We apologize for delays in our blog posts. There is only one Internet company in Ethiopia and it is controlled by the government. Because of the “State of Emergency” declaration issued almost two months ago which is intended to last for six months there have been a few challenges. You can google Ethiopia and click BBC news to find out what is going on here. The U.S. has issued a travel warning but an initial ban on foreigner travel beyond the 40km limits of Addis Ababa has been lifted as of a couple of weeks ago so we were finally able to return to visit our farthest branch in Hawassa which is 185 miles from Addis. The Internet connection has been a real struggle from week to week, day to day, and hour to hour. All social media is shut down, and the phone network only works intermittently. Things have definitely calmed down and we continue to feel safe within our neighborhood and area here in Addis as most of the unrest was a ways from us.
But the “State of Emergency” has not stopped all the construction that is going on. As someone who has been involved in construction in the tennis industry, it has been fascinating to me to observe Ethiopian construction methods. High rise apartments seem to be appearing almost over night! There are so many that are being built that you wonder how there’s going to be enough water and water pressure, sewer capacity, and electricity. The house we live in usually is without electricity at least once a day, and at the office we lose electricity at least twice a day – sometimes for hours and sometimes for just minutes. The most widely used materials in construction here are sticks (usually from eucalyptus trees), mud mixed with straw, cement, and re-bar. Hence the blog post title: “Sticks and Stones . . . “
The saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” will be true in the following construction explanations! Hopefully the pictures in conjunction with the narrative will give you an understanding of what I am trying to say. Here are five general categories of construction we have seen:
- Country homes
- Tract housing
- Custom homes
- High rise apartments or condos
There are 102 million people in Ethiopia and a fare number live in rural areas in homes (round or rectangular) with framed walls built out of eucalyptus sticks (1 to 2 inches in diameter) plastered inside and out with a mixture of mud and straw. The roofs are either thatched or made out of tin. The front door is made out of tin and the window openings are usually windowless. Most of the houses are just one room with dirt floors. A small charcoal stove sits in one corner. There is no running water and most don’t have electricity. The bathroom is an outhouse. Water is hauled in jerrycans everyday from wells that are sometimes are several miles away.
Compounds consist of a group of small homes surrounded by an exterior wall on all four sides. Several compounds butt up against each other. Compounds are found on most of the side streets off the main roads in the cities. For example, most of the 7 million people who live in Addis Ababa live in compounds. There is usually one larger home in a compound (usually where the owner lives) with a building or two that have several (one to eight), one room apartments that are rented out. The method of construction is the same as in the country homes, except the dirt floors are usually covered with carpet or linoleum and the walls are painted. The roofs and front doors are made out of tin. The one room apartments have no windows, only a front door. If the house or apartment has more than one room inside there is frequently only a curtain, not a door, that separates the rooms. Usually there is no running water, but a few do have one water spigot in the courtyard of the compound. Most of the houses and apartments have electricity. The proof of that is that each one usually has a satellite dish on the roof. There is only one outhouse for the entire compound. The entrance to the compound is through a tin gate.
This type of home is a single residence that has a few rooms. They are very similar in design to each other and just a few feet separate them. They are either single or double story. They are constructed out of re-bar enclosed with concrete to make pillars and beams. In between the pillars and top beams, stone (cement) blocks form the exterior and interior walls. Smoothed stucco is applied to the cement blocks on the interior walls and a rough or smooth stucco finish is on the exterior walls. The foundation is a cement slab and the finished flooring is either wood or linoleum. The inside doors are wood and the exterior doors are tin. There are bathrooms inside with running water. Each house has a water tank sitting on a platform on top of or next to the house for gravity flow. There is also a large water tank or two on ground level. The water is pumped from the lower tanks to the upper tank when the city water is shut down, which happens occasionally. There is no city sewer system, so each home has an underground septic tank. Each home has electricity although at least once a day for a few hours it is shut down. The electric company is owned by the government and they shut down the electricity a section of the city at a time so they can sell the electricity to neighboring countries for the revenue. The roofs are usually tin. Each home is surrounded by walls with razor wire on top and the entrance to the home is through a gate that is wide enough for a car to go through to park inside the courtyard. The gate also incorporates a smaller gate which is called a “man gate” but Nancy has entrance, too. ha Almost always, there is a smaller house on the property for a maid’s quarters.
Then there are some beautifully designed, private homes – some small and some very large. These custom homes are constructed in the same way as the tract homes, but the roofs are usually colored tin or tile shingles. Even though the homes are custom, the finish workmanship is not the best. The interior walls’ upper corners usually have some type of moulding. Most of these home developments are gate guarded. Almost all have a generator in case the electricity is shut down.
High Rise Apartments or Condos
There are so many high rise apartments that are being built by the government that it’s mind boggling! The construction is made out of re-bar, cement, and cement blocks, a floor at a time! The scaffolding and floor supports are 4 inch eucalyptus poles. Some buildings have lifts for the concrete to be lifted up and some have eucalyptus pole ramps for the workers to walk up with buckets of concrete. It is scary, because I walked up one! Those who work at risk on the upper floors of the buildings are paid about $7.50 USD a day. The workers below receive about $4.00 USD daily. Cement blocks make up the exterior and interior walls. There is no electrical conduit laid inside the cement blocks. The blocks are chiseled out so the conduit can be placed. Plaster is then applied over the hole. The plumbing is all installed outside of the walls. The openings in the exterior walls for the windows are out of plumb. The windows are placed into the openings and most do not fit properly. A piece of metal bridges the gap between the window and edge of the wall. The front door is made out of tin. When a person moves in they are responsible to put in the flooring, plaster and paint the walls, and finish the electrical work. They then go to the government electrical company and water department to start the electricity and water flowing. There is no phone wire placed for land lines. The parking is difficult because the apartments are built so close to one another.
For someone to get into one of the government condos the process involves not only registering on a lottery list that only occurs about every five years but the wait for your name to reach the top of the list could be anywhere from five to ten years. The priority on the list is first, government workers; then secondly, women; and then everyone else is third. So, you can see that WHEN your name finally comes up it could take years. What you are essentially getting is the opportunity for the right to live in a high rise condo which is about 320 square feet for a one bedroom, one bath, small kitchen and living room. There are some two bedroom condos that are about 450 square feet. You have NO choice as to where that condo is located and it could increase your commute time to work from one to two hours easily. So, if you lived on one side of Addis and your number comes up and they are filling up condos on the exact opposite side of the city then that is where you will move. In order to even register you have to have either 10%, 20% or 40% of the cost of the condo in the bank and when your number finally comes up you must immediately produce that down payment. So, don’t touch that savings or you may be out of luck for a condo you could own forever!
We got a first hand look at this set up with a sister in our Megenagna Branch named Atsede. She is a single mom with two young adult daughters who have lived in their small compound set up for the last 30 years. The government wants to demolish these small compounds and build either other high rise government housing or commercial establishments. Atsede waited for seven years and just last spring her number came up. She registered for the 10% option. She was assigned to an area completely across town from her government hospital job. As a government employee she has rented her two room compound house for 100 BIRR a YEAR, which is $5.00 US dollars. Yes, a year! Now, she will pay 1,400 BIRR or $63.00 USD per MONTH. So, it is a big change not only in her budget, but also in leaving a neighborhood of friends and family where she raised her family over the past 30 years. She will own the condo outright after 20 years and her daughters will inherit it when she passes on. If she declines the condo then she will likely be homeless as the government will be demolishing her neighborhood. The government can require her to move in anywhere from two weeks to several months.
Atsede has no car so we have been helping her transport needed items to “finish” the construction of her condo as all of the electrical, plumbing, plastering, and painting is up to her. The government essentially hands her a shell of a condo and she is responsible for ALL of the finish work. This was absolutely amazing to us as we drove down a month ago and saw her place for the first time. We just returned last week to see all of the progress she has made in locating the workers, largely unskilled, to finish the inside. Even though she will have her own bathroom indoors for the first time ever she will likely not have water for many, many months as it will take some time for the water pipeline to reach SO many of these high rises. Her electricity will probably also not be fully functioning for some time. But, she was elated to have this opportunity and thankful that we could help deliver PVC pipe and floor tiles to be laid in the kitchen and bathroom. She asked me to dedicate her home and we had a sweet prayer together with her, Nancy, and her daughter, Fiker (whose name means love), who has just returned from a mission to London, England.
This past week we had a wonderful visit from our Southeast Africa Area President, Elder Kevin Hamilton, who inspired us on how we can spiritually “build a firm foundation” (Helaman 5:12) for the church here in Ethiopia. He and Sister Hamilton along with our terrific Mission President, President and Sister Collings just completed a mission tour of The Uganda Kampala Mission which includes Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia. We are excited to follow their counsel and see the fruits of our labors. Meanwhile, we continue to be amazed at all the “laborers” on these many construction sites. We hope that you are enjoying YOUR homes and the warmth of this holiday season with loved ones surrounding you.