Mar 20, 2016

Ethiopia: "Oh, ya, I have a job."

After almost 2 weeks of reunions, travel, and touristing in Ethiopia, it was time to get down to business and acknowledge that we were actually in Ethiopia for work purposes.

The real reason we were summoned to Addis was to attend the English Language Fellow Africa mid-year conference. Each region of Fellows has their own conference at the 5 month half-way point to bring everyone together, get new ideas, encourage each other, plan upcoming events, and network.

Twenty five-ish fellows and our bosses conjoined from across the continent at a hotel in Addis where we spent 3 days in workshops for ourselves - re-examining US policy towards soft diplomacy and realizing though our countries are very different, our experiences as fellows are not so different. After 3 days of sitting in the hotel, we had a day off  and then gave a two day conference for Ethiopian Program teachers and university lecturers. My Rwandan co-fellow Robert and I did a presentation on active learning strategies for large groups (more than 80) students. It was work, but it was good work.

One of the greatest takeaways of this fellow program for me will be the other fellows. The fellows this year in Africa are stellar. These are my people. The kind of people who quit stable jobs to go live in Africa and teach, because you only live once. The kind of people who discuss books, who complain about inefficiencies in learning systems around the world, and who truly believe that each class makes a difference because true change is people based not technology based. I love these smart, interesting, culturally aware people.

The countries represented were: Mauritius, Togo, Burkina Faso, Benin, Gabon, Niger, Senegal, Ethiopia, Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Egypt, Ivory Coast. Our Fellow in Ivory Coast was with an American delegation that was scheduled to be at the restaurant that was attacked last week. Her group decided to visit a museum first, and thus was spared. This incident hits close to home. Our girl is safe, and for that we are thankful. I was originally matched to this job last summer and ended up in Rwanda instead. This stuff is real. Keep West Africa/Ivory Coast in your thoughts. 

I was reminded yet again of the broad scope of programs that our government is involved in. Each with it's own agenda and initiative. I'm proud to be a fellow here in Africa. While my fellowship has not been exactly what was expected, it's still a rollercoaster I'm happy to be riding. Especially with these crazy teachers along for the ride.

team Rwanda...always so serious 

Couldn't seem to get a decent group pic, ha. 

team East Africa with our trusty boss

team Rwanda filling out visas for..... somewhere awesome, TBD! 

2/3 of team Rwanda talking about large classes and how to deal effectively 

that's a handy name 

white girls in kitenge. one of my favorite things. 

international gift exchange night! 

Sudan, Namibia, Rwanda, Malawi represent. 

mid-presentation photo because...we can. 

Gabon Dave letting the crowd in on some teaching tips

more white girls in kitenge. 

Proposal and grant writing session

Korean dinner! 

With the US Ambassador to Ethiopia and representatives of the Ethiopia Ministry of Education

walk slow. xoxo. 

Ethiopia: Debra Zeit and Addis Ababa.

It occurred to me when beginning this post that Ethiopia will have 4 blog posts. A little excessive, but we were there 3 weeks and there were so many stages to the trip! I like having the separate experiences catalogued as such. So here's another one...ha...Ethiopia blog post 3 out of 4. 

Traveling to Ethiopia was like having a homecoming with a place I had never been. 

It was familiar yet new, wild yet comfortable. 

After the trek, the girls and I split up and they got on another tiny plane to a lake town in the north, I got picked up at the airport by my ex-ethiopian. I think this is a reason that I took to Ethiopia a bit more than my co-workers, I didn't have to navigate alone. The few times he was at work and I was alone wandering around were a bit stressful. Luckily, the majority of the time I had him to drive me around, talk and order for me, take me to the insider places, and explore on a more local level - which is always the goal of a good traveler. 

We had a great few days. I got to see some old friends I had in China whom I hadn't seen in years. They took me out and treated me very special, which was so nice. At the weekend, ex-ethiopian took me a few hours out of town to a beautiful and peaceful resort that acts as a weekend respite for Addis city-dwellers. I enjoyed driving outside of Addis and getting to see the horse carriages and donkeys along the road on the way there. You really get to see more of a country when you drive outside the capital where wealth and education seems to be concentrated. 

I continued to be sick, which was very strange because usually I pride myself in my body's ability to adapt. After 7 years in China I feel like my guts are ironclad. But Ethiopia did me in. I am thankful I had my trusty translator and driver to worry about me and get me better. I am very anti going to the doctor in developing nations, but he took care of me and by the work portion of the trip I was on the mend. Thank goodness. 

Addis was a city that left me feeling very alive. The more I travel in Africa outside Rwanda, the more I notice that I am more suited for places that have high energy and require more culture clue observation and adrenaline. I think Rwanda is a little bit too subdued for my ideal atmosphere. 

Some of the highlights of Addis for me were visiting the sugar can juice shop where Yoni used to stop as a kid; the juice was amazing and it was a place a traveler would never find on their own, having the best coffee I have ever had in my life at Tomoca Coffee, and eating a home cooked meal in an Ethiopian family's house then watching re-runs of the Oscars on the couch. What a special time it was in Addis. 

A a place I had never been. 

cultural restaurant. wonderful food and dancing. 

stool sample pre-input. sums up my addis experience haha. 

I used to cook chicken for these boys in China. 

The first metro system in Africa, built by the Chinese. 

downtown Addis 

My slip for the doctor, in the Ethiopian calendar it is 2008.

View from Yoni's house. 

driving back from Debra Zeit 

Amazing food and honey wine. 

Debra Zeit

Merkato Market 

Debra Zeit 

Debra Zeit 

Addis mosque 

Yoni took me to get sugarcane juice at the shop where he always stopped after school as a kid.
The lady remembered him! 

Debra Zeit

After all this was finally time to get to work. 

walk slow. xoxo. 

Ethiopia: Wollo Mountain Trekking

It's a truth known among long-time travelers, there are a plethora of "ok" tours out there. Charging lots of moolah and delivering a "meh" experience that could probably have been better constructed by the traveler themselves.

Tesfa Tours, operating "community treks" in northern Ethiopia, is NOT one of those companies. For the first time in awhile I felt like I truly got my money's worth out of a unique and well-planned tour experience.

Our trek started in Lalibela, where a mini-bus picked us up and drove us a few hours north into Ethiopia's dry mountain-scape. This area is dealing with drought and famine, and has recently been the benefactor of US Aid. The road was rough and un-paved, though they are working to pave it. At several points along the way up the mountains, we drove past Chinese camps of workers building the road literally around us.

Tesfa treks are designed to support the communities that the treks walk through. We were fed and housed by two different communities who split up the donkey-supplying, lunch and dinner making, and upkeep of each overnight camp site. It was like we were entering their world, quite literally, and were being cared for by the people who live in this arid, barren land. In return for the experience, we paid a decent sum. It seemed like such a great idea for travelers and the communities alike!

(The only small issue was that around this point in the trip I got a parasite/food poisoning/something in my gut that wasn't happy and I was having trouble keeping food in - which meant less amazing food and no amazing Ethiopian coffee for me....and lots of make-shift bathroom stops in the fields...bummer).

We trekked for two whole days. Donkeys carried our bags and an english speaking, super fun guide nick-named "Z" walked with us. Each afternoon, we stopped at a campsite whose views rival any views I have ever seen. I felt like we were sleeping in rock huts on the edge of Africa. In each location, there was a wooden box "toilet" in it's own rock hut. A bucket of water was placed near a tree that had bamboo wrapped around it for bathing privacy. (Although, at this point of living in Africa, bathing just doesn't always seem necessary. Wash your feet, wipe your pits and under your boobs. Use a face wipe if you're feeling fancy. Done. )

After arriving the second day to our camp we did what any normal, tired trekker in rural Ethiopia would do...we blasted Toto's Africa, danced around like the white girls we are, and drank crappy Ethiopian beer while wondering how the beer got brought in to the edge of the world. Typical African mountain side behavior.

At dinner time, a fire was built on the concrete floor of a separate rock hut and we sat around it on wooden benches. We were first brought a soup and a large slice of warm Ethiopian bread, followed by a home-cooked vegetarian meal. The community members who prepared the meal for us watched us eat first, which was super awkward and weird. We kept asking when the others would eat and were assured they would eat after we left the hut.

Following dinner, we retired with candles to our huts and slept in the itchiest beds I have ever been in. We checked for bed bugs, but it seemed like just fleas. There is not much to do on a mountain-side with no electricity, so 8pm bedtime was perfect. (And actually something we are all used to by now).

In the morning, we were treated to bread, eggs, and coffee sitting on benches overlooking the mountains. Donkeys grazed beside us, waiting to be loaded with our backpacks. Surreal.

On the hike out to the main road on our last day, we passed donkeys loaded with beer boxes. So that is how they get the provisions out to the camps, we thought, ...donkeys!

The actual walk itself was leisurely, though long. We walked through fields of animals (so much livestock in Ethiopia!), were followed by children, passed schools and churches and straw huts along the way. People were just doing their daily thing - raising animals, raising bare-bottomed children, living within the realm of relying on the sky's provision of water for their harvest. (That hasn't come this year...)

It felt semi-invasive to take photos. A few times I felt like a giant white alien marching around someone's home turf with a huge camera. It just didn't feel right. The photos I do have, however, give small justice to the grandeur and beauty of the landscape and mountain views.

Have a look...remember the people of northern Ethiopia who are going through drought...recognize climate change and ponder what you can do about it (don't waste water!)...and enjoy these snippets of beautiful Ethiopia...

Rural church

Where we took our meals. Unreal. 

Beer donkey. 

Give me a D! Give me an I! Give me an ARREA! 

shower, anyone? privacy not included. 

Waking up for sunrise is always worth it. 

another rural church

arriving to day 1 campsite


If you ever find yourself with a little cash, good shoes, and a few days of free time in yourself a favor and go on a Tesfa trek. Experience of a lifetime.

walk slow. xoxo.