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Travel doesn’t become adventure until you leave yourself behind. – M. R.

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At home with friends in NYC

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Working with Huru International in Nairobi, Kenya

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Le quotidien: Le 4ème Sommet Panafricain des jeunes leaders, à Dakar au Senegal

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With my host family at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference in McCall, Idaho

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On stage with The CONDOMIZE! Campaign in Mzuzu, Malawi

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Working with Zip Zap Circus in South Africa, via Washington DC

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An afternoon with cheetahs in Victoria Falls, Zambia

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Honoring the life and work of Nelson Mandela in Cape Town, South Africa

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At Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts

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On the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France

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My 3-legged cat, helping me pack

 

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Jean's grandmother, circa January 2014

Jean’s grandmother, circa January 2014

Jean woke up this morning to the news that his beloved grandmother in Dakar, Sènègal had passed away.  Jean’s grandmother, like my grandparents, played an instrumental role in his childhood and in forming the man that he is today.  I feel blessed to have had the privilege of meeting her when I visited ma belle famille in Dakar two months ago.  I send this message out with love in my heart, knowing that my incredible grandparents are happy to meet her now, too.

Grandma and Grandpa

Grandma and Grandpa in the Philippines, circa 1945

When someone you love becomes a memory,
the memory becomes a treasure.
– Author Unknown

Ma belle grand-mère et moi

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It’s Lent and, for the first time in a long time, I actually visited a church on Ash Wednesday and am reverently observing the period by giving up coffee and chocolate.  Since my early objections at a young age to certain criteria required of the faithful, I have always considered myself to be spiritual rather than religious; but many recent life events have led me to re-examine religion and explore it on my own terms.  Rifling through my writing archives this evening, I stumbled upon this response to an email conversation with a colleague on this topic during Lent last year:

St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, circa Easter 1911

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, circa Easter 1911

Recent events in the realm of reproductive health as well as a thoughtful examination of the core values of many of the world’s organized religions are exhibitive of the powerful role that religious leaders can play in preventing the transmission of HIV.  The everyday lives of many individuals and communities around the world are informed by their religion’s teachings; and as religious leaders are guided unwaveringly by their sacred text, they themselves are viewed as trusted and unfailing sources of information and advisement.  For many people in developing countries, western medicine’s scientific evidence is associated with the “White regime” and considered to be highly suspect in comparison to the irrefutable, sacred text of their religion and the advice of their religious leaders.

I have the pleasure of working with a group of HIV-positive mothers in Dakar, Senegal; and at the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning, imams in Senegal officially declared their support for contraception, including condoms.  These islamic leaders are deeply respected as steadfast holy men who lead their communities throughout their lives, offering guidance and support through birth, marriage and death; and the imams explained their show of support by stating, “What’s good for a woman is good for her family, and for her society.  We want healthy societies.”

I was personally raised in the Catholic faith, and I was taught both in church and in my Catholic school that being a good Catholic means showing respect and care for those around us.  I firmly believe that condom use exemplifies the deep care and respect that one has for oneself, as well as one’s partner.  Using a condom demonstrates a belief in the right that every person has to live a full and healthy life, the right to plan a family and the right to choose what is best for ourselves and our own bodies.

When considering religious institutions such as Islam and Catholicism, using condoms is not against their core values – it supports them.  Pope Benedict XVI has even stated, “where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, [condom use] can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality.”

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My Macchiato

My Macchiato

Spending this first week of July in Washington DC, meeting people from the community as I await the arrival of the rest of my colleagues, has given me a renewed desire to once again state my heartfelt adoration for the Ethiopian people.  Ethiopians represent the largest African immigrant population in DC – surveys show that one in every five black African immigrants here is an Ethiopian – which explains why I have been stopped so many times and questioned with delight about the Amharic tattoo just above my right shoulder blade…

Zoma! Amharic for "Long, beautiful hair"

Zoma! Amharic for “Long, beautiful hair”

The following images are some of my favorite moments from my last two weeks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; both inside the ICASA conference and out and about in the city.  Enjoy!

Hanging our banner in my Education Zone

Hanging our banner in my Education Zone

Me, smiling

Me, loving my work

Me and Sissay, my Amharic & French interpreter

Me and Sissay, my Amharic & French interpreter

DKT condom fashion show!

DKT condom fashion show!

Jesus and Sara

Jesus and Sara

Cal and Ayele

Cal and Ayele

Tires

Tires in the neighborhood

Coffee Ceremony

Traditional Coffee Ceremony

Our banner outside the ICASA venue

Our banner outside the ICASA venue

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Tshirts…

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… tshirts…

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… and more tshirts!

What's YOUR Slogan?

What’s YOUR Slogan?

Youth at the Ghion

Youth at the Ghion

Condom Art Pin making

Condom Art Pin making

With our CONDOMIZE! manequins

With our CONDOMIZE! mannequins

Art in the Community Village

Art in the Community Village

Me and "Mama"

Me and “Mama”

Condom Art Pins at the African Union

Condom Art Pins at the African Union

Lunch!

Lunch!

Inside a chat house

An afternoon inside a chat house

Ambo and lime

Ambo and lime

Lovely Rosa

Lovely Rosa

Our neighborhood in Addis

Our neighborhood in Addis

More from me soon, circa Washington DC, on our Road to AIDS 2012

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Even in our history from ancient African civilization, poets went from village to village; and that’s how stories and messages and lessons were taught.
– Tupac Shakur

Reading All About Condoms educational material on How to Use a Female Condoms

Reading All About Condoms educational material on How to Use a Female Condom

At our pop-up Zone in the Community Village

At our pop-up Zone in the Community Village

Bidia presenting the All About Condoms Use website in our Community Dialogue Space

Bidia presenting the All About Condoms Use website in our Community Dialogue Space

Eager participants in the Community Dialogue Space during a session on Anal Sex

Eager participants in the Community Dialogue Space during a session on Anal Intercourse

Adrian, Sara & Marilyn

Adrian, Sara & Marilyn

All smiles :-)

All smiles...

Covered in Condom Art Pins!

Covered in Condom Art Pins!

Handfull of ICASA 2011 branded condoms

Handfull of ICASA 2011 branded condoms

Adrian, facilitating the Condom Art Pin making program

Adrian, facilitating the Condom Art Pin making program

Marilyn and Lydia

Marilyn and Lydia

Muluken and Ashenafi

Muluken and Ashenafi

Our amazing team of volunteers

Our amazing team of volunteers

"Don't Compromise!"

"Don't Compromise!"

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Popcorn, slightly sweet: a traditional Ethiopian snack

Popcorn, slightly sweet: a traditional Ethiopian snack

An invitation to attend a coffee ceremony is considered to be a warm gesture of friendship and respect in Ethiopia, where coffee is an integral part of the society and culture.  The coffee ceremony customarily takes place in the morning, at noon and once again in the evening each day; it is the community’s main social event and a time to discuss life, politics and exchange news.  UNFPA and The Condom Project set up a Coffee Ceremony Zone at the 2011 International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa in order to give participants a space to relax in a traditional Ethiopian setting; to discuss condoms and their role in HIV prevention; and to enjoy coffee, cultural snacks, and take away Ethiopian coffee flavored condoms as a souvenir.

Coffee Ceremony Zone, under construction

Coffee Ceremony Zone, under construction

CONDOMIZE Coffee Ceremony Zone, after set up!

Coffee Ceremony Zone, after set up!

Me in the Zone, discussing male and female condoms with a group of women from the Community Village

Me in the Zone, discussing male and female condoms with a group of women from the Community Village

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony can be performed at any time of day and is traditionally conducted by a young woman dressed in cultural clothing, made of airy white fabric with colorful woven borders.  She begins by arranging the ceremonial items on a bed of long, fragrant grass; incense is lit and the coffee beans are roasted in a flat pan over a small charcoal stove.  Once the coffee beans have turned from bright green to black, the guests are invited to breathe in their smoky aroma as she wafts it toward them from the pan.  The freshly roasted beans are ground by hand with a mortar and pestle then slowly stirred into a traditional black clay coffee pot, round at the bottom with a colorful straw top.  The coffee is gracefully poured into tiny cups, the first being served to the eldest person in the room, and then to the others.  This is done in order to symbolically connect all the generations.

Pouring the coffee in an uninterrupted stream

Pouring the coffee in an uninterrupted stream

Guests enjoying coffee on the first day of ICASA 2011

Guests enjoying coffee on the first day of ICASA 2011

It is considered impolite to excuse yourself until you have enjoyed at least three cups of coffee, as the third round is said to hold a blessing.  The “spirit is transformed” during the coffee ceremony through the consumption of Abol (the first round), Tona (the second round) and finally Baraka (the third round).

The Ethiopian military taking a coffee break in our Zone

The Ethiopian military taking a coffee break in our Zone

Coffee condoms, blue jean condoms and condoms for CONDOMIZE at ICASA 2011

Coffee condoms, blue jean condoms and the condoms that we made just for ICASA 2011

According to Ethiopian folklore, coffee was discovered when a goat herder from Kaffa found his goats dancing with excitement in an area where coffee plants were growing wild in the hills.  He noticed a few chewed branches of the plant with bright red berries and decided to taste them himself – after which he hurried home to share the amazing discovery with his wife.  She urged him to tell the monks, who immediately threw the “sinful drug” into the flames of a fire… The monastery soon filled with the delicious smell of freshly roasted coffee beans.  The monks raked the beans out of the fire, crushed them, then distilled them in boiling water.  After staying up through night to investigate the substance, the monks discovered a renewed energy and commitment to their holy devotions.

Coffee table, hand-carved in traditional style

Coffee table, hand-carved in traditional style

Bountiful coffee condoms

Bountiful coffee condoms

Facilitating a discussion on the benefits of condom use

Facilitating a discussion on the benefits of condom use

And we hope that our Coffee Ceremony Zone helped to provide a renewed energy toward global condom programming for the participants at ICASA 2011 🙂

"… Don't Compromise!"

"… Don't Compromise!"

More images from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the 2011 International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa coming soon…

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At the market

At the market

It was a wonderful coincidence that we happened to be arriving in Jinka on a Market Day, which is a time when Ethiopian tribes travel from many kilometers away in order to buy, sell and trade their goods.  We met beautiful people from the Mursi, Banna, Ari and Hamer tribes…

A warm welcome to the market

A warm welcome to the market

Traditional jewelry

Traditional jewelry

Haile, our guide while in Souther Ethiopia, told us that the traditional lip plates of the Mursi tribe were originally used to discourage men in Kenya from “stealing” the Mursi women.  The tribe realized that their female population was steadily decreasing due to the “theft” of their beautiful women by Kenyan men, and so women began wearing the lip plates as a deterrent to thieves.  After removing the woman’s bottom front teeth, the first (and smallest) of a series of plates is inserted into the lower lip.  In order to stretch the lip, the plate is gradually replaced by plates that are larger in diameter over a period of time.

A beautiful Mursi woman

A beautiful Mursi woman

Other interesting things that we learned from Haile: children whose first teeth come up through the bottom jaw are considered to be extremely bad luck, and they are often killed if they are found to have this “defect”.  Tribes in the Omo River Region do not count their age or the exact number of their populations.  And it is customary for the men to receive 37 cows and a gun when they marry – men may take up to 5 wives.

Adrian and me with people from the Omo River Region

Adrian and me with people from the Omo River Region

The next time I visit, I hope to be able to spend some time with people from the Bodi tribe as well.  I love to eat, and so I am particularly interested in learning more about their Fattening Ceremony!  As far as Haile explained it to me, it involves the consumption of milk and blood as a ritual in celebration of growth and strength.

Me, with a local gentleman

Me, with a local gentleman

Making new friends...

Making new friends...

… LOTS of new friends!

… LOTS of new friends!

The following lovely ladies were so insistent upon giving me two metal bracelets to take home, but they did not slide onto my write easily while we were standing in the hot sun.  As a result, they proceeded to spit onto my arm until the bracelets fit.  True story.

The lovely, spitting ladies

The lovely, spitting ladies

Haile is an incredible guide and operates his business utilizing the concept of community-based tourism.  He speaks English, Amharic and several of the local languages spoken in the Omo River Region.  He is well versed in local customs and easily bridges the cultures of travelers and tribes native to the valley.

Walking with Haile, our guide

Walking with Haile, our guide

Joshua, Franck and me

Joshua, Franck and me

Adrian, laughing

Adrian, laughing

We found some truly unique items at the Market in Jinka – Adrian found fantastic sandals made out of old truck tires; Franck bought a necklace strung with bright yellow beads and an shiny, empty turtle shell; and I bought a set of traditional Mursi lip plates.

Vendors at the Market

Vendors at the Market

Young girl selling spices

Young girl selling spices

A cigarette maker

A cigarette maker

The local tobacco industry

The local tobacco industry

Special delivery

Special delivery

The morning after our day in Jinka, we drove back to Arba Minch and visited the Crocodile Market… which, it turns out, does not sell anything at all.  This is a place where local hunters come to catch crocodiles so that they can export their skins.  The crocodiles here are the largest in all of eastern Africa.

Me in the boat with our Crocodile Market guide, who carries a gun - just in case

Me in the boat with our Crocodile Market guide, who carries a gun - just in case

An enormous crocodile in the distance

An enormous crocodile in the distance

Peeking hippos, who can be seen with as many as 14 other companions

Peeking hippos, who can be seen with as many as 14 other companions

Joshua and our guide with the gun

Joshua and our guide with the gun

Baboons along the road to the Crocodile Market

Baboons along the road to the Crocodile Market

Baboon, checking us out

Baboon, checking us out

More baboons!

More baboons!

Cute baboon butt

Cute baboon butt

Up next:  our return to Addis Ababa and our work at ICASA 2011 🙂

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On the road to Jinka

On the road to Jinka

Before leaving Ethiopia for my Female Condom expert meetings in South Africa, I had the opportunity to take a trip south to the Omo Valley with my team. We flew from Addis Ababa into Arba Minch (which is Amharic for 40 Springs) and stayed at the beautifully rustic Paradise Lodge, which boasts an incredible view of The Bridge of God – this is the land bridge that divides Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo, the home of Nechisar National Park.

Suits made in Arba Minch, from traditional Ethiopian cloth

Suits made in Arba Minch, from traditional Ethiopian cloth

Tree and Toe poses, with a tree-top view of The Bridge of God

Tree and Toe poses, with a tree-top view of The Bridge of God

Adri overlooking Nechisar National Park

Adri overlooking Nechisar National Park

Outside our room at the Lodge

Outside our room at the Lodge

Our gorgeous ceiling… Why can't I have this in NYC?

Our gorgeous ceiling… Why can't I have this in NYC?

In bed, under my mosquito net

In bed, under my mosquito net

After spending a day relaxing at Paradise Lodge, we left before sunrise the following morning for a long drive into the Omo Valley. This was an incredible trip and my first this far south in the Ethiopian countryside. During the drive, small children dance for the cars that pass along the road – in exchange for the entertainment they ask only for a small gift of any empty plastic bottles, which is a valued form of currency. Empty water bottles, given primarily by travelers in this region, are sold during market days so that locals can transport water from the source back to their villages.

Children dancing along the road

Children dancing along the road

A village in the countryside

A village in the countryside

Traditional rural homes in Ethiopia

Traditional rural homes in Ethiopia

During the drive south, we often found our vehicle surrounded by herds of animals walking slowly between villages. As I love animals, this was a particular treat for me!

People and animals going to market

People and animals going to market

Herd of goats grazing

Herd of goats grazing

Donkeys en route

Donkeys en route

Busy herd of cows

Busy herd of cows

A lazy calf

A lazy calf

We stopped for food in Konso, a small town at the entrance to the Omo Valley. During meals, Ethiopians will give a “gorsha” to show friendship and love. A gorsha is when one person feeds another person with their hand, and I have heard various meanings associated with the number of gorshas given: it is generally signified that one gorsha is for friends, two gorshas are for family and three gorshas are for lovers. Haile, our guide in Southern Ethiopia, told me that gorshas given to women are traditionally 1/3 the size of those given to men… He had obviously never seen me eat before.

Haile and me, eating tibs in Konso

Haile and me, eating tibs in Konso

Me with Adrian, who everyone thought was my husband. If you know us, you know that that is hilarious.

Me with Adrian, who everyone thought was my husband. If you know us, you know that that is hilarious.

While in Jinka, Haile invited us to his family’s house for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Haile with his family

Haile with his family

Me, meeting Haile's little cousin

Me, meeting Haile's little cousin

Sharing the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans

Sharing the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans

Adrian with the family

Adrian with the family

Joshua and his new best friend

Joshua and his new best friend

Smiling, after coffee and popcorn

Smiling, after coffee and popcorn

Up next: photos from Market Day in Jinka and our morning with the crocodiles and hippos!

Much love and many thanks, as always, for reading… xojl

Much love and many thanks, as always, for reading… xojl

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In our room on the lake

In our room on the lake

During our weekends in November, we had the opportunity to explore the countryside surrounding Addis Ababa.  The village of Debre Zeyit (Amharic for “Mount of Olives”) is situated in the Misraq Shewa Zone of the Oromia Region, just south east of the capital city.  Below are a few images from our time there…

Our view in the morning

Our view in the morning

Boys on the boat

Boys on the boat

Sisay on land...

Sisay on land...

… and Sisay in water

… and Sisay in water

Adrian overboard!

Adrian overboard!

The lake from our doorway

The lake from our doorway

A traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

A traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Breakfast at Kuriftu

Breakfast at Kuriftu

The incredible ceiling in our room

The incredible ceiling in our room

The morning after Harar! My favorite local beer

The morning after Harar! My favorite local beer

Local art sold on the roadside

Local art sold on the roadside

Next post: Southern Ethiopia and the tribes of the Omo Valley 🙂 Thanks so much to you, as always, for reading…

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Condom Art Pin making with PSI & youth at Mekdim

Condom Art Pins with PSI & youth at Mekdim

As you can imagine, CONDOMIZE-ing ICASA 2011 was truly a team effort – we were thrilled to have fantastic partners to help us implement all of our activities in Addis Ababa, especially during our final weeks of preparation for the conference.

Condom Art Pin table at PSI Ethiopia

Condom Art Pin table at PSI Ethiopia

CONDOMIZE and PSI Ethiopia implemented Surge Prevention programming throughout the capital city with partners from The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa, DKT Ethiopia, EngenderHealth, The Ethiopia Private Health Sector Program, Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia, Handicap International, OSSA Ethiopia, PEPFAR, USAID and World Learning.  These activities were all aimed at preparing the local community for the surge of international delegates who would be attending ICASA 2011.  Below are a few images from condom trainings that I conducted in partnership with PSI Ethiopia and Mekdim:

Condom Art Pin making at Mekdim

Condom Art Pin making at Mekdim

Pineapple Fanta and cookies! Snacks during a focus group with PSI and Mekdim

Pineapple Fanta and cookies! Snacks during a focus group with PSI and Mekdim

A PSI illustration of condom efficacy

A PSI illustration of condom efficacy

Community feedback on educational materials

Community feedback on educational materials

Cookies and a bedroom scene

Cookies and a bedroom scene

A morning after scenario...

A morning after scenario...

Tigist and youth at Mekdim

Tigist with young people at Mekdim

Condom Art Pin making to close a focus group at Mekdim

Condom Art Pin making to close a focus group at Mekdim

"Condoms only work if you wear them."

"Condoms only work if you wear them."

In addition to our partnership with the Surge Prevention team, we were also working with local artists and community volunteers to ensure that CONDOMIZE at ICASA 2011 had a uniquely Ethiopian feel…

Making the furniture for the CONDOMIZE Coffee Ceremony Zone

Making the furniture for the CONDOMIZE Coffee Ceremony Zone

Sisay varnishing a freshly made table

Sisay varnishing a freshly made table

Running errands in our neighborhood

Running errands in our neighborhood

Sisay's cousin, keeping our guesthouse clean while wearing my hat

Sisay's cousin, keeping our guesthouse clean while wearing my hat

Me and Lucy the cat, working on the CONDOMIZE social networking initiative

Me and Lucy the cat, working on the CONDOMIZE social networking initiative

Lucy on my bed

Lucy on my bed

Ayele on our patio with the CONDOMIZE banner, make completely out of colored condoms

Ayele on our patio with the CONDOMIZE banner, make completely out of colored condoms

Stuffing condom cases in our converted kitchen : work area

Stuffing condom cases in our converted kitchen / work area

And finally, at Millennium Hall

Hanging the CONDOMIZE banners in my Education Zone

Hanging the CONDOMIZE banners in my Education Zone

"Love Smart. Play Safe."

"Love Smart. Play Safe."

Stay tuned for photos from our time in Ethiopia outside of the capital city, and finally images from CONDOMIZE at ICASA 2011!

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