Our moods and opinions of Ethiopia have vastly improved lately. The country really does boast some of the most beautiful landscapes we’ve seen on the continent and the most interesting historic sites. We’ve also been in places with much less begging and far fewer things expected of us. Being on an organized tour of the Danakil Depression might have helped, too. Everything was out of our hands. Though I would still recommend visiting Ethiopia when you aren’t travel weary and for only a few weeks, I would actually now say it’s worthwhile to come. Just be prepared.
I was very surprised at the amount of livestock in Ethiopia. They were everywhere - donkeys, goats, sheep, camels, etc. This unfortunately led to a dramatic increase in the number of flies all over the place. The food was very meat-heavy, and we often ended up getting the same vegetarian dish over and over. It was surprising how different shiro, a spicy pureed lentil dish, tasted in each restaurant. Livestock freely roam all highways, gravel roads, and even downtown streets, and the herders make surprisingly little attempt to move them out of the way for vehicles. This is probably because it is completely the driver’s responsibility to pay for the animal if it is hit, and dead donkeys bring in lots more money than live ones.
There were also a fair number of fleas in Ethiopia. They infested the beds in several hotels and attacked us from the mats we rented when camping. Anne got it the worst on the hike she did in Lalibela. She came back with her entire back covered in bites. I think they get onto your pajamas then into your pack and then all over your other clothes. We haven’t opened our sleeping bags in a while and they will get a proper washing before being allowed in anyone’s house. However, I am writing this a week out of Ethiopia and am happy to report that we are flea-free. (And thus will not infect your houses. At least not with fleas. Other parasites, though…).
The begging didn’t get a whole lot better and as much as we were grumbling about the situation we had this uncanny moment in Lalibela at dinner one night that was reality slapping us in the face. There we were in a small hotel restaurant that had a giant screen satellite television. It was the two of us and about five local men. That evening the television was tuned to MTV, which as we all know, hasn’t played music videos in about 20 years. Instead the programming included a two-segment episode of Teen Cribs followed by an episode of Super Sweet Sixteen. It is my hope that none of you have ever heard of these programs or at least have never had to suffer through viewing them. They were horrible. Teen Cribs consisted of a teenager walking you through a tour of the super-sized, super-supped up McMansion she lived in and how cool it was and how all her friends loved hanging out there, etc. These houses were worth more than our current federal deficit. In Super Sweet Sixteen a really popular girl at school was using daddy’s money to throw herself the best sweet sixteen ever. Having never been one of those girls, not only could I in no way relate to her, but I can’t even remember my sixteenth birthday. The teenager gifted herself with a $165,000 necklace and earring set because the army-themed party alone didn’t have enough “wow” factor. Given the available programming on life in the States, it’s no wonder Ethiopians think we have diamonds falling out of our pockets.
An example of this can be found in the following story. While in Addis when we first entered Ethiopia I was chatting with one of the docents at a museum. She was a university student doing an internship there, and she invited Anne and me to coffee ceremony when we came back through town. We exchanged phone numbers, and she checked in with us throughout our time in Ethiopia. We were in Lalibela when she texted again to say her mother invited us to her house for the coffee ceremony. While on a tour of the churches I explained this situation to our guide and asked what an appropriate gift for us to bring would be. As he gave me a quizzical look I explained that in the States if someone invited you to dinner you’d likely show up with a bottle of wine or maybe some flowers. He said wine isn’t typically consumed at a coffee ceremony. I said I understood that, it was just an example of what we would do culturally and then I asked again for his opinion on what would be a nice gift for us to bring. The he said “Oh, you can just give her something like an old laptop or camera.” I almost choked on my gasp as I said we don’t just have that kind of thing on us. He then said it would be okay if I got her address and mailed it once I got home. Anne and I just shared a look of astonishment. How to explain that laptops and camera were expensive and that we didn’t actually have a stockpile of them at home? I was off the hook anyway because the coffee ceremony never worked out as we stayed that whole day in the airport to avoid paying visa fees again.
Eventually, we just started laughing off instances like these, even the fleas, and overall our moods toward Ethiopia vastly improved.