Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ethiopia- part one

Ethiopia. Aah, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is a bit of an enigma, really. Proud, fascinating, beautiful, but with a troubled past and a more recent image problem. It was never colonized, so it has a culture that has remained remarkably intact - undiluted from outside influences (unlike much of the rest of Africa.) Its history is deep. Ethiopia was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity as the state religion and it has its own unique brand of Orthodox religion. The country also has its own languages and script, its own food and drink and its own calendar and clock... but, despite remaining uncolonized, Ethiopia was late to democratize- not until 1991 and the fall of The Derg (and the corresponding atrocities.) Famines in the 70s and 80s and their portrayals by journalists gave Ethiopia even more of an image problem for awhile (remember 'We are the World,' Bandaid and Liveaid?) The image is changing, though - as it should... Ethiopia is an amazing place with an amazing history - Rastafarianism, ancient hominids, the ark of the covenent... all have their links with Ethiopia. The landscape is stunning, the people exquisitely beautiful (and very friendly for the most part) and there are very few travelers. Most importantly, and rare in today's world, Ethiopia retains her soul!!
The truth is that Ethiopia is one of the most culturally interesting, lovely, and friendly places I've been (and, yes, I even thought that on my first trip in 2001, so I'm not just saying that because my boy is from there :)) This trip was to be a homecoming for Z - he hadn't been back since I picked him up when he was 4 months old. He asked a lot of questions, but more for information's sake- he didn't seem to be too emotional about it. He IS still pretty young... I was hoping to also time the trip with some step of the second adoption, but so far there is no movement in that, so it wasn't to be.

On day one, we visited the new children's home of our adoption agency. It's not in the same building where Z lived, but the nannies are the same and they remembered him! One of the ladies told me that she even cried when little 'Josie' left. Zavion wasn't too interested in the nannies and pretty much just hid behind my legs the whole time. Could be he was worried, confused, shy, etc. - or just in the mood to be rude. We then travelled to the home where he DID live (it's now the administrative offices.) Z's faded pictures are still up on the walls and when I showed him the spot where his crib used to be, he said, 'What? I used to sleep on a DESK?'

Zavion is Yosef T. :)

We also spent a day at the Hilton pool - which also brought back memories as we had done a day there in '07 with Miles, Eliza and Z. This time, we rode on the same merry-go-round and swings (last time he was on my chest in the bjorn,) swam in the warm spring-fed pool, had some milkshakes, etc.

Next, it was off to Lalibela- one of my favorite places from '01. It's still beautiful- though more starkly so in the dry season (last time, in July, it was green and very wet.) Lalibela is in the highlands about 9000 feet,) surrounded by layers and layers of huge, table-topped mountains punctuated by deep gorges and chasms. We enjoyed clear, warm days and cool nights and mornings. Nice :) The town itself is full of atmosphere and character. There are HUGE rock-hewn churches, people living in caves and round houses made of stone (some 2-story with open, arched doorways.) There is very little that resembles a 'modern building' - it's truly a funky place. The 11 rock-hewn churches - built in the 12th and 13th centuries (from the top down) are truly impressive - reminds me a bit of Petra. Many are joined by tunnels carved through the rock and there are caves and a number of nooks and crannies (some still housing nuns and priests) adding to the ambiance. The churches are amazing sights and the main draw of the little town. Because of this, the 'little town' has changed dramatically in the past 11 years. The population has tripled (from 12,000 to nearly 40,000) as folks are moving in from the rural areas for the better schools, hospitals, etc. And let's face it-many are here to capitalize on the tourist industry which has picked up markedly in the last decade. In '01, there were but three hotels for us to choose from- now, there are close to 30 with more being built. Last time, Lisa and I didn't see another foreigner the whole time, and now there are certainly a handful. While still off the beaten path for most, more and more intrepid travelers are making it here and we probably saw at least a dozen a day. Of course, if these rock hewned churches- and their connecting tunnels, caves and surrounding stone houses- were anywhere else in the world, it would be even more built up... Pyramids, anyone? Still a lovely place, though, and a must-see for any Ethiopian trip.

Downtown Lalibela

Some of the residents of the village/slums immediately surrounding the churches have been relocated to homes outside of the center because they were 'bothering the tourists too much.' Our guide told us this was a good thing, but what about those that were displaced? Wasn't this THEIR place? It IS more peaceful around the churches, but has less character/genuineness- part of the charm was that you were in the middle of real life and got to catch a glimpse- now it all feels removed. True, many have benefitted from the increased influx of tourism, but some have definitely been hurt. Food for thought...

We had fun touring the churches, the caves and the tunnels. Z was really into it and seemed pretty interested in the details - 'Mom, this is SO COOL! Can I go in that cave? How did they build these? How old are they? Is that even older than Grandmommy? She's 91 now, ya know... what are those hanging things for?' He also had some personal questions for our guide- 'So, were you born here? Did you ever live in Addis Ababa? Did you live next to where I was born? How old are you? You're younger than my mom...' Our day ended nicely with a pretty sunset from the deck of our hotel and yummy dinner. Lovely.

The next morning will now be referred to as the 'Morning of the Cranky Kid.' In retrospect, if I had known how much driving and walking was entailed, I would have reconsidered this day-trip. We were headed to another cave-church - only about 40 kms out of town. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong! After a very early morning start, we embarked on a long, hot, bumpy, dusty drive that took over 2 1/2 hours (that ought to give you an idea of the state of the roads.) The landscape was interesting and there was some good people watching to be had, but nothing to keep a 5 year old amused. We got to the area around the church and waited while a funeral procession went by - hundreds of people on foot. Z complained that there were too many people and they smelled funny. And it was VERY HOT! 'Mom, why would you take me to somewhere where someone just died? Why would you do that?'

To get to the church, we had to climb hundreds of steps in the heat - which didn't sit well with an already exhausted little boy. When Z isn't happy, he doesn't throw a tantrum or stop walking, but he makes no hesitation in verbalizing his dislike in the situation. The kid certainly can express himself. I actually admire this quality as I never was comfortable enough to really express myself while growing up. And though it's sometimes funny how outspoken he is, it can also be a little exasperating and embarrassing.

Here's a tidbit- "See, this is exactly why we shouldn't always do what you want to do. I don't like this church and I don't like this mountain. I hate walking and it's too hot and I'm tired and thirsty. You just always want to walk, walk, walk and see stuff and go, go, go. Why can't you just relax once in awhile?" (The kid's got a point - people have been telling me that for years) At the top of the hill/ entrance to the church... "I'm not happy and I don't want to go inside - I will stay here with these people." Later... "Don't ever leave me with those old women again. They were freaking me out! They had no teeth and smelled funny and kept trying to give me a Coke. I don't even drink Coke!" But later... "Mommy, I made a mistake. I should have come inside with you. I got worried and scared and it's my own fault." And even later, in the car... "Mommy, I'm just sitting here thinking about my behavior and I'm a million thousand google infiniti times sorry. Now can I have the phone?"

It definitely wasn't a very good decision on my part to do such a long, hot, tiring daytrip at this stage of our trip - had I known how arduous it was going to be, I wouldn't have scheduled it. Major mommy fail. Well, hindsight is 20/20.

After this outing, Zavion and I came to a compromise- we would spend half a day sightseeing, and half a day relaxing. We skipped the afternoon church tour and rested a bit. But, we did make it out in the early evening to see the St George church - the biggest and best. It was allegedly built in the night aided by angels and is shaped like a giant cross. Like the neighboring churches, it was built from the ground down and one must go through a series of tunnels to get down to it. Zavi was fine and enjoyed the secret tunnels and playing hide and seek in the caves. "Follow me Mom, and if you slip, you can hold the sides like this! I'll protect you!" The late afternoon light was so beautiful and the air was cooling down nicely. The rough morning all but forgotten:):)

The next morning, we headed back to the Lalibela airport - about 25 km from the town (but on a good road - thanks to the Chinese...) As usual, I love the mornings in Africa - the place comes alive. On this drive, there were so many people, donkeys, cows, etc. on the road - we saw hundreds (thousands?) of pedestrians, but, in contrast, we only saw three other vehicles (and this is the main road to Addis!) Other than taxi drivers and the uber rich, nobody owns cars here.

Our first flight was delayed by a couple of hours because of a power failure at the Addis airport (all flights grounded,) but we eventually made it to our next destination - Harar. Which we will 'visit' in the next post...

I will leave you with a couple of Z quotes/questions once again...

"Mommy, when will I get my third kidney? You have three, right? Maybe you should go live at the freak farm!"

"Do you really think it's the best idea for Santa to bring naughty kids coal? Doesn't he know that diamonds are made out of coal?"

"OK, there's solid, liquid and gas, right? And gas is like air. SO - why do we call the stuff we put in cars 'gas' when it's really a liquid?"   (good question!)

"Mommy, you are a mad genius! You are the best Angry-Birds expert in the whole world!"

1 comment:

  1. WOW. What an adventure, and what a kid! Made my heart pitter-patter to see that Danny and Lina's pictures are still up on that wall, too. Can't wait to hear more about your trip!