Greetings from Axum, Ethiopia!
I'm here on what will probably be my last Africa vacation (though I still have one R&R left) while living in Nigeria. I can't quite explain what it was that inspired me to plan a vacation here. After all - there were a lot of choices. Kenya and Tanzania were big draws - I could have done a 'real' safari and Zanzibar looks like the closest thing to heaven on earth that you could ask for. I heard good things about Senegal and I have another colleague who has traveled there. And I've always dreamed of going to Morocco and Egypt. So I was a little bit surprised myself when I decided to come to Addis. But there were a couple of good reasons that it won out. I have two colleagues here, and I've been anxious to actually meet up with my A-100 colleagues, most of whom I haven't seen since December 2012 (none of the dirty buggers seems to want to visit Lagos). I also had a coworker who traveled here a couple years ago and spoke highly of it. And I think the history was a good way to round out my Africa travels. I've done beaches, I've done animals and nature, I've done 'outdoorsy' and big city, but I haven't really seen much history. And Ethiopia had tons of that.
Decision made, I booked a ticket and scheduled my leave (thanks a million to the officer who's covering for me this week!)
I spent my first day in Ethiopia with the colleagues mentioned above. We had a great time. I bought some coffee, we drove past the embassy (insert the inevitable moment of jealousy here when I realize that all the other missions around the world are new and shiny and look like places where professionals would work). We also took a very cool trip up the mountain that overlooks Addis. It was gorgeous and so incredibly peaceful. Addis is definitely much greener than Lagos. There seemed to be parks and gardens all over the place. There are a lot more expats and the vibe was more laid-back. It felt like normal life in a way that Nigeria just sometimes doesn't. There was room for jealousy on both sides though - my colleagues got a bit wistful when I mentioned the American chain restaurants we have in Lagos and my weekly sailing hobby. And I think they'd be jealous if they got to see our housing.
I also got a chance to visit the little girl my parents are sponsoring outside Addis. This was really a privilege (how often are you invited into a local person's home on your first day in a new country?). She's a confident and smart young lady and I think she'll end up doing great things one day. She wants to be a cardiologist when she grows up (see? what kind of 12 year old knows what a cardiologist is?) and her English was pretty good. She also introduced me to the Ethiopian gasp. As I was talking to her through a translator I noticed that she kept gasping. After each question would be a gasp - then an answer. It was the strangest thing. Talking with the driver on the way home I noticed he did it too and asked my collegues to explain. Sure enough, a gasp = yes in Ethiopia. Disconcerting at first, but kind of original, right?
Anyway, I am in the middle of a 5 day whirlwind tour of northern Ethiopia now. My hotel here is pretty awesome (shout out to Sabean hotel!) and I had to take advantage of the free wifi to update the blog in my downtime between seeing and eating everything I can find.
More updates will probably happen after I get back. In the meantime, here's some pictures of the trip so far.
Ten or twenty minutes out of town found us in this lovely, quiet forest on top of the mountain. I don't know what these trees are for (it seemed like there was some agricultural purpose) but they were beautiful. And it really was a trip to be somewhere cold after Lagos! It felt like the Pacific Northwest, or maybe Colorado and I loved the fresh smell of the air.
Wish I could upload a video - but this kid has an amazing whip that sounds like a gunshot. Naturally, he was running around whipping thin air to enjoy the sound of it. Boys are the same everywhere I guess.
This is a deacon at the church in Axum. He played and chanted for us - very cool.
Incense at the mini-traditional coffee ceremony I enjoyed on the side of the road. The total cost was 50 cents for the whole thing and it was a great little glimpse into Ethiopian culture. Also - I don't think I will ever need to sleep again based on how much caffeine I must have consumed. That stuff was strong!