Smile

Every time I think of Ethiopia it brings a huge smile across my face. Reflecting back, it is one of my favorite memories.

It’s been exactly a week since we’ve arrived back in Sactown and I’m dying to go right back. Even when boarding the plane in Ethiopia I was trying to think of possible solutions to extend our visit. The trip was incredible and I would do it again, and again. Going on this trip has peaked my interest in other programs that travel abroad. I’m planning on traveling again next summer and doing community service through another program. I haven’t decided what country, let alone what continent I want to travel to next. Maybe I’ll return to Africa or try South America or Asia.

The transition has been harder than I expected, especially waking up and realizing that you no longer have a roommate. Not only will I desperately miss the country and people in Ethiopia, but also the 10 friends that I embarked the journey on with. It’s hard trying to share your experience with family and friends and not to do the image or experience your describing justice. It’s another thing when something reminds you of the trip and you turn to your side to laugh or talk about it with one of the 10 people you shared your trip with aren’t there sitting next to you. Thankfully, water polo and soccer have both started this week and have kept me busy because I would have been in my room sulking that I wasn’t in Ethiopia anymore.

I have already started saving for my return trip to Ethiopia, which will hopefully be very soon.

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The Last Hurrah

Wow. I can’t believe that I am going home in 2 days. I wish we we’re staying for another month because I’m not even close to ready to leave yet. Words can’t express how much I am going to miss the people and the country when I arrive home.

We arrived in Addis Ababa earlier today and for the next 48 hours we are saying our goodbyes and wrapping the whole trip up.

Lalibela, the city we stayed in for the past 4 nights, was our last hurrah, and it was a great way to end our journey. We visited the 11 churches that Lalibela is famously known for, which were stunning. I still can’t wrap my mind around at how all of the churches were carved out of solid rock and constructed within 23 years. Also we got to play football with the locals, which was a highlight. Even though we are not the most coordinated team and were insanely outnumbered, it was a fun and exciting match. There was always a lot of laughing and smiling throughout the game. We also got to watch official teams play, which was a special treat. Huge crowds gathered to watch the game, which added to the intensity. One game resulted in PKs and everyone crowded onto the field and surrounded the box, watching the players trying to make the goal. The crowd’s reaction to the players making or missing the shots was exhilarating.

While everyone was watching another football game Sofia and I went over the basketball court and decided to watch. I finally jumped in the 3 vs. 3 basketball game (thankfully it was only half court because I was exhausted from running in the football game). I made the first basket I shot, which was a confidence booster since I don’t have any experience playing basketball. It was a friendly fun game and my skill set was pretty even with the other people we were playing (they weren’t very good).

Our last full day in Lalibela before we traveled back to Addis Ababa, we took a mule ride to a monastery on a mountain. It was more than 12,000 ft above sea level when we arrived at the monastery. It was quite an adventure to get there. After about two minutes riding on my mule, it had to climb up this small hill to begin the trail. Except my mule decided halfway through the hill to just stop and not move. I was about to fall off because it was a steep, muddy section. I was in the lead, so it just added to the intensity of the situation. About 6 men who owned the mules surrounded me and helped me off. Thankfully I got a new mule and besides the rocky start, the ride was wonderful. It was misty and foggy throughout the ride on our way up–you could see about 10 feet in front of you and that was about it. It was a good thing in my perspective because it added to the effect, but also so you couldn’t see how far you were from the ground. At times the ride would be a little terrifying because the mule would walk so close to the edge of the cliff and because certain parts of the mountain would be insanely steep that I thought me and the mule would just go down and fall. But, we all made it and I would have done it again because of the thrill and adventure. When we finally got up the mountain we only stayed at the monastery for 15 minutes. It took us at least 2 hours to get up the mountain. Predko kept emphasizing throughout the trip that it isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. That statement without a doubt applies to the experience we had on the mules on our way to the monastery.

Booming Bahir Dar

We are currently in Bahir Dar and it’s my favorite city so far out of the whole trip. Unlike Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar has the perfect mix of city-life and rural. The city is green and luscious with cars bustling around, but not as nearly as chaotic and crowded as Addis Ababa. Yesterday was one of the best days so far. It included poking around and bargaining at the market and exploring the streets of Bahir Dar in the evening.

The market was overwhelming and a little stressful, but exciting. The market had such a variety of goods it was incredible—knives, honey, barbershops, shoes, fruits—anything you could possibly imagine they had at the market. We spent a good three hours wandering around and trying to haggle for the best possible price from the shop owners. While walking around we got a lot of stares, we almost caused a traffic jam because so many people stopped what they were doing and just stared at us in the middle of the street. I couldn’t get used to the smell of the market either, a mixture of garbage and rotten fruit wasn’t too appealing. But the variety of goods definitely made up for it.  I thought I would get used to the staring after a while, but I haven’t at all. When a couple of us decided to buy honey it got pretty heated with the shopkeeper. We were persistent and kept haggling for lower prices. Two things I learned that are the key to bargaining is that you must be 1. Confident 2. Persistent.  It was fun because we went from stand to stand, each trying the local honey, trying to find the most delicious one. While we were bargaining for the best price bees swarmed us from all around. It was anew exciting experience, and it was really cool knowing exactly where the honey was made. According to our tour guide Kelly, Ethiopian honey is the best in the world, and after dipping my finger into multiple jars I would have to agree. Walking around Bahir Dar was amazing. For dinner, we got street food, which was delicious. It included a lot of fried food: sambusas, French fries, fried fish, etc. The sambusas were delicious and filling. They only cost 10 cents, which made it even better. The streets we’re full of young people all walking around enjoying the fresh air. Street vendors covered the sidewalks with shoes, clothes, watches, and grilled corn. We passed multiple juice bars while we were walking, and decided to stop in one. We took up the whole outside of the café, and enjoyed the most delicious fruit drinks. I drank a layered fruit drink with mango, avocado, and then guava at the bottom of the glass. It was the best fruit juice I have ever had and the avocado was the perfect touch with making the juice creamy.

We’re all planning on going clubbing tonight, so I’m really excited to practice the Ethiopian shoulder dance.

Acheber the Amazing

The past four days in Acheber are almost indescribable because they have been so amazing. I am sitting here wondering where to start and how I can do the city justice of all its beauty– the landscape and the people. The small communities within the city of Acheber are breathtakingly beautiful. I have never seen a more beautiful and peaceful place in my life. Although the hike to our guest house was far and very difficult, it was all worth it once we arrived. We stayed in the Pastor’s guest house within his compound, which had a perfect view of the bright green mountains and fertile land with plants barely coming up. The homes were constructed of a combination of wood and mud, and occasionally painted. We had a traditional bathroom and no running water, so by the end of the trip we were all in a great need for a shower and toilet with a seat. I will say between the long uphill hikes and the traditional bathroom we all got thighs of steel. The roofs of the houses were either thatched with straw or had tin roofs. The guest house was covered with tin, which was fun because it made the sound of rain much more dramatic and calming as you slept. The sky at night was amazing. All the girls stayed in the main room of the guest house, which was fun because it was one giant sleepover.  I felt like I could see every star in the entire galaxy because it was so clear.

During the day we got up early, ate a delicious breakfast and headed out to the local school to tutor the kids. Tutoring was rewarding, but overwhelming, especially by the third day.  So many kids showed up (around 200), all eager to learn. It was hard trying to pay attention to each kid and making sure they all get equal attention. Also, so many of them were on different levels of understanding English numbers and the alphabet. Some already had both memorized, which they loved to show off, while others had a harder time grasping the concept.  Either way I was impressed how many children showed up to school, while on their break to learn. Girls around the age of 5 would walk to the school with their infant sibling wrapped around their back. It made me wonder how many kids in Sacramento would show up during their summer break to learn more, and I thought the number would be very minimal, if any. Playing with all the kids in the school yard was exhausting, but really fun too. The children showed us their version of duck-duck-goose, which involved throwing a towel. It was fun dancing and singing along with the kids and laughing at yourself when you messed up the pronunciation of the lyrics in Amharic. It was a wonderful experience and I would definitely go back–no hesitation.

After the tutoring in the morning, we hiked back to the house and ate lunch. Then hiked to another location in Acheber where they were building a preschool. We purchased supplies for the preschool while in Addis Ababa, and brought it to Acheber. Among the supplies we bought was plywood, which we carried to the preschool. That 1.5 mile felt endless when carrying the wood, especially since we had to trek along the muddiest path in the whole world. I am surprised no one fell flat on their face because it was so slippery–don’t get me wrong there was a lot of falling and slipping. Once we arrived at the preschool we immediately got to work, which was exhausting. It consisted of lifting a lot of heavy rocks to make the floor level when they pour the cement in. But after, we were rewarded with a plateful of steamed potatoes from the local community, which were delicious.

Last night we all received Amharic names from our tour guides. I received the name Taytu, who was an Empress married to Emperor Menelik II.  She was very strong and powerful. I believe the name fits well.

Football

Unfortunately, everyone is crammed in this internet café because it is pouring rain right outside. Our original plan was to play football in this market square and hopefully pick up some moves from the local kids. Luckily, we do have lots of chances to play pick-up games of football, while we’re here, especially since it’s only been 5 days.

Football has been already a huge part of our trip so far. It’s everywhere you go, whether people are wearing jerseys, kicking wrapped up grocery bags, or playing with an official football. Yesterday, Cat and Jessica got to pass with a younger boy, when the rest of us were buying fruit. You could tell simply through his enormous smile of how happy he was to make a new friend and pass with the two of them.  It’s amazing how much a sport, music, or activity of some sort can bring people together, no matter what the language or cultural barrier there is. Football greatly has that effect here.

The majority of the group bargained and purchased knock-off Ethiopian soccer jerseys (including myself), which was a challenge, but amusing as well. Some of us had more luck than others with the bargaining. Skylar got her jersey for only $5, but others still need more practice since they got it for $10 or $15 (like myself, but I am getting better). The whole group, including our tour guide and new Ethiopian friends, are psyched about the semi-finals, constellation game, and final in the world cup (we’re all rooting for Argentina by the way). As you all know the consolation game between Brazil and the Netherlands was played yesterday. So, the whole group planned to stay up late and watch the game but since it didn’t start until 11 pm in Addis Ababa everyone was so exhausted that it ended up being just me and Raina in the hotel lobby. We were both cheering on Brazil, and desperately wanted them to win especially after getting slaughtered by Germany, but I guess our support wasn’t good enough and Brazil was defeated 3-0 by the Netherlands. Tonight, the whole group plans to watch the final match between Argentina and Germany (we’re all rooting for Argentina), but we will see how many people will actually show up and not collapse on their beds.

Overwhelmed with Emotion

It’s so hard to describe the experiences and things I have seen in the past few days. I am overwhelmed with all of my emotions. I feel like I have been in Ethiopia for a year with everything I have seen. I can already tell my perspective has changed exponentially since I have been here. Staying in one of the nicest hotels in Ethiopia with a warm shower and a functioning toilet and simple, but comfortable bed and then driving around on the bus where people are crowding around the bus sticking their hands in the windows asking for anything is a real eye opener. Even though I was aware of the poverty throughout the country, it’s a whole lot different experiencing it first hand, especially shaking your head no. A surge of emotions went through me whenever I saw the children walk up to the bus, or automatically stick out their hands before they waved. I feel sad and angry, but especially guilty. My anger comes from the situation and lack of programs offered to support or help lead kids into the right direction.

Of course, there are many, many amazing and wonderful things about the country that I have experienced as well. To start off with it’s absolutely beautiful with the bright, green grass and dark, rich soil. The people here are the nicest, most welcoming and friendliest people I have ever met.  Driving around is one of my favorite parts because of the hectic and insane roads. There are pretty much no rules on the road and a lot of honking, but surprisingly few car accidents (I don’t know how that is possible, but it is). Also, going to the Merkado market was a real adventure. Unfortunately, we didn’t get out of the bus because the market is known for pit pocketing, but it was crazy looking out the window. The street was jammed packed with cars, while thousands of people walked besides the vehicles. It was loud and bustling, with exhaust stinking up the street. Each side of the street was crammed with shacks. Everything that you could possibly want or imagine was in that market from pots to roasted corn to construction materials, it was remarkable and overwhelming.

The highlight for me today was going to the African Union. We were lucky enough to get a tour, attend a press conference, and hear a communications speaker, which was a treat. Hearing about what the African Union does (which is very similar to the UN) and talking to employees and what they do fascinated and inspired me.  Sitting in the grand, beautiful (recently built by the Chinese) assembly hall, where the AU holds there biannual meetings was incredible. While I was sitting in the grand chair overlooking the thousands of seats I could really see myself there someday–trying to resolve problems and work with other African countries. Going to the AU today really showed me my interests and what I want to do as a career, which is something involving international relations. I absolutely loved it there; everything I heard and we discussed with the speakers fascinated me to no end.

Excitement and Anticipation

We have been talking about the trip for such a long time, but it always felt like it was so far away. But now, we are getting into crunch time—finding out more details about what we’re doing and where we’re going. This week has made me full of excitement and I can’t wait to leave for the trip. But, the stress and nerves about leaving the continent in 10 days has definitely started to kick in as well. I am not even close to being prepared for the trip. I haven’t found a suitcase to take my stuff, let alone started packing or getting all the clothes and supplies I need.

The major and most important thing this week has prepped me for is getting to know everyone on the trip. Day by day we have all gotten closer to each other and more comfortable around each other. We all needed to do this week just for that reason—to really get to know each other and bond before we depart on the trip. Another important skill I learned during this week is the importance of resolving conflict and how to do it properly. Whether it’s a conflict between group members, cultures, or beliefs we need to know how to address the conflict and resolve it. Compromise and communication are two key terms that we have highlighted throughout this week as being positive tools to deal with and resolve conflicts.