Star Date: March 2015
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"Selam, Endeneh? Dehnanegm.
A One Way Ticket to Ethiopia. Ticket in hand there was no going back. With all the tension in the world and the high radiation readings we had thought to just hide away and let the storm subside. We have been trying for 12 years to go to the Middle East but the US military had other ideas. Sitting by the lake having breakfast at Lake Toba, I looked at Joseph and Joseph back at me. Screw it! It's now or never and so the 'plans' began. Ethiopia, Jordan, overland to Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Croatia, Tunisia, Mali, Morocco, Mexico, C*ba, Hawaii and back to S.E Asia. Not our usual way of traveling but sort of like skipping stones across a pond, or around the world as this case is.
Sometimes in life, once you have done all you can possibly do, the noise melts into silence and in that Silence the answers are revealed. Fear is replaced by a certain calmness and strength. We know that no matter the predicament of our planet and our Universe we are but one Universe in a vast sea of galaxies. We know that planning is a lesson in futility by its very nature. Just a chance for the Universe to chuckle. Plan by plan by plan has been burst like bubbles in the wind. And so we have decided, with a stronger sense of calmness, to continue our adventure, living proactively rather than re-actively. And so Ethiopia, North Africa and beyond. God willing, as they say here.
There is always a bit of apprehension when embarking to a distant continent. Arriving in Addis Ababa, the capitol, at 1am we proceeded through the customs department. We had just spent 6 hours in Doha, Qatar one of the most state of the art airports in our 12.5 years of travel. They had a food court with a salad bar, shops, and even a quiet sleeping room. Like a needle scratching across a vinyl record we rewound upon landing in the dingy, dirty arrival hall. We were given our 3 month visa no problem and had a smile on our face, unlike the 50 or so men in line waiting to be deported. Stepping outside into the complete darkness (power outages are common), we walked across the rocky, uneven courtyard and were relieved to see a small car waiting for us. Now 2:45am we had arranged for the brother of Choice Guesthouse to meet us. Tucked under warm covers we quickly fell asleep, ready to embrace whatever lies ahead.
Another day, another adventure, we set out in the morning to explore the side streets and stock up on fruit for breakfast. Once hitting the main streets we were thrown into the confusion and turmoil that is Addis. A city of contrasts there are stalls and back alleys that haven't changed in centuries, right next to a super highway under construction or one of the many, many high rises being constructed. Ethiopia has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 10 years, a far cry from the haunting pictures of starving children flashed across our T.V. screens decades ago.
What a fascinating history this ancient country of Abyssinia has had. Cave paintings and archeological digs have proven relics of Stone Age hunter gatherers then millet cultivation as early as 4000BC. Historians claim that Egyptians, Greeks, Yemenese all settled here and influenced the culture. Oral tradition in Ethiopia claims that Ethiopic, the great grandson of Noah first settled here. His son founded Axum and started a dynasty of rulers that lasted 97 generations. The greatest of these monarchs was Queen Makeda, who in the 10th century BC owned a fleet of 73 ships and a caravan of 520 camels, which traded with ports as far away as India and Palestine. Her capitol was Sabea, outside of Axum. Early in her rule the Queen of Sabea, or Queen of Sheba made a visit to King Solomom in Jeruselum. She was bearing gold, ivory and spices and was invited to stay in the royal palace. Apparently the Queen of Sheba fell in love with King Solomon and returned to Ethiopia converted to Judiasm and carrying King Solomon's son. Menelik, born months later returned to meet his Father at age 22. He studied the Laws of Moses for 3 years and as King Solomons first born he was offered claim to the throne. He refused but when he returned to Ethiopia, at Solomon's request, he was accompanied by the eldest sons of Solomon's high commissioners, and 1,000 people of each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Dream after dream led to the Ark of the Covenant being transported by Azariah to Ethiopia and is supposedly housed in the Church of Saint Mary Zion in present day Axum. The Queen of Sheba abdicated to her son and the dynasty of Solomonic ruled until 1974 when the 237th Solomonic monarch, Haile Selassie, was overthrown in the revolution.
Most Ethiopians accept this history unquestioningly. Only one person alive has seen the Ark of the Covenant in it's supposed location. Built by the Children of Israel, with God's specific instructions , the Ark of the Covenant was housed in King Solomon's Palace. When his temple was destroyed in 587BC, it is theorized that the Ark had been removed long before. Who knows for sure? This artifact with great powers has never been officially recovered, that is unless you have watched Indiana Jones, "The Last Crusade". We will look for it in Petra, Jordan when we are in the desert.
Emperor Haille Selassie ruled from 1930-1974, except for the brief 5 year Italian occupation. He was revered by his people but many questioned his lack of improvements to Ethiopia over 40 years. When very little was done to help the 200,000 victims of the tragic famine of 1973, a revolution saw a new Prime Minister put in power by the military. The Emperor was arrested in his palace and driven to prison in the back of a VW beetle, mocking his years of opulence. Haile Sellasie officially died of a heart attack, or was smothered by his successor while sleeping, or according to the Rastas residing in Ethiopia, Ras Tefari's body was never recovered and this icon will live forever.
Another famine claimed over 1,000,000 lives in the Northeastern regions of Ethiopia when the rains failed in 1985. At first the west refused to help the then Socialist Ethiopia and when the aid finally trickled in Mengistu, the current Prime Minister, was too busy doing away with his opposition to distribute it in a timely manner. The majority of the deaths of this natural phenomenon could have been prevented. In 1990 the DERG or Socialist party was defeated. A proud people, Ethiopia is the only African country to have avoided long term colonialism. Later a try at democracy was spoiled by the bitter war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Peace was declared in 2000. Two of the poorest countries in the world, both countries ended up losing; with great loss of lives, financial instability, and hundreds of thousands of displaced persons being expelled back into their former countries.
Much improvement has been seen over the last ten years in Ethiopia and Ethiopians are confident that this progressive movement in infrastructure and business will advance the country and raise the standard of living. An election in the next couple of months will determine this outcome. These generous, friendly, helpful people deserve a government free of corruption and greed. But then where on this planet is this the case?
The welcoming, friendly owner, "Mr Hope", his family and staff helped get us settled in into Addis and pointed us in the right direction. We consider Tefaye and Alem his wife, sons Moses & Noh, and daughter Maya new friends in Ethiopia. A lovely family and so helpful. We exchanged knowledge, computer information and stories. Our final night we were treated to the fun, interesting show of Ethiopian music and dance at Yod Abyssinia Cultural Restaurant, while tasting traditional dishes and drinks. A very fun evening. We knew, from reading, that we needed to start south to beat the rain that is notorious for wiping out roads in the Lake Turkana region of Southern Ethiopia. We had made it north along Lake Turkana in Kenya in a truck several years earlier but were unable to cross into Ethiopia because of border disputes. Never say Never to us!
Sashamene is a busy noisy crossroads heading south from Addis. The grass is always greener on the other side of the ocean. The promised land? Several miles north of town is the eclectic Rastafarian settlement called Jamaica. A group of Rastafarian devotees of Haile Selasie emigrated to this spot with his blessing, near the end of his rule. It has been a bumpy road in the Promised Land and about 600 Rastas remain, eking out an existence in the sometimes harsh environment. Three different groups within the community must get along and work together or it seems their future is uncertain. Love not fear. Scattered compounds, usually marked with the familiar red, green, black and yellow colors stretch back from the main little enclave of the Twelve Tribes Office along the highway. We met several wonderful Rastas who made us feel welcome and showed us around a bit. We shared computer info and visited Bernice and Karl at their Yawenta Children's Center - this school/ treatment/counseling/ center for 110 poor children with HIV is an amazing place. A great hands on project to support! (see below) We had so much fun visiting the island of Jamaica for 3 months a few years back that it felt good to be in the company of the big hearted Rasta community again. Minus Rasta Ital (vegan) food and Reggae music it had a different feel than their previous happy island home. As a coincidence one of our good warm hearted Rasta friends from Jamaica, Ras Bo Bo (his photo on our main page) had been staying here for a couple of months. We sadly missed him by a couple of weeks. Wouldn't that have been a surprise to bump into each other 10,000 miles from home. He helped arrange Joseph talking with Mutabaruka on Irie FM. Small world. We were sent on our way with the saying, "Jah guidance on your travels".
Lake Hawassa has carved out a little warm spot in our hearts. Staying in a very basic cottage along the lake, held together by a song and a prayer, this was definitely a view with a room. Stepping back in time this compound was forgotten by the rushing, noisy world outside. Just us and the luxurious, enormous old trees filled with monkeys and a steady display of migrating water birds in the lake. The first morning we saw a few monkeys but once they discovered that "The Vegans' had landed with peelings to share from a fruit salad breakfast and a fresh veggie salad daily we became best buddies. The next morning no less than 10 monkeys were lined up on our window sill looking in. The Moms even got so they trusted us and brought their new little babies by for inspection. At times up to 150 vervet or blue balled monkeys were grazing and scrounging in the woods in front of our cabin. The striking, impressive, large Colobus monkeys also visited daily. Looking like a combination of aliens from Battleship Galactica and black and white teddy bears it got so these completely wild yet gentle monkeys not only hung out in our yard but would follow us as we sat along the lake or took a walk. One day a couple of these funny guys even showed up in the tree above the kitchen where I cooked nightly. A possible infatuation? We already had marauding vervet monkeys streaking and grabbing in the kitchen plus 4 hungry cats to feed so they weren't exactly welcome.
A place of relaxation we just couldn't get ourselves to move on. Sitting by the lake was like watching a Discovery Channel program. White egrets, florescent green footed ducks, pink footed red eyed doves, herons of all colors and sizes, 4 kinds of king fishers diving for dinner, little blue, yellow and red birds pecking for seeds, geese and ducks galore squawking, bell birds ringing in the tree tops, cormorants like Tuvin throat singers rippling their long throats and drying their wings in the sun. Too many to observe and always someone new flying up to introduce themselves. Just as things settled down you would hear a rustling in the reeds and an enormous 6 foot monitor lizard would betray his hunting spot. Occasionally hippos would swim by, but for a better look at these comical yet deadly creatures we took a trip across the lake to see a couple of groups of hippos with new friends from Australia Colin and Mackers. Sitting along the lake we would watch the brush strokes across the sky at sunset, grateful for a chance to share in the diversity of God's creation.
A long bumpy ride in a broken bus found us in Arba Minch. A town of dueling mosques, bell ringing evangelical churches, Protestants and the fasting time winners, the praying Orthodox priests. In days gone by there were no microphones and all this was a pleasant, exotic grey noise in the background. Now the battle of the loud microphones from before dawn Call to Prayer to the fasting time all night singing prayers of Orthodox priests is a test of one's sanity. Always scan your possible hotel's location in 360 degrees. The furthest you can get from the noise the better your nights sleep. Call to Prayer only last's 5 minutes whereas these long winded priests went on all night! Ah, life before microphones and loudspeakers! Simple exotic singing or chanting becomes intrusive to all in the area once plugged in to a loud sound system. I thanked God for ear plugs!
Gateway to Omo Valley we had several promises of arranging a budget trip down to explore one of the last remaining wonders of the planet. All fell through - even the guy who kept saying, "God Willing!" Guess God wasn't willing. In our usual synchronicity we bumped into Ephrem and his band of merries; modernized former tribes men: young Hamer, Dorze, Mursi men, all trying their hand in the 'big city'. We treated them to enormous injera platters and shared some laughs. We had never seen food disappear so fast in our lives. It simply vaporized, so we just ordered another. It is tradition to place a big round platter of injera on the table and all eat with their hands from the tasty vegetables and sauces, breaking off pieces and grabbing a bit of filling before popping it in your mouth.
"Imalay!" We found endless smiles when taking a bus up to visit the Dorze tribe high above Arba Minch in the mountains. Great views, clear mountain air, pine trees and even greater hospitality as Asemamaw introduced us to his family and tribe. Weavers by profession they make beautiful, quality shawls and blankets worn by most Ethiopian women. They live in 20 foot tall bamboo huts and their total existence is around the Utsa or false banana plant. After visiting Asemamaw's family hut they showed us how they scraped the pulp from the utsa then buried it in banana leaves in the ground for 3 months. There it fermented and the thick paste was then flattened and cooked over the fire. Served with honey from the hives in the trees and hot chili paste, it is washed down with the local honey wine or liquor made from, guess what, the utsa. Cheers of, "Yo Yo Yo" got a response from the crowd of, "Yo Yhoe". The more cheers the livelier the group got. Still laughing we started the long journey down the mountain, catching the last bus before dark. Jammed and crammed to the hilt we had to stand for 37km but arriving tired and happy I noticed everyone was still smiling!
A communal society, Ethiopians are always out sharing an injera lunch or dinner. About 4 pm a beautifully dressed woman starts preparations for the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony in most restaurants. First she lights the charcoal fire, then roasts the fresh coffee beans. Ah that smell is reminiscent of our home and Big Island of Hawaii Kona coffee. Ethiopian coffee is also rated among the top coffees of the world. Next she boils water and pours it in the unique brown ceramic coffee pot. Lighting incense and popping corn she will serve your table small cups of fresh coffee, wafting the incense around your table, then producing a large bowl of popcorn to snack on - all for under 20 bir or one dollar. People sit chatting and relaxing well into the evening. Coffee, incense of the night, permeates the air and demonstrates just how laid back, friendly, welcoming Ethiopians are. It is a luxuriant garden of smiles. The "Land of Thirteen Months of Sunshine" is also the Land of Endless Smiles!
And so it goes.........................................Next only 50 years ago the tribes of Omo Valley had no idea that Ethiopia existed, yet alone the continent of Africa or the wider world. A unique look into this land where time has stood still. Let's remember to sail outside our harbor of comfort every once in a while, for it is there that we learn and grow. Take care and Thanks for keeping in Touch!
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar equals 20.39 Ethiopian Birr
Bole district, Addis Ababa:
Choice Pension, on the way from Gotera to Saris, Phone # 0911304040 or 0114707273 A quiet little pension with several modern rooms, cooking facilities, set around a small pleasant courtyard. Wifi most of the time. Clean, extremely helpful staff and owners. Also provide airport pick up. Check them out on www.airbnb.com (The best place in Addis - or call to check for availability. We never have a phone but will ask someone to make the call for us and offer to reimburse them. Always works out.
Check out the fun, interesting show of Ethiopian music and dance at Yod Abyssinia Cultural Restaurant, while tasting traditional dishes and drinks.
parallel street down (Mendi St) is the Wutma Hotel.
Excellent lunch buffet also for 75 birr.
Piazza is the backpacker area. The hotels are cheaper and the area is picturesque and very crowded. The name is a legacy of the Italian invasion era, and you will find some Italian cafe's.