Sunday, November 25, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia Trip -- Day 10

A day of separating and returning.
Dawit and Israel play the drums at the Dejene home
We left Ally in Addis, along with Dawit and Million the prior evening.
Million stand at the headland on the Bora mountain.

Ally, Dan, Jamie, and I talk upon arrival at the airport.  Nice shot of the back of Million's head.
At the airport, Curt left us as he was returning to Ohio through Germany.
Curt with a couple of random boys on the Bora mountain.
When we landed in Washington DC, I stayed with the rest of the group for a while.  We ate breakfast (although we were served lunch food) in one of the airport restaurants -- the name escapes me.
Armin sitting at the Central Cafe in Chencha
After the meal, I left Dan, Armin, Jamie, Carrie and Kristen and headed to my gate.  I still had a long wait for my flight.

Jamie clowns for the kids in Bora

Kristen and Carrie pose at the Longono Resort
I reflected on two of the greatest lessons of the trip -- lessons of friends and family.  Those are the two things that carry the poor people we met in the Ethiopian countryside through their lives.  For them, family means everything, and as a result the families are close knit and spend tremendous amounts of time together.  Those families knit into the larger community that welcomes a group like ours.  While you can't assume all communities in Ethiopia are equally hospitable and open, I would guess the majority are.

Our little group of friends had become a community of sorts, as well.  We all knew each other pretty well after nine days together, and had gone well past just dealing with one another at that superficial level we all wear as a mask.  I would miss my travel companions, although I hope to meet up with a few of them on a future trip or some other event.

My own family laid ahead of me, at the conclusion of the flights.  We certainly don't have the same degree closeness that was evident in Bora or at the home of the Dejene family, but we are close.  The lesson from the trip was that we could be closer if we work at it a bit.

I caught my flights to Chicago, then Omaha, and I pulled into the garage not long after the sun had set.  After a warm greeting from my three littles and Paula, I was initially puzzled what to do next.

Then I remembered Bora, and it was all clear.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia Trip -- Day 9

My last day in Ethiopia was definitely the most laid back.  After the prior night's activities, the day for most of the Vision Team started a bit later.  And this time, we had to check out of the hotel -- from this point forward, all our luggage was with us in (or on top of) the van.

Our first stop of the day was the Hamlin Fistula Clinic.  If you're wondering what this is, I suggest you consider watching the extremely popular and informative documentary "A Walk to Beautiful" to become fully informed.  I offer this overly-simplified explanation:  a fistula is an injury women sometimes suffer during childbirth which can be readily corrected by surgery.  In a place like Ethiopia, however, where 98% of births are unattended by any medically trained personnel, the problem often goes uncorrected, and often with severe social consequences.  The Hamlin Clinic has been helping the women of Ethiopia get the physical problem corrected for decades.  They also helps the afflicted women re-enter society through physical rehabilitation, counseling, education, and even some job training.  Their work is truly inspirational.

After the Fistula Clinic, we visited a group called "Entoto Outreach," which is a new name for a somewhat older aid effort.  Many ill people, particularly women with HIV, come to Entoto because of the mountain's reputed healing properties.  Once there, they often end up living under very primitive conditions, and hauling huge bundles of firewood down the mountain to sell in Addis as a means of earning a little money.  It is a very difficult way to survive.  Entoto Outreach teaches these women a craft (in this case, jewelry making), helps organize production of products, and provides a marketing scheme.  They run a small shop at the site, which we visited.  During my last visit, there was more of a structured tour and commentary on the organization's mission.  On this trip, we basically ended up just shopping.

We ate lunch at the Lucy Cafe, which is adjacent to the National Museum.  For those who are unaware, a partial fossilized skeleton of one of the earliest hominoid progenitors was found in the Awash river area of the Great Rift Valley.  This skeleton, dubbed "Lucy" is quite famous, and also seems to indicate that mankind's early evolution began in present day Ethiopia.  While the actual skeleton is elsewhere (the USA, I think), the National Museum has a very nice display and replicas of the bones.  Worth seeing on your trip to Addis, although we didn't actually visit this trip.

Of course, the cafe is simply a restaurant which capitalizes on the Lucy theme.  The food is, however, quite good.
The Lucy Cafe, next to the National Museum
Next, we went shopping -- tourist souvenir shopping -- at the postal shops.  I've shopped here extensively in the past, and was only interested in a few items.  I did, however, find a bayonet that the seller claimed dated all the way back to the battle of Adawa, in the late 19th century.  It definitely looked like it could have been from that era, although the condition of the bayonet and scabbard was poor.  I eventually decided to pass, and instead drank a diet coke in the little cafe next to the shops while the rest of the team wrapped up their buying.
Scarves displayed at one of the Postal Shops
We returned to the Bier Garten for dinner -- this time without any hassles or incidents.  A little food, a little beer, and suddenly our time was up.  It was time to head to the airport.

In the parking long, we said goodbyes to our guides, driver, as well as Ally and her two boys.  After a week of togetherness, there was definitely a closeness that I miss back here in the USA.  I'm certain, however, that I will see Million, Dawit, and Israel again.  Ally has to come and see me, as I brought a suitcase of hers back to the US.  We can practice drinking Tej from a pitcher at my house, Ally!

The Addis Ababa airport can be a bit crazy, so I was prepared for long lines and plenty of delay, but much to my surprise, everything was easy.  I did outsmart myself with my seat assignment, however.  I have an Ethiopian Air gold card, and used it to get my seat changed, taking an aisle seat in the back row.   My logic: since the last row is seen as "undesirable," it was less likely that the middle seat next to me would be taken.  Unfortunately, the aisle seat on the other side of the middle was open, too,.  Moments before take-off, a couple moved to the two seats so they could be together.

Win some, lose some.

I had great ambitions to edit a substantial amount of one of my novels on the flight home, but we'd barely gotten off the ground before I was falling asleep -- plenty of fatigue from the trip catching up with me.

The two photos above came from Curt Good's Ethiopia album on Facebook.  See more of his Ethiopia pictures here:  Curt Good

Friday, November 23, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia Trip -- Day 8

Again, I woke first the morning of our first day in Addis, and took a seat on the small fenced porch of the Addis Guesthouse, editing one of my novels while I watched people walk by.  The sun was warm, and air chilly as I downed a couple of delicious coffees.. The experience was pleasant and I was left largely unmolested until a few of the other started to drift downstairs for breakfast.

After an unremarkable meal, we headed off to the Red Terror museum, a small museum which traced the history of Ethiopia from the end of Haile Selassie's reign through the end of Mengistu period of terror (1974-1991).  During that time, close to 2 million Ethiopians were killed for political reasons.  This happened during my time as a teen and adult, and yet I don't recall ever hearing a single word about it.  The era was tragic, and the museum depicts it in a respectful and moving way.  Man's capacity for cruelty to his fellow man is always shocking, but the lack of international attention to these terrible events causes all of us to share a tiny measure of the guilt. This kind of horror simply should not occur in the modern world without notice and intervention.

I believe we visited the Mercato next.  This is main market area of the city, and is always (at least as far as I can tell) crazy with people.  Our driver took us directly to a spice stall, and I bought a bag of coffee there, while some of the others in the group purchased spices for Ethiopian cooking (shiro, berbere).
Typical traffic in the Mercato

This guy was carrying a few mattresses just outside of the Mercato
Then it was off to a barista, where I bought another bag of coffee, and everyone else loaded up on coffee, too.
They roast and mill coffee right here at the shop
We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant which was quite good, although I cannot recall the name.

This is where things get a little fuzzy -- I think we went to St. Mary's Church on Entoto Mountain next.  The Church was one of the first built in the Addis Area, and is quite a ways up the mountain.  It is not particularly large, but the attached museum is very interesting, displaying clothing and furnishing from the time of Mendlik II and Haile Selassie.  We skirted the Church, and did not enter, but behind it was a "palace" used by Mendlik which is nicely preserved, although unfurnished.
St. Mary's Church on Entoto

A view of part of the Mendlik Palace on Entoto

A view of Addis from St. Mary's Church
We went back to the hotel for a siesta afterward, and then set out in search of a cake.  The cake was intended to be a gift at our next stop, the Dejene home.  This is the home of two of our guides (Dawit and Israel) their sisters (two of whom traveled with the medical team) as well as their parents.  The visit was wonderful and moving, with the family pulling back the furniture in the living room, and singing and dancing.  We all could feel the love and warmth of this family, and It made me reflect on how the modern world tended to pull people apart, making this level of family closeness much less common.

We then went to dinner at Yod Abyssinia, a cultural (touristy) restaurant.  This was a little like the refined, city version of what we experienced in Dhorze.  We were served Habasha food (local Ethiopian fare), and watched as dancers performed cultural dances from various regions of Ethiopia.
Food at Yod Abyssinia

Musicians at Yod Abyssinia
While a few of out team went out to dance at clubs, I next went to bed.  Tomorrow was going to be our final day in Ethiopia, and I was hoping for a few new experiences to be the icing on the cake.

I'm afraid I have to confess becoming a little mixed up as to what happened on which day during our two days in Addis Ababa.  My apologies to those who traveled with me -- I may have the order wrong on some of this, or I may forget some items altogether.  Post to correct me if you find an error....

Photos courtesy of Curt Good.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia Trip -- Day 7

In the light of day, the Longono Eco-Resort was quite beautiful.  The individual cabins were carefully nestled in the trees and undergrowth with walking trails connecting everything on the property.  I roamed around, checking out the elevated hippo viewing hut, the beach, and the rest.
Our Cabin, partially hidden in the natural surroundings.
I wished we were staying the entire day.  The resort was connected to a reserve with walking trails, horseback riding, and game watching.  There was swimming, boating, and even massages.
The beach at Longono
It,  however, was not to be.

I had an excellent breakfast in the restaurant, while watching a baboon skirt the dining area.  Soon we were off, heading north along the Great Rift Valley and heading for the town of Mojo (where he stopped for a bathroom/coke break) and then on to Addis.
A baboon at breakfast
We ate a late lunch at Island Breeze, a U.S. style restaurant serving burgers, Mexican food, and pizza -- a place I ended up visiting almost every time I've been to Ethiopia.  I figured by mid-afternoon the notoriously slow restaurant would be empty and faster than usual (which is anything but fast).

I didn't, however, account for the kid's birthday party.

Didn't even put two and two together when we pulled into the parking area and saw the bounce house.  The restaurant was packed, but it looked like the birthday group had already been served.  We sat down, ordered, and then waited ninety minutes before our food arrived -- a new personal record, I believe.

Well, we did get a slice of cake from the celebrant's family out of the deal, a gesture which I thought very kind.

We dropped in at the Addis Guesthouse to check in and shower, then walked to the Bier Garten to reconnect with the Medical Team before they left for the airport (they arrived two days before us, and were departing two days earlier).

The Bier Garten is a great place for twenty-seven people to get together.  It is large, with an upper room that always seems to be able to accommodate a large group.  And they brew their own beer.  German beer, brewed by real Germans -- a very nice oasis after a few days in the back country.

I had a beer, having practically just eaten at Island Breeze.  We share memories and contact info with the Medical Team, and soon they were off to the airport to check in for their flight home.

The Bier Garten has a tent located outside of the restaurant, which is the perfect place to drink another beer and watch some soccer on the large-screen TV's.  Jamie went downstairs to reserve a table for us, and upon his signal we all left for the tent.  I was the first to arrive. and was directed to the table with the "reserved" sign on it.  Just after I sat down, the controversy started...

A tall Teutonic-looking man rushed to the table, claiming we had taken his table, the one reserved for his group.  As far as I knew, he could be right, but I did protest that we'd been directed here by the wait staff.  Then he turned on the wait staff and began to loudly berate them.

Armin, one of the members of our group, didn't like that one bit.  The whole picture appeared to be racist, this tall European poking his finger in the chest of a couple short Ethiopians and shouting.

I hadn't mentioned before, but Armin is a big guy.  Tall, and a former college linebacker who has carried on with weightlifting for many years.  He stood toe-to-toe with the man, and the argument quickly became loud.  I thought it might come to blows.

Dan and Jamie jumped in, as did Dawit.  There was a bit more of an exchange of words, but we abandoned the table, and sat down at one nearby.  Armin was still a little hot over the exchange, but to his credit, he had a beer and chatted with us, only occasionally looking over his shoulder at the other man.  The jerk seemed to be having some problems getting the rest of his group to come into the tent (go figure).

I thought it was all over, when the man approached our table, intending to say something.  He barely got three words out before Armin was on his feet, a fist clenched and ready to knock the guy flat.

Dan moved quickly, taking the man outside.  I don't know exactly what was said, but the guy never returned.  That was good, as I was beginning to contemplate Armin spending the night in an Ethiopian jail.  And maybe the rest of us doing the same, for good measure.

In a short time, the beers were finished.  We moved on to the inaccurately named "Piano Bar" next.  There is no Piano, although there is a bar.  The place featured live performances of popular Ethiopian tunes by a line-up of four or five singers.  In a tip of the hat, one even sang some old songs rock tunes in English.  It was loud and fun, but I was just about out of gas.  When we returned to the Addis guesthouse, I decided to go to bed while several of the others in the group went out to hit a couple of nightclubs.

I knew the next day would be a relaxed day of touring Addis, and was quickly asleep, anticipating new and interesting experiences.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia Trip -- Day 6

Not a shorter day, but slightly less eventful.  We woke at the cultural village in Dhorze, and for the first time since both Vision and Medical teams were combined, I wasn't the first one out of bed.  I was second, or maybe third.

I later learned that the celebration around the fire had gone on until 4AM and it was quickly obvious that there would be no hurry this morning.

Besides, as soon as our driver arrived and tried to start the van, it was a no-go.  The vehicle emitted blue smoke, but it didn't want to start.

One of our favorite sayings on the trip was "Rasta man never die...but sometimes he gets burned a little."  It was a reference to my prior trip where one of the guys working for Mekonnen had fallen directly into the fire while jumping.  We also learned on the last trip, and reconfirmed this morning that "Rasta man never get up early to make breakfast...."

Breakfast, which was "scheduled" -- a term I recommend using loosely in Ethiopia -- for 7:30AM, actually happened a little before 8:30.  By then, the staff, driver, and our guides were rolling our van out into the roadway, and trying to push start it.  Much to my surprise, this actually worked, although the vehicle continued to belch toxic smoke in quantities great enough to half suffocate all of us.  There was definitely something wrong with the van -- probably related to the water, probably made worse by the damp morning air.  Probably.

We rode down the mountain for the last time, and turned left when we reached the Arba Minch road, heading back toward Addis and the fateful river crossing from 4 days ago.  When we reached the crossing, I could see the water level was a little lower, but far from low.  As the driver slowly drove through the stream, everyone on the van was quietly saying "punch it, punch it."

Despite what seemed like the driver's best effort to again become stuck, the vehicle made it through the water without obvious mishap.

Unfortunately, less than an hour later the van stalled while speeding down the road.
Our Van is Broken Down Along the Side of the Road
We pulled to the side, and the driver went to work on the van.  This vehicle appeared to be cursed.  The air filter was again checked, and some wiring was stripped an reconnected.  Neither fixed the primary problem.  Then the guys removed the fuel pump, and discovered there was a massive amount of water inside.  Fixing that by the side of the road was going to be somewhere close to impossible.
Guides and Driver Try to Diagnose the Problem
Dawit, one of our guides, headed down the road to a small, nearby town while the other Africans worked on the diesel.  In a few minutes there was a growing crowd of people, all looking to see what was going on with the ferengi.

Eventually, we decided to try the thing that had worked earlier in the day -- a push start.  Low and behold, the engine actually caught.  Then, when we stopped to wait for the pushers to pile back inside, it stalled.  After a few more attempts, we decided to push and jump in -- a dangerous proposition.  This actually worked, but Curt ended up getting a nice bruise on his lower leg in the process.

The push-start got us into the nearby village where Dawit was waiting, but when we slowed to literally let him jump inside, the van again stalled.  After that it wouldn't restart.

Our guides arranged a ride to Soto in the back of a Land Rover.  Getting all of us in the back for an hour-long ride was comical, and quite uncomfortable.  Eventually, we reached the lunch stop at Soto just as the Medical team was leaving.

After lunch, we had a new ride -- different van, different driver, and a different internal configuration.  This van had less leg room but an extra row of seats.

I was in heaven -- for the first time since we left the airport, I was actually comfortable in our vehicle.  It was a huge improvement.

We then rode to Longono without further incident.  We had reservations at a high-end eco-lodge (can't remember the resort name, but it started with a "B").  We arrived to in the dark, and at first I couldn't believe there was a resort there at all.  We were led to our cabins (which were great) by flashlight, and I had my first shower in four days, which was fantastic.  Then I walked to the dining room (which was outside) for a delicious meal.
Dinner Menu at the Eco-Resort on Lake Longono
Afterward, we had a beer in the tree-bar, which was just what it sounded like -- a bar built on and around a huge tree.
The Tree Bar at the Resort
I turned in a little later, wondering what the resort would look like in the daylight.

All photos taken by Curt Good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia Trip -- Day 5

A fairly good night of sleep in the barn, and once again I was the first person out of bed.

In an effort to combat "Mountipoopiphobia" I gathered my gear, and decided to visit the false banana grove before anyone else was up.  That meant I needed to open the gate to the compound, and when I did, I found a dog standing directly outside of the door.

It was the same dog that had been summoned to clean-up yesterday's spaghetti spill.  The dog looked happy, and so I patted it's head and scratched it behind the ears a bit.  I did, however, shut the gate behind me, figuring no one would be excited to wake up to a wet dog-nose exploring their face.

Upon returning, the dog was still hanging around the entrance to the compound.  Being a bit slow on the uptake, I opened the door, and before I could get inside and close it again, the dog slipped inside.  The animal started sniffing around the sheep blood and found a few pieces of meat dropped during the night.  Duh, I kinda forgot we butchered a sheep in here just a few hours ago.

I decided to get the interloper out, and gave the dog a shove, which produced a growl.  A stronger shove caused a growl and a snap.  It was then I decided that maybe an expert was needed.

The dog then found a bone, and crunched it loudly.  That brought one of the Chief's grandchildren out of the main hut.  The boy picked up a stick and tossed it at the dog, and that sent the animal scurrying out of the compound.

Oh, that's how you do it.

Later, when others got up, several mentioned that there had been dogs growling and fighting all night long over the sheep remains that had been tossed behind the compound.  I'd been so tired that I hadn't heard a thing.
Preparing to Depart from the Chief's Compound
We gathered our things, and after a heartfelt and touching goodbye, we set out on our way back to Chencha.  After three days at altitude, and a chance to adjust to walking the steep trails, the hike was much easier.  Of course, dropping 2,000 feet in altitude probably helped, too.

There was a spot on the way down that was a bit edgy.  We passed a school along the route (middle school age), and since class hadn't started, there were scores of kids milling around.  They pressed in as we passed, asking for candy or just generally curious.  This was not a problem in itself, but when one of the women I was walking with had a zipper pulled on her backpack, that crossed the line.  One of our African guides quickly broke things up, and no harm was done.
Scenery on the Hike back to Chencha
Our whole group made it back to Chencha in a couple of hours, and then we stopped in the Central Cafe for coffees, Cokes and pastries.  I had both sets of my shoes cleaned by one of the shoe shiners, whom I ridiculously overpaid, I'm sure.  It was nice having clean footwear.
Lunch at the Chencha Central Cafe
We rode in the vans back to Arba Minch and went out on Lake Chamo to see Hippos and Crocs.  But we almost didn't make it.  The road back to the boat launch was really wet, and eventually, we asked the driver to stop and we all piled out, walking down a parallel trail while the driver tried the road without passengers.  We made the right call this time, as the van became stuck.  We managed to make it to the launch only a few minutes late.  I was relieved I didn't have to take a turn carrying the 5 gallon gas can, however.

The featured animals were a bit scant on this boat ride -- the water was very high, and the place where the crocs normally sunned was mostly under water.  We saw about half a dozen.  The hippos were even more scarce -- I counted 3, and we never got close to them.  But the fisher eagles were all over.  I bet I saw at least a dozen, including some diving for fish.  Beautiful.
A medium-sized croc

Fisher Eagle swooping in to snag a meal
After the ride, we walked back out to the start of the mud pit.  Our driver had managed to get the van and cleaned it up while we were on the lake.  We then piled in and rode back up the mountain, stopping a few kilometers short of Checha in the cultural village of Dhorze.  When we arrived the electricity was out, which caused dinner to be a bit late -- but by now we all realized things in Africa don't happen on a schedule just because we want them to.

As we ate a late dinner (and had a few beers) our host for the evening, Mekonnen, arrived.  Mekonnen is a Rastafarian, complete with dreads and a laid-back style.  He's also an excellent and fun host, and made sure we had a great time that evening.  Activities ranged from learning to drink from a pitcher two at a time (harder than it sounds), to cultural dances, to fire jumping.  I think I had half a pitcher of Tej, the local homebrewed equivalent of mead, by myself.
Dancing around the fire in Dhorze

Fire jumping in Dhorze
While the dancing was going on around the fire, I left for a quick bathroom break.  When I popped into my room and saw the bed, I immediately knew I was finished for the day.  For the first time in three nights, I would be sleeping off the ground.

I laid down and was out in seconds.

All photos taken by Curt Good.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia Trip -- Day 4

There is nothing quite like going to sleep late and waking early -- particularly at 9,000 plus feet -- to make you feel rotten.

Although the barn was more comfortable than the hut I'd slept in last year, my body's internal clock was a mess.  At around 4AM, it told me I needed to get up, and despite my best efforts to get a couple more hours of sleep, I was still the first one out of bed.
Bora in Early Morning Cloud Cover
An advantage of being up first is a little privacy.

One of the creature comforts we sacrifice in traveling to Bora is a toilet.  Our bathroom consists of a small grove of false banana trees (enset) behind the cooking hut, and whatever paper or wipes we carry in.

I noticed many of the people in our group were afflicted with what I called "mountipoopiphobia" the fear of going to the bathroom on the mountain.  Really, it isn't that bad, but for some folks the subject became a bit of an obsession.  Having been backpacking plenty in the past, I was not afflicted with this fear, and was able to take care of things without any issue.

After I returned to the compound, one of the children was encouraging one of the local dogs to come inside and "clean up" a spaghetti spill that was on the ground.  The dog was quite hesitant to enter the compound, but eventually, with plenty of encouragement, came inside and gobbled up most of what was still on the dirt.  I had another experience with the same dog the next day, and it was amazing how differently the animal behaved when there was meat involved.

Others started to rise a short while later, and after a light breakfast, which no one seemed enthusiastic about, it was time to head up to the clinc site.  As we prepared to go, the Chief saddled his horse and left with his brother for an appointment.  I later learned it was a funeral, which would prevent him from being present during the clinic's grand opening ceremony.

The trail to the clinic from the Chief's hut
The route up to the clinc from the Chief's hut was fairly short, but all uphill, and in some places quite steep.  I was experiencing nausea and a mild headache, and decided I would see if it was possible to go slow enough up the trail to keep from breaking out in a flop-sweat.  As it turned out, it isn't.

When we reached the clinic, I could see that the structure was in place, but there was still a lot of work to do.  The clinic lacked doors and windows, needed plaster and paint.  And there was no furniture.  With tables and chairs carted up from the nearby church, conditions were about the same as they were the last time I was here for clinics.  As the construction wraps up in the next few weeks, the site should become downright civilized.
Installing the sign for the grand opening
I ended up helping to install a sign over the door, played with children, and spent a few minutes shadowing Amber as she saw patients.  Then fatigue and more nausea hit me like a ton of bricks.

I ended up walking back down the mountain to the barn to get a couple more hours of sleep.  And then back to the clinic for the grand opening ceremony -- which took much longer to organize than to conduct.  The official opening was the culmination of nearly two years of planning, fundraising, and work by Dan, Amber and many others.  I felt lucky to be there to see it.

Then we traveled back to the Chief's hut for dinner.  Somewhere along the way, I'd missed lunch,  but with the nausea, I really didn't "miss" it at all.  By dinner time, however, I was feeling much better and was finally hungry.
Singing and dancing around the fire
Traditionally, we slaughtered a goat or sheep to celebrate the trip and honor our hosts.  But killing and preparing a sheep takes hours, and we'd gotten a late start.  Fortunately, our fearless leaders decided to serve a two step dinner -- Mac and Cheese as the first course, and the meat later (around 11PM, as it turned out).  The smell was incredible once the cooking started, and the wait time was filled by dancing and singing around the fire.  It was inspiring and fun.
Sheep cooked by headlamp
I turned in soon after eating a small portion of the sheep, sorry that tomorrow morning we would be departing Bora.

All photos were taken by Curt Good and unabashedly swiped from his Facebook posts.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia Trip -- Day 3

I woke up on day 3 feeling refreshed after an excellent night's sleep.  The resort in Arba Minch has mosquito netting around all the beds, and for some reason, once deployed the nets seem to provide a sense of isolation that just encouraged deep, restful slumber.

Or maybe I was just really, really tired.

After a good breakfast, we were more or less on hold.  The van we'd arrived in last night needed work in order to make it up the mountain road to Chencha -- our jumping off point for the hike to Bora.  Eventually, it was decided that we should walk down to the hotel driveway to the main road (which was quite muddy), and meet up with the van there.  Given the weakened condition of the van, I suppose it was an intelligent precaution, but it as things turned out, that road was the muddiest spot we would walk during the entire trip -- by quite a lot.  I ended up with mud all over my shoes, and my calves and there was no prospect of cleaning up for at least three days.  Well, mud would be the least of my worries.

We hopped in the van and drove to...a gas station.

There, our African counterparts spent the next hour or two trying to figure out how to get the van in better running condition.  The core problem was water in the air filter -- a simple problem to solve in the United States.  Here we would simply pop in a new air filter and head on down the road.  Unfortunately, in Arba Minch, there were air filters, but none of them fit into the housing on our van.  And the compressed air available (our second choice for fixing the water problem) had water vapor in the line (no dessicant), so that didn't work either.

Ultimately, the van's performance improved enough that we thought we could make it to Chencha.  A quick lunch at the Ferengi (read:  white foreigner) hotel, and we were on our way.  The road up was beautiful, but also a tough ride.  I felt every bump and washout in the road, and it seemed like much longer than 90 minutes.  By the time we reached Chencha, I was really happy to be out of that damned van.

On the last trip, we stopped at the Chencha guesthouse, and unloaded baggage, but this time, we drove to the sports field and unloaded from the van there.  Then we started our 6 mile hike to Bora.

I'd done this once before, and so knew how to manage it a bit better.  I paced myself along the way, knowing that once we got to the top of the mountain, we weren't quite done yet.  I had a bag of tootsie rolls with me, which I was passing out to children I met along the way.  That worked pretty well until I got to a school, where there was a huge mob.  I handed the bag off to Dan, our team's leader, and he threw the candies across a field.  It was the only way to prevent being virtually mugged for tootsie rolls.

Note to self:  next time keep the candy under wraps during the hike up.

We reached the summit of the mountain just before sunset, rested a few minutes, and then descended to the "Chief's hut."  I'd been there before -- the Chief's hut was actually a collection of structures where the "chief" of Bora lived.  There were two huts, a barn, a cooking hut, and the entire structure was enclosed in an enset (false banana tree) wall.  I was assigned a spot in the barn, along with the late-night crowd.  If you're reading this and thinking -- hey, Tom doesn't stay up late at night, he's a morning person -- you would be right.  I was the odd man out, and had to flex to make the sleeping arrangements work.  As it turned out, there were pluses and minuses to this.

Dinner was spaghetti, and I basically skipped it.  The combination of the physical challenge of reaching the huts, and the altitude (a little below 10,000 feet) had suppressed my appetite.  After we ate, we listened to incredible singing, mostly by young girls from the village, around a bonfire.  Let me tell you, the girls that led the songs have incredible voices, and the songs are surreal and beautiful.  I will never tire of listening to their chant-like singing.

We made a quick excursion to "the cliff" a steep drop-off into a ravine not far from the Chief's hut, but the trip was cut short by reports (I never saw anything) of hyenas.

I turned in around 11PM, but didn't go to sleep right away.  As the others sleeping in the barn drifted in, I listened to jokes and banter, laughing quietly, and not wanting to miss anything despite my fatigue.  Eventually, I slipped into sleep (as a contingent went back to "the cliff").  My last conscious thoughts were feeling contented and very much "at home."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia Trip -- Day 2

This was the longest day of the trip.  It started with me rising on my own, just before my  6:30 AM wake-up call.  I boarded the 7 AM shuttle for the airport, and was at the gate by 8, a couple hours early.

It was there I met up with the balance of the Vision team -- sans Curt, who was already in Germany, and would be meeting us on the ground in Addis.  We sat in the waiting area and chatted each other up a bit, all of us trying to get a feel for the other.  This group was going to spend a lot of time together over the next nine days, and we all wanted to feel as comfortable as possible.

The flight, on a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, was routine, although for me it was a little uncomfortable.  My last trip to Ethiopia (when we adopted Thomas, a little over a year earlier) had included free upgrades to business class both ways.  I'd had my hopes up for this trip as well, but no such luck.  I ended up with a bulkhead seat -- lots of leg room, but the adjacent middle seat held a large man who tended to spread into my space when he slept -- you all know that scenario.  Thirteen or fourteen hours later, when we arrived in Addis Ababa, I'd managed to sleep a couple of hours, watch a couple of movies, and edit over one hundred pages of one of my novels.

Yeah, I was pretty tired.

Customs was fast, and my bags were already out once I hit baggage claim.  Our entire team, including Curt who waited for us in the baggage area, were out in record time.

Alas, our African companions for the trip (Dawit, Million, the van driver, and Ally -- who is an honorary African, actually holding a U.S. passport, but living in Ethiopia), were not yet at the airport.  We spent a little while alternately guarding our bags, and soaking up the warming morning sun.  Eventually, the van arrived, supplying us with one of our bigger challenges for the trip.

Including our driver, the party had eleven people, and the configuration of the van was such that every seat had to be filled.  That included the narrowed rear seat where I sat, and the torture seat in the first row with a metal bar across it.  We were very cramped inside.  And every available niche, plus the luggage rack on top, was completely packed.

Soon afterward we began the ten hour drive to Arba Minch, which included dramatic scenery, hazardous driving (mostly due to sheep and cows wandering in the road), and one incredibly sore set of backsides.  After stopping at Hosana for lunch, we continued further south, getting to within about an hour of Arba Minch just as the sun was starting to set.

That's when the crazy stuff started.

The last 90 minutes of "road" to Arba Minch is largely unpaved, and since there had recently been some heavy rains in the nearby mountains, the road had several streams flowing directly across it.  We drove through the first swollen creek, which had water about a foot deep, without issue.  The second one was more than twice that deep, and I was feeling a bit nervous about the water levels as a local waded across in front of us, and the water climbed past his knees.  We got through that one, too.

Creek three, however, was at least another foot deep, and the flow was strong.  Just downstream of the crossing point was a ten foot drop -- a mini-waterfall.  I envisioned the van floating in the stream, hitting the rocks at the base of the waterfall, flipping over, and getting pushed even further downstream.  I would have a front row seat if that happened.  I considered how difficult it might be to squeeze out one of the back windows, and decided it would be nearly impossible.  I started wondering if I could release the rear door from the inside.

One of my companions asked if there was a way around this spot, and indeed, I knew of one -- at least a four hour detour.  No one was excited about that option.

A bus ran through the creek as we watched, and seemed to have little problem.  Of course, our van was much smaller, but our driver seemed convinced he could make  it -- at least that was my interpretation of the rapid-fire talking going on in Amharic.

I and a couple of others suggested we all get out and wade across, letting the van go forward without passengers.  But before the idea could even be considered, we were moving forward.

Of course, we didn't make it.

The van became stuck in the deepest, swiftest part of the stream.  My theory -- the strong flow of water pushed us downstream a few feet, and our tires became lodged against rocks too large to easily roll over.  We were held fast, but at least we weren't floating.

Within minutes, a pack of Ethiopian men and boys, people just hanging around the crossing area, were in the water trying to give us a push out.  The van rocked back and forth repeatedly, but couldn't seem to break free.  I saw a truck on the far side start to get a strap out, and thought we would be towed to safety (the truck drivers were undoubtedly getting a bit impatient as we were blocking the road for a good twenty minutes prior to this), but this plan never seemed to go any further..

That's when the engine to the van died.

Water started to seep into the van, as we seemed to settle deeper and deeper into the stream.  We finally concluded we needed more muscle on the outside of the vehicle and less weight inside, and  all the men (except for the driver) and Ally piled out into the water to push.  Of course we were all in our clothes, which, in cases like mine, were supposed to last at least one additional day.  Whatever we could manage to get off the van's floor, which eventually ended up with about three inches of water on it, was put on the seats.  Unfortunately, that didn't include my suitcase, which, unbeknownst to me, was under my seat.

While we waited for things to get coordinated, the women (Carrie and Kristen) were forced to toilet in a plastic Target bag.  Welcome to Africa!

It took about two minutes for all of us to push the van out of the stream, first going back a little to steer around the submerged obstructions, and then making up the far bank.  I was thankful for the help from all the men and boys at the stream -- we couldn't have gotten out without them.  Our Ethiopian guides dispensed tips to the leaders totaling approximately $30, perhaps the best money spent on the entire trip.

By now it was dark, we were personally soaked, some of our baggage was wet (including my main bag), and the van wouldn't start.

We tried calling to Arba Minch, appealing to the DOMA Medical Team for help traveling the remaining one hour to our hotel.  They had been in Chencha that day running clinics, and hadn't yet arrived at the hotel.  In fact, don't think we could even raise them on the phone, and I'm not sure what they could have done that wouldn't have taken at least another two to three hours to implement.

Then a miracle happened.

After draining the air filter housing, and monkeying with some of the engine wiring, the diesel van actually started.  We all piled inside, soaked to the skin, and continued on our way.

It became obvious that the van wasn't working properly as soon as we hit an uphill section of the road -- power was minimal.  Fortunately, Arba Minch was basically downhill from where we were, and we managed to limp into the hotel parking lot.  I knew that tomorrow's trip included a steep climb at grade, and the van, in its current condition, would never make it.

But that was tomorrow's problem.

Once at the hotel, a very nice one by rural Ethiopian standards, I unpacked my wet things extremely thankful I had taken the time to put nearly everything in plastic garbage bags before leaving home.  I hung the few wet items in my room to dry, and followed that up with a hot shower -- the last for several days.  Afterward, I walked over to the hotel restaurant, and we met the Medical team.

Unlike my last trip I took with DOMA International, where the medical team was roughly the same size as the vision team, this time the medical team was huge.  With translators and guides, their group numbered, I think, 16.  I was far too tired to try to deal with all the names, so I sat down in the next open chair, and met those around me -- figuring I'd have plenty of opportunity to get to know everyone else during our next three days in Bora.

I had little appetite, could barely keep my eyes open at that point, and was happy once the dinner was finally over.  Curt, who was my roommate at the various hotels, and I walked back to our room, and I considered how we had been both lucky and unlucky that day.

Unlucky to have the van stall out in the middle of the stream, but lucky that there had been all those Ethiopians loitering near the crossing who were willing to help us get out.  Sure, they expected to get something out of it, but I reflected on how unhelpful most Americans would have been under similar circumstances.  Ally had even remarked that if this had been Kenya, all our luggage would have been stolen in the process -- perhaps a slight exaggeration, but I understood the point:  Ethiopians are kind, respectful and friendly people who are willing to lend a hand when needed.  And as far as I've been able to tell, they don't take advantageof a situation.  Maybe these generalities are not true in every case, but in my experience it has always been the case.

It is one of the many reasons I enjoy traveling to this country.

As I drifted off to sleep, I knew tomorrow would likely present additional problems -- particularly with the van.  But I wasn't worried.  Everything would sort itself out eventually.   After all, This Is Africa (TIA).

Here is Curt's photo of the van, midstream.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Back to Bora, Ethiopia trip - Day 1

In May of 2011, I traveled with DOMA International to the remote Ethiopian Village of Bora, to assist in medical clinics and learn to understand and appreciate the challenges and beauty of life in this remote corner of the developing world.

From November 4 -14, 2012, I revisited Bora -- both to see first-hand the progress being made on a permanent medical clinic, and to reconnect with the wonderful people of the area that had been so welcoming and open during my first visit.

I woke on Sunday morning with a familiar feeling -- "why did I ever agree to go on this trip."  A week earlier we  returned from a fabulous cruise to Hawaii, and I was wishing I could spend a few  more days at home.  I often find myself having this regret as trip departures approach, and as a result, was pretty sure I'd change my attitude once the travel got underway.  Eventually, that proved to be the case, but at the time I was feeling a bit down.

All morning I fussed around the house finishing up unimportant tasks and, a bit grumpy, looking in drawers, closets and corners for anything I might be forgetting.  I knew from the last trip that anything I brought along would likely be hand-carried up the mountains  (a 6 mile hike with a couple thousand feet of vertical gain), and certainly didn't want some poor porter lugging extra weight so I could have yet another pair of shoes or another jacket.  But how many pairs of pants do you need for an eight day trip that includes three nights in a sleeping bag?

A recent report from Amber, the leader of the medical team, said the weather was unusually wet.    At the last minute, I decided to throw in a pair of hiking shoes, and put nearly everything in plastic garbage bags -- a decision I'd be very happy I'd made later, but not for the reason I originally expected.

Because the only direct flight from the US to Ethiopia leaves from Washington DC at 10:00 am, I had to fly to Washington the night before the long haul flight on Ethiopian Air.  While I appreciated having as much time as possible at home, I definitely hated taking the last flight of the day from Chicago to DC, knowing if there were any problems, there was no easy back-up plan.  As it turned out, this time I was lucky.

Once I reached the airport in Omaha, I was able to check my main bag all the way through to Addis Ababa -- a luxury as the suitcase had no wheels, and retrieving it in Washington DC and hauling it to my hotel would be a pain in the neck.  My two flights went off without a hitch, and I rolled into the Hampton Inn near Dulles Airport at around 1:30 in the morning, knowing that at 7:00 am, I needed to be on the shuttle to the airport.  That would represent the start of a fatigue that would never completely leave me throughout the entire trip.

As I laid in bed, trying to go to sleep, I reviewed the list of people I thought would  be my traveling companions -- a list I'd compiled from emails I'd received.  Two of the team I already knew -- Dan, the leader of our team, and Armin whom I'd traveled with on my previous visit.  Both these guys were a lot of fun, and part of the lure of making this return visit.  Joining us would be Jamie, Carrie, Kristen and Curt.  I was a little nervous -- small group dynamics can be tricky, and one or two rotten apples can be the difference between a fun trip and misery.

As I drifted off to sleep, my final wish was for a team that would bond well, accomplish our assigned tasks without major problems, and would be fun.

I wasn't going to be disappointed along any of these dimensions.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Off To Ethiopia

After a nice 50th birthday celebration, followed by a fabulous cruise to Hawaii and back, I'm off on my second aid trip to Ethiopia with DOMA International.  Looking forward to seeing the changes in the village of Bora, where the Hidota Medical Clinic will have it's grand opening next week.

I plan to keep a journal of the trip, and will record the entries here upon my return.