Overlanding in Ethiopia   Leave a comment

March 27, 2011  Addis Ababa – Ethiopia

Ethiopia is no easy travel destination.  Every day is a struggle, hardly
anything ever works or makes sense but the little gems – the beautiful unguarded
moments of connection – string you along and leave you thirsting for more.  It’s
what could be categorized as a “second-tier country,” not the most obvious
choice for tourism and definitely lacking in infrastructure but safe enough to
explore – with tons of unspoiled potential.  Expectations in comfort and
convenience are immediately adjusted when traveling overland in the third
world.  A luxury bathroom experience might include a seatless commode with a
half-bucket of water next to it and a cold shower which has a functional shut
off mechanism.  Group travel allows for minimal privacy and time to deal with
gastrointestinal distress  – difficult to know if one has tapeworms if rushed,
long-drop bathroom time has been illuminated by a dimming headlamp for weeks on
end.

While bumping and bouncing along in an oversized orange truck, the Dragoman
parade catches more than a glance  Children come sprinting down hillsides and
trot or skip alongside the vehicle for as long as they are able…waving and
shouting “Hiland” (water), “Birr” (money), “Toffee” & “Pen.”  Young men shout
this as well – from crowded ping pong tables, shop doorways and roadwork
stations. Women motion with a hand to mouth gesture.  It makes one wonder where
all the aid has been going in this country….whether it’s created
self-sustaining projects or simply reliance.  Despite the first impression,
these same people, when approached and warmly greeted,  will reciprocate with
friendly smile, gentle eye contact, a waggley horizontal handshake and
affectionate shoulder bumping.  They will help anyone in need as they would a
family member and  make do with what little they have yet are aware of what life
could be and what a successful interaction with a “farangi” (foreigner) might
bring.

Camping, most nights…even out in the bush, is preferable to broken,
untidy hotel rooms in Africa.  We had a cook station, treated drinking water,
sturdy tents and camp stools.  Time in urban areas involved a sort of scavenger
hunt…searching for and gathering ingredients which may or may not be available
for our western recipe ideas.  The end result, though, was always delicious…as
camping food tends to be.  At the last lakeside campsite, a group of onlookers
showed great interest in camp set-up and dinner preparation…about 20-30
visitors gawked and whispered to each other for several hours.  To liven things
up,  a  “flash mob” dance routine to M.C. Hammer’s “Can’t Touch Dis” was
performed by 8 members of our group which had the local children gleefully
jumping and wiggling…so much fun.

Tribal visits could be socially awkward yet visually and photographically
stimulating.  Attitudes, morals and ethics were challenged as we confronted
dying babies, tales of painful tribal rituals and strict gender roles.  It’s
always awe-inspiring and magical to witness a culture in its authentic state.
It’s also a little sad to know that with each interaction, these tribes will
change and begin to favor tourism dollars over their traditional sources of
income.  There’s no doubt that tribal people should have contact with and
participate in the modern world….there is definitely benefit to children being
educated and land rights having protection but it’s a shame to witness the
breakdown of tight societal and family structure.  The new roads being built
through the Omo Valley will provide much needed infrastructure for farming,
production and trade. These same roads will make a higher volume of tourism
available.  Tourism which may or may not  be environmentally or culturally
sensitive.

Now in Addis Ababa, removing layers of grime with hot water, snapping a few
last pics,  gathering a couple of souveniers, and considering re-immersion into
the workplace after a month of college style road trip…leaves me a little
melancholy…and excited to start planning the next exotic adventure.

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Posted March 27, 2011 by theresavernetti in Uncategorized

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