Tuesday, November 29, 2011


My first trip to France came in the form of Lille, in then northern part of the country. Merely an hour from Gent. A lovely fall day. Full of cliche decisions such as croissant sampling and crepe eating. Though only 1 hour away, a remarkable difference appeared between Gent, mainly in the form of bigger roads, more cars and motorcycles, and more congestion. Still, however, like Gent, full of upscale outdoor shopping streets, plazas, and fine restaurants and coffee shops. Sans canals and good beer.

Ah, a Frenchman painting. Yup, a Frenchman painting.

Map Check:

Fall is here:

I strongly recommend bringing your own French person along to France. It helps. With Helene:

The best source of cheap coffee when you don't want to pay 3 euros for a cup. And you can get le double cheese while your ate it. (zing!)

Being cliche again and sampling some upscale French crepes:

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Ethiopia is full of entrepreneurs. From the guys lined up on the streets shining your shoes (they are usually merely kids or young men, often living in groups in shanties and saving money to hopefully open a business some day), to those placing their weigh scales on the street. Unless you are rich, it is not practical to buy a scale for your personal use. That attitude seems sensible enough. We passed 3 or 4 scales in a couple blocks, choosing the one that appeared to have the best combination of actually being calibrated and having a low price. That's the difference between weighing yourself for the equivalent of 1 cent to 2 cents!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Belgian Thanksgiving!

Mark & I wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, Canadian and American style. So last night, we hosted a dinner to show everyone what it was all about. Without no ovens to cook in, and things like turkey, pumpkin pie, and cranberries pretty difficult to locate here in Belgium, the traditional idea was tossed out the door. So we decided to have one big potluck amongst all the international students in our fire program and also in our residence. The variety of food people cooked was pretty unbelievable, and rightly so I left stuffed, along with everyone else. We had food made from at least Colombia, Iran, US, Canada, France, Brazil, Spain, Serbia, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, and Argentina. And damn, it was all delicious!. I think everyone left with a good impression of what Thanksgiving is for. Good time.

Olives wrapped in proscuitto and tossed with pistachios and bacon:

One guy brought home made mac and cheese. I was in heaven!

One loaded plate. Check out that deviled egg, side by side with an empanada! Oh yeah.

Not turkey, but it will suffice:

All 3 members of NAFTA getting along:

Sweet Rice:


These days kids are dressing up in their evening best for Thanksgiving:

And not just the guys:

Mesmerized by the desserts:

Funny faces at the kids table:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Family Time!

Katie spent a cool 2 weeks with me here in Gent! It was a bit cozy sharing a room for that long, but nonetheless was nice to have some family around. It was also great, as I made four trips in Belgium and France in two weeks that I probably otherwise would not have made. Brugge, Kortrijk, Lille, and Paris! Also, some really fantastic meals were had. Gent waterzooi, some Turkish dish that I have no clue what it was, and plenty of frites, crepes, and escargots. And of course many student dinners consisting of rices and pastas (always enhanced with a little Ethiopian berbere powder zing!).

With Monika and Helene in Lille, France:


Locating a mattress and carrying it across town on our heads:

With Dennis & Mark:

Out in Gent at night:

With Nadya and Hooi for Indian & Pakistan fire food night:

Checking out the Gent flea markets:

Sampling a Gent waffle! With chocolate:

Bumming around Brugge:
A lesser known Belgian city, but nonetheless still beautiful, Kortrijk:

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I’ve been on a lot of pretty spectacular bus rides the past few years, and some of them are pretty hard to compare with each other with such varying geography, but the 10 hour bus ride in Ethiopia from Addis-Ababa to Bahir Dar just might have been the most impressive of all, not only for the jaw dropping scenery almost the entire journey, but also the small towns, villages, and glimpses of rural life through which the route took.

The bus went through deep gorges along the blue Nile, valleys, massive high plateaus, rolling hills, and mountains, all which were extremely lush and green, almost jungle-like at times, with the occasional towering cliff covered in trees and shrubs. What was not covered in greens showed up as dark oranges and coppers in the bright soil. At one point in the trip we were miraculously looking at the clouds from above, then after a windy descent, looking up at them. Hundreds, even thousands of types of trees dot the landscape, some types of which I’ve certainly never encountered before. A seemingly endless of supply of rivers cutting through the land along the way plus a plethora of waterfalls, most likely all feeding the Nile. In the plateaus, with lots of farming, the irrigation channels these people have built look like they’ve been honed with expertise to efficiently catch and direct all the rain water (all of course made with simple hand tools). And the bus driver must have spent at least half of the 10 hour trip honking, as the entire journey was rural and thus filled with donkeys, ox, goats, and cows and their herders shepherding them along the road. I even saw baboons sitting on the side of the road a few times!

Blue Nile:

Women with massive woven baskets on their backs on the road or meandering amongst plants and trees in the hills, carrying things on their head, everyone with a huge walking stick, thatch buildings, this is true rural life that seems in many ways to have remained changed for hundreds of years. Some of the villages had electrical lines, but some didn’t. At one point, I saw about 15 guys putting up giant electrical pole (with no machines!). 7 or 8 of them were in a line on one side, pushing it above their heads as high as they could, then 6 or 7 on the other side with ropes tied to the end of the pole, pulling. Just like that show on the discovery channel where they are simulating erecting the blocks at Stonehenge. Plenty of men and women just standing there or sitting on a rock, with their sticks, passing the day by observing the occasional traffic and the beautiful mountain scenery. Of course, if they were wearing jeans and t-shirts, it wouldn’t be as eye-opening, but everyone wears traditional clothes. Mostly which amounts to (for men) a giant blanket wrapped over the shoulders, covering most of their arms, and coming down below their waist and a pair of shorts, often in greens and browns, with either sandals or no shoes.

Watching us:

Our two stops included first a bathroom break, in which the bus simply stopped in the middle of the road and everyone proceeded to go into the bushes to do their business. The second was in a small town for lunch. Needless to stay I stuck out like nobody's business in this town, like an alien from Mars. After lunch, I followed my bus-seat neighbor (ironically an Ethiopian who was a taxi driver in Las Vegas the last 6 years, really really nice & friendly guy), and bought a branch of a tree to clean my teeth from a little boy for a few cents.

Time for a bathroom break:

Purchasing my tooth cleaning apparatus:

In summary, outside of the capital, Ethiopia immediately becomes a stunning explosion of colors, plants, animals, people, mountains, rock formations, gushing rivers, and tranquil earthen cut streams. Incredible.

Sanit & Netsanet at lunch:

Herding the cows across the water:

Turning from mountains into an incredible plateau:


Orthodox Churches amongst the trees:

Passing a village:

Squatting, passing the day:

Above the clouds: