Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ethiopia Journal

While I was in Ethiopia, I took many notes of everything I got to do while in Africa. Unfortunately, the list was far too long for me to try to transcribe. But luckily for me, my friend Christen was nice enough to transcribe my notes for me, and even put them in my voice! You can find my journal below after the jump(I've always wanted to say that!).

But even if you don't take the time to read my adventures from Ethiopia, make sure to keep track of Christen's ongoings at her blog:


Loyal fans and devoted admirers,

I've arrived safe and sound back in the United States, and, having finally shaken off this horrific jet lag (which, by the way, is even worse when you've traveled home packed inside a cardboard box), I'm ready to update you on my Ethiopian adventures!

My first international trip was a brilliant success. What a whirlwind month! I saw so many crazy things, went to so many beautiful places, met so many great people. Ethiopia is an incredible country, and Christen and the rest of my hosts made sure I got the full experience of it.

The journey began in Knoxville, Tennessee with an epic and overdue reuniting of Clemson friends - what can I say, bringing people together, it's what I do! I was carried through five different airports en route to Ethiopia - Knoxville, Atlanta, Zurich, Cairo, and Addis Ababa - which made for a long but eventful trip. I got to see the Alps as we flew out over them, got to snuggle with Christen for warmth in the over-air-conditioned Cairo airport where we slept for twenty hours on a metal bench....good times! It was sort of a relief to finally land in Addis Ababa, even if it was at 3:00 in the morning.

We blazed through the Ethiopian capital as soon as it got light, making our way to the central bus station. We happened to have arrived on the day of Ethiopian Christmas (December 29th on the Ethiopian calendar, January 7th by our reckoning....I don't know, I gave up trying to keep up with the day), so we headed immediately down to Christen's first Ethiopian hometown, a placed called Welliso (or Welisso or Wolisso or Wallisso or basically any way you wanted to spell it, since the Ethiopian language is written in its own separate alphabet anyway). I was a big hit with Christen's host family, and they treated me to some full-fledged Ethiopian hospitality. I was treated to Momma's FANTASTIC traditional cooking, and I partied at Big Sister's graduation celebration. There was a constant stream of people in and out of the house during the entire holiday week; I'm pretty sure I met the entire town. (People know me; I'm kind of a big deal.)

Once Christen decided we had stalled long enough, we made our way to Debre Markos, where she lives and works. She showed me around town (I think she was showing me off - no shame, Christen, no shame). We met the local characters, checked out all the local hot spots. I watched Christen "work", which I think I've determined is 10% actual work and 90% drinking various hot drinks. Her house is pretty sweet, though I had to get used to the lack of running water and the fairly frequent power outages, and I'm certain the dogs on her compound would have eaten me if ever left alone with me.

After a solid week at her site (nice work), we traveled up north to Gonder, at the foot of the Simien Mountains, for Ethiopian Epiphany, or Timkat. Timkat is the largest Ethiopian religious holiday after Easter, and Timkat in Gonder is one of the largest religious celebrations in the country. On the day before Timkat, I watched a huge parade through the streets. Groups of teenagers ran around chanting and carrying sticks, priests and nuns walked in procession with their gold-fringed velvet parasols, while church musicians beat drums, blew horns, and sang religious songs. There were so many American and European tourists in town for the big event! I sat up on a hotel balcony with Christen's friends to watch the parade, and I met people from the U.S., Canada, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The next day, Timkat day, we dragged ourselves out of bed (or, rather, out of sleeping bag, as we were crashing on a Peace Corps Volunteer's floor, along with a couple of couch surfers from Maine) at 4:30 AM to walk to the Fasilades Baths, where the Timkat ceremony would take place. We staked out seats on some rickety wooden bleachers, amidst the assembled crowd of Ethiopians, all dressed in their white cultural clothing. The bleachers overlooked the bath, where the castle-like structure in the middle was decked out in colored lights. Through the dark, early morning hours, people chanted and prayed in unison, and the mood was very solemn. (I have to admit, I mostly just slept inside Christen's bag.)

Around 8:00 AM, the priests entered the baths, to drum beats, cheering, and applause. They lined up shoulder-to-shoulder around the bath, wearing brightly colored robes and large metallic crosses around their necks. There was a ceremony that, being in the Amharic language, went mostly over my head, but after lots of singing, drum-beating, and chanting, the priests blessed the water and placed floating candles on it. Then the place went crazy. Young men took it as their cue to run out from the crowds and fling themselves into the water - from trees, from the bleachers, from wherever they could. It was chaos. At one point, one of the lower bleachers audibly cracked, and Christen decided it was time to go. We had to physically push our way through the massive crowd to get down off the bleachers, then literally ram our way through the small doorway to the Baths, where crowds were attempting to push through from both directions. Somehow Christen managed to shield me from the mobs, and we escaped unscathed, alive to tell the tale.

Unscathed, of course, not counting my previous injuries. As you have already heard, the only dark spot on our Gonder vacation was my breaking both legs on a local minibus. Again, I have to thank the dedicated team of Peace Corps surgeons that worked tirelessly to put me back together. Though there were some pieces of me that were never recovered, I am slowly working my way up to full strength, and no amount of damage will keep me away from future adventurings!

On the way back from Gonder, we stopped through Bahir Dar, a large town beside Lake Tana. It was Presidential Inauguration day when we arrived - or, as the local Obama Cafe announcements called it, "The exciting moment moving to white house". We chilled that night on the patio of the Obama Cafe, where the ceremonies were being shown on CNN International broadcast, projected onto a big outdoor screen. I had the privilege of meeting Miss Obama, who had been crowned the night before in the "Miss Obama Beauty Contest and Celebrity Culture Show." I'm still not exactly sure how one becomes Miss Obama...perhaps by showing the most excitement and love for the man. Though from what I saw - the t-shirts, printouts, and even mudflaps bearing Obama's face - that would be stiff competition among Ethiopians, for sure.

Back in Debre Markos, I attended a wedding, visited Christen's local mill project for people living with HIV, drank ridiculous amounts of coffee, played foosball with the boys on the street, and was generally an outstanding ambassador for American Gnomish culture. Real connections were made, my friends. Bridges were built. Before long, though, it was time to head back to the capital and start the journey back home again.

I'll never forget the great times I had in Ethiopia! Thanks again to my spectacular hosts, and to my loyal fans out there, remember to support your Peace Corps volunteers (preferably through the sending of delicious American junk foods to PO Box 141, Debre Markos, Ethiopia)!

Love and peace,

PS - To see more about the things I saw and did in Ethiopia, check out Christen's pictures and blog at

1 comment:

  1. This is the awesomest place in Ethiopia. You should absolutely go here:
    Watt Smith