Ever traveled to a place that was just good for your soul? A place that catches you completely off guard in its ability to capture your heart. That when you leave you know it won’t be a place soon forgotten and that there are experiences that will last a lifetime. I don’t mean a thrill a minute kind of experience but more of a quiet unassuming experience that leaves you knowing more about yourself than when you started. Ethiopia had that effect on me from the moment I stepped on its soil.
I was invited to join a girlfriend on her trip to meet her adoptive 10 year old daughter for the first time. That in itself could have been reason enough to return home with fond memories of the place… and I won’t lie, I’m sure that is part of it. But that’s not the whole story…
Perhaps part of the explanation is that it caught me completely off guard. Prior to leaving the US there was a heightened level of security warnings for travelers to Africa due to the rallies going on in Egypt. And I won’t even mention how many times people asked me if I was sure it was a place I wanted to go to. I should say right now for the record, not once in my entire trip there did I ever feel my safety was at risk. And in speaking to a UN official and other Ethiopians as we traveled about the city of Addis Ababa, they all had the same comment – that the only real crime there is pick-pocketing.
I won’t spend a lot of time describing the tourist attractions as you can find plenty of details about Addis and Ethiopia in general in various travel blogs and books. I will say that if you expect to step off the plane and see nothing but dirt you would be mistaken. But what I want to focus on instead is some of the moments that humbled me and a few that made me laugh.
From my perspective Ethiopia appears to have 2 extremes, a wealthy class and extreme poverty, and not much in between. I mention this because we did see quite a few mothers and children on the street asking for money. There are not enough jobs in the city for the 2 million+ people living there. I could hear others on the street commenting on the mothers begging. In the mother’s defense, I do not see it as a lack of wanting a job or being capable but the mere fact that there aren’t enough jobs and nowhere else to go. And given their circumstances, all I could think was if it was a matter of survival and my children… I would do the exact same thing.
I saw a woman climb into the local dumpster and start bagging all the contents in it for the garbage company to later haul, another woman walking miles down a mountain hunched over carrying a large bundle that resembles straw that is used for heating and cooking, and finally women sitting on street corners selling various herbs and vegetables on mats in the heat of the day. I found it humbling to watch these women knowing what my typical workday entails.
One day, I spoke to an elderly but lively nun who I instantly was drawn to. She told me how in Ethiopia AIDs is still on the rise even though the government has recently begun providing HIV medication for free. That unfortunately many people still believe that holy water can cure their illnesses so some of them therefore do not take the medication. And unfortunately today there are more and more children being born with HIV. The good news is that in the right scenario, with modern medicine these children can go on to live full productive lives, get married and have non-HIV children (by using combination therapy ARV’s during pregnancy). She then mentioned that most countries will not adopt an HIV child, but that America does… and our families do it often. I met one of those adoptive couples and their young daughter, who has more energy than you could harness and a laugh that could melt the coldest of hearts. Once again I was humbled… and grateful to live in a country that doesn’t give up on the sick but prefers to fight illness head on.
And then there are the pieces of Ethiopia that just make me smile.
- There are no street lights so when asking the driver well how do you know when to go through an intersection? He says “you just go, whoever is the better negotiator will win”.
- While you’re on the road you will see cars and vans packed to the brim with people hanging out windows and right next to them a herd of cattle or goats marching down the same street.
- The traditional music will reverberates through you and their traditional dances will have you staring so hard you’ll forget to blink. I swear one woman was able to swivel her head so fast it looked almost dislocated from her body.
- Their 5 AM calls to worship that can be heard across the city on some sort of loud speaker system will have you asking… “why? Why does it have to be every day at 5AM??”
- And finally as I mentioned earlier if you get off the plane expecting to just see dirt you will be mistaken – there are buildings, paved roads, vehicles, and trees. And every now and then you will stumble upon these beautiful gardens and lush foliage that will catch you completely by surprise.
As I mentioned earlier Ethiopia caught me off-guard, it reminded me just how lucky I am and of the strength and resilience of others. It’s mixture of tall buildings, tin shacks, dirt roads and exotic gardens left me thinking that I had just barely scratched the surface on the country or it’s people… And left me loving it and all of it’s counter-balances… and more specifically routing for it’s people.