Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thanksgiving Potluck Lunch

It’s usually around the holidays that I start to get home sick for my family and friends and this year, since spending thanksgiving with our families in the states was just not going to happen, Ileah and I wanted to spend it with the people in kalalaa who in many ways have become our family too.  We planned for a Thanksgiving lunch, pot luck style and brought chickpea patties, lentil soup, and pumpkin soup (our most thanksgiving food). Tsigue (the compound cook) made lots of Ethiopian food for our lunch. We invited many people to our pot luck lunch however many couldn’t come. As I stood in front of the table full of food and as it got closer and closer to noon, I began to worry that there wouldn’t be enough people to eat it all. So I went around the compound inviting whoever I saw to our lunch (the school librarian, clinic nurse, teachers, hired help, etc.) Nurse Aduenya came with two other ladies and she also contributed to the already enormous amount of food by bring more food which was great and we all did Thanksgiving justice by gorging ourselves with food. People arrived in shifts, when one group was finished, another would arrive and it was like this until 3pm when it was time for us to leave and teach class.
Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday celebrated in Ethiopia, Ileah and I had to explain to everyone what it was all about. I began to think of all the many blessings I was thankful for like: being able to come to Ethiopia and serve the needs of the people, the friendship people here have shown me, the support from my friends and family back home, and above all a God who loves me and takes care of my every need. This was a very special Thanksgiving that I’ll not forget.   

The Great Ethiopian Run (late entry)

             Several months ago toward the beginning of our arrival here to Kalalaa, Ileah had expressed her love of running to a few of the locals at the compound. It was then brought to her attention that there was an upcoming race on the 27th of November called “The Great Ethiopian Run” which is the largest road running race in all of Africa. Ileah was instantly interested in participating and I later decided I would participate too. The distance was 10 kilometers (a little over 6 miles I think) and there would be thousands of participates from all over the world (mostly other parts of Africa) running. I knew I couldn’t run 10 kilometers straight but I decided that walking it would be just as fun.
           When the day finally came for the run, Ileah and I were joined by two other people from the village Eyobe (the village gardener) and Sammi (at high school student, one of the villagers). We all took a taxi to the location which was somewhere in the middle of Addis Ababa and lined up. It was quite a scene as people were warming up for the run and everybody was hipped up with excitement. The others wanted to line up in the front and I joined them hoping my efforts would keep me from getting lost in the crowd (it did little to help). Instead I was crammed in between so many people I couldn’t even see my own two feet.  Eyobe and I were planning on walking the distance together however when the race started, we were instantly separated.
           For the next 20 minutes I kept running from fear that if I stopped, I would get trampled on  by the 35,000 other participates there that day. Eventually I tired out and walked the rest of the way. All the while, people were cheering and singing in groups of runners. As far as I could see in either direction front or behind, there were runners in red T-shirts. I finished the race in 2 hours and 35 seconds which placed me in the third place group. Not to confuse you, I did not win third place. Everyone who participates gets a metal when they finish and depending on your time, you either get a first (purple), second (green), or third (Yellow) place metal. I tried to get my metal when I finished but they ran out of them so Sammi graciously gave me his metal which was a second place green metal (although I felt completely unworthy of wearing it, I did). Turned out that Ileah, Sammi, and Eyobe all received second place metals. Non-the-less, I was happy to have participated. After the run, the four of us went out for lunch and coffee/tea before heading back to kalala. It was a lovely way to spend a lazy Sunday.      

Mountain Climbing Adventures in Tigrai (a very late post)

Ileah and I wanted to explore other regions of Ethiopia and so we sought out a well recommended tour guide named Luigi, Who runs his own tour company here in Addis Ababa and he recommended for us a trip to the region of Tigrai to visit the Gheralta Mountains and other surrounding mountains. Aside from the unique shapes, formation, and look of these mountains, another interesting aspect about them is that most of the mountains have a rock church on its peak that dates back to the 4th century. Most of these churches are a part of the mountain and have been carved out from a single rock or chunk of the mountain like caves. They sit on the tops of most peaks gleaming in the sunlight like precious jewels.
                We left Kalalaa, early in the morning on November 3rd, for the airport and boarded a 1 hour flight into Mekele, Tigrai (located in the northern region of Ethiopia). From Mekele, it was another 2 hours drive to our camp site. A couple from Norway (Carmen and Arvey) and their friend (Walter) were also doing the same trip as us so we became five in total (not including our driver or local guide).
This was going to be a camping style trip and we were told that there would be a tent really for us, a hired cook to make our meals, a guide to show us the attraction sites, and to just enjoy ourselves because we would be well cared for. In my mind, when people mention camping, I tend to think of my camp meeting days in Wisconsin where me and a few of my friends (usually about 4 or 5 of us total) were crammed into a tent that claims fits 6 people but in actuality more like 3 comfortable and 4-5 if you wanted to feel like sardines in a can. I was thinking that our meals would be cooked over a camp fire. To my amazement when I arrived at the camp site, I could stand fully upright in my tent. Ileah and I decided to share a tent together but that tent could probably have fit a family of 6 comfortable. There were very comfy cots for us to sleep on, shelves for our belongings, a table and 2 chairs all nicely set up in our tent. They even put 2 pairs of slippers near the entrance! This was quality service! We had our own outhouse and toilet (although it was more like a hole in the ground with a toilet seat above it but still it beats going in the brushes).  Our meals were served in a large size tent (well decorated the Ethiopian style) by a profession chef (food was always delicious) decently set tables. It felt more like I was staying at a hotel rather than going camping. There was even an area set up so we could take showers. This was Luigi’s idea of luxury camping and he was the one who came up with the set up.

When we arrived close to our destination, it was already mid-day. We decided to visit one of the oldest churches in the region. For this first church, we did not have to climb any mountains to visit just a set of stairs. The entire church was carved out from the mountain and when I entered it, I just had this odd feeling looking at the ancientness of it all from the paintings on the walls, the tall pillars in the room, to the carved designs on the ceiling. I can quite explain this feeling but it was just so interesting looking at an artifact that’s so old but has been preserved throughout the ages.
That evening, we talked along a dirt road just sight-seeing. the mountains were so beautiful in the evening sunlight and we even saw a herd of camels passing by. The second day there, we climb the first mountain which took 2 hours to get up with the help of local guides, but the view was magnificient and that evening we took a walk through the quiet country side. The area was just so remote and far from the business of the city that it seemed a world away. The mountain we climbed on the 3rd morning was the most challenging. There was on section of the mountain that was a vertical 90 degree slop straight up (like climbing a wall)! And we had to do it bare foot cause the monks viewed that area as holy ground. That same day, after lunch we climbed another mountain but thankfully this one wasn’t as steep. Two mountains in one day was pushing the limits of my ability slightly…
 (I really wish I could upload more pictures of the trip but my internet is just too slow.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Voyage to Mount Yerer

Early Sunday morning (Oct. 23rd) a group of us (me, Ileah, and some of the villagers) set out for adventure. The destination was Mount Yerer, the tallest mountain near Addis Ababa at 2,285 meters above sea level. I had noticed this mountain (before I even knew its name) early on while exploring around Kalaala and had taken several pictures of. I remembered how this mountain appeared to be the tallest mountain I could see with my naked eye on my walks around the village but the thought of climbing it never crossed my mind.  Several weeks ago, Ileah had expressed her desire to run to a mountain and back so the villagers decided to take us there on a Sunday that would work for them. I had only wanted to spend some time getting to know the people I’ve seen around the compound and decided to join them on this hike for fun.
 From Kalaala, Mount Yerer looked very far away. Although it stands tall like a watch tower amidst the miles of flat fields, I was a bite spectacle of the idea that I would reach the mountain at all, let alone climb to the top peak. We all gathered in front of the house and by 7am and started off on a journey that none of us had ever made before. I was told that if we left at 6am, we would be back by 12 noon so I didn’t bother to bring a flashlight, just my camera, cell phone, and a water bottle. Before long, our group had split up into three groups: the fast speed walkers, the medium paced hikers, and the out of breath lagers (can you guess which group I fell in?).  Within an hour I couldn’t see the groups in front of me anymore and was now getting to know my fellow lagers. As pathetic, as it may seem, I found comfort in the ability to sympathize with Bizunesh who was struggling to keep up as she had started to develop stomach cramps and Kibret who didn’t mind our slower pace and allowed us to take breaks when we got too tired.
The further we got from the village, the more I saw of other villages, their inhabitants, and the land that stretch before me like an endless stroll as far as the eye could see. Soon we were in desolate territory where there were no roads and the only means of travel was by foot, horse, or donkey but the fields of wheat, teff, and other crops never ceased. Ever so slightly I felt that we were walking on an upward incline. Once in a while we came across a house or a small village and Kibret would visit with them or ask for directions and I would offer to take pictures of their family. Some of the people we met along the way offer us beans to eat. We keep walking and snacking along the way. When one of us got too tired, we all took a break to sit down and rest our legs. We just took our time and enjoyed ourselves. After about 3 hours of hiking, I was starting to tire out and the mountain look no closer to me than when I had first set out but Kibret keep urging us to go on. I started to realize that coming back at 12 noon was just not going to happen.
Soon we came to a river and found the rest of our group already there, sitting, chatting and relaxing but as we arrived, they were just about ready to leave, so once again we fell behind them but I really enjoyed our pace and got to take pictures with the locals. After what seemed like hours (probably noonish) the mountain finally started to look bigger like it was just a few miles in front of us and I could see the different colors on it much clearer. We than had to walk down a steep hill and through at least a mile of fields before we arrived at the foot of the mountain where once again we were reunited with the whole group. But as I mentioned before, since they had arrive earlier than we did, by the time we got there they were ready to start up again.
For the next part of the hike, we had to start going up the hill that was the base of the mountain which was steeper than I had thought it to be. My leg muscles were already strained but I had to keep going up, up and up. When I reached the top of the hill, I was ready to give up and just be content with making it as far as I did. Two of the other girls weren’t interested in climbing to the peak so I thought this would be the perfect time to just relax on the hill with them and wait for the rest to journey up the peak and come back for us. But at the last minute I decided to go up further thinking “I’ve already made it this far. It would be a shame to say I didn’t climb to the very peak of the mountain.” So up I went.
The slope now was even steeper but when I made it to the top of the second hill (which sat on the first one) I found that there was an underground orthodox Christian church. There were two priests standing outside and we were told that we couldn’t take pictures of the church. When we told them that we were trying to reach the top of the mountain, they gave us instructions, pointed us on the right path, and told us that it takes about 20 minutes to reach the top. At such high elevation, these priests were use to the altitude and so for them it’s very possible to run to the peak in 20 minutes but for me it took over an hour. The higher we climbed the more my heart rate increased and the less oxygen I was breathing in. We lost our trail, got separated from two of our hikers, wound up in bushes, had to head back, re-find the right trail all the while shouting for our lost hikers, and climb up what appeared to be an 80 degree slope with me slipping and sliding. FINALLY, we were there, sitting at the peak of Mount Yerer overlooking the vast view of the landscape, Even Addis Ababa appear far away now.
Sheer terror over came as I sat on the side of the peak of the mountain for I could now see clearly just how high I had climbed and remembered how terrified I was of height! My knees would not stop shaking.  The rest of the hikers wanted to see what was on the other side of the peak and so they climbed even higher but I refused to take one step higher so I sat by myself as they went to explore the other side. They were reunited with the two lost hikers. When they were ready to climb down, I felt such a sense of relief and had to keep repeating in my head, “You’re going down, soon it will be flat ground.” Some of the boys just ran down the mountain like nobody’s business but I scooted down most of the way on my butt with the aid of someone holding my hand for balance. My body was spent, my legs would not stop twitching in complaint of what I was forcing them to do but what choice did I have but to keep going? Slowly, slowly, I made it back to the foot of the mountain and just claps on the grass in exhaustion. I only got to rest for about 15 minutes before we had to go on our way again for it was already past 4pm and we still had a long ways to go.
The sun sets around 6pm so we needed to cover as much distance as possible before it got dark. This time we had to tread through the fields without a local guide. The ground was uneven with stones perfect for tripping on and difficult to spot pot holes just waiting for ankles to twist. I don’t know where I found the energy but I picked up my pace and kept on walking. For me, my motivation to walk faster was the setting of the sun. I knew we had miles to go yet and once it got dark I would be tripping over rocks with the threat of being attacked by hyenas or wild dogs. None of us brought flash lights with us since no one anticipated the trip would take as long as it did, but Kibret had a flashlight on his cell phone which was running low on battery.  Once it got completely dark, we were able to use his cell phone for a little bit of light.
We came across the river again and this time was had to cross it in the dark but there weren’t enough stepping stones for us to cross the river without getting wet so the boys had to carry us girls on their shoulders while crossing the river in the pitch darkness of a moonless night with only a small cell phone flash light to guide them! (I’m telling you this is one adventure I have never encountered before!) We all made it across the river, kept walking in the direction of the night lights of Addis Ababa and when Kibret’s cell phone dead, we just sat on the side of the road in front of a house. The residents of the house were kind enough to bring some injera for us to eat and refill my water bottle. They then lead us further down the road while carrying sticks in their hands in case a hyena got to close to us.
A few of the villagers got back to Kalaala and had told Solomon (our maintenance guy) where we were, and asked for him to pick us up. I was so happy to finally see a car or any type of moving vehicle that could take me back to my bed in Kalaala. On the ride back (about a 35 minute car ride which would have taken us 3 more hours on foot) I felt so wonderful so be sitting and not have to move a muscle. When I got back to the Learning village, I gave Tisgay (the cook) a big hug. “There is no place like home I thought to myself” and then I thought “This is the first time I have thought of the Learning Village as my home!”
I don’t know how many miles I walked that day. I asked several people and got very different answers. Some guessed it was maybe 30 kilometers, others 50 kilometers. My guess is that it was probably 40 kilometers or maybe 30 to 35 plus miles.  Whatever the distance, it was an adventure I will never forget. I don’t regret going, for it was truly a wonderful experience and the best part of it was that I got to know the people at the Learning Village better and we grew closer as friends. I wouldn’t go as far to say I’m up for another mountain climbing adventure next weekend though. Who ever knew that Ting, a girl from mid-west America, could climb a mountain and live to tell about it? I certainly didn’t!            

Top: me standing in front of the Mount Yerer doing a victory pose for making it that far.                              Right: view of the land scape from the peak of the mountian!                                           

Friday, October 14, 2011

Month One Pictures

It's officially been one month since I have been in Ethiopia and I thought what better way to commemorate this by posting up some pictures so the readers elsewhere can get a glimpse of what my life as been like.

This is Kalaala and it's where I am staying. As you can see, it's pretty much beautiful farmlands, fields, and mountians.

This is by far my favorate picture and because it was such a clear, sunny day, you can see the just how scenic this place can be.
Me and Ileah (my roomate and a fellow Southern student) with these two kids we found watching over their fields. Of course when you pull out a camera, they come running. Some children start working in the fields or attending to the animals as early as 3 or 4 years old. If they are fortunate, their parents will let them attend school.
For now, this is all I have time to post since the internet here is really slow and it takes me like 10 minutes to upload each picture but don't worry, there is more to come. Much more!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Grand Opening

Last Sunday was an exciting event as students, parents, teachers, and even the village pets gathered in front of the brand new kindergarten building for its grand opening ceremony. That morning, Ileah and I helped clean up the yard in front of school along with the other villagers and hired help. And by cleaning up the yard, I mean using our hands as rakes to pick up fallen leaves since there weren’t enough yard tools. Everyone was busy finishing up last minute touches. The ceremony started around 1:30 that afternoon and as I made my way over to the school, I could feel a sense of merriment, anticipation and pride from crowd. Songs were sung, speeches made, traditional ceremonial practices preformed and finally the pink ribbon cut by Dr.Fekede. Although classes didn’t officially begin until the next morning, the teachers decided to teach that day after the ceremony because the parents had already prepared their children for a formal school day.
The kindergarten building is divided into three classrooms. On the left is what they call the lower KG (around age 5-6), on the right is the upper KG( age 6-7), and in between is the nursery (ages 3-4). (The ages are just estimates). Occasionally, I will go in and observe the teaching style of the teachers (which usually consist of shouting out the lessons and having the students shout back in response at ear splitting decibels) and reading stories to the children during break time. Because I am not allow to formally teach school here since I don’t hold a teaching license, I have to find creative ways to be helpful which is proving to be challenging since the teachers pretty much got it covered. Dr. Fekede told us that our role is simply to mingle with the students and that we are making a difference with just our presence and although I would like to believe that, I still struggle with feeling as though I’m not accomplishing much.
Dr. Fekede returned to the States last Friday leaving Ileah and I the only Americans on the compound however, he plans on coming back after Christmas and spending 6 weeks here. For the time being, we are operating somewhat by ourselves in terms of what we choose to do daily.