June 16-Our Visit with Obama and his Family

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(Note: This blog was a team effort! Individual authorships are noted.)


After leaving Soroti, we headed to Pakwach for the night — just a small town on our way to Murchison Falls. We got up bright and early to drive into the Murchison Falls National Park and immediately started seeing many animals. A list for you! Elephants, giraffes (twice we saw hillsides spotted with so many of them!), duikers, kobs, waterbucks, oribi, hartbeests and monkeys. A few of us glimpsed a leopard jumping down from a tree, but otherwise we couldn’t find any lions or leopards. Our turning point was a watering hole with a bunch of hippos chilling in the water, rumbling and snorting. After a few hours, we drove to the Nile River to go on a boat ride to see the falls. While we were waiting to leave for the boat ride, we met some baboons.

So, the last time Joey came to Uganda and visited Murchison Falls, a pack of baboons raided his group’s van because they left the doors open with food inside. This time around, Joey was reunited with a baboon friend he’d made, but we were extra careful and made sure to shut the door anytime the baboons came close. At one point in the afternoon, Bethany, Harrison, Joey and I (Allison) were in the van waiting to go up and join Rohan and Rebecca at a lodge. We shut the doors and slid the windows closed until they were gaps, because this baboon had looked like it was about to try and jump up through the window or something. Suddenly, we see a baboon appear on the roof of the car next to us — uhh, something’s not right here. We see that the window right behind the passenger seat is still a tiny bit open and Joey shouts, “CLOSE THE WINDOW!” but too late – the baboon jumps from the roof of the car onto the windowframe, shoves the window wider and pushes its body through. It’s hindquarters are still out the window but it’s pretty much in the car. Harrison is holding a can of Pringles and thinks it’s going to go for his food and maul all of us. I’m yelling and images of monkey claws are flashing through my mind. Joey is trying to get out of the van to pull the monkey out but gets stuck by the door handle. Bethany’s finding her camera. We find out later that the baboons are bold but still scared of humans, but at this moment we don’t really know that. The baboon grabs the plastic bag closest to the window and tears it open to see a loaf of bread before it snatches it to its chest and jumps back out of the car back onto the neighboring car’s roof, where it proceeds to shred the rest of the bag and eat our bread. We’re stuck inside the van for a bit longer because a ton of baboons have appeared and are surrounding our car, hoping to get some of the food, but they soon lose interest. Unlike them, I don’t think any of us are going to forget that episode very soon.



To the Tune of Gilligan’s Island Theme

Now here’s our brave victorious crew,

They’re here for a short boat ride

To Murchison Falls and back again

Past crocodiles and hippopatomi,

Crocodiles and hippotami.

Now, dear reader, you’ve perhaps figured out that we did not get stuck on the little rocky island on which we stopped to get the closest possible pictures to Murchison falls available on the Victoria Nile. You have made your conclusion too quickly, because we are using a service of Orange called Internet Everywhere, which means that we could very well be posting from our little rocky isle. At least this isle was free of ants. ANTS!

Our three hour boat ride was uneventful, fortunately. We enjoyed seeing hippopotami and crocodiles. We saw many mother and child hippopotami, and kingfisher birds that live in holes in the (I assume sandstone) cliffs along the river.


We got up bright and early for the drive to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, which is the home of the 10 wild white rhinos in Uganda. The sanctuary is 70 sq km and crisscrossed with tons of roads for trucks because they keep their rhinos under a 24/7 surveillance. We drove for quite a while before parking at the side of a road and walking for a few minutes until we saw three white rhinos: a male calf named Justus, Justus’s mother, and another male calf named Obama. We took a ton of pictures — Justus’s mother didn’t seem to mind our presence. The sanctuary has a newborn baby girl (born a few weeks ago in the beginning of June), but nobody sees her because her mother is still extremely protective and attacks pretty much anything.


We returned to Kampala, and stayed in a lovely hotel, as always. We went to dinner at the Nakumatt Oasis Shopping Center, Café Javas. Pilgrim must have cleverly picked this location to help us culture-shock back into the states, as thiscafe had a menu with every kind of food (except, conspicuously, and unfortunately for me, looking for my last hurrah of posho or matooke, Ugandan food) and pasteurized dairy products, namely, ICE CREAM! Probably healthier ice cream than we eat in our dear old US of A, as it melted quickly and must have been lacking our usual stabilizers. Joey kept my side of the table in stitches, as we all had a light discussion of polygamy, the scent of New Jersey, and future plans to fight malaria (Well, the latter discussion was not as light). Joey’s stomach was already keeping him in stitches, but not in the way that he could appreciate it.

(Spoiler alert: We’re already back in the states, but stay posted for what happens next, in between eating dinner and arriving home! Also, “Final Reflections”, plans for the future, maybe more photos… great stuff, all around)

Title Explanation, in case you didn’t read thoroughly enough:

Politics, or any awkward conversation topic, is often described as the 500 pound gorilla in the room. In this case, we are not actually talking about anyone involved in politics, but a very large African land mammal, the 1500 lb baby rhino, Obama. Now we need a new idiom because we have ruined that one.

What Greed Does to Us

9,500 Liter Night and HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVID!

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We awoke “at the crack of dawn” (give or take) to head on our final trek to Beacon of Hope college, to finish caulking one more building. We arrived to find that last evening’s nasty rainstorm had left us with 5000 L of water in the S1-S4 building, and 4500 L in the Middle building (the difference in yield is caused by the differing catchment sizes of the roofs). The lab building tank, however, was completely empty. Some students informed us that the cap had popped off, so water came out of the first flush all through the storm and never made it into the tank. We had had some problems with that particular 6″ PVC end cap when we were installing it (we were already using a replacement, because the first one was faulty). Our recommendation to Pilgrim was that they immediately seal the screw on cap and install a valve onto the lab building’s first flush. We also had no idea that the tanks could fill so quickly, which means that the overflow outlets for the tank need to be lowered within the next few days. Right now, the overflow is higher than much of the piping to the tank, so the pipes could fill up with water, sag down, and rip out their brackets.

We left Golden Ark today (our home for 24 days!) for our final “debriefing trip” to Murchison Falls, Uganda’s largest game park. (Debriefing trip = safari + discussion of the project – office + giant animals)

On the drive up, the landscape went from flat with the occasional volcanic plug to gently rolling hills, with the occasional flat-topped stereotypical savanna tree. It is thrilling even to see these trees that I have seen so often on TV. We also passed some deer-creatures (I’m gonna say impala) and a HERD OF ELEPHANTS! (Ok, 5 ELEPHANTS!) On their way back home after crossing our road.

Tomorrow morning we again leave at the crack of dawn to drive through the animal park and see what we can see. Given that we already casually bypassed some elephants, I expect to be very impressed.

In case you, our dear reader, have not noticed, our team member who left early to go to work back in the US, David, is celebrating his birthday today! In case you are David, hope you have a Happy Birthday! Get yourself a big piece of cake and some pasteurized ice cream that won’t immediately cause diarrhea.




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Project Accomplishments today:
Caulking and sealing more gutters
Sealing the PVC connection to the tank
Creating “bee hive” wire filters to cover the gutter downspouts
Labeling the tank
“Teachers’ Workshop”

At lunch time, I went up to some random students whom I thought had been in my S2 class (they weren’t) and asked if they painted. One boy volunteered, and his friend Max came to help him. I told them how, last week in the class Harrison and I led for the S2 students, we had calculated the height at which the tank was 2000, 4000, 6000, and 8000 Liters full. When labeling the tank, we quickly realized that using the external diameter of the tank, provided by the company, resulted in labels that would make the tank look like it held 12,000 L total instead of 10,000. After finishing the first tank with our calculated heights, the student painters decided that they would use the more accurate yet simpler technique of dividing the height by 5 and labeling the volume at every point. The boys completed their job with a crowd of students around them. They also want to add more lines so that students can know exactly how much water they have in the tank. I think this is a great idea, so I intend to leave the paint and their names with Julius. I was very glad that we finally found a way to incorporate the students into the Rain Water Harvesting Project. Painting the tank was something safe that they could do (It didn’t require any sharp tools, or climbing on ladders), and gave them a chance to use a measuring tape and make their own mark on the project.

The second big success was our teacher’s workshop. About 10 teachers, and 10 students (the heads of their classes and prefects) assembled, and Harrison and I explained the different components of the system to them, discussed design decisions still to be made, and warned them of all the ways that it could break!

It rained as we were leaving the school to go for dinner! We plan to stop by the school tomorrow morning to finish caulking and perhaps to joyfully turn the taps on all three tanks and have water flow!

Joey is taking one for the team, as our Mama Duck and resident Mosquito Bait. He says that he is used to pain, and thus is not whining about his malaria nearly as much as I would.

Tomorrow morning, after we finish the final touches at the school and settle our accounts at the Pilgrim office, we will depart for our “Debriefing Trip” to a game park!

* I hope the title makes sense, even to our readers who have never taken part in a Knowledge Master Competition.*

Aye, Another Loovely Day in This Fair Country

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Engineering school creates good problem solving skills, but does not do much for my imagination and creativity. My brain is a bit rusty, but I have here attempted to boot up my old sense of rhythm. It’s slowly coming. Check back by the end of the summer and maybe I’ll have something good.

Anyway a description of Thursday’s activities in the finest and most elegant poetic form, the Limerick:


First we’d mark out every five feet

And set a slope with finest technique

We’d prop up PVC

Eye it and agree

Our success was slow-coming but sweet


We only finished one building today

Half another is now under way

We worked like 10 hours

Past what the sun would allow’r

We might have to work on Sunday


Today we rented a drill

That had concious emotions and will

It ran free and clear

Whene’er Julius was near

But when with us, pretended its current was nil


Today Joey built our first flush

From glue, his brain might turn mush

He sealed all the joints tight

All the angles were right

So that with rain, dirty water will gush.

Mission Accomplished, June 3

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Yesterday, we learned that the Pilgrim Office would be closed today because of “Martyr’s Day.” With a Ugandan accent, this sounds alot like “Mother’s Day,” which spawned some confusion. According to today’s issue of the “Daily Monitor” (Truth Every Day), the holiday commemorates the deaths of 45 early converts to Christianity in Uganda.

We started the morning a bit late, as we were still saying our goodbyes to David and our “see you soon”‘s to Harrison (David’s bodyguard, as I told the students today when asked why Harrison had gone with him).  We worked on finishing the gutters on the window side of the longest building, S1-S4, 127 feet long. We are sloping the gutters to have their lowest point 50 feet from the tank, and plan to connect the downspout to the tanks with lengthy PVC pipes.

Pilgrim has also hired a plumber to help us with any of our tank/pipe installation needs. He works for the plumbing store where we bought almost all of our supplies. While we worked on gutters, the plumber carried around a miniature stove of hot coals, and used heat and properly sized pipe fittings to melt his holes through the tank. He melted holes for the overflow at the top of the tank, the tap stand, and a wash valve. The tap is about 5 cm higher than the absolute bottom of the tank. The plumber says that that will let dirt stay at the bottom and not come out in the drinking water. We had thought that having the tap as low as possible would allow us to completely empty the tank, and thus minimize bacterial growth, but we deferred to the experience of the plumber. (In our trip preparation, we had known very little about the structure of the tank, and whether or not it would come with suggested faucet attachments, so our plans for the faucet in our report are a bit vague, because we didn’t know what we would find).

He explained that to clean the tank, he would climb inside the tank, shovel out most of the sediments, and wash the rest out through the wash valve. To me, it sounded like this regular cleaning service was a benefit that came from purchasing the tank from this company, but I mean to confirm this with the plumber.

I interrupted the plumber’s work for a bit to show him the drill bits we had bought to make the tank’s water level gauge, an unnecessary component of the rainwater harvesting system that I had spent loads of time planning for.

After lunch (and a trip to MY Supermarket to purchase bottled water, a newspaper, and candy), our plumber finished up the tank attachments. We worked one tank at a time to get all the fittings in, and then would call all the students around to help us to lift the tank onto its concrete pad. Having the tanks lying on their sides on the ground had caused me a bit of anxiety. Even I was tempted to roll the thing around, and I’m sure the children hanging around on campus were even more so.

When the final tank was set onto its base, I gave almost everyone around me a high five. I was received with varying levels of enthusiasm, but my own spirits were quite high.

The only holes left to drill in the tank will be to connect the PVC piping from the gutters, to the first flush, to the tank.

After we finished working for the day, Rohan and Allison played “football,” and I played an intense game of better-than ultimate frisbee. Perhaps penultimate frisbee.

Quite a productive day!  Tomorrow, we will be setting out long stretches of PVC, and hopefully providing the MFP team some time to talk with Julius, the school handyman, whose time thus far has been monopolized by the water project.


Another note — after we lifted up the third tank, Bethany was running around giving the entire crew high-fives and these kids were like, “But Bethany… how is the water going to get INTO the tank?” Premature celebration, check! As our team decided, it was quite the ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment.

Shout out to David, who left this morning, from all of us: Thanks for saying such nice things about us; we miss our tireless photographer!

and HI, EWB COLUMBIA! Thanks for reading and keeping EWB in your thoughts through the summer (NERW kids I love you all so much. so much… so much.). and of course, special shoutout to EWB Uganda! As I’m sure you can already tell, the plans we worked on all year have been changed a bunch during implementation, but the decisions made were much easier to do keeping in mind our previous reasoning and logics from our Friday meetings.

and now picture time!

Funday Monday

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Today was another split day, MFP visiting Anyara sub-county district and the water team working more on gutters.

MFP: We first dropped by the Pilgrim office to pick up Julius; while we were waiting we tried to learn some more Ateso. Rohan asked how to say “good night,” and when I (Allison) tried to repeat the phrase they returned, I accidentally said “good mating” instead of “good night.” It was extremely amusing to the Pilgrim folks and to Rebecca and Rohan. Anyways, the drive to Anyara was relatively short and smooth! Once we got there, we were greeted by the chairman of the community, as well as the engine operator and the village board members. We also met their dog named Obama. Unfortunately the MFP in Anyara is also down — the fuel tank is leaking and parts broke down in January and haven’t yet been fixed. The villagers were very gracious and welcomed us even as they expressed some disappointment in the MFP, saying that they expected the village to benefit very much from the MFP but have not yet seen such a growth. We’re trying to figure out where in the communication chain that objectives are getting tangled up; hopefully it will be resolved soon!

Water: The water team started at around 10 AM hanging gutters on the opposite side of the laboratory building, again led by Julius, the school handyman. There are two classrooms in the laboratory building, housing S5 (doing organic chemistry today) and S6 students. We annoyed their classes for about 1 hour each.

Today’s clever idea was to slope the gutters towards the center of the building, rather than towards the end closest to the tank. We figure that it will be easier to slope a PVC pipe to the tank than 2 m sections of gutters. For some of the longer buildings, the distance the gutters would have to travel beneath the fascia board would be impractical for water collection. Hopefully a new clever idea comes our way tomorrow to solve the rest of our problems!

Another major accomplishment for the water team was the ordering of the 3 10,000 L tanks. The headmaster of Beacon of Hope  College and Julius paid a visit to the Pilgrim Office so that they could “release” the money for the tanks purchase. The tanks should be arriving on Friday, and then we can begin connecting everything that next Monday.

After working on the gutters, Bethany/David/Harrison decided to stay for a bit talking to fellow students and just playing with them. Harrison, as usual, taught breakdancing to the kids, and Bethany/David just talked to other kids. David talked to this one kid called Baker who came from this village that faced a lot of problems due to the insurgency in early 2000’s and he wanted some ideas and help in rebuilding his community. While this may not turn out to anything, if all goes well this could be the site of our next MFP site or another project! When he asked me specifically to help me rebuild his village I was kind of reminded of that scene from Three Cups of Tea when Greg Mortenson gets asked by the village chief to build the village a school. Obviously I’m still in college and I’m nowhere as crazy/adventurous/bold as that guy, who knows what the future will bring. Afterwards, we saw this huge thunderstorm fast approaching over the hills and the Soroti rock, and with the coming of fast, vicious winds with huge, ominous gray clouds stretching over the horizon, and we knew it was time to go. Partially from fun and partially from being scared of this oncoming grey monster, we started running out of the school. While it was partly motivated by fear, when running out there was also that childish joy of being silly. As we walked back to the hotel in “New York speed” (since Ugandan walking is quite slow/relaxed), we kept saying “2012!” as the grey monster now with these electric thunderbolts approached us fast, consuming us in this powerful wind and engulfing us in darkness. While we had our perils and surprises, we finally got to our hotel, where we had an emergency meeting with the team to come to a very important decision: do we face this monster, or do we bail and just wait until the monster goes away. Since it hasn’t started raining that hard yet, we decided to adopt the maxim of “no time like the present” and just gear up and bravely dash towards our haven, Landmark hotel. When we first got out, the wind was so strong that the massive pink gates started to falter and almost fell apart (not really). But once we got out to the street, the wind subsided and the rain wasn’t all that bad, and the restaurant actually served our food early. So all in all, our adventure of 6 hungry college kids in a Ugandan thunderstorm ended up alright and we’re all safe and sound.

Kids & Gutters Part II


So today was Saturday and we were supposed to go up to the Soroti rock with Titus of Pilgrim. So we walked over to the police station to get permission to go up the rock because the rock has a military complex at the top and ordinary people need permission in order to go up there. On the way, we met a lot of kids and said hi to a lot of them, who kept calling out “mozungus!” and it was really funny. Once we got to the police post, Titus tried to get the permission and meanwhile we were playing with the kids, who kept running away at our slightest movements in unsparing laughters. They were quite shy at first but eventually they came up to us and a lot of them came up to shake hands with each one of us and it was funny/cute. So Titus comes out saying that the guy who can give permission is not here today and so we have to go back, and later he gave us a call saying that the guy is out of town for the weekend, meaning that I (David) can’t go see the Soroti rock during this visit because I’ll be gone by next weekend! UGH.

So after that whole issue, we came back to the hotel to just chill, and I sat on the third floor balcony on a chair just reading for a little more than an hour. Although the sun is really hot, the air temperature actually wasn’t that bad and there was a nice breeze and it was just a refreshing/nice place to read, excluding about 3 minutes when one of our neighbors was trying to control this rather large pig and it squealed very unpleasantly and loudly. After our little break, we went out to Marissa’s where I got vegetable curry & rice (delicious) and others got samosas, beans, etc. Then we went to the school, where we tried to fix up the problems with yesterday’s gutters.

When we’d arrived at the school, the gutters on the laboratory building looked to be a mess, and quite leaky. We thought that we could do a better job by increasing the slope yesterday, but apparently we hadn’t increased it enough, as tons of water leaked out and ponded in the center. Today we decided to rehang the gutters without letting ourselves be limited by the length of the fascia board. If we got 3/4 of the way down the building, and were already too low on the fascia board to hang more brackets, we decided that we would either quit or use wire to hang the gutters. We increased the slope bracket by bracket. Every time we’d lay a new bracket, we would set the next gutter onto it and pour some water down it, checking to ensure that we were indeed working with gravity. It was hard to use measuring tape to determine the slope because the thickness of the fascia board, and the distance of the roof material from the fascia board, varied across the building. Rebecca suggests that we just use a spirit level to check our slope, which I think is an excellent idea.

Julius, the school handyman, again did the majority of the work. When we got to where we could no longer nail brackets the way they were meant to be used, he would hammer the bracket out flat, and then reshape it so that it hung from the other side of the fascia board and held the gutter at the correct angle. Whenever we finished a stretch of gutters, we checked the job done with our “yield” bucket, placed at the end where we expected the water to come out. From one end to the other, we “yielded” about half the water that we poured, which is good enough for now. If we have time, after hanging gutters on two other buildings, we will apply sealant between these gutters or use pliers to fit them together better.

So while all this gutter work was being done, we only had two ladders and so only two or three of us could really work on the project. Thus, four or five of us were actually just fooling around with the kids. The fooling around group kind of divided into different groups: Harrison with the kids playing guitar, Allison just watching the choir practice, and Rohan playing tag with the children. While I worked on the gutters at first, I eventually took over Rohan’s position and played tag, which was quite difficult considering how much Columbia puts us out of shape and my lack of exercise for… years. So after years I discovered how weak I’ve become at running, which was quite depressing but a lot of fun to run around with the kids and just play. These kids were quite fast though… no easy targets. I also went and observed the choir group, and they were impressive. While singing, they also were doing body motions, nothing too fancy but something that we would need to practice at least a little bit for, and their quality of voice & sound of the group as a whole with harmonies and such was just really pleasant to listen to. Harrison, being as talented as he is, later also taught a crowd how to breakdance and do some martial arts moves. He had a semi-circle of kids in front of him and he brought some volunteers up to practice with him some basic martial arts & breakdancing moves and the kids just loved it. After we finished with the gutters, we talked to and befriended a few kids who were just very approachable and friendly.

Here are some pictures from today:


Circle Time


This morning, the wings of the new happy termite families were littered in front of the gate and in the open stairwell of Golden Ark Guesthouse. This was from the massive termite party last night when all these termites came out (which occurs once a year) to mate. We also saw more colorful lizards today than we had so far, drawn out by the supply of available flying food. The termites are also a delicacy among our Ugandan friends. We began the day at 9 with a trek to Beacon of Hope College, where Edward and the headmaster worked to hire an experienced concrete worker and to secure the three 10,000 Liter tanks needed for our project.

The team prepared to install the gutters by measuring the dimensions of the 3 buildings on which we will be installing systems. Then we laid out where we thought the two new tank foundations would go using rocks. In our design, we planned to make a square or octagonal tank base, using a wood form. A round tank base would be ideal, but we weren’t sure how to make that using local materials. However, the tank foundation, designed for the same size of tank, located on the school grounds in round. We are hoping that the fellow hired to lay the new concrete foundation uses the same technique as the original foundation constructor.

When we invited the headmaster to survey our work, he suggested that we move the tanks to a new location, on the opposite sides of the two buildings, and use bricks to mark the circle. While going about our strange creating activities, we had opportunities to spoke to a few students. It didn’t sound like they had been forewarned that we would be coming and installing rainwater harvesting tanks.

We had a delicious lunch at Marissa café, with the fastest service we’ve had yet (our food arrived 30 minutes after ordering). During lunch one of our team members took the first casualty in being unable to digest a particular Ugandan food or beverage. After he/she came back the lunch table was filled with conversation about digestion-related topics that weren’t quite appropriate for a meal conversation… although we’ve noticed a lot that our conversations tend to regress towards depressing/dirty subjects. Anyways, after we came back, we had a massive heat stroke and just sat and did nothing for about an hour or two in this daze, then we went back to the school and practiced drilling holes in the old rain water harvesting tank, so that we can minimize leaking accidents when we install the tank level gauges and tap.

For dinner, we went to another guesthouse where they prepared us food, but the lights went out seconds after the menu came out and we had trouble seeing the menu & food. There were also a lot of bugs on our table. The food took forever to come out, and we’ve noticed that in Uganda usually the given durations come out to be about 1.5 times what had been promised (so if they say 20 minutes to prepare food, usually about 30). But we had a good meal and we came back to our lovely hotel under the beautiful, shiny Ugandan night sky illuminating our paths so charmingly.

Tomorrow will be the first of five lessons that we teach to the students about the rainwater harvesting system. We will be teaching the students of S2, or secondary 2. They are in their second year at Beacon of Hope, and have 4 more years to go. We met them yesterday briefly. Tomorrow’s lesson will be about the water cycle, water quality, rain gauges, and water treatment systems. Our class will be 90 minutes long, which seems terribly long by our own attention standards, but also terribly short when we consider how much material we have to cover.

Three of us will be going tomorrow with Edward, to one of two sites with an active MFP that we will be working at. The goal will be to meet the community members, so that when we start asking them questions about their usage of the MFP they will feel comfortable talking to us. We will also be measuring the dimensions of the MFP building to prepare to install our cyclone design.

Dubai to Addis Ababa


Our host family in Sharjah (the next emirate to Dubai) drove us to the airport at 6:30 this morning. We didn’t get the chance to experience the frustrating Dubai traffic which everyone kept joking that we were missing out on. Our entrance to the airport went without a hitch, and we boarded on a smaller but still lovely emirates plane (produced by a competitor to our fine local airplane company). I was super excited for our 1 hour stop in Addis Ababa, during which we were not allowed to get off the plane. I took pictures on the way in, hoping to see a spot that I learned about in African Civ. Hopefully I get a chance to look at a map of Ethiopia before we leave on the flight back and see if I can aerially identify Aksum, a stone church, or Gonder.