Time is flying! It really feels like that here as we passed the half way mark and have so quickly come upon 4 months left here in Ethiopia (ok, soon it will be four months). At school we finished the end of semester finals and I got to take some time off! Had most of a week to relax and catch up on some things and Nolana took half of that week off so we had a chance to just hang out together and take a break from our busy schedules… it was sweet! And then last week we headed off for five days of trekking in the north of Ethiopia .
We hooked up with a company called Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives (TESFA) which has taken some small communities and worked with them to build a sort of tourism infrastructure so that they do not have to rely as much on their subsistence agriculture. We stayed in tukuls (local huts) built by the communities, had locals cook food for us, had local guides, got invited into community tukuls to have injera and coffee made for us, and spent our days moving like a real Ethiopian (walking) in the mountains and the farmland, in places where the only foreigners are the ones TESFA brings and the occasional NGO worker.
All of the TESFA sites are ideally situated in the cliffs, looking out at the beautiful mountains, mesas and valleys.
So you wake up each morning, open the window and see the sun rising over the mountains. You wake up and have a leisurely breakfast in the morning sun.
Most mornings we were on the trail by 9am for our daily trek. We had a donkey to carry our packs and a couple local guides supplied by the town we stayed in that night, as well as our guide for the whole trip. Most days we trekked about 5 hours, some uphill but mostly flatland along the edges of the mesas where the communities were.
We would stop for a picnic lunch somewhere along the way and usually arrived at the next community around 2pm, had a snack and time to just relax and have some fun.
It really was a great way to see how the majority of Ethiopians live and do it in a way that aids them. The majority of people in Ethiopia live outside of cities and a recent UN report said that around 70% of Ethiopians live on less that 2$ a day. In the country I am sure that number is something like 97%. And yet they were quite friendly for the most part. They invited us in and cooked for us.
The kids tending the cattle and goats in the fields all ran when they saw us to have a picture taken. The communities we stayed in were grateful and we had one evening where we stood around with some of the men and some children, they gave us some local brew beer, served to us in a re-used tin can (recycling on a new level!), one man pulled out his prized battery-operated tape player, turned on some music and we danced a bit with them until it got too dark to see.
I don’t want to romanticize life in the country (which is what we Westerners tend to do). It’s hard and dark. Women bear the brunt of the work, cooking, taking care of kids, hauling water, etc…
Life is good if you own a cow, some goats, some chickens and a dark little tukul that keeps the rain out when it comes.
Most kids don’t go to school. TESFA has been working with Save the Children out in this area and still no more than 50% of kids are in primary school and most will never go to high school. There’s no money to do it, no school nearby and even if they did, no opportunities to use the learning. Kids stay in the same village, grow up there, marry there, work there and die there. When we arrived back in Addis it all of a sudden felt pretty luxurious, imagine being able to take an automobile to go get a pizza! Can’t say I ever thought of life in Addis as easy before but that’s exactly what it is compared to the country. Guess it is all a matter of perspective.
We had a great break and are happy to be back in the city, back into the routine and starting to think of all the things that have to be done before we arrive back in Canada . Hope to see you all there