Xi’an, Shaanxi, China 西安
Xi’an is one of the most significant cities in China, having been its often-renamed capital during some of China’s most significant dynasties. It’s so full of cultural and historical significance, with plenty of attractions showcasing it, that one of my hosts says “You could pick up a rock and it would probably be considered a cultural artifact.” At one point during the Tang dynasty sometime around 750, Xi’an (then Chang’an 長安) was the largest city in the world, and now it’s a sprawling 10000 square kilometre megalopolis of 8 million people, with its ancient city wall still intact and forming the core of the city’s downtown.
And yet, within two hours of getting off the high-speed train from Shenzhen, I found myself in an alley next to a large hotel just outside the city wall, handing out condoms to grateful cross-dressing prostitutes. Talk about an introduction to the city.
Arba Minch, Ethiopia
Contrary to any preconceived notions of “parched African savannah” you may have, Ethiopia is both mountainous and ridiculously green. It’s no different in the area surrounding Arba Minch: surrounded by Lakes Chamo and Abaya with the heavily forested and lush Nech Sar National Park in between, this is not what I had in mind when I was invited by HOPE International to visit their projects providing water to communities. As I was taken up remote, mountainous roads surrounded by cultivated fields of wheat, banana trees, sorghum, and sugarcane, I still naively wondered where it was we were going to that needed water.
Of course, the problem isn’t just access to water: it’s access to *clean* water.
HOPE International is an NGO based in Vancouver, with additional funding offices around the world, and regional branches doing direct development in Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Where and what they don’t directly do themselves, they fund other smaller NGOs that do (in Latin America, East Africa, South Asia, and so on). HOPE’s primary focus is providing access to clean water, but they also provide sanitation education, support schools, establish women’s cooperatives, and more. Through a string of connections starting from my sister all the way to the office in Addis Ababa, Frehiwot, the Ethiopia regional manager, suggested that I take a site visit rather than just a visit to their office. An eight-hour bus ride later to Arba Minch, I was met by Wosen, the project manager. Over the next two days, he and hydraulics engineer Fetene (both of them took time from their weekend and a weekday just for me!) guided me through several projects in various stages of completion.