Day 20 – Our last day in Ethiopia – Richard
Our time in Ethiopia came to end today. Over the last three weeks we have travelled over 1500 km by bus and seen so much that makes Ethiopia the fascinating country that it is. We have visited some amazing places, made new friends, met some inspirational people and those new to Ethiopia have had the opportunity to see a completely different corner of the world. For me it has been a pleasure to share this trip with 22 students and staff from Charles Thorp who have embraced the experience whole heartedly with open eyes and inquisitive minds.
Today we were shopping. After breakfast we headed off to Merkato – the biggest market in Africa where it is said you can buy absolutely anything. The market is undergoing major changes but although many of the ramshackled shops are being replaced with high rised blocks the backstreets remain. A labyrinth of alleyways lined with corrugated shacks all squeezed in on top of each other their owners all busy either selling their goods making some more to sell. In Ethiopia so much is made from what people throw away and we spent some time watching a man hammer old tins into new cooking stoves. Next door they were decorated and next to that they were being sold. After Merkato we visited a run of a run of tourist shops for souvenirs before going to Shola market for some more local goodies. Once back to the hotel there was just time for one last macchiato while the bus was loaded.
At the airport it was time to say goodbye to our fantastic driver Tsergay. He has driven us safely and kept us entertained throughout the entire trip. None of us will forget the funny comments and noises he made through his microphone or the time he chanted ‘No sleep no sleep’ waking everyone who was snoozing away behind him. Nothing was ever too much for him and he made the sometimes very long journeys a delight. Tsergay and I said our goodbyes to the group as they queued to enter the airport and made our way back into Addis. Their visit to Ethiopia was over and they would soon be back in the UK.
It has been a wonderful trip and as the group return to the UK I am left to reflect on their experience and how much they have achieved during their time here. When a group arrives into Addis it is always exciting. They experience a big and bustling African city for the first time and so different from home – the smells and noises, cars in every state of repair beeping their horns and jostling for a better place in the madness that is Addis traffic, goats in the road, maize being cooked over small fires on the pavement and people everywhere. On the first day, when the group ventured out into the streets putting their Amharic skills to use, they were hooked.
During our first week after Addis our journeys on the bus took us through the Ethiopian countryside and the small towns and villages, giving us a genuine feel of what life is like for most Ethiopians. Farmers still plough the fields by hand with ox and plough, cattle and donkeys share the roads with heavily laden trucks and wherever you are people are walking or sitting chatting. Toilet stops were problematic as we attracted a lot of attention from the locals but Tsergay kindly kept them at a distance with his whip. When we drank coffee and tea and ate sambossas in the road side cafes our group continued to draw the attention of curious locals but this was fine and often very amusing, and although travelling by bus can be slow most tourists fly from Addis to Lalibela and so miss out on these memorable experiences. In Lalibela, a town nestled deep into the hills, the group enjoyed the amazing rock hewn churches and the spectacular views and hospitality from Susan at Ben Ababa. Our walk up the mountain the following day gave us a taste of what was to come in the next few days.
The Simien Mountains were incredible. It was definitely the best weather that we have ever had and the views went on for miles. Visiting the mountains in rainy season is always a risk as James remembers well from his last visit in 2006 when for the whole trip it was not possible to see more ten metres in front of you due to thick fog and cold rain. This time we were blessed. The sun shone and the clouds stayed away treating us to 4 days of the Simiens at its best, and when the two Polish tourists who were there on our first night in Sankobar left the following morning we had the whole national park to ourselves. Dawoud lead us along the paths and tracks and escarpment edges from Sankobar to Geech, the village where he was born and we were lucky to be able to spent a minute or two with his auntie in her home which truly was a step back in time. We were invited to take a seat on some goats skins on the floor and as your eyes slowly adjusted in the smoky darkness we saw a home that is now as it probably has been for hundreds of years. No electricity, chickens running around inside on the mud floor, a small fire, gourds for containers, clay pots for storage of grains and a couple of bunks raised up high for sleeping – one for the family and one for the chickens. When Dawoud was asked where he preferred to live, Geech or Chichester (he spent one year in the UK studying) he said without a shadow of doubt Geech. “It is peaceful here and lovely to be away from all that technology”. This was a sentiment we all shared when we finally reached our camp, a little further up the hill. Geech camp is beautifully located with stunning views in every direction. This was a place that many felt they could stay for quite some time. We left the mountains a little tired and definitely in need of a warm shower and clean clothes, but with great memories: the views, the gelada, cooking in the tukel, sitting around the fire at night, the challenging walks. Not everyone found it easy but everyone was brilliant.
Our final week in Bahir Dar was a week of hard work and immense achievement. Working at Shmibet school the group managed to transform the classrooms into clean functional rooms which will serve the students of the school well in the coming year. Walls were painted, broken windows made safe and over a hundred benches and chairs were repaired. The school has around 3000 students and the water taps that the school students use for washing and drinking were also broken. These were soon repaired and this will be of huge benefit to everyone, especially when it gets hot during the summer months.
It was a particularly pleasing for us all when these efforts were recognised by locals who came to pass on their gratitude and to say how the work of students coming from the UK had made them realise that they as a community should be doing their bit to help to improve the facilities for their children. On our last day at Shimbet we arrived for our little handing over celebration to see many people at work constructing new stone benches around each of the trees in courtyard area. The community had already got together to raise the necessary funds to pay for this.
The main purpose of the trip is to maintain the link and support the work of the New Day Children’s Centre. Throughout the week our students and the students from the Centre worked together to get everything done. The decision to move the Centre to a new building had been made and on our penultimate day in Bahir Dar we had some work to do moving everything to the new premises. The UK-Ethiopian team worked incredibly hard to box, carry, load carts and transport all the tables, chairs, cupboards, books, kitchen equipment to the new Centre. It was completed by lunchtime but it would not have been possible without the hard work and effort put in by everyone. The new place was up and running by the end of the day, complete with a new computer room filled with laptops donated from Charles Thorp. The Centre students were so excited and our final day celebrations saw both sets of students dancing to the African beat christening their new home in true Ethiopian shoulder shaking style. With addresses exchanged it was very difficult for everyone to say goodbye to the Centre and its students.
Everyone was tired after their week in Bahir Dar and the long journey to Addis was spent by many sleeping. Tsergay let them sleep this time with only the occasional quiet groan into his microphone when he felt the urge.
As I post this the group will be just about to land in Newcastle and they will be returning home. We have had a wonderful time together and it has been a delight to see how everyone has taken to this country in the same way that I have. Everyone who visits Ethiopia is struck by how it takes hold of a part of you and I am sure everyone in our group can now see why. For me it has been a tremendous privilege and to all the students from Charles Thorp thank you for being so fantastic and making it such a successful visit. I hope that the warmth and friendship that Ethiopia has shown to us all these last few weeks will remain in your hearts and minds long into the future.
For information about the New Day Children’s Centre please visit http://www.ndccethiopia.org.uk/