A Travellerspoint blog

Ethiopia: Part 1

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Being the excellent procrastinator that I am, I have waited until the eve of our next trip to write about East Africa. Turns out I’m not as good at posting regularly without Gabrielle’s encouragement, but here is part 1 of the post on Ethiopia.

It was a little hard for me to adjust to the style of travel on this trip. I’m very used to doing things my own way and ‘living as the locals do’ as much as possible. One of my favorite ways to see a country is by just walking around different areas and never really knowing what I’ll see each day. I also really enjoy eating at little hole in the wall local joints and just observing people in their everyday lives. I’m also used to traveling on a (quite extreme) traveler’s budget, so that means staying in some maybe not so nice places. This trip was a little different. There are only certain hotels that are approved by the government to stay in, so that meant that we stayed in Hiltons, Sheratons and other 4 or 5 star hotels the whole time! We were also on an organized tour that picked us up from every airport, hotel, attraction, etc and drove us to the next thing. Not to mention the fact that we were traveling with a toddler, so that was a whole new experience in of itself! This doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good time; it was just a big adjustment for me!

The first country on our list was Ethiopia, and boy was it a pleasant surprise! I didn’t really know that much about the country before going there and a lot of the images I had in mind were far from what we actually saw. We happened to be there right at the end of the rainy season which meant it was nice and cool, and so luscious and green! Coming from Senegal where temperatures were near 100 degrees every day the cool 70 degrees felt amazing! I was even pretty cold at times and had to sleep with wool blankets a few nights!
We arrived in Addis Ababa and I was instantly impressed with how clean it was. Dakar is pretty dirty and trash can be found just about everywhere, but Addis was just the opposite. The Ethiopians are known for being very proud people, and it shows by how well they take care of their capital. We were only in Addis for a day before heading out to tour around the northern part of the country.

Our first stop was Bahir Dar. We flew in to what has to be the world’s smallest airport! We stepped off the plane right on to the run way and walked ourselves over to the ‘baggage claim’
We never actually went inside the ‘terminal’, because this was it!
We met our guide, dropped our things off at the hotel and headed out for our first excursion. We took a 45 minute boat trip to an island in Lake Tana, which is the biggest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile. It is pretty big at 52 miles long and 40 miles wide. Along the way we saw quite a few men paddling homemade papyrus boats across the lake, and were told that it usually takes them about six hours to get across!

Once we got to our destination we hiked through a little village to what would be the first of many churches on our trip. The village’s main livelihood is coffee, and there are coffee trees scattered all over the island. The plants were native to the area, and the villagers began to cultivate them more as they realized they could make a profit it from them. Our guide was very informed and gave us his opinion on the coffee sales. He said that there is a big problem with the villagers getting taken advantage of. The government doesn’t regulate the coffee sales, and therefore the big wholesalers come in and buy the coffee from the locals for about $3 per kilogram, and then turn around and make a huge profit off of it. He said the average family makes about $3,000 a year from coffee sales. Seeing as this is the only source of income for most of these families, usually with an average of 6 kids, it is no surprise that they are struggling to send all their kids to school. According to our guide there are more and more private schools opening across Ethiopia and they cost upwards of $250 a year per child, compared to $3 a year at public schools. There is only one school on the island we visited and it only goes up to sixth grade.

Lots of kids followed us around while we made our way to the church. At first I thought they were all asking for money, but it turns out they wanted paper and pens so they could practice writing at home (again, this is what our guide told us).

Once we arrived at the first church, which is protected b UNESCO, we heard what was to become a very repeated speech about Ethiopian Orthodox, and how Ethiopia is the believed birthplace of Christianity. Since Ethiopia is one of the few African countries to not have been colonized (many Ethiopians argue that they are the ONLY country), they are very proud of their culture and history. Many of their churches are protected by UNESCO and are being restored. This has created mixed feelings with the locals. While lots of people we met are very happy that the churches will be protected, they also have fears about the amount of tourism it might bring. According to our guide, “If gays and people who smoke come into our churches to see them, they become less holy and we don’t like that.” We were all a little shocked by that statement! However it was a something we heard often throughout our trip.
The churches in the north are all very beautiful and most have very vivid paintings. We were told that this is such an important part of the Ethiopian Orthodox churches because so many people are illiterate that this gives them a way to understand.
The next part of our tour consisted of hiking down to the Blue Nile Falls. Since we were there in the raining season the falls were in full force, but they were also brown. It was still a pretty amazing sight though, and pictures just don’t do it justice! (And I’ve heard they are nothing in comparison to Victoria Falls that we’ll be seeing later this month!)
Jayme hasn't quite mastered the timing for the powerkick shot, but I tried!
The most interesting part of the tour was again talking with our guide. Most of our guides were of the general opinion that most aid agencies in the country, with the exception of USAID, were doing more harm than good. Most of their complaints were to do with the wages offered to locals by the agencies. Since they offer western wages most of the time, lots of educated, qualified Ethiopians only want to work for the western organizations since they can make a higher salary. An example given was that many local hospitals are lacking good doctors because they all go to work for the western agencies. However, they were all in agreement that USAID was doing some really good work in the country. They said that the big difference was that USAID focuses on sustainability rather than quick fixes. They work on equipping people with skills so that once they leave the people can continue to thrive. They also work with the local elders to teach the communities why certain practices are not beneficial. One example a guide gave us was that USAID was currently working with the elders in the village he grew up in to educate them on why the age to marry should be higher. Ethiopia has a very high percentage of young brides, and they still practice arranged marriages. Often times very young girls, usually around 10-12 years old, are sold to a much older man, and expected to have children right away. They are trying to increase the age to 16, and educating people about the risks involved when a girl that young is expected to have a child. Our guide told us that his parent’s marriage was arranged, his mom was 9 at the time, and his father 14. They weren’t told until the night before they were to be married, and they were then tied to a table so they couldn’t run away. Our guide told us that things are slowly changing, and it is becoming more acceptable to choose to attend school and get an education instead of starting a family, but a lot of work still needs to be done.

Once we were back in Bahir Dar we saw people gathering on the side of the road huddled around what looked like herbs for sale. It turns out they were eagerly waiting to buy their daily khat fix. Khat is a drug that is still legal in Ethiopia. It has been described as a mix between cocaine and marijuana, and it is considered a stimulant. Everywhere we went in Ethiopia you could see people buying and selling it on the side of the road. Ethiopia exports a lot of their khat to neighboring Djibouti. There is a lot of debate about whether it should remain legal in Ethiopia. Many people claim that it is not addictive and it is purely used the same way as coffee, while others argue that too many people have become dependent on it to perform daily tasks.

Another common theme throughout the country was the presence of the Chinese. On every new road, building and construction site there was some sign saying ‘Built by the Chinese’! And all of it is being done ‘for free’…but every single Ethiopian we talked to said ‘but nothing is ever free!’ So they are all just waiting to see what comes of it. Many of them are unhappy that the Chinese are taking away job opportunities for locals, and they are afraid, as one man told us “That Ethiopia will become too cross-cultural. The Chinese will want us to eat dog and there will be China towns everywhere like in the US…we wouldn’t be Ethiopia anymore!”

After Bahir Dar we continued on to a town called Gondar.
Gondar is known as the ‘Camelot of Africa’ since it was once the old imperial capital and there are some remains of the royal castles.
We spent our time here visiting churches, touring the remains and trying to avoid all the goats in the road!
We were there are the end of a fast and it is customary for each family that is able to buy a goat, so the streets were full of people selling them!
We headed out on the road again, and saw some of the most beautiful views along the way!
Next up on the list was Lalibella. This is where the most impressive churches were. There are a group of churches here carved below ground level out of rock. They were built this way so that they could stay hidden from enemies. It is pretty impressive to see, and again, pictures do not do it justice, especially since there is a bunch of scaffolding from UNESCO to protect them.

Because of my procrastination I’m going to have to pause the Ethiopia post here and continue at a later date, since I only have a few short hours before we board the plane to Mozambique!

Posted by 3ifBySEA 11:58 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Quick Update

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Sorry for not posting sooner, but our internet connection was basically nonexistent until this week. My first month here was spent in Dakar just getting used to everything and bonding with little man so he would be okay when he was left alone with me. He’s pretty shy but luckily he warmed up to me quickly and we’re pretty good friends now!
Here are some pictures of the lil’ man. He’s killing it in some overall jorts!

This little kid eats like a squirrel and a typewriter. He holds things to his mouth the whole time and fills those huge cheeks up while he does it…pretty darn cute!

His parents claim he has a ‘trucker’s physique’ since he is all belly and no butt!

He is also quite the budding artist…
Dakar is surrounded by water on most sides and it makes for some beautiful views while driving around the city. The water here isn’t the cleanest, but it sure is pretty!
All of the money for infrastructure upkeep is put towards the main road into town since that is what most visitors see, so the roads and sidewalks aren’t very user friendly. Therefore most people just walk on the streets. This leads to people getting hit by cars very often. We actually saw a man get ‘bumped’ out of the street by a car the other day, and the driver didn’t even stop to apologize! The man wasn’t hurt, but it’s still crazy to see!

Here are a few random shots from around the city.
1100.jpgC6D7247C2219AC68170A5A812AEDA564.jpgC6D105752219AC6817C4A664FDC612EC.jpgC6D5CEA52219AC6817F98685E8449463.jpgC6D89AC62219AC6817D4F06C94372112.jpg (yes, that is a Curves in the background!)

It’s hard to take pictures when there are lots of people around because it makes you an automatic target for people to approach. If you pull out a camera or walk without purpose for a second, you get accosted by people trying to sell things, so I haven’t gotten any pictures of the busy streets yet. I’ll attempt it one day...

The biggest draw for taking the job here was actually the fact that I’d be able to volunteer at an orphanage again and hopefully determine for sure if adoption was the field I want to go into.

I searched online and found a place called La Pouponniere (French for nursery). It is a home for children under one year old. It was founded by some Spanish nuns and it was originally used as an overflow facility to care for infants with malnutrition. A previous volunteer told me that one of the nuns informed her that it is now a home for babies that have been abandoned or whose mothers have died in childbirth. The babies who were abandoned are put up for adoption both locally and internationally. There are currently strong links with Spain and France and lots of the babies get adopted by families from those two countries. The babies whose mothers died are kept at the nursery until they are 1 year old. Most of them have families that will eventually take them in, but who don’t currently have the means to do so. At least one family member is required to visit every Sunday. If the family decides that they can no longer support the baby, it becomes available for adoption. La Pouponniere’s goal is to help these babies through their first year of life. If there are families that are able take the baby, they are given a year’s supply of milk to help them make it to age 2. It’s really a wonderful place and I’m so glad I found it. In order to protect the babies and their families no pictures are allowed. Here is the website that has more information and a few pictures.

The whole process of volunteering there is so different than something that would happen back home. Since it is run by Spanish nuns, Roger (the dad) who is fluent in Spanish, went with me one day to ask about volunteering. The nun told him the times and days that volunteers were needed most and we decided that I would go twice a week. Upon arriving on my first day of volunteering, I was ushered upstairs to the 6 month to 1 year floor. There are about 55 babies on that floor. I was given a scrub shirt to wear, and handed a baby to feed! Luckily I have lots of experience and feel very comfortable holding and feeding babies. When that baby finished its bottle someone scooped him up and handed me another! It is quite the process to feed all these little guys! After they are fed the babies get changed and then put in a play room. At one point I was the only adult in the play room with 26 babies under one! I was terrified that something would happen to one of them on my watch, but it turns out babies are pretty resilient. They were rolling onto each other, hitting each other with toys and biting each other, but there were no injuries and surprisingly few tears!
The hardest part is seeing how much these little ones crave one-on-one attention. When I squat or kneel close to the floor they all come crawling over and push each other out of the way to get to me. It’s hard to see them suffering like this, but I’m still happy I have this opportunity to share a little love with them!
My first day there I also met a French couple who was volunteering there. The woman was playing with one little girl with a huge smile on her face, and when I looked over at her she just kept saying ‘This is my daughter! This is my daughter!!” She told me that her husband and she were adopting her and they had just met the day before! It was amazing to see the joy on her face and knowing that one more little baby was going to have a home! Witnessing that really secured my want to work in adoption. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and that I was able to figure that out!
It can be really depressing at times, and someone even asked me why I put myself through it, but for me just knowing that I might help one person feel a little more loved is worth it all.

In August Jayme the baby and I traveled through Ethiopia, Djibuti and Uganda because Jayme had some work to do there. I’m trying to split up the posts since so much has happened since I was last able to write, that I think I’ll leave those countries for a separate entry.

Posted by 3ifBySEA 14:42 Archived in Senegal Comments (0)


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So after nearly 2 years of traveling Asia together Gabrielle and I have finally separated :( We're both out on our own adventures now and will have separate blogs going.

For the next 5 months I'm going to be a nanny to an adorable little guy in Dakar, Senegal. Dakar is the capital of Senegal and the western most point in all of Africa. It's also one of the most peaceful and stable nations in Africa. Here's a map to put it into perspective:


My new little buddy is 19 month old Elias. His parents are both US Marines. His mom, Jayme, is stationed here as part of a program to better understand African military systems and different cultures and practices of each country. Through her work she gets to travel the continent and get briefed on their military, and then act as a tourist in each country to get a better understanding, and I'm lucky enough to get to go with her! Roger, the dad, will shortly be leaving Dakar for a placement in Miami.

I was a little hesitant to accept this job as I am finally starting to feel ready to settle somewhere in the states, but I am already very happy that I decided to come here. I'll have the opportunity to improve my French (which REALLY needs it!), volunteer in some orphanages, gain valuable experiences for the future and travel all over the continent so I'm pretty excited!

Having been to Africa once before, to Togo and Ghana, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but after just two days I've already been proved wrong. The first thing that shocked me was the amount of foreigners I've already seen. Apparently the embassies here in Dakar are very big and where most people who work in West Africa are placed. Since I've been traveling for these past few years on my own dime (as opposed to the government's) I've gotten used to extreme budget accommodation, transportation and food. It's so strange to be in a hotel 5 times the size of anywhere I've stayed before, with air conditioning and a housekeeper/cook! All the children of the embassy workers have Senegalese nannies and drivers, and it is just so strange to see this aspect of it!

I'm excited to explore Dakar more and get into the groove of living here. Pictures are on their way, too!

Posted by 3ifBySEA 06:04 Archived in Senegal Comments (0)

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