Entrance Exams, The Chicken Fiasco and Community Technology in Somaliland

As-salamu alykum!

I apologize again to my readers on the tardiness of my posting. I figure the less often I post the more profound effects my posts will have! Either way much apologies.. Here is a nice and beefy one for you..

Abaarso School poultry..

Abaarso School poultry..

Currently, I’m sitting in our schools library proctoring our entrance exam for 9th grade students. Students must take a 3 hour exam to qualify for a possible acceptance into Abaarso School. All of our current students took this exam before they became students at our school. We will take the top 40 scoring students out of the near two hundred that showed up today. This is a very exciting moment for the school since now have become well established and received renown recognition throughout Somaliland / Somalia. The last exam that we gave for the 9th grade was two years ago. Various troubles prevented us from giving our exam last summer. Our past 9th grade entrance exams have produced a turnout of roughly 40 students.  Our current students were reminded of the when they took the exam and how the entire turnout consisted of a class room of only 40 students.  We are very excited for the new 9th grade and have high hopes for the coming year..

Over 175 students came from all over Somaliland to take our 9th grade entrance exam.  The test consists of a mental math, math and English section.  The top 40 scorers are admitted into Abaarso School.

Over 175 students came from all over Somaliland to take our 9th grade entrance exam. The test consists of a mental math, math and English sections. The top 40 scorers are admitted into Abaarso School.

As for other school news, we now have a 7th grade as well which all began last month. I’ve been helping teach the 7th grade computer class until I hand over the job to one of our post-graduate students. The 7th graders are overall a vibrant and energetic addition to the school community. I’ve had to start a separate cross country team just for the 7th grade because I’ve had so many students interested in coming out.

The Chicken Fiasco

Up until last week I had not eaten any chicken, pork or beef for well over a year. A conscious decision that I made on my own for various reasons, I decided that I would like to try being a vegetarian for a while. Living in Somaliland has to be one of the hardest places not to eat meat. If I did not eat fish then I think I would be even skinnier than I am now. Most restaurants don’t offer a vegetarian option and the word for vegetarian does not even exist in Somali.

Those of you that know me will know that I’ve been trying to get a hold of a live chicken (to eat of course!) for quite some time now. I feel that we have become quite detached from the meat that we eat on a daily basis. We often don’t know where our meat comes from, what it was feed or how it made its passage into the after life. As a person who is trying to build his life away from relying on others (nearly impossible these days) I feel that following the whole process through would bring me closer to understanding why I may or may not eat meat.

6,000 SOS (Somaliland Schillings) equal a dollar. The hens were about 25,000 and the roster was around 15,000

6,000 SOS (Somaliland Schillings) equal a dollar. The hens were about 25,000 and the roster was around 15,000.

I began last year by asking one of our students who runs our chicken coop if I could take one of our chickens to slaughter and prepare for a meal. He told me that he would rather bring me into the valley below the school to find a chicken that was raised in a fashion more conducive for eating. Our chickens were meant for producing eggs (even though they rarely do) and don’t eat the plentiful grass that grows in the valley. This year I approached Abdirahman Yusuf again and asked him if we could go on an adventure into the valley to find a chicken. Our quest began sometime last week when we went looking for people who take care of live stock that may own some chickens.

We ventured into the valley three separate times until we finally were able to come up with a few chickens. The first time we got caught in a massive rain storm, the second time we were only able to purchase a rooster and the third time we had success in bringing back two hens.

Our first attempt lead us underneath this Acacia for protection from the rain

Our first attempt lead us underneath this acacia for protection from the rain

The valley below the school is a beautiful place where often we run with the cross country team. Since the second rainy season began wild life in the valley are abundant. Beira Antelope, Northern Ground Hornbills and variety of different birds which I still am working on identifying all make their home in the valley.

Mohammed with our first rooster

Mohammed with our first rooster

Apparently, Somali’s who raise chickens normally do not eat them and rather just use the hens for their eggs. If they are to eat a chicken, most of the time they eat the roosters since they are not nearly as valuable as hen. Most chicken that locals eat comes from out of the country. The frozen chicken nuggets that most of our staff eat are imported from Brazil! In the end our rooster cost about 15,000 Somali schillings (3 USD) and the hens were about 25,000 schillings or about 4 USD.
When the day finally came, we had quite a few students who were willing to help. Since I wanted to put the bird to rest the halal way I requested the help of two students that I felt were sincere in the understanding of how to properly slaughter the chicken. I was surprised to find out that most of our students had not slaughtered chickens before but had all slaughtered at least a few goats in their day.

7th Grader Abdallah knows his chickens. He has raised, bred and killed over 10 chickens..

7th Grader Abdallah knows his chickens. He has raised, bred and killed over 10 chickens..

I’ll spare the details but all in all the process was rather easy. I said the words bismillah (in the name of god) and did the deed rather smoothly. Honestly, the most paint staking part was de-feathering, cleaning and preparing the chicken than the actual slaughter. Mohammed, Graham and I spent a good hour and a half de-feathering and trying to figure out how to remove all the necessary parts.

Cleaning was easily the nastiest part.  Took close to an hour to get this bird fully prepared.

Cleaning was easily the nastiest part. Took close to an hour to get this bird fully prepared.

We cooked all three birds together in the oven using carrots, cabbage and onions along with salt, pepper and butter. They turned out well with the a few small exceptions. My lessons learned about finding, killing and eating these particular Somali chickens was the following..
1.    Somali chickens are lean, get plenty of exercise and do not have much fat producing a bird that does not have enough meat and makes for a very chewy chicken.
2.    Somali chickens have a good life full of running around and eating all kinds of random things such as rice and ants.
3.    Chickens elsewhere are either fattened up before they are eaten or do not exercise enough so they taste good.

Final product.. Looks nice.. However, incredibly chewy..

Final product.. Looks nice.. However, incredibly chewy..

Overall, I would like to repeat the experience but with a bird that I know will be worth the long strenuous process. I’ve decided that when I return back to the United States or continue to live elsewhere I will eat chicken as long as: I can kill it myself, have someone slaughter it for me or know exactly where I’m getting the chicken from. I will continue to not eat pork and beef and don’t plan on doing so for as long as possible. I am confident that I could kill a fish or chicken so I don’t feel as guilty when eating either. As for a pig, a cow or a goat I’m not so sure..

Community Technology in Somaliland

 

Hamse and Idiris get ready to put up a wireless "node" to strengthen the student network.

Hamse and Idiris getting ready to help build the student network.

As some of you may know I’ve been working round the clock (or at least when I have a free moment) on improving the technology situation at school.

So far we have seen the improvements of wireless access for the teacher housing complex, wireless access for the students in the computer lab and now thanks to a donation from the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, wireless access for the rest of campus. I’ve also set up two school servers (using old netbooks) to run a variety of “local” applications that may be accessed only inside of the school.

The networking infrastructure in Somaliland is pretty atrocious therefore, we constantly rely on our “local” Internet to keep the school running.

Such programs that can only be accessed on the school’s networks include: a file sharing service called OwnCloud (students now cannot blame the Internet for not turning in assignments), a local file server to download the latest software updates and hopefully this term a “digital” library where students can download digital books for their computers or digital readers.

The Open Tech Institute has developed software for use on mobile phones, wireless routers and computers called “Commotion”. The goal of Commotion is to allow communities to set up local decentralized networks in areas that may lack certain resources. The type of networking technology used in Commotion devices is known as mesh networking. Creating what is called a “peer to peer” network, mesh networking can be very useful in a resource deficient environment.

 

Nodes commuinicating with each other on the Student Network

Nodes “communicating” with each other on the Student Network

Mesh networks work perfectly for serving local applications and are “self-healing” creating a more sustainable self-dependent networks.

Self-healing involves nodes or devices on the network constantly staying in communication with each other. Therefore if one node is disconnected data packets getting sent through the network will find the best possible route to their source.

Planning your network before you start actually building is always important. A rough sketch of Abaarso School with the distance between each node plus the height of teach tower where the nodes will get placed.

Planning your network before you start actually building is always important. A rough sketch of Abaarso School with the distance between each node plus the height of teach tower where the nodes will all get placed.

Commotion has seen a great deal of success in Detroit, Brooklyn, India and now I’m happy to say Somaliland. Commotion is meant to be low-cost, portable (I literally brought the whole network on my carry-on) as well as easy to configure and set up. After testing out Commotion here at Abaarso School I can certainly attest to the aforementioned statement.

 

Getting ready to set up the network!

Getting ready to set up the network!

Using the donation and support from OTI, I’ve been able to teach students about mesh networking principals. I hope they will pass this information to their peers and one day create more mesh networks in Somaliland.

 

Hamse putting the finishing touches on the students first wireless "node" to their network.

Hamse putting the finishing touches on the students first wireless “node” to their network.

Current technological innovations in Africa right now are pretty mind blowing. I’ve been finding that technology being invented in Africa is being used in other places other than Africa. If you are interested in learning more about tech innovation in Africa I would recommend checking out the following: The White African, Ushahidi and the BRCK. The BRCK is literally “a back up generator for the Internet.” One BRCK can provide Internet access through a variety of methods without electricity for up to 8 hours. I only wish I could pick up one for the school!

Success! The student internet can now reach the boys dorms and the training center!

Success! The student internet can now reach the boys dorms and the training center!

Either way, coming back to Somaliland for this last term has been more than rewarding thus far. Of course there are the usual challenges that make life difficult here. I’ve been blessed to be given such an opportunity. I’m trying to stray away from thinking about my last days here until the time comes in December. For now my goals consist of continuing to teach, self-educate and travel. I’m still working on finding work for when my time is up in December so if anyone has any tips, ideas or opportunities please send them on over!

Somaliland,Addis Ababa and Tech Hubs in Africa

I first want to apologize to anyone I have not e-mailed back in a long while.  Time is not money in Somaliland but rather extremely precious because more often than not it is easily wasted. As most of my students know by biggest pet peeve is wasted time. So don’t worry I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs trying to alienate myself from the rest of the world.  I have had no excuse not to blog other than that I’ve been extremely busy in the past few months.  To summarize to the best that I can, life here has been challenging, rewarding and exciting.

Since I’ve the last post I’ve been to Ethiopia twice and Abaarso School (formerly Abaarso Tech we’ve changed the name) has gotten 12+ students scholarships (more to come) at boarding schools/universities in the U.S including one acceptance into MIT. The school has come a long way since it began four years ago.  With the threat of being shut down numerous times by the government it is amazing the accomplishments the school has obtained in the past few months.

As we approach our third term I’m still not entirely sure what my plans for next year are just yet.  I just got back from Addis Ababa and am highly considering trying to find work there for next year.  I’ve come to realize that not only is Africa a difficult place to live but a very difficult place to find work.  When talking to the folks at Inveneo last year they weren’t lying when they said developing world experience is a must for their line of work.  I can certainly now see why. To put it frank, Africa is an extremely gnarly place to live.  I could give you all sorts of anecdotes and explanations pulling from all the common clichés of a white boy travelling to Africa, but there is no way I’ll ever be able to convey what it’s like here.  The only thing I can say is come see it for yourself!

Lastly, before I post some photos from the past few months, I want to take a moment to  thank and give a huge props to the guys at iceaddis.  While in Addis Ababa last week I went searching for technology hubs in the city.  These sort of open work spaces are the latest craze when it comes to sharing and working on new innovative technology projects.  Hubs are popping up all over the world (I worked in one last year) and now all over Africa.  The most famous one in Africa being the ihub in Nairobi.  I had such an incredible experience working in a tech hub last year that I would like to find a similar space to work in Africa.  The guys at iceaddis were nice enough to invite me to come down and check out their space on the campus of Ethiopian Institute of Architecture. The building as you can see in my photos below is made up of trash containers. The plans for the structure are made available online through a creative commons license so anyone start their own “ice” work space.  Currently there is an icecairo another ice space in Germany and plans for many more.  I had an excellent conversation with Markos and Oliver the two co-founders about everything from their current projects to the barely existent hopefully emerging tech scene in Ethiopia.

Like Somaliland Ethiopia suffers from extremely expensive inconsistent and slow internet (were talking $300+ a month). However, luckily in Somaliland we do not have to worry about a government run monopoly telecommunications company that censors the internet and refuses to open the market to competition. In many obvious ways this is very harmful to journalists/activists in Ethiopia and to its citizens. What really concerns me though is with such high prices for connectivity and 85 percent of the Ethiopian population living in rural areas it might be quite some time before the entire population of Ethiopia is “connected.”

I gotta say though that Ethiopia itself is a wonderful country that still has many regions left for me to explore. I have strong hopes that with Ethiopia’s strong concurrent rising GDP the country will only continue to flourish.  I can definitely foresee a future with Addis Ababa becoming a large player in the technology scene in Africa. I will definitely be stopping back in Addis in July at the end of the school year.   With that said, I hope everyone is doing well wherever they might be across the planet. I hope to see all of you soon inshallah.

For Now

DH

Rainy Season

Rainy Season has begun in Abaarso!

Hargaesa Run

The XC Team ran 18km from Abaarso to Somaliland’s capitol Hargaesa..I bought the team drinks after which mainly consisted of coke and 1 liter cartons of milk

Top Three

Somaliland’s next “Mo Farahs” Mubarik, Farhaan and Jamaal

Crab

School field trip to Berbera beach..some students found this purple crab

Ship Wrecks Berbera

Ship wrecks in Berbera Port

Rural Kenya

Rural Kenya from the train to Mombasa

 

Mombasa Harbor

Mombasa Harbor

Mosque Mombasa

Mosque in Mombasa

Ancient cave painting field trip back in December

Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa

iceaddis

From the outside may look like a couple of trash containers scrunched together but inside quite a lot goes on @iceaddis

Harar,”Somali” Football,Landmines and Somaliland Elections

Howdy,

I know it’s been sometime so I’ll try and re-cap what I’ve been up to for the past few weeks.  Over mid-term break (Nov. 8-11) myself and four other teachers made a trip to Harar, Ethiopia for a couple of relaxing days.  Harar is a small historic city of about 150,000 located in eastern Ethiopia. In theory, the Ethiopian border should be about an hour away. However, due to the last hour or so being not on a road it takes about two hours to get to the Wuchale the border town. In order to get to Ethiopia you basically have to off road for an hour in the middle of the desert and drive in the general direction of Wuchale.  After arriving in Wuchale the first thing I noticed was the incessant amount of trash. While I was waiting for my Ethiopian visa at the Ethiopian embassy, a Norwegian Somali man told me that it’s often said that the national flower of Somaliland is a plastic bag since so many of them are caught up in the trees all over the country.  Wuchale for sure is no exception to this saying.  The entire town looked like it was a land fill with a town some how placed somewhere in the center.  After going through immigration on both sides of the border we went to haggle with cab drivers to get us a bus or cab to Harar.

In most cases you would normally take a bus for a few dollars to the next city Jijiga and then catch another bus to Harar, but in our case, one of the other teachers suggested for a few more dollars we could take a nicer bus with fewer people in it.  We agreed and took the more expensive route. The bus was nearly empty with exception of a few people hitching rides along the way.  In the end we probably paid too much money for the ride and made sure to skip out on the option on the way back.

The most interesting part of the journey into Ethopia was when we stopped at the many government check points and the women sharing the van with us nervously stuffed bags filled with sandals, tea kettles and clothes underneath the seats in front of them. What they were hiding was imported “contraband” from the military police.  At every checkpoint the guards knew what was up and instead of persecuting the women they accepted cash bribes and allowed them continue on into Ethiopia.  At point while I was watching one of the women pay off the guards, one of the men in the front seat turned around  said to me “see Ethiopia is very civilized!” with a big smile on his face.

On the way back we experienced the same smuggling of goods except this time the goods were mainly qat. Qat is grown all over Ethiopia and is brought into Somaliland daily. Often coffee farmers will stop growing coffee since qat is far more profitable.  One woman and her boyfriend smuggling qat happened to be sitting next to me.  As soon as we reached our first government check point the woman made sure to reach across me, shut the curtains on my window and stuff her bushel of Qat underneath the seat in front of me.  Once again the guards had seen this routine far too many times and reached into my window through the closed curtain and grabbed the Qat underneath the seat. The women’s qat was returned to her minutes later after some arguing and I’m sure some cash payment.

After driving through the mountains we arrived in Harar.  Compared to Hargaesa, Harar is much more definable in terms actually being a city.  Paved roads and sidewalks are abundant which is a nice change of scenery from dusty dirty unpaved roads you find in Hargaesa. However, I was quite taken back by the state of the toilets, easily some of the worst I’ve ever seen.  Picture the worst bar’s toilet you’ve ever encountered and multiply that times 100 and you’ll get the toliets in Harar.

View of Harar from Arthur Rimbaud’s House

With the state of the toilets aside, Harar has some extremely beautiful historic sites. My favorite by far was touring the French poet Arthur Rimbauds house. Rimbaud  lived in Harar for a short period before the end of his life. If you have not read any of his poetry I would highly recommend checking him out. Not only is his poetry extremely epic, but so are the stories that made up his nomadic lifestyle during his later years eventually bringing him to Harar. While living in Harar, Rimbaud was a weapons and coffee merchant.

Inside of Rimbaud’s House

Hawks near the market in Harar

Another popular spot that we made sure to check out was the Hyena man and his feeding of wild Hyenas. Apparently, the Hyenas are so tame in Harar that they wander the streets in packs at night. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to witness this but instead visited the Hyena man and fed some  Hyenas.

Feeding a wild Hyena

One of my main goals was to come across some Ethopian coffee since Harar is a well known region for producing high quality Ethopoian coffee. Through my search which brought many areas all across the city, I was only able to find out that just because high grade coffee is grown in the region does not mean that the best coffee even makes it to the markets. I still made sure to pick up some green coffee in the market and vist the only coffee roaster in Harar.  The roasted coffee turned out to be incredibly burned and roasted very inconsisnatly but still is of much better quality then the instant coffee we have at Abaarso Tech.  When asking around about where I might find the best coffee in Harar the owner of our hotel laughed in my face and said “they’re all gimmicks, go to Starbucks!”

Wandering the streets of the “old city”

Jump ahead a few weeks and it’s the annual Thanksgiving Day Teacher’s vs Students American tackle football game.

To give you an idea about our annual Abaarso Tech Thanksgiving Day teacher vs Student Football Match our school is built on extremely rock inhabited ground.  The football field has had a decent amount rocks taken out (thanks to students in detention), but to say the least it’s no AstroTurf.  We played full on tackle which equated out to the tossing of teachers and students alike with a few smacked craniums and bloody elbows thrown in on the side.  After I made my first head on tackle the adrenaline rush and urgent need not to loose kept me going for the rest of the two hour game.

 

Will getting ripped to shreds

So I’ve taken it upon myself mainly because I was asked to but also maybe because I come from a family of runners to coach the Abaarso Tech boys cross country team. Even though it’s been quite sometime since I’ve done a lot of serious running I’ve decided to give it a shot.  The only problem is we don’t really have a lot of options for places to run. The main place we have been running is on a dirt road below the school which leads out a sand filled valley.  Besides the valley, we have a “track’ that loops around the school which is supposedly a kilometer.

Down in the valley it is much cooler and easier on your lungs since the school is located so high up on a hill.  The only small caveat is that the road leading into the valley is amongst a inactive mine field that is in the process of being deactivated. However, thanks to the Halo Trust an NGO with a camp located at the base of the school we are safe from blowing ourselves up.

On one of the days that we were out running in the valley we ran into a Halo Trust jeep with a British man behind the wheel.  He asked how much further we were running and warned us that in a kilometer or so there were still active mine fields.  He said as long as we stayed away from the red rocks and on the right side of the road we would be fine. I was sure to cover those details at the next practice.

Anyway, that’s enough from the Horn for now. I’ve booked my ticket and will be heading to the Kenyan coast for New Years and Christmas.

Oh and I wanted to thank the Somaliland regional elections for giving us two days off the other week. In Somaliland, you do not have to be from a certain region to vote in that region. Since the roads are all closed on election day you must be in the region that you want to vote in during the election. Also, in order to mark that you have voted you get a smudge of permanent marker on your pinky finger. It was explained to me in class that if you stick your finger in some oil you can remove the marker and go and vote again. Some students voted multiple times.  I believe this unfair voting process may have been the result of the violent clashes that occurred a few days ago in Hargeisa. One of our student’s brothers was running for a position in office so 50 students went to travel to that region to vote for him. Hence why we got the days off.  Some democracy eh? Looks like I got a good writing assignment for my 12th graders.

Salaam

Daniel

Arrival in Somaliland,Teaching and Eid al-Adha

Well, I’ve been here nearly a  month now and I’m still having a blast.  I’m still in the “honeymoon” phase of life here so everything is still new and exciting.  My arrival from into Berbera, Somaliland was quite an adventure. We landed in the middle of the desert on one of the longest runways in the continent. Apparently the runway was built by the Russians during the cold war to counter act the US presence and was later used as an emergency runway for the space shuttle. After going through immigration in very small building used for the airport I hoped on a bus provided by Ethiopian airlines to Hargaesa for a three hour trip across the desert.  The landscaped looked not much different than that  of Nevada or Arizona but with the exception of small villages every few miles and goats, camels and baboons crossing the road every so often.  I could constantly smell charcoal and burning trash which would be a common theme especially in Hargaesa.

Hargeisa has got to be one of the most ridiculous places I’ve ever visited.  I knew my expectations would be blown but not this hard.  Hargeisa is by far not what you would think of when picturing of a city.  The capitol “city” of Somaliland is more or less an extended village with very few tall buildings or paved roads.  Metal roofed shacks crowd the rocky streets and goats wander aimlessly everywhere.

Teacher and Baboon in Hargeisa


 The first few weeks of teaching have been fun but extremely challenging and a lot of work. I teach six days a week have 120 students from grades 10-12.  I’ve been spending most of my time working on getting internet access to the computer lab and teacher housing unit as well as lesson planning.   The school runs on a diesel generator which is run for most of the day but when the power is off I am not really able to work anything technology related.  For the fist few weeks we only had a small generator that could power the computers only if the the generator was turned up all the way.  Often the smaller generator would run out of gas, overheat or be turned down so I was not able to work on the lab and would loose power to the computers during class.  One thing I’ve come to realize here is that any job you think might take you a short period of time to complete easily take double the amount of time. I figured the computer lab would be finished two weeks ago and we would have internet in rooms by now but I’m far from close to finishing either of these tasks.

Sunset on the teacher housing side..the water tower seen to the left is what I have been climbing to work on the teacher’s wireless connection

Jumping ahead a few weeks. Today is Eid al-Adha or “The Feast of Sacrifice”.  Many students have gone home but the 30 or so that live far away are here for the weekend.  In honor of the holiday the parents committee has bought 5 sheep to slaughtered for the students to eat during Eid.  I woke up to a nice surprise of rain (apparently I won’t see rain for the next 7 months) and getting word that some of the students were going to slaughter the sheep.

Students celebrating Eid with the slaughter of a sheep

 

 

Inaugural Post

As I’m sitting here delirious on the floor of the Dulles International Airport awaiting the next few hours until I board a flight to Ethiopia, I figured I might as well post something to get this on the way..

Most of you visiting this site already know that I’m headed to Somaliland for the next year to teach computer literacy but for a few stranglers just tuning in, it might be worth mentioning again for the billionth time..

Depending on how wordpress works I may switch over to tumblr (for this blog) but for now I’ll post on here..Subscribe! E-mail me! Skype me! I’m toying with the idea of creating a fb page specificily for this trip but not sure..if you think it might be good idea let me know..

anyway..a sparrow just flew near my foot..I should probably go tot the atm, fill out my visa papers and brush my teeth..

 

for now

Daniel