By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN In her continuing mission to feed the world, Sarah Marketon traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this summer as a World Food Prize Borlaug-Ruan International intern.
The Borlaug-Ruan internship is a unique program that allows student interns to participate in projects with world-renowned researchers at leading agricultural research centers around the globe.
Marketon won the internship after being one of six students from Minnesota to participate in the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute last October.
After the World Food Prize Institute, Marketon wrote a short essay about the country in which she wanted to intern, and submitted it along with two letters of recommendation.
She participated in an interview, and found out last March she had been chosen for the prestigious opportunity.
Chicken and sheep research
While in Ethiopia, Marketon worked at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on two different projects; eradicating chicken diseases, and improving sheep genetics.
Her duties on the projects included working in the lab, as well as creating her own interview questions used to gather information from sheep farmers in rural Ethiopia, Marketon said.
Marketon worked with a group of people from the United Kingdom (UK) on the chicken project, and a group of Ethiopian ILRI employees on the sheep project.
The chicken project was underway when Marketon arrived, and she entered data collected from numerous blood samples into the computer as the researchers from the UK reviewed their project, she said.
The sheep project focused on sheep genetics and phenotype characteristics, and Marketon interviewed farmers about why they raised sheep, if they experienced feed shortages, the problems they faced with production, and if they used a breeding schedule.
Both the projects were aimed at helping Ethiopian farmers.
On a one-day trip into the Rift Valley, which stretches down the east side of Africa through Ethiopia, Marketon really had the chance to experience life in a developing nation, she said.
The group she was working with visited a village of nomadic people who were suffering the effects of a drought, and preparing to move to a new location.
During supper that evening, Marketon spoke to another staff member at ILRI about what was being done to improve the nomadic villagers way of life.
“I was surprised to find out they resist any help the government tries to provide,” Marketon said. “Their nomadic lifestyle is deeply rooted into who they are and it is something these people are afraid to let go of.”
Adventures in Africa
“I was not a big fan of the traditional food, wat (a thick stew) and injera (a sourdough flatbread), when I first arrived, and often found it difficult to eat more than a few bites,” Marketon said.
Although the people from the UK understood, and remembered feeling the same way a few months earlier, native Ethiopians didn’t understand and would hound Marketon to eat it.
A trip to the local market was one of Marketon’s first weekend adventures in the town of Debre Zeit, where some of the chicken research was done.
“This was an overwhelming experience, since there were hundreds of people all staring and shouting, “faranji,” which means foreigner,” Marketon said.
Another adventure in Debre Zeit was eating at Family Restaurant, which was owned by an American and served Mexican food.
Many nights in Debre Zeit were spent at a resort near where the researchers lived, eating supper, and staying well past sunset talking, enjoying the evening, and listening to the hyenas, Marketon said.
Although Marketon was never scared for her safety while in Ethiopia, she had a couple of nerve-wracking experiences.
Marketon had gone to the restroom at the laboratory in Debre Zeit, which was always locked and required a key.
“So, I succeeded in unlocking the door; however, I ended up getting stuck inside because the door handle was broken, preventing me from being able to get out,” Marketon said.
Fortunately, it had happened previously to a co-worker, who came to check on Marketon and rescued her.
While on the ILRI campus, Marketon was walking alone to the restaurant to get supper after dark.
As she was walking down the path, something hissed at Marketon and ran into the grass.
“I froze and stared in total shock at this long weasel-like animal, which was staring back at me with just as much shock,” Marketon said.
Marketon ran back to her room, and recalling what she had read about different wildlife in Ethiopia, Googled mongoose.
“Sure enough, the creature that nearly gave me a heart attack was a mongoose,” Marketon said.
“This experience helped me to have a better understanding of the world. It was difficult for me to envision the rest of the US, but now I have a better picture of the rest of the world,” Marketon said. “Having the opportunity to live outside of the US for two months at such a young age has really affected the way I think.”