Monday, February 7, 2011

From Ethiopia - Post 3 - Traveling North

Prior to traveling to Ethiopia for our second trip, we had been in contact with Workineh, one of the guest house employees whom we had become friends during our first trip.  We had asked him to plan out a few suggestions of day trips that we could take from Addis Ababa in order to see more of Ethiopia.  So, on Thursday morning, Mike & Stephanie and Eric & I  met up in the lobby, ready for our trip North.  Workineh had lined up a driver to take the 5 of us for the day; however, after what sounded like a tense conversation on the phone, he informed us that it would be a few minutes, that the driver had canceled but that he had arranged for Isaias, the guest house driver, to take us.

The roads and the landscape changed dramatically the second we left the city of Addis Ababa.  One of the seats in the van faces backwards, and at first, we discussed who would not get car sick riding backwards.  Not too long into the trip, however, we realized that sometimes it's much better NOT to be able to see out the front of the van.  The random herds of cattle and other animals crossing in front of the van were not nearly as frightening  as the driver passing a large truck or bus on a blind-curve, on a steep hill, going really fast, with no guard rails to prevent you from plummeting off the side of the road.

The views were amazing.  Beautiful countryside, traditional huts, lots of green foliage.  We tried to take a lot of pictures.  We each had certain things that we were looking for.  Mike was trying to capture the perfect pictures of children shepherding.  I was looking for wells and people carrying water jugs.  We all wanted pictures of the beautiful children.  None were hard to find.  We saw them all along the trip.

The problem was trying to actually get the shot out the rapidly moving windows of the van.  We had quite a few laughs at the pictures that we managed to capture -- a donkeys back leg or rear-end, a child's leg or arm, empty roadside where we completely missed the image we were trying to capture.  Then, about 90% of the time when we actually managed to get the image in the camera field, it was totally blurry.  But, that's the beauty of digital cameras, right?!  As Eric used to tease me when I would brag about getting a great picture before the digital era, "well, if you take enough pictures, you're bound to get at least one good one!"  It was frustrating though because I so wanted to share with you the 'pictures' that we saw, that we still see with our mind's eye.  But alas, you'll just have to go to Ethiopia sometime to see them. 

Young man hauling water

A well out in the country

A mom with a baby on her back and 2 children walking, carrying water

Traditional huts

Beautiful countryside

As we drove around in Ethiopia on each trip, there were several things that stood out to me.  One was how often very young children are expected to work.  We frequently saw young children out carrying water, shepherding herds of various animals, driving donkey-pulled carts loaded with sticks or hay or water.  I tried hard to get a picture of a boy that I saw, completely alone, probably 7 or 8 years old, shepherding a herd of BULLS!!!  He was all by himself with a stick in his hand that had a piece of string tied to the end of it, with which he was hitting the bulls to get them to move.  The bulls towered over him and surrounded him, but he was not afraid.  I, on the other hand, was flabbergasted.  Seriously.  I would not even let my own children near ONE bull like that by themselves, let alone a whole bunch of them. 

Children helping Dad move hay
At some point when one of us expressed disappointment at missing yet another picture that we wanted to get, the driver caught on to what we were trying to do so he would occasionally slow down for us to get some pictures.  When we were stopped, we saw these children out working in the field with cattle.  When they saw that the van had stopped, they came running.  We had loads of snacks and treats to pass out and we were out in the middle of nowhere so we were happy for them to come.  There was also a group of older women, carrying large loads on their backs, who happened to be walking by.  They saw that we were giving the children something to eat so they came over and were thrilled when we gave them some crackers and snacks, too.

Children out shepherding cattle

Women bearing heavy loads

A sweet smile for our pictures

A little leery of us, but notice the happy women tearing into their treats in the background

Another memorable scene during our drive north was this father and his two children walking their donkey, loaded with an enormous bunch of straw.  The little girl was walking along with her shepherd's stick.  But, as they walked, the load began to slip.  We were all gasping as we watched the little girl struggle to try to push the load back up onto the donkey's back.  It seemed that she would surely be pinned beneath the falling load, but somehow the three of them managed to keep the donkey in control, and managed to keep the load on the donkey's back.
The 3 of them walking with the donkey

The little girl under the load trying to push it back up onto the donkey
Another thing that always struck me as so different from here was seeing unsupervised, tiny little kids out by themselves.  You'd be riding down the road and a little 3 year old would be standing right on the side of a busy road by themselves.  Or, a 7 year old would be out in the field with the animals by themselves. Or, children would be sitting on the side of the road all alone.  It's so different.  I couldn't help but frequently think things like, "ahhhh, don't go out into the road!" or "where are your parents?" or "what are you doing out all alone?".  But, then I'd remember where we were and that, not only might they not have parents, they might be serving AS the parent to their siblings.  It's so sad that children can't just be children.  That they don't get to go to school, that they don't get to just have fun and play all day.
Little boy out in the field all alone

We stopped along the way at a overlook for the Gorge.  Unfortunately, it was very hazy and overcast at that point in the day and the view of the gorge was not good.  When we stopped though, a big group of children and a few adults came from out of nowhere selling baskets and hand-carved marble cross necklaces.  This is how it is.  The people have their little areas, their little "businesses".  It is so hard to say no when this happens.  First, they're generally selling things SO CHEAPLY.  Second, you know they need the money SO BADLY.  Third, they literally beg and plead.  And yet, it's also hard to say yes because how do choose who you're going to buy from when 10 kids are all trying to get you to buy a similar basket from them?  How do you say yes to one and no to another?  I had left my bag in the car so I didn't have any money and therefore didn't have to make a decision.  Eric ended up buying a few more necklaces, I think. 
Locals selling their goods at the Gorge overlook
And lastly, another thing that always struck me as weird was how excited the children got when they saw us.  I realize that their belief is that the "ferengi" have money, but it's still strange to see the genuine smiles and excitement on the childrens' faces from just a wave or a "hello" from one of us.   I guess some might like the seeming feeling of 'superiority' - like being a rock star or something.  Frankly, it made me feel sick.  I smiled at them and waved and said hello, certainly not because I felt so grand, but because I just loved seeing their little faces light up.  I loved hearing their proud little English, "hello"; seeing them run alongside the van smiling and waving; watching them giggle and laugh with their friends when we'd answer them.  THEY are the special ones.

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