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Gebisa Ejeta Travel Journal

Purdue Agriculture > Gebisa Ejeta Travel Journal
 

 Tom & Gebisa's Ethiopian Adventure

 

 

Purdue Agriculture Connections managing editor Tom Campbell is writing a daily journal while he is in Ethiopia with Gebisa Ejeta, the 2009 World Food Prize winner. Ejeta, Distinguished Professor of Agronomy at Purdue, won the prize for his research that improved sorghum, a major food source for more than 500 million Africans. Ejeta is in Ethiopia to visit family, but the visit is bittersweet: The abject poverty in his homeland pains him deeply and is the impetus for his research to improve the nutrition of impoverished Africans.

 

 

 

Day 1    Day 2    Day 3    Day 4    Day 5    Day 6    Day 7    Reflections

Tom Campbell

Tom Campbell

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta

World Food Prize winner Gebisa Ejeta conducts a phone interview with a writer from USAID in Washington during a three-hour layover in Detroit on his way to Ethiopia.

Photo by Tom Campbell

World Food Prize winner Gebisa Ejeta conducts a phone interview with a writer from USAID in Washington during a three-hour layover in Detroit on his way to Ethiopia.

 

Saturday, Day 1

It's now been a full 24 hours since Gebisa Ejeta and I left West Lafayette on this trip to Africa. But we have now seen our second sunset over the wing of an airplane, and we are anxious to get on the ground in the Ethiopian capitol of Addis Ababa.

We are traveling at 526 miles an hour in a KLM Airbus A332 jet on our way from Khartoum, Sudan, to Addis Ababa, the last leg of a 7,000-mile journey to Africa.

Warmed externally by a long-sleeve shirt and a zipped leather jacket and fueled internally by a dose of Benadryl, Gebisa is trying to burn out a case of the sniffles that have bugged him since his last trip abroad in June.

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Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia and of the African Union, is a study of contrasts. Despite its slums, it sits in a beautiful location, surrounded by mountains.

Photo by Tom Campbell

Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia and of the African Union, is a study of contrasts. Despite its slums, it sits in a beautiful location, surrounded by mountains.

 

Sunday, Day 2

A 27-hour trip to the other side of the world tells you just how big this planet is. A 10-minute walk from our headquarters in the Intercontinental Hotel to the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa illustrates just how small it can be.

In 1977, John Axtell, Gebisa’s major professor, mentor, and friend, bought a new car. Instead of trading in his worn-out, blue Oldsmobile, he gave it to Gebisa.

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Hundreds of people greet World Food Prize winner Gebisa Ejeta as he visits the village in Ethiopia where he grew up.

Photo by Tom Campbell

Hundreds of people greet World Food Prize winner Gebisa Ejeta as he visits the village in Ethiopia where he grew up.

 

Monday, Day 3

Addis Ababa is as quiet by night as it is noisy by day. For thousands, electricity is a luxury they cannot afford. So at nightfall, silence and darkness blanket the city.

A thunderstorm approaching from the mountains west of Addis Ababa breaks the silence. The gully-washer of a rainfall dances off the corrugated tin roofs of the shanties next to the hotel and turns the condo construction site north of the Intercontinental Hotel into an urban lake.

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Gebisa found that nothing has changed in his elementary school, except that in some cases, conditions have worsened.

Photo by Tom Campbell

Gebisa found that nothing has changed in his elementary school, except that in some cases, conditions have worsened.

 

Tuesday, Day 4

It was supposed to be a triumphant stroll down memory lane, the World Food Prize winner returning home to visit two elementary schools. The first school was the one of his youth, the one he had to walk 20 kilometers each week to reach. The other was built 30 years later, nearer the village so kids like Gebisa would not have to walk 20 kilometers to school.

But what was appalling to Gebisa on this bright, sunny day was that the latter was no better than the former: Both are in equally deplorable condition.

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Despite warnings posted outside every classroom on campus to turn cell phones off, several students couldn’t help but record Haramaya University’s most famous alumnus when he spoke to an agriculture class Tuesday.

Photo by Tom Campbell

Despite warnings posted outside every classroom on campus to turn cell phones off, several students couldn’t help but record Haramaya University’s most famous alumnus when he spoke to an agriculture class Tuesday.

 

Wednesday, Day 5

We spent the day at Gebisa’s college alma mater, Haramaya University. The college, with an enrollment of 13,000 full-time and 17,000 part-time students, is a verdant oasis, high above the Ethiopian desert, 40 kilometers from the city of Dire Dawa.

On the heels of the announcement of his World Food Prize award, Gebisa has been greeted by well-wishers at every juncture of this African journey.

And Haramaya is no different. But here, he is a celebrated for more than the World Food Prize.
“One of the best we ever had,” says Negussie Seifu, his basketball and volleyball coach when Gebisa was a dominating center on the Haramaya basketball teams of the early 1970s.

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Amanuel Belaineh, 8, is the proud owner of the first autograph signed by Gebisa Ejeta as the winner of the 2009 World Food Prize.

Photo by Tom Campbell

Amanuel Belaineh, 8, is the proud owner of the first autograph signed by Gebisa Ejeta as the winner of the 2009 World Food Prize.

 

Thursday, Day 6

Upon his graduation from Haramaya University (then Alemaya College) in 1973, Gebisa Ejeta received his diploma from the Ethiopian emperor himself, Haile Selassie.

It was Selassie whose edict founded the college in 1958 as a way of growing the agricultural minds that would provide leadership for his country and help feed his people.

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The young goat that ventured up the statue may have been disappointed to find that the coffee pouring from the spout was not real.

Photo by Tom Campbell

The young goat that ventured up the statue may have been disappointed to find that the coffee pouring from the spout was not real.

 

Thursday, Day 7

There is only one road from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to Jimma, the town where 2009 World Food Prize Laureate Gebisa Ejeta went to high school. Appropriately enough, it is named Jimma Road.

A two-lane licorice strip of asphalt stretching for 340 kilometers (about 207 miles), Jimma Road delicately wraps around the mountains of the southeast portion of the country, ending in Jimma, the home of coffee.

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Ethiopians, especially the children, love to have their photos taken.

Photo by Tom Campbell

Ethiopians, especially the children, love to have their photos taken.

 

Reflections

Ethiopians are friendly people. Strangers would stop me on the streets and ask me if this was my first trip to their country. But the best response by far was from the children. They looked at me suspiciously at first. But once I showed them their photographs, smiles and laughter were sure to follow, sending the children into a frenzy.

Adults were only slightly more reserved. I got the feeling many had never seen their images before.

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