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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Finally! The blog becomes a book. Why did I do it? Initially I simply wanted to print my blog from start to finish in hard copy, to be able to reflect on to my experiences as recorded over three significant years of my life. What started out as a straightforward idea grew into a book project. I intended to make a few copies for family and friends, but with the cost of making more copies lowering the average price per book, my sister Kat urged me to go big.  “Print a lot, have a book launch and see what happens!”

Good things happened…

 

Book titleIt was a challenge to get it done so quickly, but when Cuso International Ethiopia invited me back in January 2016 to assist in the orientation of their first group of Assosa volunteers, I asked graphic designer extraordinaire Terry if he thought it was possible to get the book finished in time for me to take copies with me for Ethiopian friends. Over the past year and a half we had been working on it at a leisurely pace with no firm end date in mind. Suddenly with a deadline looming in two weeks, we worked at a frenzied pace to finalize the design and finish the edits. Thanks to the excellent support of Bond Printers, 150 copies of Spider Webs Unite – My Volunteer Experience in Ethiopia were delivered three days before take off!

With my two bag allowance to Addis Ababa via London, I managed to squeeze in 17 copies of the 1.25 kg book. And despite a few typos that slipped through, I am delighted with the result. Most gratifying is the response of my Ethiopian friends and colleagues. “You did not forget us” they said as they pored over the 1710 colour photos in the 246 page book. Over the next 6 weeks I was able to enjoy many reunions and gift them their book. It made all the time, energy and cost worth while.IMG_1395

Here Henok receives the first copy of the book in Addis Ababa in the gardens of the Ghion Hotel on a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon in February.

IMG_1410Zerefa was thrilled to get her copy and also able to take 3 to Woldia – one for Asrebab our landlady and one each for the Teachers’ College where I had worked for the year and one to the new Woldia University where many of the instructors I had in my HDP class are now teaching.

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Yasabu from the Ministry of Education where I worked for two years accepted a copy and was pleased to see the photos of his family included.

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Ruth from VSO Ethiopia accepted a copy for the office

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Wendwossen from the new Cuso Ethiopia office flips through the book

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When I called my friend Hiwot to tell her I was back and had a surprise for her she said “Well I too have a surprise – I have a baby girl!”

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What a delight to meet the miracle baby and share coffee at her home!

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I met artist Abiy Eshete for juice and he spent an hour poring over every page, thrilled his two paintings are featured at the beginning and end of the book . He was impressed with the graphic design. Terry had suggested we put a colour screen behind the photos on each page based on the cherubs from the famous Debre Birhan Selassie Church in Gondor along with the Queen of Sheba design.

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For fun we chose to code the years from 2010-2013 with the colours of the Ethiopian flag – yellow, green, red and blue. Yes a lot of TLC went into this production.

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I couldn’t wait to visit my old compound to share the book with my Addis family – Kifle, Almaz and the kids growing up so fast – Sami about the complete grade 12 and younger siblings Meron and Eyob…

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Returning home to Vancouver my official Canadian book launch was April 10th, complete with a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony thanks to my friends Alganesh and Akeberet. They used the fresh green coffee I brought back from Assosa to scent the air, enabling many friends to experience their first real Ethiopian coffee ceremony and to sample Ethiopian food.

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Akeberet performs the coffee ceremony.

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Alganesh was a great support, roasting coffee, assisting in the ceremony and  with the food.

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At the Book Launch with my sister Kat, the one who encouraged me to publish the book!IMG_5085

Friends got creative with Ethiopian finger food…

This May the book came along to England and Ireland when I visited family and reconnected with former VSO volunteer friends. Just this week I got a lovely message from someone who had read it in Ethiopia at Wini’s Gourmet Corner cafe near the Mulmul Bakery in Addis Abeba and earlier I had heard from fellow volunteers who had seen it at Susan’s Ben Abeba restaurant in Lalibela. Next week I’m giving a book talk at the Gibson’s library on the Sunshine Coast. I only have a few books left and most are spoken for but am looking into other options to make it available. Meanwhile if you are interested in what I had to say in the my Afterword read it on page 11 in the recently published  BCTF Social Justice Newsletter.

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A lot is changing in the political landscape of Ethiopia as I write this post. All I can do from afar is light a candle for peace and stability to all the good people I care about in that world so far away. I continue to feel blessed to have had the opportunity to spend 3 years of my life living and learning in Ethiopia and hope the intelligence, strength and resilience of the people I got to know will see them through their current challenges.

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“In Ethiopia, if we needed to get the waiter’s attention, we simply clapped our hands loudly”

“I don’t think that would go over well in the Hotel Vancouver lounge” said my friend Anne. “Besides didn’t you say you had learned patience in Ethiopia?

“Yes, but I am home now! But don’t worry I will sit on my hands and wait him out!”

We shared a good laugh! But truly I did learn a lot, including more patience. After 5 months at home, time and distance allow me to notice shifts in who I am now as a result of my three years as a volunteer in Ethiopia. This experience really is a “gift that will keep on giving”. I have no doubt that it will be seeping through my spirit, heart and mind for the rest of my life. But the immediate part has come to an end and this is my final blog for Spider Webs Unite. As a person who needs closure I feel its time to wrap this up and tie it with a bow. Approaching the ferenji New Year of 2014, I find myself wanting to appreciate and give a “gift of thanks” to all those who enabled me to have this amazing experience.

IMG_7205A Canadian “white Christmas” snowfall delighted me a couple of weeks back

In November I attended a returned volunteers “re-integration weekend” in Ottawa designed to help the 24 of us who attended adjust to life back home. One activity toward the end of the two days was to write brief impressions on flip charts of what we had heard from others who had been to the other 7 countries represented in the group. The notes on the flip chart labeled “Ethiopia” showed me that I had presented a pretty balanced and positive impression of my experiences. This excellent activity was an experiential reminder that what we say is powerful in creating an image of the people we have met and places we have been. To me, this reinforced our responsibility to represent our experiences fairly and honestly. With this blog I have tried to do just that, selecting stories to tell and experiences and photographs to share that I hope have presented a glimpse into my life as a volunteer in Ethiopia, images of the rich diversity of the Ethiopian people I met, the fascinating history and culture and the stunning landscapes. The feedback from you, my blog readers has been invaluable. Your comments made my day, knowing others were interested and cared for me. Since I have come home, others have shared that, while they never commented, they did enjoy being on this journey with me. I thank you all!IMG_7132Thank you to all my readers from all over the world! WordPress tells me that this blog has been read in over 130 countries

  Who I am and how I am all began with my parents and I would be remiss if I did not thank them for giving me life and for setting me on a path that led me to have a sense of adventure (thanks Mom!) and to value lifelong learning and creativity (thanks Dad!). If they were still alive I know they would have been avid blog readers…

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·          The support of my siblings and their loving welcome home has meant a lot to me. Thanks especially to my sister Katherine who hosted an amazing “full turkey feast” for family and friends Christmas this year. Thanks to her, I have had a many “return to cheeses” moments since July!

persian restaurant group pictureChantal and my brother Ken, sister Kat and Zahed surround me at a holiday Persian feast! Brother Eric, his daughter Amanda and her son Keane also took part in our celebrations over the holidays…but in the excitement of the moment we did not get a good picture!

kat serves her turkeyKatherine announces the Christmas turkey!

scarlet empressWith reliable water and electricity and a great stove, baking has become a pleasure again  – this is my “Scarlett Empress” Christmas dessert!

·          I must thank Cuso International for selecting and sending me on this rewarding journey and for the excellent preparation, ongoing support and welcome home messages and re-integration weekend. The Cuso staff were professional and personally supportive from start to finish and I highly recommend Cuso for anyone considering a volunteer placement in a developing country. For those who donated to Cuso on my behalf I sincerely thank you. Each donation made me feel supported and appreciated. For others who may not have had the opportunity, please consider a donation – I set a goal of $5000.00 and am only $890.00 shy of that amount. If you are able to, please consider a donation now . Every bit helps, small or large and if you do it online TODAY your Canadian tax receipt will be immediate and it will multiply tenfold with matching funds!

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·         Thank you to VSO Ethiopia, the organization that took good care of me in Ethiopia, especially the support staff who arranged accommodation and the program managers who visited and offered support and guidance. The “volunteer family” of VSOE, both staff and fellow volunteers from all over the world made my time precious and memorable.

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·         I am thankful I discovered the UBC Certificate in International Development that became an online lifeline for me this past year and a half. The combination of working three years on the ground in development and simultaneously learning and discussions online with people from all over the world means I now feel I have earned a degree in development that is rich and full. This combination has given me limitless opportunities to refract my learning through multiple lenses.

·         Finally and most importantly I must thank the Ethiopian people I met and worked with in Woldia and Addis Ababa. You gave me your trust, kindness, caring, honesty and willingly shared your culture with me – this is a gift beyond measure and I will cherish it forever. Betam amaseganalo – thank you very much!

my "harar" wallMy “Harar inspired wall” contains baskets and pottery to remind me of Ethiopia’s rich heritage

journal writing spotSitting on my sofa today sipping an Ethiopian coffee and writing in my journal, I look up and see the morning crows gathering on the treetops, having a rest on their way west for the day

crowsThese crows journey back and forth, my daily reminder that, even in a big city, the cycles of life continue

journals for EthiopiaMy journals will remain a place to dip back in to this experience. My daily writing practice of half an hour each morning has resulted in almost 50 “exercise books” full of my notes and impressions and personal ups and downs, a deeper and more intimate documentation of the full experience that will enable me to carry my learning forward.

abiy's paintings in vancouverArtist Abiy Eshete collaborated with me to create these fabulous paintings, using my photographs – Woldia images are on the left and Addis Ababa on the right – they now hang in my dining room as a visual reminder of my Ethiopian years

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Thank you again for following me along on this journey.

May we all continue to learn, flourish and strive toward peace on earth in the new year!

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Trudging through soggy maple leaves in my Vancouver neighbourhod today I had to face the fact – winter is approaching and it is my first one in three years! How will I cope? Fortunately, near perfect weather since my return has smoothed my “re-integration process” as it is called.

leaves on sidewalkTruly magnificent colours this year!

lions with snowBut just this week I saw snow on the “lions” – yes our very own mountain lions, sculpted by nature

I would call my re-entry into my “culture” idyllic so far. Many people have been asking “ Do you have culture shock after living 3 years in Ethiopia?”

trut lake view with red reflections

Trout Lake is about a kilometer walk from my place and yes, I am “shocked” by the beauty of the natural environment here, even in the big city!

No, I say, so far I am just very happy to be enjoying life back home in my beautiful city in what, by all accounts, has been the best summer and autumn in many years. And yes, I was ready to come home, was looking forward to my return and planning ahead for it. Having a knee ligament problem without proper medical interventions was a challenge this past year and I knew I needed to see a medical expert and put a physiotherapy and exercise plan in place. Thankfully I am now on the mend.

Of course, there have been some jarring juxtapositions and tugs at my heartstrings but overall these past three months have truly been a delightful “honeymoon period”.

 What was most “jarring”?

  • At first I was hyper sensitive to different smells and sounds – walking along the street inhaling aromas of Indian, Chinese, Mexican,Thai, Indonesian, Japanese and other foods, not to mention the heavenly scent of bacon. The sounds were so different; musicians jamming in the park across my street, the roar of motorcycles and swoosh of cars, noisy crows and gulls contrasted with what I had become accustomed to – a soundscape of barking dogs, donkey he-haws, the occasional hyena at night, coffee being pounded in a giant wooden mortar and pestle, twitterings of finches and cooing pigeons, the unique calls of hawkers passing in the Addis lanes, being immersed in Amharic speaking crowds
  • Food frenzy: This year’s super food is kale. Food TV is worse than ever with a focus on gluttony and competition. I have always loved to cook and entertain but this competitive cooking and search for exotic ingredients seems crazy to me. And the food demonizing has gone beyond silly – the current evil food is gluten. Is that meringue you made gluten-free? someone whispered to me at a party – well yes it is, I said. Good thing the hyperglycemia fad is over or it would have been deemed toxic! Read a blog that summed it up – these “rich white people’s diseases”. Inviting people over these days involves negotiating a minefield of allergies, restrictions, special diets and obsessions. And I wonder – are they any happier or healthier?
  • Technological advances leave me breathless in this “fast forward culture”. Everyone is pretty much connected to a personal device at all times and I am not immune – it is a double edged sword and I wonder if I could give up my iPhone or computer for a even a day… Socialize with people and inevitably someone will look things up online to get an answer or tidbit of information, or be reading their emails or texting. Being a pedestrian is much more hazardous due to “distracted driving” by people using such devices, causing more accidents. Homes are bursting with bigger, better, faster – the latest everything. I almost shrieked with surprise when a shiny giant refrigerator spit out ice cubes and cold water from one of its doors. A bit different from my water filtering and boiling process in Ethiopia! Shopping for new appliances is exhausting and disheartening; a salesman admitted to me that the old stoves are simpler and last longer. Will this planned obsolescence and the resulting pollution ever end?
  • Choices: Wisely I avoided big box stores for the first couple of months, though I did venture into a medium sized store to buy a toothbrush early on and was overwhelmed by the selection. Really, do we need all these options? I still prefer to shop at small neighbourhood stores within walking distance of my home. Being a consumer in this culture is hard work, not to mention very expensive. On the other hand, I appreciate more choice in newspapers, CBC radio, uncensored Internet independent media and the chance to speak freely about politics without fear.

What do you miss about Ethiopia?

 My Addis home and “family”

·         Recently I got an email from my VSO friend Judy reporting that Titi had 7 puppies and that made me homesick for the Addis compound…but I expect pictures will be sent to me once they come out of protective hiding. I imagine Sami, Meron and Eyob watching the pups in their basket and feeding them their first injera mush!

dogs jumping upYes I do miss them, but not their barking!

Animals on the streets and lanes

bull statueNo bulls (or sheep, chickens, donkeys or goats for that matter) wandering around Vancouver – just bronze facsimilies

Being famous

  • I no longer stand out in a crowd and people on buses or walking by on the street don’t strike up conversations with “Hello ferenji” and kids aren’t shouting “You, you, you” when I walk by, though some advertising campaign with “You! You! You! ” on the sides of some buses (sadly, didn’t get a picture) made me laugh out loud in August

My tips for easing into life after volunteering

  • Leave in bad weather and travel home in the best season – I returned to the most beautiful August in years. With every day a sunny day, the cold rainy season I had left in Addis quickly faded from memory

3 graces at sunsetThe sunset view from my condominium. What I call my “three graces” trees are still dancing gracefully in the park!

  • Have a sister who plans a warm welcome

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 Kat took excellent care of me as I got over my jet lag

welcome home cakeA welcome home cake concludes the feasting at Kat’s place

cake for breakfast at katsCake for breakfast on the deck with fruits I had not tasted in a year – why not?

  • Have a happy family reunion at a fairy tale wedding on a lake in the BC interior

canoe6Arrival of the bride by canoe – how Canadian is that?

windy sceneThe Kootenay Lake wedding of my niece Lea to Ryan was a three day fairy tale extravaganza

siblings2And a chance for all four siblings (Father of the bride Ken, Me, Eric and Kat) to spend time together!

I remembered how to driveAfter three years without driving I rented a car and drove (slowly) through the Fraser Valley and Okanagan to the Kootenays, pleased my driving skills came back to me within a few kilometers

Similkameen River at Forbidden FruitMarveling at the beauty of my Canada

Kat at Copper EagleKat fuels up for the road at Greenwood BC

  • Avoid all large manifestations of consumer culture until acclimatized
  • Walk in nature

ethiopian flag coloursTaking a walk to enjoy the leaves, I realized that the green, yellow and red trees echoed the Ethiopian flog colours of my scarf; in Ethiopia I had been collecting examples of flag colours for a blog which never got written, everything from flag underwear elastic to flip flops to sides of building in the patriotic colours, and here, back home, they appeared again!

  • Get a pass to the Vancouver International Film Festival and binge on films for two weeks, taking a baggage free world tour to put things in the global context
  • Attend events at the Writers’ festival, including hearing how Amanda Lindhout, who was kidnapped in Somalia for 460 days has re-framed her life’s purpose in helping Somali women and children get an education – and thank my lucky stars I escaped such trauma
  • Spend long lunches, dinners and coffee times with friends, getting updated on their lives and sharing thoughts on the state of the world
  • Stock my bedside table with library books! Re-join my 2 book clubs and start catching up on a lot of great reads
  • Savour the flavours of foods I have missed, knowing I don’t need to go overboard as they will still be there for the forseeable future
  • Continue online courses for my UBC Certificate in International Development. The timing was superb these past 6 weeks as Monitoring and Evaluation in Development helped me to put my volunteer work in perspective, appreciate how much I had learned from my various experiences and imagine ways I could move forward with what I now understand
  • Continue daily writing in my journal to track my thoughts and feelings and reflect on what I continue to learn in life
  • Drink Ethiopian coffee and keep connected with Ethiopian friends and volunteers

Issyas and zerefa fundraiserAt the end of September I attended a fundraiser for Zerefa’s NGO and got a chance to wear one of my outfits – here I am with Zerefa and her husband Issayas. This week she returned to Ethiopia to continue her work to support orphans in Woldia

  • Help my sister with book sales – I am very pleased to announce that Kat has a book out – Picturing Transformation, with sumptuous photographs by Nancy Bleck. Written in collaboration with Nancy and Chief Bill Williams, this book documents the ten year long “Utsam/Witness project” involving camping weekends attended by ten thousand people that saw indigenous people from the Squamish Nation, artists, environmentalists and a spectrum of BC citizens unite to peacefully protect the land at Sims Creek in the Upper Elaho Valley of BC from logging. It is an example of how welcoming people to the land in a traditional witness ceremony, and having them experience its spiritual and physical wealth transforms thinking and mobilizes people to protect the land for future generations. Its a testament to the power of collaboration and an inspiring lesson in the possibilities for resolving conflict peacefully.
  • Sign up for a Returned Volunteer Weekend – Cuso International offers a “re-integration” weekend for volunteers and I look forward to this opportunity on November 22-24th in Ottawa to meet other returned volunteers, share insights and experiences and talk more about development, especially as I see international development at a major crossroad right now. By the time I get to Ottawa, the snow may have reached the ground. Yikes! Stay tuned for an update when I return…

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The Ethiopian Airlines flight landed smoothly and on time and as we stepped out into the sweltering heat of Dire Dawa a man with a sign saying “Welcome Marian and Howard” immediately packed us into his minibus and drove us up into the much cooler mountains lush with crops and intricate stone terracing. I was pleased that “Howard” aka “Howie” decided to join me on this expedition – he is a Canadian volunteer who’s been here for about 3 months now. He has lived in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean so it was fun to share this experience with a seasoned traveler who also happens to be a “foodie” like me! He and his housemate Mingfei Sun, a young IT volunteer from China, will be inheriting a lot of my kitchen stuff later on this week when I leave Ethiopia and I have no doubt this will advance their culinary adventures…mountain road  to hararMaize, coffee, khat are the major income generators in this area

hillside terraces en rout to hararHarar is located in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, about 525 km from Addis Ababa and 43 km from the lowland and very hot city of Dire Dawa. It take less than an hour to fly and 8-10 hours by road

lake along road to hararCloser to Harar we sped past a lake that is apparently great for bird life

narrow streetBiniyam, our terrific guide, met us at the gate to the old city of Harar, know as Jagul and led us down the narrow labyrinth of streets  to Rewda Guest House to drop off our backpacks

rewda's basket wallI had seen pictures of this traditional Harari house from other volunteers, but you really have to see it to believe it!

There are about 100 of these family houses still in operation in Jagul and each one has the same configuration with platforms at different levels for various household members to sit ( we won’t dwell on the male superiority embedded in this…). The walls hold the treasured baskets of the family, made by the women, some of the largest taking months to complete. A girl needed to make a certain number of various types, including” Mother-in-Law” baskets prior to marriage. A more recent addition is the colourful enamel ware from Asia that seems to blend in perfectly.

orignal harari carpet weavingThe carpets are imports from the middle east but Biniyam flipped one up to show us an original woven carpet underneath

pot "banks"The four large black containers on the shelf are the family “bank” originally containing coins, jewelry, incense and seeds

fine basket workWe flipped a coin and I got the upper room in the main house and Howie got one in the courtyard next to the shared bathroom

Rewda’s Guest House has about 3-4 rooms for rent within the family compound. Normally she serves a delicious breakfast but because it is now Ramadan we paid a bit less and ate out in the new town. Harar is considered the spiritual heart of Ethiopia’s large Islamic community and the fourth holiest city of Islam. Almost the entire population of Jagul is Muslim, although there is one Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church and one Catholic church in the city. We were treated to late night chanting (with a bit of excessive drumming in my opinion) but it did add to the authenticity of experience!

late afternoon lightEvery one of the hundreds of narrow streets offers fascinating views – it felt like going back in time (if one blanked out the electric wires and satelite dishes!)

making tibs at hirutTime for lunch at the atmospheric Hirut Restaurant where the chef puts on a good show in the open kitchen

special tibs at Hirut restairantVoila – Special Tibs, made with goat meat served with awaze paste and a basket of bread.injera to scoop it up

wall from aboveAfter lunch we took a tuk-tuk above the old town to get a birds eye view of the wall built in the 1560’s

big mosqueBiniyam estimates about 40,000 people currently live in Jagul

meskel flower close upOn the hillside I was pleased to get close up to some meskel daisies; these are sold for the September 27th Orthodox Christian Meskel celebrations all over Ethiopia but I had never before seen them growing in the wild

gateThen we proceeded down to the Buda Gate, one of the 5 main gates of the old city

downhill from gate marketHarari women dress very colourfully so every view is a visual feast

biniyam and berebere at marketShiro and berbere among the many tasty blends available by the kilo – when I asked for a small handful of Danakil salt and a bit of tikur azmut (black cumin) to bring home, they didn’t charge me because they consider these amounts too small!

bird on grain sackFire finches enjoy free samples too!

oily beans goolow for greasing injera makerBiniyam squeezed some beans (goolow) to show us how these oily beans are used for their greasing the traditional clay injera griddles. I was able to finally understand what Dirib had tied to explain to me in Woldia when she showed me how to make injera; at the time I had been confused when  she indicated that the grease she had in an old tin was from a bean!

woil containersThis market is huge – here a whole section is dedicated to re-cycling the ubiquitous yellow oil containers

man sleeping in marketWhen you are fasting from sun up to sun down an afternoon nap can be very tempting!

women carying woodWomen carrying heavy loads of wood

women walking past green buildingI saw many more women carrying things on their heads here than anywhere else I had been in Ethiopia

woman with large plastic bag loadHow heavy is this?

wall coloursLovely colourful walls presented themselves at almost every turn

blue mosqueHarar has 90+ tiny mosques as well as several large ones and is said to have the largest concentration of such shrines in the world

turqoise top mosqueEach one unique

upper level indian influenceThe Indian influence is seen on a number of houses with interesting balconies and roof finials

rimbuad museumThe Rimbaud Museum in a building restored with funds form France to celebrate the 12 years French poet Arthur Rimbaud spent in Harar in the late 1800’s

rimbaud museum stairsRimbaud poetry on the walls!

rimbuad top floor ceilingFrescoes on the ceilings

rimbaud artSketching journals

old photoAn interesting collection of old photos

view from rimbaud houseGreat views of the old city

bird of preyIncluding for the massive kites that circle overhead!

blacksmith shopThis is the Blacksmith area closed now for Ramadan

wall buildersAn old wall being restored in traditional fashion

Harar is a UNESCO World Heritage site and awarded a Peace Prize in 2002-2003 for being a role model of different cultures and religions living in harmony

UNESCO cities for peace prize

main  gateThe main Harar gate with the UNESCO and Peace Prize plaques

stiars and mosqueAncient stone steps lead to a mosque

coffee raoterIsn’t it time for some coffee?

roasted coffee spinningDivine aroma!

coffee packingGrinding and packing the buna  by the kilo – yes there is some coming home to Vancouver with me!

nure coffeeNure Roasted Harar Coffee – famous all over Ethiopia!

mosque detailTraditional basket replica outside a mosque

hyena guyAs night falls the hyenas come out. This has been a tourist attraction of Harar since the 50’s or 60’s

howie "kissing " hyenaHowie is kissed by a hyena!

howie with hyena on his backHowie and hungry hyena with meat in his mouth

feeding hyena with stickI decide its not that scary but ask for a longer stick

me feeding hyenaThen get braver and make him do tricks

hyena on my backBut realize that hyenas are really heavy (males weight 80-85 kg and females 85-90) and I don’t want it pressing on my back so say “Get this thing off me – beka (enough) and woraj (stop)” Hey but I DID it! His name was Willie I think – all these hyenas have names!

hyena place by dayIn daylight we see the site of the hyena feeding – a shine to a Muslim saint – these often are build with sycamore trees planted on top that eventually merge with the shrine as this one has…

harar fulNext morning Biniyam picks us up to go to eat ful at his favourite spot and I down a double makeeto in anticipation of another big day of sight seeing

khat buildingsWe hop a line taxi to Aweday about 5 km away and the site of Ethiopia’s largest khat market – that’s a typical khat bundle being carried on her head. The khat is wrapped in wet leaves to keep it moist…I decide the architect of the building on the left must have been chewing!

khat market entrance womenEntering the khat market into another world!

khat bouquet on headKhat must be consumed within 48 hours and this place bustles 24-7 with trucks speeding off to Djibouti and Somaliland with top quality khat. The fresh green leaf is a mild stimulant that is legal in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen and Somalia

girl who wanted her photo takenWe climbed up the stairs for a better view of the massive scene and this girl asked me to take her photo

men in room sorting khatRoom after room is full of chat being sorted and bundled by men

biniyam and top quality khatBiniyam displays a bundle of the best, costing about 1000 Birr ($60 CDN)

scene from above khat sortingWe were told that khat is a big income generator for Ethiopia and because it grows faster than coffee and is worth more it is taking over coffee production in the region. And no, I did not try any – my metabolism is already speedy enough!

rooftopBack in Jagul we continued to tour. This is a house that future Emperor Haile Selassie is said to have lived in until age 18

selaasie home detail rooftopNow being transformed into a museum to preserve/display the history of Harar

small mosqueFor lunch we met a couple of fellow volunteers, Helen and Mark Anthony, from nearby Haromaya University for a leisurely lunch at a local ferenji spot called Fresh Touch in the new town, then meandered back to Rewda’s to relax a bit in the courtyard and watch the kids playing.  When we got there a goat had just been slaughtered at the gate so we had to wait for the blood to be hosed away before we could get in…!

future hyena tamerA future hyena tamer practices on the cat with the freshly slaughtered goat meat!

Later on we wandered back to Hirut for dinner and conversation with Biniyam – since he knows every detail of his city and the history of Ethiopia and has become very well aware of many parts of the world from his interactions with tourists from all over, he is a great conversationalist. At 25 he has a bright future ahead of him I am sure. Every aspect of our visit was a delight; he seemed to know exactly what tell us and what to show us, tailoring the walks to suit our interests and ensuring we did not miss any highlights that if we were simply wandering about on our own we would surely have missed.

flour millLike a peek inside a flour mill

making fetireOr where to find the expert who makes fetira in this giant griddle

howie and breakfast fetire and chechebsaSunday morning we set off for another cafe to sample fetira with egg and honey and spicy chechebsa, both very tasty!

donkey basket with mangoesThen took a walk through the peaceful early morning streets to the mango market – it is mango season and donkeys are the main transporters using these attractive leather saddles

mango marketMangos galore

braying donleyThis donkey had a loud opinion!

wall sceneBack inside the old city past another one of the gates near the mango market

colourful houseInside a well known Harari  family compound attached to a mosque

tomb wall creatorFinally we arrive at the tomb of the man who built the Harar wall – Ibn Nur al Mujahadeen

Domes can tell you if the person was a warrior, politician, scholar or spiritual protector. They have 99 protrusions to indicate the 99 names of Allah and also for practical reasons to maintain the structure by allowing climbing for upkeep and painting.

tomb of wall creatorI had a scarf to cover my head and took off my shoes to see inside – this tomb is surrounded by other graves

boy inside tombThis little guy came in with me!

Late morning we hustled back to collect our bags for the drive back to the Dire Dawa airport and the flight home to Addis after a great weekend in Harar.

ras mekkonen on horseStatue of Ras Mekonnen, father of Emperor Haile Selassie and the man appointed by Emperor Menelik to rule Harar after defeating Emir Abdullah at the Battle of Chelenko in 1887

Final photo of us on HararFinal photo as we head back to the airport – thanks Biniyam for an absolutely perfect Harar tour!

NOTE: Anyone wanting to contact tourist guide Biniyam can email him at feresmegala@gmail.com or call 0911 076 059

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On March 15, one week after International Women’s Day, I was amazed to receive an email from Atota Bedane announcing that a group of 5 teaching staff at Mada Walabu University had put together a gender proposal and were seeking the support of our Gender Directorate.

atota me and kedir at M oEWe would like your overall support, at least professionally, your knowledge, skills and expertise/experience on the issue. As a result, we want to recruit at least 2 experts from the Ministry Gender Directorate, including Marian Dodds, as trainers.”

Atota had participated in several gender workshops I had done over the past couple of years in his role as a Higher Diploma Leader so that’s how he knew me. A well thought out proposal was attached to his message outlining what they had already done – amazing! I replied that I would be pleased to assist and asked when would they next be in Addis to discuss the plan.

half the sky signAtota told me that he had some students pose and computer science students made this design to include on their proposal; later it was made into attractive banners

A week or two later Atota and Kedir arrived at my office to discuss their plan. Why do you two guys care so much about gender issues? I was simultaneously amazed at their initiative to draft an ambitious proposal to “Engender Higher Education Curricula to Ensure Equity and Quality of Education” and curious at such passionate concern for gender equality by two well educated young men (both have Masters degrees). One said he had attended a lot of gender workshops and had realized how important an issue it was for the country’s development. Both had seen female relatives suffer from lower expectations and opportunities. As University instructors they also wanted their female students to be successful.

Robe shopYoung women outside a shop in Robe, Oromia

The statistics speak volumes. Imagine the uphill struggle for an Ethiopian girl to make it all the way to grade 12 graduation, then be assigned a faculty and university, not necessarily her first choice of studies and likely far from home, only to be put on “warning” due to low grades and in some cases dismissed after the first semester?

Currently the MoE Gender Directorate is preparing a new Gender Education Strategy for the Education and Training Sector and the issues have become all too familiar to me after months of discussions and feedback sessions with educators working on the ground. The entire education system from policy level to the academic environment to physical infrastructures (think segregated hygienic toilets with locks and water available – only a dream in most schools here) present extra challenges for female students and staff.

abigiya and key message signMWU Gender Officer Abigiya poses in front of a banner that reads “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenges of reducing poverty, promoting sustainability and building good government”

The slogan “A country cannot develop without the full participation of all its’ citizens, both females and males” appears to have become the rallying cry and since about 96% of the academic and management staff are male, it is men who are often leading the way. The World Bank estimates that if Ethiopian women were fully integrated into the economy the GDP would rise by 1.9% per year, contributing much to poverty reduction. For universities, the key challenge is to make all campuses “Female Friendly” despite resource shortages.

madawalabu sign

Twice Atota and Kedir made the 800km round trip from Mada Walabu University to Addis to meet with me to share their ideas and gather resources as their plans evolved. I helped connect them with others in the Ministry, including my director Mekdes Eyoel who offered advice, encouragement and support to move things forward. Their flash drives were filled with gender resources from my computer. Despite Internet challenges they managed to email me drafts of their plans and I sent them feedback. Their university president was fully behind the plan and the requisite bodies approved enough of their proposed budget to allow them to complete the gender sensitization process and begin action planning for students and staff before the end of the academic year.

At the 11th hour the MoE could not supply a car and driver so they overcame bureaucratic challenges I don’t even want to imagine to arrange for a car from their university to collect me and my MoE colleague Zaid and to bring us back! Kedir even made the trip to Addis with a terrific driver named Daniel just to ensure it all went smoothly.

black smoke pollution

On June 17th I was happy to be on the road and moving away from the pollution of the congested highway out of Addis…!

breakfastBreakfast stop at Mojo – Zaid, Daniel the driver, Getema and Kedir (L-R)

camelsAlong the Rift Valley lowlands we encountered a huge group of camels, likely on their way to the market

3 onion boysEthiopian road trips invariably involve a stop or two to buy some of what’s in season – in this case onions!

After our buna break at Shashemene the landscape began to shift to narrower and more winding roads and the mountain climbing began, a suitable metaphor for the work ahead. I don’t imagine many people are invited to assist an entire university in “Engendering the curriculum” and I felt fortunate to be invited to help. Weeks earlier I had wondered if we would overcome the assorted challenges to pull this training off so, as I inhaled the fresh mountain air, I was especially pleased to be on this road trip 430 km southeast of Addis to Mada Walabu University in Robe, a town of about 70,000 in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

baboons ahead!Suddenly a baboon family appeared on the road ahead

baboonsUnexpected delights of the journey

agora betTraditional houses dotted the roadside

big nyalaWe saw nyalas off in the grassy areas

nyala close up

high road and valleyAnd climbed higher and higher into the mountains

lush crops patchworkAbundant fields of wheat, barley and maize – delightfully lush patchworks of colour

gari donkey and mosqueMany more mosques in this part of the country

man standing up on gari

Standing up on garis seems to be common practice here – must have pretty good balance!

looks like rain aheadLooks like rain up ahead as we get closer to out destination

park sign

Warmly welcomed by Atota and Kedir, Zaid and I settled into a great hotel they had arranged for us in the nearby town of Goba and the team met over dinner to finalize the plans for the next day’s session, planned for about 10% of the 400 instructors at the university. Mada Walabu is newer university with about 5000 students. It is 6 years old and most of the construction is complete – they are fortunate to have a large ELIC/HDP building with offices, open space and a classroom.

2 signs outside the meeting hallNext morning we arrived to see the key message of the events announced on a giant banner!

the team with bctf buttonsThe planning team: Kadir, Tesfaye, Kefale, Abigiya and Atota (L-R)

This dedicated team has a plan to educate and activate the university community (600+ students,150 instructors,450 administrative support staff and 50 top managers)  to effect changes that will advance gender equality and make MWU a model for others to follow…

Atota opening speechAtota opened the training day for the instructors with an outline of the project stating that the gender issue is a burning issue that is on the global, national and institutional agenda. He said that gender equality is a key to poverty reduction, sustainable development and good governance in any society. Next he introduced the university president who is very supportive of this work

Dr Ketma Meskela MWU President

University President Dr Ketema Meskela spoke clearly and directly about the importance of gender equality to the university community and noted the key role played by instructors in moving things forward. I later learned over dinner that Dr Ketema spent four years in China doing his doctorate and can speak Mandarin!

tesfaye

Tesfaye presented data on attrition rates of female students to provide concrete examples of the current situation

Then we got down to a series of mini-sessions aimed at highlighting both the issues and actions that are needed to address gender equality at their university with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction. Three enthusiastic young Peace Corps volunteers working in the region were also invited to participate and may be able to offer additional support, especially for the female students as the project moves forward.

yes or no?A yes/no survey warmed things up. Do you prefer a son to a daughter?

women instructors yes-noDo you think it is possible to achieve equality? Of the 400+ teaching staff, only 17 are female

Abigiya with proud to be teacher buttonTeam member Abigiya is one of them! She has a Masters degree in Biology

equal oppotunity but not equal access on the real issues on the ground

Equal opportunity but not equal access on the real issues on the ground – lesson learned about the difference between equity and equality from group discussions using the story of the fox and the crane

Zaid, Tesfaye and Kedir at lunch cafeLunch break in Roba town at their favourite cafe – serving raw meat and shekla tibs (beef cooked over charcoal)

instructors develop action plansGroup work on language use – a discussion on proverbs was especially popular

action plan

The afternoon ended with action plans being drafted and evaluations completed. The day was rated highly and many needs for further training were identified by the participants

While I summarized the evaluation forms and we further refined the plan for next day’s managerial staff training, my colleague Zaid took time to discuss the work of the MWU Gender Office

Abigiya and Zaid in gender officeAbigiya and Zaid discuss her work in the gender office – the MoE Gender Directorate offers support and encouragement for such initiatives to increase the success of female students. Abigiya explained the sign designed  to celebrate high achieving students

top students displayThis sign, initiated  by the Gender Office, is displayed on a library building to celebrate the highest achievers at the university; there are a number of female students in this category to be role models for others who follow!

The gender office has a plan to add a photo banner each year of the highest achieving students to be seen as an inspiration to all the students on campus.

On Thursday we conducted the training for the managerial staff

panel presenters

The morning training for managerial staff began with a panel presentation by the team explaining the results of the student training the previous week and a sobering analysis of the data on females students at Mada Walabu University. Higher attrition rates for female students, the issue of Gender Based Violence (GBV) identified by students on campus and the lack of gender responsive pedagogy set the backdrop for the managers to begin a deeper analysis of the issues and identify opportunities for actions to improve the situation within their respective portfolios.

managers listeningManagerial staff listen closely

My PowerpointI presented a “gapped lecture” titled “Gender policy background, gender issues and gender mainstreaming at higher learning institutions in Ethiopia” with time for mini-discussions after each topic

managers discussingDiscussing information presented as it applies to their area of responsibility be it finance, clinic, support staff, public relations, etc.

managers at work on actionsDrafting some initial action plans to mainstream gender into their work. The feedback was positive and hopeful with a request for further training at the end

team in front of signA final team picture!

By the end of June this part of the project will conclude with a training for administrative support staff on the issues and the roles that secretaries, guards, cafeteria workers and others can play in creating a safe and secure environment for all. No doubt the team will be submitting a proposal to further the initiative in the next academic year.

A surprise on our last afternoon was a trip up the Bale Mountain National Park to the Sanetti Plateau where Kafale, Abigiya, Zaid and I enjoyed the fresh air and awesome views at around 4000 meters.

hareCan you spot the hare?

Described in the Bradt Guide as “The world’s largest expanse of Afro-alpine moorland…renowned for supporting the most substantial extant population of the Ethiopian wolf … other mammals are the Abyssinian hare, the endemic giant molerat, and a number of other endemic small burrowing rodents.” I got a fleeting glimpse of a wolf, managed a snapshot of a hare and side stepped many rat holes while wandering around exploring the plateau.

KefalePsychology instructor Kefale was thrilled to have his first visit to this plateau and I delighted in his exuberance as we hiked past giant lobelia trees

me hugging lobelia in wind:coldAs a true Canadian, I couldn’t resist the urge to hug a tree! It was very breezy and bracingly cold.

dead lobelia trunkDead lobelia trees make lovely sculptures

lake at senattiI was surprised by how many small lakes there were…

Kefale at senattiA painters dream landscape…

ground cover plantsThe ground cover presented fascinating miniature worlds and the air was filled with birdsong

blue flowers close up Lovely wildflowers lichen on rock close upLichen covered rocks

red foxLook hard and you’ll see a couple of the endangered Ethiopian red foxes – this was a rare sighting, thanks to the park guard in the back of the truck who spotted them as we headed back down the mountain

red fox painting in President's officeThis is what they looked like in the President’s office!

I wish I could have hiked there for a few days. Other parts of the park can be enjoyed on horseback and rough camping is available with several simple mountain shelters with guards. Tourism in this area is in its infancy with huge potential for growth. The university offers Eco-Tourism and Tourism Management degrees. I met the Director and hope to connect him with counterparts back in BC who might be interested in sharing ideas.

The road home on Friday was another delight with an abundance of warthogs, some baboons, plenty of nyalas and even the surprise of a very large spotted hyena loping along the roadside in broad daylight as we traveled through the Rift Valley lowlands.

warthogWhy did the warthog charge across the road?

2 warthogsMaybe to meet up with his friend?

agora bet and cavesWe passed this dramatic rock formation full of caves at Sebesebe. The region also has the Sof Omar Caves to explore, reputedly the largest network of limestone caverns in Africa

mraket carts on way homeIt was market day in some small towns along the route and as the journey progressed we passed many donkey carts loaded with people heading home

horse riderThere are a lot more horses and riders in this region than I have seen elsewhere in Ethiopia, including women riders

deribe driver at lunch in shashemene

We took a lunch break in Shashemene and great driver Deribe had some tasty skekla ground beef with injera

MWU logoMada Walabu University – an inspiring place to visit!

I have to say this was one of the best weeks of my time here as a gender adviser; I felt I was doing what I had dreamed I would be able to do when I signed on and, as I promised the group at MWU, if they email me when I get back home to Canada in a few weeks, I will do my best to continue to offer technical/academic support based on what they identify as their training and research needs.

Though their climb is steep I believe they are fit for the challenge and I wish them all the best. I deeply appreciate the hospitality and enthusiasm they shared; this will be a lasting great memory of my Ethiopian volunteer experience!

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I remember when I first saw his work in a gallery on Bole Road in Addis about 2 years ago. His unique montage technique using photographs and acrylic paints on canvas intrigued me and I took his card. Later  I saw his work at the Artisan’s Bazaar and it stuck in my memory. Preparing to go home to Vancouver I decided to buy one of his paintings with me as a reminder of my time in Addis.

Abiy Eshete Gizaw artistAbiy Eshete – Artist

Then I got another idea – why not ask him to use my photos to create two paintings for me, one for my year in the northeastern highlands in Woldia and another showing Addis Ababa where I have spent the last two years?

Happily artist Abiy Eshete agreed to this collaboration and we agreed to meet the next week. I chose several hundred photos from my collection for him to consider. After my initial selection, I said the rest was up to him – I trusted him as the artist to decide which to use. A month later, when he brought me the finished products, I was ecstatic!

studio shot

The son of a dentist, Abiy Eshete was born in 1985 in Ziway in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia.  He attended primary and secondary school in Ziway and then joined  Addis Ababa University School of Fine Arts and Design in the Department of Industrial Design, earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in August 2007. He has worked as a full time studio artist since 2008 and has exhibited his work in both group and solo exhibitions in various Ethiopian art galleries. Today at 27 years of age, Abiy supports his widowed mother and 3 younger sisters, who still live is Ziway, with his art.

Program notes for a recent group show “Perception” March 23-April6, 2013 at Mama’s Kitchen in Addis state:“Abiy Eshete is an Ethiopian painter, based in Addis Ababa. His unique artwork portrays cityscapes through a creative montage of photographic cutouts merged with acrylic paint on canvas. Each of his “paintings” is a juxtaposition of assorted snapshot elements from diverse parts of the city, presented as a meaningful recreation of unified neighbourhoods, events and activities.”

small painting

Last Saturday I returned to Abiy’s studio, a small space atop a condominium building near the Gurje area of Addis, to ask him a few questions.

two women paintingAbiy also works in acrylics and had several large paintings on display

abiy and paintings

What influenced you to become and artist?

At age 7 I was selected to take part in a Ministry of Culture special art class 2 days a week and given art supplies and tutoring along with about 15-20 other children.

Abiys viewView out his studio window

Which artists have inspired you?

Julie Mereto, Afewerk Tekle. I also like African masks and the work of Picasso and Monet

large painting

A large work about one square metre, recently completed

How did you develop your technique?

A few years ago I took a course in photography and became interested in the old buildings in the urban landscape of Addis. I had learned collage technique using magazines, etc. and then my own idea was to use photos. Through my experience I have used different media and content such as a creative montage of photographic cut outs merged with acrylic paint on canvas.

 market “I am fascinated by the city unity in diversity, surrounding daily lives of people. the loves and sorrows, challenges and celebrations, dreariness and vibrancy”

Why do you want to make this art?

It is my vision, documenting day-to-day life and old houses. I want to contribute to documenting Addis urban life as it changes. I am fascinated by the city’s unity in diversity; and draw inspiration from the surroundings and daily lives of ordinary people. The loves and sorrows, challenges and celebrations. dreariness and vibrancy, etc. I believe I am documenting the urban transformation as I see it happening around me every day.

abiy with fresh canvas

How do you do it?

I start with my vision, think about the front, back and side views from many angles and perspectives. Photos are glued on the canvas and then acrylic paint is used around and on the photos.

smal but detailed

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

To study and learn, develop my art. In the future I want to be a famous painter.

Abiy delivers painitngsThese two paintings created by Abiy using some of my photographs will hang on my wall back home in Vancouver, becoming my “Visual Tizetas”, evoking memories of my three years in Ethiopia. They will just fit into my suitcase!

Ethiopian Tizeta music is said to evoke memory, nostalgia or longing and has been compared to the blues in the western tradition. Listen to some “Ethiopian nostalgia music” to get the feel…

woldiaMy Woldia painting: Gonderbar Road, Adago, Merchare Hotel, giant Poinsettia tree, donkeys, women with injera baskets, jerry cans of water, St George sign, tin roofs, crops after harvest, sun breaking through cloud over mountains after torrential rainstorm…

detail from Wolida paintingDetail from the Woldia painting

addisMy Addis painting: crowding onto line taxis, anbessa bus, shoe shine guys, Arat Kilo, sheep, scaffolding and construction, shops, shanties and skyscrapers, Ministry of Education building, old piazza house, people everywhere…

what he sees when he goes out his doorAddis transforming – this is what Abiy sees as he leaves his studio

 Abiy currently sells his work through the Makush Gallery at the Hilton Hotel and can also be reached at eshete02@yahoo.com

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The bus touts swarmed us at the Woldia manaharia (bus station) but we were experienced enough to play it cool. Whenever foreigners appears in Woldia they are accosted by shouts of “Lalibela, Lalibela”. This is the main reason anyone passes through Woldia – to visit the 11 rock-hewn churches of this famous UNESCO world heritage site and likely accounts for a large percentage of Ethiopia’s tourism income. But that was not our motivation to visit this time.

My travel strategy involved seeking out a bright looking English speaking young man who appeared to be trying to get on the same bus

“Hello, are you going to Lalibela?” I ask

“Yes I am”, he replied in good English

“Great, so are we, can you help us out?”

“Of course”,  he volunteered.

True to his word, he made sure we got seats and then helped us negotiate the second bus once we arrived in the chaos of small town Gashena. Turns out he is working for a German NGO that is involved in saving the endangered endemic Ethiopian wolf.

stradling 2 vansWe squeezed onto a mini-bus going to Gashena  on the ashphalt road (aka the “China Road”) and hoped for the best…after all, these roads were more straightforward with fewer hairpin curves up the mountainsides

The last time Shelagh and I had done this trip we had taken a bus that diverted to a “short cut” gravel road where we had to ford a “small river” washout with 50 others on a 24 passenger bus. This time this one proved a better option…the road was good and the ride not bad, only a couple of stops to ditch extra passengers prior to the traffic police check and then collect them again a few kilometers ahead – they appeared to have sprinted through the fields to catch up. Well, Ethiopia is famous for its’ runners after all!

next bus to lalibelaThe second mini-bus from Gashena to Lalibela, fated to be stopped twice by the traffic police and once for onions!

buna breakTaking a buna break in Gashena while the mini-bus gets a tune up, Steve and Shelagh are anticipating meeting their Plan foster girl the next day in a small village near Lalibela

My motivation was to cut down travel time back to Addis by taking this route and flying back the next day. At the same time I would get to see our Scottish friend Susan who now has a flourishing restaurant, Ben Abeba, on top of a mountain in  Lalibela. Shelagh and I had seen it half built two years earlier and I had been back in January 2012. Since then I had sent countless other volunteers there to be nourished by Susan’s good home cooking and always got happy reports of her superb hospitality. I wanted to spend one more evening on the top of the world with good friends!

minibus from woldiaLooks like there’s room for a few more in here…

lowland townTypical scenes along the way

two goatsSometimes it is just easier to sling a defiant goat over your shoulder!

dirt road to lalibelaYes the woman (and the donkey) usually carries the bigger burden here…

boys looking at us in busWhenever a bus stops children instantly appeared to stare in at us and beg for pens, money and candies. I tried to get a good photo of girls but every time I made an attempt boys would jump in front of them with a grin. Yes indeed there is much gender work left to do here…

Heartbreaking as it is, when confronted by these kids, to hand out trinkets would result in literally dozens more appearing out of nowhere and demanding more. In Ethiopia there is never enough and, especially where tourists abound, the children have learned that begging often yields results. As development workers with concerns about long term solutions to poverty the challenge always is to balance compassion with pragmatism. I find that smiles and jokes, asking them some questions (what grade are you in?), some attempts at broken Amharic and showing them their photos on the camera screen works for me…

In the Bradt Guide author Phillip Briggs makes a good point  in his piece on responsible tourism: ” The thread that runs through my opinions is that you should never give things to people who ask just because you are a foreigner. The give-me, give-me, give-me attitude is prevalent enough already in Ethiopia;responding to it will only reinforce it.”

In Lalibela town itself the kids are trained to say “Welcome to Lalibea” and not to beg overtly. A favourite scam though is the one that goes like this: “I really want to learn English – would you please buy me a dictionary?”  The naive tourist is taken to a shop, pleased to support some poor kid’s education. The same dictionary has been sold hundreds of times, the shopkeepers are laughing all the way to the bank and the kid pockets few Birr as well! He could have been in school instead.

boys with ballShowing off their hand made ball

loading onionsRed onions skins drifted past my open window and scented our luggage as five sacks of onions added a weight to the roof that I though might cause it to cave in!

Our bus had several long unscheduled stops on the gravel road from Gashena to Lalibela. While it is only 60 km we spent time loading 5 sacks of red onions at one point and a hour long pause while the traffic police issued the driver with what looked like several tickets and smacked him in the face while half the passengers stood around and weighed in on the situation. Someone took an air filter hostage so the bus could not take off. In situations like this, the only smart move is to stay put and quiet and allow things to resolve. Eventually a fine was paid, the filter returned and we were on the road again.

looking downFinally at about 4 PM we chugged up to the top of the mountain in Lalibela. 175 km, two mini-buses and 7 hours travel time. Oh well – it took Thomas Pakenham 4 days on a mule from Dessie to Lalibela so things have certainly developed since 1955!

me and susanAfter a deliciously decadent hot shower at the Top 12 Hotel set on the nearby cliff, we finally met Susan for our reunion at Ben Abeba –  Salut!

During her 6 years living in Lalibela Susan has opened a school and a restaurant and shows no sign of stopping with plans for accommodation in the works – not your usual retirement! Ben Abeba employs 32 cheerful young people who are being taught hospitality industry skills in cooking, serving, finance, management and customer service. I have no doubt this initiative will ripple out for years to come and improve the lives of many more Lalibela citizens.

kitchenThis is likely the most beautiful kitchen in the country! The girl in the foreground in scrubbing out giant pan for the film set…

Ben Abeba gets great reviews on Trip Advisor and has made it into the new 2012 version of the excellent Bradt Guide to Ethiopia – only problem is they raved about her Shepherd’s Pie so now they are obliged to make it every day; one night they served 20 portions! Steve and I enjoyed it too while Shelagh opted for the meatballs and pasta.

movie set and habtamAnd here’s a surprise – we are on a film set!

Susan’s Ethiopian business partner Habtam shows off the film set – turns out an Irish-American co-production is being partially filmed at Ben Abeba and the new flowers and plants will remain as a garden legacy. Titled “Wild”, this Lalibela love story is expected to be in theatres in about a year.

ben abebaMore railings and a glassed in area have been added since I last visited

wifi at ben abebaAnd yet another surprise – Susan has Wifi!

down pool ben abebaGardens and future sites for some small tukuls to rent out

dining on top at sunsetBen Abeba at sunset – a destination well worth the effort!

sunset with railingAfter a long and lovely evening reminiscing and catching up, we said our farewells and headed off to the Top 12 Hotel where I sunk into a decadent mattress with springs – foreshadowing what’s to come when I get home in two months after three years of VSO foam!

lalibela quiltTucked under a heavenly Lalibela angels quilt for a great night’s sleep…

Next morning Shelagh and Steve were collected by Plan officials to meet their foster girl and I chatted with two couples staying at our hotel en route to the airport who had enjoyed hiking in the mountains. The Swiss couple plan to visit Vancouver in the fall so I invited them to look me up there! He has been working with Medicins sans Frontiers in the Somali region for a while with interesting stories to tell. You never know…

fields from planeFlying home over freshly planted fields

ploughing with oxenAll these fields are still being ploughed by oxen – I was reminded of this as we walked past the Woldia Primary School on the way to the college

airiel viewBright green teff fields and small rural villages

simien mountians entrancePassing by the Simien Mountains our Ethiopian Airlines flight touched down briefly in Gondor and then smoothly took us to Addis Abeba

view from planeDeep gorges. No doubt about it – Ethiopia has stunning landscapes and rich potential

diggy welcomeHome sweet home to the usual welcoming gang and then back to work the next morning after my 5 day adventure packed journey with good friends and two destinations that touched my heart.

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