124 Hours at the Back of My Brain

On July 7th, I left the town of Jimma, my home for the previous 50 days, still unsure of what Ethiopia was really like. I may have been living in the country for close to 2 months, but other than the rolling hills and farm fields outside of Jimma, I really had not experienced Ethiopia.

I returned to Jimma, this time on an airplane, 24 days later, with a changed perception and a sense of absolute wonder for a country that will now forever hold a piece of my heart. That is not all though, I returned to Jimma with an exercise book full of thoughts on life, hopes, dreams, DASSS, CompCamp, the International Centre, love, and crazy ideas that I have now had the opportunity to put hours of thinking into developing.

I spent a lot of time in a vehicle the past 24 days. What I quickly realized was that those hours didn’t have to be spent staring blankly out the window. While traveling, I made a conscious shift in how I perceived the time I have, pushing myself to think about things that are only ever stuck at the back of my mind behind my everyday thoughts. And I thought, and used my creative juices to keep thinking about an idea or a project, even when I was convinced I had thought of all I could, and I was amazed at the ideas I came up with. It’s easy to simply stick to thinking about the everyday things day in and day out. What I learned traveling, is that the distant thoughts that lurked at the back of my brain, some of which I didn’t even know existed, held great new ideas, deep understandings, and revelations about where in the world I am taking my own life after Ethiopia.

When you have to sit and wait, for an airplane, in a doctor’s office, on the bus ride to school or work, use that opportunity to develop and hash out the craziest of ideas lurking at the back of your brain behind your everyday thoughts.

In the past 24 days, I have gone from not really knowing anything about Ethiopia to now working to develop a social business with an incredible man by the name of Tefera. I spent 11 of my days traveling with Tefera, with hours of conversation about business and tourism now between us. We are developing a travel company, which we will run as a social business. The profits we make will fund an ‘Income Generating Activities’ (IGA) project that is part of an NGO that Tefera, my new partner, founded and currently manages in Addis Ababa. The project targets HIV+ women living in poverty with the training, capital, and most importantly, markets, to become successful entrepreneurs.

Now, although you may think I am crazy, starting a business in Ethiopia actually makes a whole lot of sense. After spending the summer in Ethiopia, I am fully convinced that there is a huge opportunity in the tourism industry where the growth potential is sizable. Also, currently no Ethiopia travel company utilizes things like Twitter and Google Adwords, only having basic websites and hoping potential customers will find them that way. So nontraditional forms of marketing have the potential to garner a great amount of business from the thousands of people a month who use the internet to learn more about and plan travel experiences to Ethiopia.

It feels like my travels have been months on the road, and every day was full of new experiences that could each make their very own blog post. I am going to approach sharing the experiences of traveling 3000+ km on the roads of Ethiopia in an unorthodox way. What experiences do you, the reader, want to hear about? I am going to provide the brief highlights of my 24 days on the road below, and then in the comments, please tell me which day or highlight makes you curious for more, and that will be the topic for my next blog post. Does that make sense? Whatever experiences get you excited to read about, I will write about them, it is as simple as that!

Apologies for the point form incomplete sentences, I tried to keep this as brief as possible, but like I said, we did a lot of different things. Read through, and whatever day is your favourite to read about, post in the comments section “Day 7” for example, and then in my next blog post, I will write full complete sentences all about those experiences. I know my highlights are long, and if you want to stop reading here, I understand, but I did my absolute best to condense them as much as I could!

Day 1: -Incredible drive from Jimma to Addis. -Watching Andy Murray win Wimbledon on a hotel TV.-Dancing, dinner, and tej (local honey wine), at a very well-known cultural restaurant in Addis. Night in Addis.
Day 2: -Kaldi’s Coffee experience (literally the Starbucks of Addis, same colours, same design, everything). –Hours of bumpy road driving past our first camels to Meti Fruit Processing Plant. –Giant snake dead on the road. Night in Adama/Nazret.
Day 3: 8 hours of driving along the ridges of mountain chains to Harar. –First day of real car note-taking, inspired by the breathtaking landscapes (developed restaurant idea). Fed raw meat to hyenas in the middle of the maze of narrow 1000-year-old streets in Harar, also had hyenas on my back. Night in Harar.
Day 4: Harar city tour. Sack of clothes dropped on my back as I bartered for an Ethiopian soccer jersey in a dark, tightly packed market. Bought a kg of famous Harar coffee. Went swimming in Dire Dawa! Nightclub dancing like an Ethiopian to the power of a generator, at least until the gas ran out. Night in Dire Dawa.
Day 5: Wheat and pasta factory tour in Dire Dawa. Driving back along the mountain ridges, this time in the front seat. Lunch at a randomly Canadian-owned restaurant in a small town on the road. Chewing chat on the long drive and many notes on CompCamp, DASSS, and how many commitments I will have this coming year. Night back in Adama/Nazret.
Day 6: Early morning 30 minute run to beautiful church and the Adama town stadium, with a free horse ride along the way. Massive amounts of various types of meat for lunch after long drive to Hawassa. Night spent with Dr. Alex and Dr. Swamy at the ridiculously beautiful Yewi Resort on Lake Hawassa. Night in Hawassa.
Day 7: Departed from university group, met our friend’s cousin, our newest travel companion. Took a minibus, then another minibus, then an actual sized (very overloaded) bus, finally making it to the Bale Highlands and the rural community of Agarfa. Huge welcome and hugs from our friend’s family. A night spent being stuffed with fresh farm food and local alcohol with dozens of new ‘family’ members. Night sleeping on the living room floor with about 14 other members of the extended family in Agarfa.
Day 8: 3 hour early morning run: fields, sunrise, river, wedding invitation, invited in and given fresh raw milk in small village of Kasumansu, 30km later, made it back to Agarfa. Family graduation celebration, 100+ guests, I gave a speech, was designated one of the event photographers, and then helped lead the afternoon dancing. Walk to the nearby waterfall and river, visit and pool games in the small town centre, Dru’s brother’s house for porridge, coffee with milk, and of course Arke (the localy brewed 70% alcohol). Family dancing around the massive bonfire and oregano tea before the second night of sleepover-style slumbering in Agarfa.
Day 9: New ‘family’ goodbyes and seeing a newborn calf take her first steps. Many modes of transportation to get from Agarfa back through the Bale Mountains to the town of Shashamane (the home of the Rastafarian movement). Over the hours driving, reading and writing the whole time. Night in a Pension (cheaper version of a hotel) in Shashamane.
Day 10: Early all-day bus to Addis, wrote a poem, visited the ECCO office (connected to the Canadian Embassy) for Amanda’s visa, stayed in a questionable $3 pension in Addis close to the bus station.
Day 11: Waiting for Amanda at the Addis Immigration Office, met Tefera, our trip organizer to the North, walked from the oldest (and probably most beautiful) hotel in Addis, Taitu, to the National Museum, surprisingly without getting lost. Visited my ‘old friend’ Lucy, the world’s oldest and most complete human fossil. Night in Taitu Hotel in Addis.
Day 12: Frisbee (and stares) in Taitu parking lot waiting for Tefera. Lunch with Tefera’s mother at his family home in Addis while picking up supplies. Lush dramatic drive across the Nile and up mountains. Wrote another poem about the drive. Finished my short book, “Understanding Islam”. Night in Debre Markos.
Day 13: Fat rivers, palm trees, and tropical farm fields mark the day’s driving. Lakeside lunch in Bahir Dar. Lake Tana boat trip to ancient monasteries on three different islands (the oldest being 1200 years old). Pool games on the lakeside (where I hit the nicest shot of my life). Bought a genuine leather book bag. Fruit pizza for dinner. Night in Bahir Dar.
Day 14: Lake Tana early morning walk trying to find hippos. 1kg of raw meat consumed at local Gondar butcher shop restaurant. Fasilides Castles and Baths, getting into the history of Ethiopia. Night in Gondar.
Day 15: Birthday email to my Mom in Canada. Foggy drive through the mountains, 4 spare tires and other supplies, drove further up from Debark into the Simien Mountains National Park. Gelada baboons everywhere, just like BBC’s Planet Earth. 2 hour hike in the fog and rain, fire in the hut to dry out, a historic thunderstorm that demolished my tent, sleeping under the metal roof of the kitchen hut from 3am onwards.
Day 16: Braving the rain/hail to the 9 waterfall peak just as the clouds perfectly cleared. Change of plans after flash-flood up ahead on the trail a few days prior killed two locals. Amanda sick and sleeping all day at Chennek camp. Afternoon of snacks and campfire, initial business chats with Tefera, yelling ‘Happy Birthday Mom’ into the abyss from the top of a mountain. Night in community lodge at Chennek camp.
Day 17: Woke up to wolf pack (a sight even my local guide had never seen). Bone crusher birds, views like no other in this world, waliya ibex, red foxes, and most importantly, no rain! 3 hours ascending, reached peak of Mt. Buayit (2nd highest peak in the park, at 4,400m) with my scout Ashmoro. 3 hours up, 1 hour straight down 6oom following no trail except for the one Ashmoro made based on his incredible knowledge of where there were and were not cliffs ahead through the settling fog. 5 hour business talks with Tefera, getting really excited about tourism in Ethiopia and the possibilities. Night in Chennek Community Lodge.
Day 18: Pushing car up some of the world’s scariest muddy mountain roads out of Simien, chat #3 with Tefera about business, 11 hours drive into the night, but many notes and lots of thinking. Night in equivalent to roadside motel in small town of Gashena where there was snow on the ground.
Day 19: History and architectural wonder of Lalibela churches, both from the exterior and interior. Long dinner break in Waliya while car was repaired, which led to drive past hyenas and a 2am arrival in Mekele.
Day 20: solo morning walk exploring the clean beautiful town of Mekele. Shoes cleaned and sewn back together for 6 birr. Finished ‘In Defense of Food’ on the long drive to Axum, incredible thought-provoking book. Learning more about Tefera’s website after night walk and pool. Night in Axum.
Day 21: Axumite Empire and the famous obelisks of Axum. Solo exploration of the closed off 2nd obelisk park along the river. The church that is home to the Arch of the Covenant. Drove back, night in Mekele.
Day 22: First hot shower in months! Car broken, and a Sunday with everything closed, so day of no plans in Mekele. Internet café, pool, walking around the city, bought plane tickets to Jimma. Night in Mekele.
Day 23: Up at 4:30am, 15 hour 700km + drive to Addis, read 1984 and ‘The Perfect Nazi,’ interesting similarities between the two. Sore but otherwise completely happy with the marathon drive, reading, thinking, taking notes, talking business in the car with Tefera. Night at Taitu Hotel in Addis.
Day 24: Woke up back at Taitu Hotel in Addis sickest I have felt in Ethiopia. Starting feeling better, reading in the Addis domestic airport terminal, and then wonderful 35 minute smooth flight to Jimma, with even a sandwich included! Great to see everyone back on campus in Jimma, and dinner with our new Belgium friends who are living with us in the campus residence.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. WoW! Glad that the world is in the hands of young people such as yourself! Can’t wait to read more posts, the wolves…I take it they had already dined before they came across you?

  2. Becky says:

    Sounds like an amazing adventure and like you had some meaningful revelations about life! I know this might not be exactly the answer you’re hoping for but I wondered if you share pictures in one of your next blog posts. I’m also very interested to hear more about food and coffee over there!

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