Category Archives: ethiopia

Commercial approach to ceramic water filters in Ethiopia

Getaw Cherinet and the Tulip siphon water filter, in Addis Ababa, January 2013

During my recent visit to Addis Ababa, I met with Tulip Addis Water Filter, a private company selling ceramic water filters in Ethiopia since 2010. Its product, known as the “Tulip” water filter, is a siphon device with a ceramic element. The company reports a brisk business in meeting the programmatic needs of local and international NGOs, with sales across all nine of Ethiopia’s regions and total volume of approximately 60,000 filters a year.

The filter, manufactured by Basic Water Needs of India, is sold by other companies in at least half a dozen countries around the world, including Malawi and Mozambique where it has recently been introduced by local entrepreneurs. Depending on distribution and marketing costs, the retail price tends to range from US$15 to US$25.

Although considered a relatively low-cost product, Tulip Addis General Manager Getaw Cherinet acknowledges that his filter is still unaffordable to many low-income earners. “Most of my customers are actually NGOs who give away the filters or sell them at reduced prices in order to better serve populations in need”, he says. In order to lower the retail cost further, the company has plans to build a factory and produce the ceramic element locally, in partnership with the manufacturer. With the additional production capacity, the company plans to expand into other East African markets and introduce a table-top version of the filter to make it more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. An added benefit of investing in a local production facility is to improve the availability of spare parts. Getaw also mentioned that he recently partnered on a proposal to evaluate the use of targeted vouchers to stimulate purchase by low-income families, an innovation which has been discussed at recent events of the International Network on Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage.

The Tulip filter has a useful life of about 7000L of drinking water and can produce filtered water at a flow rate of about 5 litres per hour. Although no peer-reviewed studies have been published on the microbiological effectiveness of the device, Tulip Addis Water Filter says their product has been approved by government authorities prior to introduction to the market. Getaw agreed that having independent researchers monitor and evaluate his product’s performance in the field and publish the findings in a journal would be a useful addition to the evidence base and help him better market his product. He welcomed researchers who might be interested in such a study.

Getaw also shared his view on key challenges to doing business in the Ethiopian market. “There is a foreign currency shortage in Ethiopia”, he says, “This makes it difficult for vendors to obtain bank-guaranteed letters of credit with which they could purchase at higher volume from overseas. This is one of the main incentives for me to invest in a local production facility.” In addition, he reports that his clients often face funding constraints or delays making it difficult for him to reliably predict sales volume and forecast inventory requirements.

For those interested to learn more about Tulip Addis Water Filter including researchers interested in an evaluation, please contact Getaw Cherinet (

Unexpected overnight in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

While en route to Lilongwe, Malawi, a travel glitch sidelined me in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a night. I’m taking advantage of the time here by meeting with a local company that sells water filters and has plans for an East Africa expansion. The information I glean will be published in the next issue of my newsletter on household water treatment.

This is not the first time I have had travel trouble at Addis Ababa’s airport. In September, I tried to stop over here and was refused a visa. You can read that story here. So when I was re-booked for the following day’s flight, I crossed my fingers I would not have to sleep overnight in the airport.

But thanks to the efforts of a helpful Ethiopian Airlines transfer desk employee named Thomas Dejene, I was able to quickly secure a transit visa and overnight stay at the Panorama Hotel. The entire process took less than 20 minutes. The transit visa has a total cost of US$70 which comprises a visa processing fee of US$20 and hotel accommodation cost of US$50. (This is quite inexpensive for Addis Ababa.) The bonus? Breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as transport to and from the airport is included. Not a bad deal at all. Another plus: the transit visa is a simple stamp (a tourist visa takes up at least one whole passport page). Amesegenallo Thomas!

Organising a transit visa may not always be this easy. My previous experience suggests some rules apply, such as staying in an Ethiopian Airlines approved hotel and having no alternative flight options to your final destination in the event of a missed or cancelled flight. Contact the Ethiopian consulate or embassy nearest you well ahead of your planned travel and make sure you are informed. Wikipedia offers a list of Ethiopia’s worldwide diplomatic missions.

I went to Ethiopia (for two hours)

About a month ago I booked a ticket to Nairobi with Ethiopian Airways via Addis Ababa. But when I saw the late arrival time in Nairobi (1:30am), I saw an opportunity to stay overnight in Addis to visit a local friend and see how the city had changed since my previous visits in 2008 and 2009. An added bonus was the chance to meet, interview and photograph a local company selling water filters (I am always eager to network!).

Being aware of visa requirements is always prudent and before booking my ticket, I checked to see if rules had changed. They had not: Canadians can still get a tourist visa on arrival for 20 bucks, said various websites including that of the consular services section of the Ethiopian Embassy in Ottawa, Canada. Just to be safe, I double-checked a trusted source of travel advice (lonely planet’s thorn tree forum) and also asked a couple of friends who had travelled there recently. After all this, I felt quite confident I would have no problems.

Well, on arriving at the airport tonight, I lined up for a visa and waited 45 minutes after which I was told by immigration authorities that because my stay was for less than 24 hours, I was eligible only for a transit visa. Such visas are organized by the airline and I was told to sort it out with them. The catch: the visa costs 70 dollars and requires a stay at a pre-determined hotel. And, since there were open seats on a connecting flight to Nairobi leaving within two hours (the same flight I had originally opted out of), there was no good reason why I should declare myself to be “in transit”, thus they doubted I would even be eligible for a transit visa. I tried to reason with the officials – and of course this went nowhere fast. Feeling the resistance, I decided to give in to the flow, and rebook my flight to head to Nairobi. Sometimes things are just not meant to be! And as soon as I did so, things started to work and my mood brightened. A pretty woman at the counter let me use her mobile phone to cancel my appointments and hotel booking and she managed to get my baggage moved on to the new flight ( and she spoke French!). Ethiopian’s inflight magazine, Selamta, was chock-full of inspiring travel reads. And my taxi driver at the Nairobi airport barely haggled with me over the price to my accommodation. :)

The upshot? If you are going to make a short visit to Addis, ie less than 24 hours, you might want to get yourself the tourist visa ahead of time. Or be prepared to wait in a very very long line for a transit visa at the airport.

And if that doesn’t work, you can always visit one of the half dozen or so bars in the terminal concourse and get yourself a local beer while you wait for your next flight. :p

St George’s Beer in Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ethiopia inspires so many different feelings …

This visit to Ethiopia has been absolutely amazing, inspiring, saddening, heart-wrenching and humbling all at the same time. It’s hard to describe these experiences, but I’m going to try my best.  Telling you how I feel about these is even more difficult, I need to reflect before I can try to share those….

So where do I start? The last couple of days here in Addis Ababa have been pretty intense… Our local crew (see this recent blog post) have been showing us around the city, taking us to spots both well-known and off the beaten path.

Yesterday morning we met up with Abraham for a journey to the top of Entoto Mountain.  It started out as a short walk from the Piazza area of town, just in front of Castelli’s Restaurant (which has become our meeting point).  We trotted up Cunningham Street, stopping for a late hamburger brunch at La Coquette, located across from a local cinema and at a major intersection making for great people-watching.  We continued on down the road to an impromptu bus stop, to begin our planned journey to the top of Entoto Mountain.

Ethiopian mini-buses are a common sight on the roads of Addis. Blue side paneling with white roofs, they are converted cargo vans with ten to twelve seats, and a capacity of about 25. The driver will usually decorate the bus with various religious articles, bumper stickers and other assorted paraphernalia. A ride in one of these typically costs between 0.50 and 1.00 Birr (about 5 to 10 cents US). As we boarded, the bus parked in front of it began to reverse and hit our vehicle. The drivers of each bus yelled at each and other this was When Cornelia noticed the Norwegian sticker plastered on the rear windshield which said (in Norwegian) “PLEASE KEEP YOUR DISTANCE”.   Since the buses remained parked about 6 centimetres from each other, we were close enough to get a good photo of the sticker, which will be posted in due course. The bus we boarded was one of six we took that day to complete our journey to the top of Entoto. :)

Along our journey I saw a number of things, all of them interesting, some of them sad, some thought-provoking, and others just typical images of daily life in Ethiopia:

– A barefoot boy of about seven years of age eating discarded fruits out of a rubbish bin on the side of the road

– A woman with no eyes begging for money

– An artist friend of Abe’s dressed Rastafarian-style, showing off photos of his artwork (one of them I am considering buying – a v v cool mirror/painting combination)

– a road built by the Chinese, presumably as part of their bid to extend their sphere of influence to emerging markets in Africa (Ethiopia being one of the few African countries which has natural resources to offer China – Ethiopia’s main exports are coffee, flowers and qat – the last an edible narcotic illegal in the US but legal in the UK).

– elderly women carrying huge loads of dried grass, branches and other underbrush on their backs, hobbling down mountain roads while groups of five or six men lounge on the roadside in the shade)

– panoramic views of the city of Addis from a curving mountain road

– plantations of eucalyptus trees which apparently are water-intense and were introduced by Australians in 1905. The heavily forested mountain-side is now an important source of firewood for the city.

– a long line-up of people sitting on the ground with piles of jerrycans (gasoline cans) around them – they were waiting to fill them up with water at 0.25 Birr for 10 litres (about 2.5 cents US).  That may not seem like much but in a country where those who work, do so for about a dollar or two dollars a day, and many don’t work at all and resort to begging or making money from unstable means (such as working as an independent tour guide), the plight of Ethiopia’s poor begins to dawn on you.  A new friend here who is doing a fellowship with the Ministry of Water told me that NGO estimates are that about 30% of the country is covered by the water distribution network.  The government estimates it at about 50%.  The lack of access to clean water by the local people of course exacerbates the existing problems of disease, poverty, and famine.

On our sixth and final bus change, I got outside of the bus to stretch my legs and began talking to a group of local men in their late teens and early twenties.  One of them introduced himself as Maradona. :) Another, who spoke broken English and had a bright but wary smile, approached me and introduced himself as Samuel.  He told me that they were a group of friends but he was the only one who spoke much English at all.  He recounted how he had learned his English from giving impromptu tour guides to foreigners that he would encounter randomly in the city.  At twenty years old, he had just finished a technical course in baking and confectionery and was looking for work and seeking to expand his skill base.  He seemed like someone with a bright spirit and a good heart, so I introduced him to Abraham who I felt might be a good role model for him.  The two of them immediately hit off, so we invited Samuel along on our journey and began our final ascent to the peak.

Entoto Mountain overlooks the city of Addis and is situated at 3,200m above sea level (Addis itself is at 2,500m above sea level) and is home to the former capital of Ethiopia, Entoto.  Emperor Menelik II and his wife Empress Taytu lived at the top of Entoto over 100 years ago and ruled the country from that naturally defensible location.  It is now the site of a museum and a monastery and the emperor’s former palace.  More recently it has become famous among Ethiopians as the source of a “holy water” which can cure people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  Today there is a small community of sick and disabled people who live atop the mountain.

At the top of the mountain, we visited an HIV-positive boy of 8 years old, who lived in a hut made of branches and mud and covered with a blue tarp to keep out the rain. It had no running water and no electricity and it was a small room about the size of a bathroom.  At least three people lived there, consisting of the boy, his mother, and another woman (who was HIV+).  None of them work and depend on begging to pay the “house rent” of 65 Birr a month (6.5 dollars US) and buy food and water. HIV medication is provided free by a local aid agency. The boy, who was diagnosed with HIV five years ago (it was not clear during our visit how he contracted it) cannot speak apparently due to permanent complications from spinal meningitis. Oe of the consequences of spinal meningitis is deafness.

Meeting the boy and his mother was the objective of our visit to the top of Entoto Mountain. Our other activities while we were up there included a two-hour hike through mountain-top farmland, playing soccer (football) with local schoolchildren, a visit to local artist Wasihun Amake (sp?), a tour of the museum and palace hosting artifacts from Emperor Menelik’s reign.

There’s so much more I could write about… the dinner out at Zebra Grill with Will Davies and Bryn Saxe last night, the nightcap at Harlem Jazz, our visit to the Merkato (one of Africa’s largest markets) today, the time spent with Abraham, Solomon and the newest member of our local crew – Samuel… but will save some of those memories for my next update and others for my grandchildren.  Until next time… :)

The local Ethiopian crew

I’ve mentioned this before on my blog and I’ll mention it again… more and more I find myself becoming a traveler intent on socio-cultural experiences rather than historical, political and geographical ones. Essentially I find my travels are becoming less about visiting touristic sites, or touring the country, or hitting all the “must-see” destinations listed in a travel guide and more about meeting local people, spending time with them, learning a bit of their language, their culture, their thoughts and ideas, and trying to open myself to new perspectives.

A great book I read recently – “Shantaram” – tells the story of an escaped convict who flees to Mumbai, India. On his first day in the city, he meets a local named Prabaker, who offers to guide him around the city, and ultimately becomes one of his closest Indian friends and confidants. This story came to mind after a day spent hanging out with three Ethiopians we’ve come to know through a good friend who has traveled here twice before.

Solomon, Abraham, and Sable are three twenty-something locals and today, they spent the afternoon and evening hosting us in Addis Ababa. It started with Solomon taking us on a walking tour of the Piazza area, which included a visit to the beautiful St George’s Church and Museum (where we learned about the religious history of Ethiopia). Did you know that Ethiopia was one of the earliest Christian countries? It is an immensely religious country and to visit St George’s is a solemn and memorable experience. Ask around for the Arch Deachon Mrabato who can give you a guided tour of the grounds. Personally the 60 minutes I spent with him left me feeling as if I had just gone through a session of intense meditation.

Following our visit to the church, Solomon took us to a local restaurant where we had some delicious pizza and tea. We treated Solomon to a vegetarian spaghetti (he is fasting at the moment and is avoiding meat products – an Orthodox Christian rite) and enjoyed chatting with him and sharing our contrasting ideas (Europe, North America and Africa). He mentioned at one point that he felt that anyone who was not a Christian would by definition consider themselves to be above God and sinless. My thoughts on this is that one need not be religious in order to be able to distinguish right from wrong and good from bad. Ethics and moral values need not be dictated by religion… I wanted to talk about this with him but wasn’t sure how he would react.

Solomon is a friendly fellow, 22 years of age, and about 5′8″ in height. He was wearing baggy blue jeans and an oversized long-sleeved shirt, untucked and looking comfortable. Complimenting his mini twigs (I can’t think of a better name to describe his cool hair style), he has a tough-looking face, with a kind heart and a nice smile, making him someone you’d feel very comfortable having as your guide in a strange city like Addis. To add a bit of colour to this description, Solomon is in his first semester of studying nursing at the local KEA MED college, along with his best friend Abraham. Tomorrow they will take us to visit the school.

Our next stop was the Naremud Cafe, across the street from the Castelli restaurant (one of the more famous restaurants in Addis), where Sable works as a waitress. She is a tiny little woman of 25 years of age with a beautiful, broad smile and a sweet disposition. She speaks only a handful of English words, so we relied on Solomon to translate for us. She will be starting English and French courses in a couple of weeks and is looking forward to broadening her skills so that she can improve her economic position in society….

Abraham joined us at the restaurant after a little while. He is slightly taller than Solomon, with a head of curly hair of which used to be a massive cool-looking ‘fro! (he showed us photographic proof). Abraham is a soft-spoken fellow of 26 years of and hails from a town called Dessie, north of Addis, in the countryside. He shared with us many of his views of life, a number of which I shared and others which I liked so much I have written them down so as to remember them.

After a few macchatos (a type of coffee very popular in the local cafes around town), Cornelia and I were a bit sleepy (and cold as the night-time temperature in Addis at this time of year is about 15 degrees) so we adjourned our get-together and headed back to our new hotel, the Weygoss Guest House, a couple of steps up from where we stayed last night. We agreed to meet with our local Ethiopian crew later on in the evening.

Later on, Abraham and Sable (Solomon had to take a night of studying) they took us to the Addis Ababa restaurant where we tried injera cuisine and honey wine, two local Ethiopian specialties. They taught us Ethiopian phrases and shared stories relating to culture, cuisine and city life. We took photos and shared laughter and smiles. And we promised to meet up again tomorrow for another day of hanging out in Addis.

Does traveling get any better than this?