. It's chaotic and there is a lot of importance placed on who gets to fill their cans first. Despite the fact that the new well was putting out about 5 gallons of water per minute... more than enough for everyone... there was still jostling and yelling at the well site. It went away quickly though as everyone had their cans full in just 25 minutes and it began to dawn on them that they probably don't have to fight for rank anymore. Just another added benefit to having a clean plentiful water supply. The tire is changed now (they're pretty good at it around here) so time to go.

This morning we left Jantegena and stopped briefly in the outpost of Delgi. After that it was a two-hour drive on very rough rocky road to Gondar, where we took lunch and I introduced myself to another film crew from Austria and chatted with them about their experiences and techniques and also plugged my upcoming Pure premiere in Vienna (gotta hustle!). We picked up pavement again at Gondar and are now going to Bar Hidar, where we will catch a flight back to Addis Ababa tomorrow. In two days we will be taking Ethiopian Air through Damascus to London and then I connect through Chicago to reach Denver.

Saturday, March 7th

Today we are leaving Bahir Dar to return to Addis Ababa. Our flight leaves at about 5pm and we are spending the day meeting with the people at ORDA and discussing the specifics and the time line for getting the projects implemented. There is some pressure coming from the organization towards Ryan to try to get the projects going before rainy season, but as a new organization it is a big challenge to pull together the funding in just a couple of months. The administrator of ORDA is an intelligent person, and as before the pressure is respectful but also very present. The people are desperate and the desperation works its way through the system eventually arriving at the top. The people involved with the organizations are very sensitive to the expectations of the people. One of the issues complicating the process is that many of the villages have already started digging wells on their own, and if the projects are not implemented before rainy season then the wells will cave in and the work will be lost. ORDA could go ahead and fund the wells at this time, with a guarantee that Ryan will pay for the projects this year, but there are complications with raising funds for something has already been paid for by another organization, and it has become very complicated in the past with some of the other charities that have funded projects in the area. The word 'desperate' has been used about half a dozen times. At the same time, the villagers were instructed to not begin digging wells until told to do so, and it would be potentially negative to allow the villagers to begin to find ways to dictate the pace of the development because this can result in hard feelings if plans change or funding does not come through.

Today I asked Mulualem a difficult question, and he handled it without problem. I said “So if we install clean water to the villages, and it is just enough to provide for the current population, what will happen in ten or fifteen years when the children are no longer dying young, and the life expectancy grows above 45 years? Will we encounter a shortage?” Mulualem says they are currently looking about 10 – 15 years in the future, and there are long term water projects on the radar that would consist of deep bore holes and modern water distribution systems capable of providing clean water for a growing population. Also, as people are no longer sick and tired, they will develop more economic activities and they will not rely as much (or hopefully at all) on government assistance to build the wells. The current level of community contribution to wells averages about 6 – 10%, meaning the community manages to pull together about 300 – 500USD and they contribute this to the project as a way of showing good faith and commitment to the project.

Photo: Mulualem

As we are getting ready to depart Ethiopia, I've decided to leave some things here. With Wonide Engeda, (pronounced one-day) the ORDA photographer, I left my F-Stop camera backpack. It's a bit too small for my video equipment and I think he could get a lot of mileage out of the fact that the bag seals up very well with rubber-lined zippers. It's a dusty place here and having a clean bag to house your camera is key for keeping the mechanism running. He was stoked to say the least. I'll also leave a pair of Kaenon Polarized sunglasses with our driver Gecha. I believe driving is his main source of income so preserving his eyesight will be important.

I guess I'll close the journal with a few observations and some of my own personal thoughts. I've been here for a couple weeks... total... so I'm far from an expert. I still struggle to remember the names of the towns and villages we were in and the names of the people we met, so my observations are not so much from the standpoint of an expert, just someone who was here for a short stay in the company of some of the poorest people in the world.

Observation 1) Everything here is working at 100% capacity. From the overloaded buses and trucks to the 70-year old boats still carrying loads across Lake Tana, to the hands and feet of the people, to the soil and the springs and the environment. Anything extra, whether in terms of money or energy or time, is converted into food and consumed, yet the people still appear under-nourished. I'm not big by American standards but in the video Mulualem took of me dancing last night I look like a linebacker dancing next to stick figures.

Observation 2) Lack of clean water is a major gear in the poverty machine. In the villages we visited that have clean water, the people were happy, smiling, and full of ENERGY. In the villages where the women scoop water from a puddle shared with livestock and breeding insects, the people gazed into my camera with blood-shot eyes and a look more weary than anything you can imagine. I work with athletes all the time and I train hard myself and let me tell you, these people are really, really tired. In addition to the physical effects of hosting parasites and suffering from outbreaks of diseases like cholera and dysentery each rainy season, the emotional fatigue of rampant child mortality must be a burden heavier than most westerners can imagine. When filming or shooting photos of people, I always use the eyes of the subject to get a focus point, so throughout this trip I have been looking deep into the eyes of Ethiopians, and let me tell you, there is a big difference between the ones with clean water and those without.

Observation 3) There wasn't much conversation in the Land Cruiser as we went from place to place. We weren't discussing the intricacies of the situation. We weren't talking about the pros and cons of project implementation here. There just simply wasn't that much to discuss. These people need clean water and if they could do it themselves they already would have. Some people may wonder what these people have been doing all these years, and why this is such a big problem now. Well, here you go: these people have been dying young. They have been and continue to suffer and die young. Clean water can prevent this. The situation is just not that complicated.

Observation 4) You have to be very careful about giving impoverished people any indication of opportunity, because they may completely derail their lives by trying to start making preparations for change. Even mentioning the possibility of a well in a village sets off a chain reaction that may culminate in the villagers spending precious money and energy digging a well based on the advice of village elders instead of qualified hydrologists, and even after such a huge quantity of extremely dangerous work the well may be dry and a new one may need to be dug only a few meters from the first. It's more than just the villagers also. If you casually mention a dollar amount or a level of support, this number gets burned into memory and it acts like ratchet. As things change, you will never be allowed to reduce this number, only increase it. Any mention of a greater contribution makes a tiny little click in the mind of anyone within earshot, and this again is an example of the power of desperation.

Desperation is a force to be handled with great care.

Chuck Fryberger
Addis Ababa Ethiopia
March 7, 2009

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ethiopia Trip Journal Feb 25 - Mar 1

Hi everyone. I have found some internet access here in Addis Ababa, so I thought I'd post up my first few days of journal entries and a couple photos.

Ethiopia Trip Journal

February 25
I've made it as far as Chicago at this point. That's as far as I'll go today. By tomorrow, I'll be in London and hopefully in the company of Ryan Broersma, my partner in the efforts we will put forth in Africa. Let me back up a little...

A month ago, Ryan contacted me and said he was possibly looking for a filmmaker to accompany him to Ethiopia to do a short film about clean water and the improvement it can make to people's lifestyle who have not had access to clean water. At the time I wasn't sure if it would work with my schedule... I was excited to participate but I didn't want to compromise any of the follow-through for my film Pure which was due to premiere just five days before I would depart for Africa with Ryan.
Needless to say, we sorted out the scheduling and I'm excited about the trip ahead and the prospect of effecting some tangible change with my video camera. Making climbing films and granola bar advertisements is rewarding, don't get me wrong, but ultimately it's a very selfish pursuit, and at this point in my life I'm unattached and willing to work on behalf of others.
The project in Ethiopia (and I'll learn more as I go) is simple: I'll make a short film about the effect clean water can have on a village of people who do not currently have access to clean water. This film will be used in a variety of ways, mostly to gain support for the wells and other needed infrastructure to bring the clean water to the villages we will visit. If all goes well, the villages will be receiving new wells and related equipment soon. But there's no guarantee things will go as planned. From my perspective, we have several challenges facing us:

1) We may not be able to bring any / all of our camera gear into the country. The Ethiopian government has a reputation for locking up camera equipment and not giving it back until the owners leave the country. The government fears any media that may make them out to be corrupt or irresponsible. Our proposed film really has little to do with the government, but it's going to be hard to convince the customs agents of that fact if they decide to cause a problem. I've broken up my gear across my duffel bags and carry on bags, but it's still a shit ton of gear, and if they stack it all next to each other in a pile it's going to be hard to hide the fact that I'm a professional.

2) Ryan and I will be very jet-lagged when we arrive. Sometimes I have a hard time being 'on point' when I'm fighting jet lag, and I have a feeling that we will need to hit the ground running and stay that way for both weeks. This is not a huge problem really.

3)We are very likely to fall victim to either real or fake red tape. It is very common for even well-respected 'guides' to try to extract money from their 'clients' by faking troubles that don't really exist, or that are created in collusion with corrupt authorities. I'm not expecting much of this but I would be surprised if we didn't see any.

4)Equipment malfunction. If our equipment dies, we're a long way from the service department.

5)Environment. I don't really know what sort of weather to expect, but if it gets nasty we're going to be right out there in it, with fragile equipment.
Crime. We're not spending too much time in Addis Ababa so pick-pocketing and mugging is not a huge concern. Plus, we're insured so we don't have to put up a fight if they want to take our cameras.

6)Emotional stress. I picture that we'll be exposed to some quantity of abject human suffering on the trip, and for me this will be my first hands-on interaction with the desperately poor of planet earth. It may be tricky to keep focused on color and composition when the people around me are... literally... dying.

7)The unforeseen. There are a lot of unknowns about this place and any time I go into a film shoot without a clear idea of what the end product will be I get a little nervous. My preferred style is a combination of planning and run&gun documentary, so this project should be a good fit for me. I have some stylistic ideas I'd like to implement but we'll have to see how practical they are when we actually set foot in the country and figure out exactly how much creative freedom (vis a vis time) I can have to try and get artsy. Ultimately I would like to maintain a high level of cinematic appeal with this project in addition to conveying the information we need to convey.

I'm looking forward to the chance to see a new landscape, meet some new people, and try to accomplish some good with my camera. Simply being able to shoot without having to worry about sponsorship conflicts and logo placements and industry politics will be a relief. If we accomplish our goal and we are able to bring clean water to the ten villages we will visit, then this will likely be the most meaningful project I've ever shot.

Once again I've had to leave my beautiful girlfriend Sarah in Golden. This is after quite a lot of stress on the heels of 7 months of filming Pure. I love her and I hope she doesn't take it personally that I always seem to be going away. One of the reasons I have the bravery to take on international projects is that I know I have an amazing, loving human being at home to return to, no matter what.

We're leaving Chicago now, time to turn off the computer. See you in London.

February 26th – London

Ryan and I connected at the airport without problem. The same guy who stamped his passport also stamped mine. He asked where I was going and when I said 'Ethiopia' he said I was the second person in the last half hour to say the same thing. Ryan and I found our hotel in London without too much issue. We rode the tube a couple stops too far and then had to ride it back towards the airport a ways, but we're at the hotel now, being tempted by all the crappy things hotels leave in your room that appear to be hospitality but in fact are extortion.

I've been to London before so it's mostly up to Ryan what he wants to do today. Fish n' Chips is on the agenda, and maybe a show tonight. I saw a cool show the last time I was here so maybe we'll check something out.

Ryan and I just returned from a long walk around downtown London. We saw a few sights, got Big Ben ticked off our list, and found out where we might like to visit tomorrow. Ryan is from a small town in California and the 'bigness' of London seems to be overwhelming at times. I have an easy time here because it's English speaking so things are easier here and you can just ask any passerby for directions. We're fighting the inclination to sleep because the best way to beat jet lag is to get through the first couple days and try to get on schedule.

February 27th – London

I had about four cups of coffee this morning and read from my new Anthony Bourdain book. His misadventures will (hopefully) outweigh our own. Today we are going downtown to take in some more sights, and we also have a mission: to find the Ethiopian Embassy and contact the ambassador. In order to guarantee our camera gear safe passage into the country, it may be helpful to have a letter from an authority. Ethiopia is a bit picky about allowing professional gear (especially video gear) into the country. Even though my entire kit can be distilled into a fairly small package, there's no doubt we aren't tourists. Ryan seems stressed about the possibility of not getting our gear into the country. I'm not too concerned, but we have heard tales from other travelers about nightmare quantities of red tape, fines, and long delays incurred while waiting for camera gear to be released from government limbo.

As I write this, passengers are filing onto the plane. We are seated in an exit row near the front of the plane, and we'll probably get underway soon. There was a bit of stress because the check in agent took our passports during check in and disappeared for several minutes, then returned. Then she asked for our passports again a few minutes later, and disappeared for a second time. She asked to weigh our carry-on bags which is a first for me. My carry-on was well over the proposed 7Kg limit. On one of her trips away with our passports I popped my camera bag on the scale and it read 20Kg. We decided to risk it and just head to the gate without letting her weigh the bag, and there was no issue with getting it onto the plane. Crazy how that works. Now that we're on the plane, we're breathing a little easier. I wonder what kind of beer they serve.....

At current count, there are two crying babies within ear-shot. They seem to be having a contest to see who can cry the loudest.

I'm not sure how to classify the music playing on the plane at the moment. Sounds kind of like the music from the bar scene in Team America when they infiltrate the terrorist hangout in Egypt. Lots of wind instruments and something that sounds like an accordion.

Saturday, February 28th

We arrived into Addis Ababa this morning, a little behind schedule but I understand that's par for the course when you're flying Ethiopia Air. The airline has a terrific safety record but not such a good record for timeliness. As usual, things here are more mellow than my previous perception. The airport is clean and modern, quiet, with good signage in English directing you where to go. We bought a visa at the airport for US$20. I had a moment of panic because I saw the size of the visa stamp, and it is as large as a whole page of my passport. Unfortunately, I don't have any pages of my passport that are clean, and the officials are not allowed to cover up any previous visa. In south Africa they would have put me right back on the plane, but here they just tacked the visa onto one of the 'amendments' pages and said I was good to go.

I cleared customs with a large amount of pro video gear, which is, as suspected, not allowed into the country. I layered as much stuff as I could and then put the pack through the x-ray vertically, so none of the cameras would appear in profile. I grabbed the bag off the other end of the x-ray machine and exited the area quickly, not looking back. Leaving the customs area, I was greeted by about 100 dark faces, waiting for family or friends to show up. A contact from a different charity met us, and I saw my name on his sign: Mr RyBurger.

Ryan came out just a minute later and said that he had been asked whether he had any video equipment with him. He said no, and they bought it. So we were into the country with all our gear intact. Exiting the airport, I noticed the climate is not entirely different from Denver. Addis Ababa is pretty high... about 6000 feet above sea level. The sunlight seems the same, the sky is the same color, and just like Denver in May there is a cool breeze blowing through the city.

My first indication of the economic situation of the country came from the powerful, hauntingly vacant stares aimed in my direction from the passengers of other cars. Unabashed, they have no problem staring straight into your face.

There is a lot of construction happening near our hotel. Somehow, they build precision concrete buildings by using a strange scaffolding technique based on thousands of wood sticks. The buildings seem to be held up temporarily by a chaotic latticework of improvised framework. On closer inspection, the crews are using simple tools like string and plumbs to erect the buildings in a very precise and modern manner. Working conditions seem okay at first inspection. I'd say in comparison to the imported work force in the Middle East, the native Ethiopian work force is doing well.

Our driver will come back to pick us up in a few hours and take us on a brief sight-seeing trip through Addis, and then to dinner somewhere. The bar in our hotel is... believe it or not... a micro-brewery. Comparable in size to the Tommy-knocker in Idaho Springs, it's one of the strangest things I've ever seen.

We are back at the hotel this evening after a few hours in the market downtown. The central market is really busy... okay, really REALLY busy. Thousands of people all jammed into a space about the size of lower downtown Denver. The market is huge, consisting of several large building complexes, outdoor areas, bus stations, and thoroughfares for all sorts of traffic from buses to donkeys to SLR-toting tourists. Part of the reason we went to the market was functional... I needed a backdrop for my video shooting. I purchased one in the US before we left but opted not to bring it because of its large size and obvious 'pro-video' give away to the customs people.
On arriving at the market we honed in on the textile area and had about a hundred choices of where to purchase our material. We settled on a nice raw cotton backdrop and paid a tailor 50 Burr to (about $5) to stitch it all together for us. We shopped for tourist stuff and then came back an hour later to find a well-made studio-caliber video backdrop, custom made for our shoot. Things can happen fast in these closely connected webs of humanity and it's cool to be able to sort out a key component of the shoot for such little money and with little time wasted.

We also did a little tourist shopping. The question in my mind is always: do you pay the tourist price? And if not... how far down should you haggle folks who may be living in abject poverty? I usually haggle for about five minutes or so and then pay whatever price we've arrived at after that time. I put about US$40 into the local economy today and I have some nice souvenirs to take home.

The poverty here is not as prevalent nor as severe as I had imagined. Certainly, there are some bad cases out there on the streets... cripples, mentally ill people, blind people, people with strange afflictions I cant even begin to describe. Compared to the USA it's pretty bad, but compared to other places like Oman or South Africa or Mexico, it's only slightly worse. Our guide, Eric, was informtive and hospitable, and he dropped us back at the hotel in time for dinner and a little down-time. Tomorrow we plan to visit a water project that was recently completed to get some footage of what the future holds for our ten chosen villages.

I tried calling Sarah tonight. The international operator reported that my house line was not working, but we eventually contacted her on her cell phone (she was at home after all) and we had the chance to chat for a few minutes before the line went dead and was disconnected. The internet and phone service here is amazingly expensive... about $2 per minute.

I've tested all my equipment and it is all functioning fine, so tomorrow we should be up and running, making the film we came here to make. It will feel good to start working and maybe think less about the 73 million people in this country, most of whom do not have it very good at the moment.

Sunday March 1st

Ryan and I are back in Addis Ababa after our first day out filming. We had a casual breakfast and then Erik,our driver and guide / assistant producer / fixer came by and picked us up. We headed towards the outskirts of Addis and made our way towards a big water project that has been recently completed but is not yet functioning yet, as the concrete is still curing. This project was organized by A Glimmer of Hope which is a large organization building schools and clean water infrastructure throughout Ethiopia. We visited one of the schools briefly. It consisted of 8 rooms, about 20' by 20' each, and we learned that 1300 students attend classes there.

After that, we visited a site that has been selected to receive a new water system. The current system is a reservoir about 50' across that collects runoff during the rainy season and holds it until it dries up each year. The reservoir is full at the moment, but even now the quality of the water is poor, and the water is diseased. During the dry season when the level of the water goes down the water becomes covered in algae and the residents have to take turns carefully scooping water from the puddle so as to get more water and less mud. 3000 residents of the nearby village rely on this water source. After a brief visit, we sat down in a town closer to Addis and had some traditional Ethiopian food, which is quite palletable and not really all that strange. Simple, spongy flatbread called Injeera is served in rolls, and you carefully tear off pieces (using only your right hand, as in Muslim cultures) and then pick up pieces of food or sauces with the bread. It's important to place the food in your mouth without touching your fingers to your lips. To do so is the Ethiopian equivalent of double dipping chips and salsa... not a major no-no but enough to get funny looks from whomever you're dining with.

We returned to the water reservoir after lunch in time to film some of the people coming out to collect water. Slowly, people came over the hill from the village, bringing empty 'jerry cans' (yellow plastic containers), some of which were fitted onto special one-per-side holders for donkeys to carry. Those are some pissed off donkeys. As the villagers filled up their cans of water, we asked them to come over to where we had set up a neutral white backdrop and we filmed them. Some of the people we asked questions to and they seemed happy to answer. Interviewing takes a long time, because each statement has to be recorded effectively twice. First the image of the person talking, and then the audio of the translator speaking english.

On the way back from the town we paused briefly to film a typically African tree that was in a beautiful location on a hill. As if on cue (and this happens pretty much every time we stop) some kids appeared and started climbing on the tree, providing an interesting bit of action to what would otherwise be a pretty plain looking scenic shot.

We're back at the hotel now, looking at footage and photos from the day. The footage is looking good overall but I need to try to slow down a bit more especially when things get chaotic. The fact remains though... this is Africa... maybe the footage should have a little chaos here and there.