Friday, May 18, 2007

Northern Ethiopia

Last Thursday I found myself in a sunny restaurant, having a delightful breakfast of marmalade, toast and boiled eggs with my mother. What made it less delightful was that we were supposed to be on the plane for our four-day trip to Bahir Dar and Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia. We’d arrived at the airport at 5:30am to find that our e-tickets didn’t appear on the computer, but after much haggling and talking to several people, we had boarding tickets in our hands and were rushing towards our gate. Once safely in the plane, a man from the airline came in and asked if any of us were headed to Bahir Dar. Apparently, they’d decided just then to change the route, and make three other stops before arriving in Bahir Dar. Our arrival time would be four hours later than planned. Luckily, there was another plane, leaving twenty minutes later, for our destination. We tumbled back onto the tarmac and into the waiting area. Then the announcement came that our new flight was delayed. We had a three-hour wait ahead of us, and no duty free shops. Three and a half ours later, we were still waiting; we didn’t end up taking off until about one o’clock (forty minutes later than we would have arrived in Bahir Dar if we’d stuck with the first plane!). However, after a rocky 35-minute flight, we finally arrived in Bahir Dar. Upon hearing our story, a couple of the guys we met in the airport explained Ethiopian Airlines’ local name: Inshallah Airlines (“If God wills it” Airlines).

We spent two days in Bahir Dar, staying with a friend of ours (a fellow Canadian), and visited ancient monasteries on Lake Tana, and the Blue Nile Falls (or what’s left of them after a hydrological project was constructed up stream). As well, we had a chance to visit a local NGO who’s just starting to embark on an HIV/AIDS program- Bahir Dar has the highest prevalence rate in the country at 23 percent. It was a nice change to eat fresh fish from the lake, and to be near water after land locked Addis!

Our next stop was Lalibela, and luckily God must have willed it, because we arrived on time. We had a serendipitous meeting with two Canadians (one my mum’s age and one mine) in the airport bathroom, and ended up spending our two days there with them. With the help from our guide, Abush, we visited the ancient rock-hewn churches in the town, trekked with mules up a mountain to visit another, and drove some distance away to see a monastery built into a giant cave. The latter included bodies of over 5000 pilgrims who’d chosen to be buried there.

Exhausted and filled with Ethiopian mythology and Orthodox culture, we left on Tuesday to return to Addis and the‘real world’. We didn’t make it to Axum or Gonder to complete our historical tour, but I guess that will have to be saved for the next trip to this incredible country!

For me, the trip provided a chance to practice my Amharic, share my small knowledge of Ethiopia with people who were fresh off the boat, and meet some tremendous people. I think it solidified the experience I’ve had here, making me aware of the skills I’ve learnt on placement, and my personal progress.


zimbloni said...

Did your mom bring a camera?
Very nice!
I've missed seeing what you see.

nomusa said...

hey kate, so I;ve decided to go to Ethiopia in Sept. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.

Small world. I know robbie brydon who I think is in the same year and program as you at u of t.
Please if you get a chance drop me an email to