Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You, you, you in Mettu

Mettu, ETHIOPIA: 17 -24 Jan. 2011

I spent five days in Síle's new home town of Mettu. I would have spent longer but, even though it is only 600km from Addis Ababa, it takes two days to get to Mettu from the capital. But while the bus and the road to Mettu aren't great, on the plus side I saw lots of monkeys hanging out in the roadside trees (Síle has had a hard time convincing people here that in some countries, like Ireland, there are no monkeys).

While in the town a bajaj can be used, to get to and from the Teacher Training College 3km out of town where Síle lives and works the options are to take a horse-drawn gari or to walk. Since Síle is one of only a very small number of foreigners living in Mettu and few, if any, tourists come there, we always recieved a lot of attention when we walked down this road. This mainly involved people shouting "you, you, you, you" as a way of saying hello or kids running up to us to shake our hands. I shook a lot of hands in Ethiopia, and it is something that they do very well and with much variation. To show respect, like when the children came up to us, you hold your upper right arm with your left hand while shaking with the right hand. But my favourite was the shoulder bump - as a sign of friendship you bump each others shoulders while shaking hands, usually three times.

Much of my time in Mettu was happily spent shadowing Síle through her daily life. So I hung out in the college, where I went to Síle's classroom and relaxed with her colleagues in the staff lounge, I helped out by getting the water (doing this once for the photo was enough for me!), and I went into town to go to the market and the post office, where Síle is well-known. There I got to see the joy of the arrival of a package from home. I also partook in two important ceremonies while in Mettu. Firstly, one of Síle's colleagues performed a coffee ceremony for us. Ethiopia is one of the world's biggest coffee producers and coffee is a big part of life here, so it was great to be in someone's house and be part of a coffee ceremony (who knew that popcorn and coffee go so well together).

Secondly Síle and I joined the colourful street procession to celebrate Timkat, the important Ethiopian Epiphany festival - an interesting experience.I really enjoyed my week in Mettu, especially because thanks to Síle I got to meet so many locals. Too often when you travel you only meet other travellers, so it was great to interact with so many Ethiopians (who generally were friendly and welcoming).

I was greatly impressed and proud of how Síle has settled and created a life for herself in Mettu. Keep up the good work!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From gringo to faranji

Addis Ababa, Debre Zeit, Jimma, ETHIOPIA: 11 - 16 Jan. 2011

On arrival in Addis Ababa, I met Síle (who moved to Ethiopia in September for a two year VSO volunteer placement), James (who was at the end of his Christmas holiday to visit Síle), and Tom (who I had been introduced to in Dublin over Christmas and who was passing through Addis on his way up from Kenya) - it was bizarre but nice to arrive into a place like Ethiopia and to have three friends to have a drink with within an hour of landing.

Next morning I headed with Síle and James an hour and a half outside Addis to the crater lakes of Debre Zeit.
It was here that I first encountered some things that would become major features of my month in Ethiopia:
  • eating the staple food of Ethiopia, injera: It is made from a grain called teff and looks like a flattened foam sponge pancake. It is served on one big plate and everyone at the table shares it, using their handes to wrap pieces of injera around whatever you get served on top, which is often a vegetable or meat wot (stew). Luckily I liked injera, but once (as opposed to three times) a day was enough for me.
  • getting encouraging reactions when I tried to speak Amharic or Oromiffa: Ethiopia has over 70 languages and thanks to Síle (whose language skills impressed me greatly) I picked a few phrases in Amharic (the official language) and Oromiffa (the language spoken in the region where Sile lives). The joy and merriment caused by us trying to speak these languages made me feel like a stand-up comedian and it was great encouragement.
  • being called a faranji: After 15 months in Latin America being called a gringo, here I was a faranji (that is not a big eared, money-loving alien from Star Trek but rather what Ethiopians call foreigners). Everywhere we went, people called us (and often shouted at us) the word faranji. This was especially the case the following week in Jimma where Síle and I took part in a 7km race (this was supposed to be only 5km, but a few minutes before it started they announced that it would actually be 2km longer!) that was part of the "Great Ethiopian Run" during which people in the crowd lining the city's streets encouraged me throughout the run.
The race was a fun experience and a highlight of my trip.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

24 hours in Dubai

Dubai, UAE: 10 Jan. 2011

On my way from Ireland to Ethiopia, I had a one day stopover in the UAE. I managed to pack in lot, seeing both sides of Dubai:

  • the traditional - I took a local public boat across Dubai Creek to visit gold and spice souks (markets); and
  • the ultra-modern - I looked up at the world's tallest building, the 828m high Burj Khalifa which opened in 2010, and I walked around the Dubai Mall, which includes an aquarium, ice rink and waterfall, as well as all the world's most stylish brands. I'm happy to say that in this city of Prada and Gucci the thing that I was most impressed with was the Dubai Mall's bookshop.
This was my first time in a Muslim country, with its calls to prayer, male friends walking around holding hands, and separate sitting areas on buses for women and children. While it was certainly interesting to get a glimpse of this world, I didn't particularly feel like I wanted more time in Dubai, especially with Ethiopia beckoning.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Guinness-filled half-time break

Dublin & Cork, IRELAND: 13 Dec. 2010 - 9 Jan. 2011

Spending a month back in Ireland was the perfect way to take a mini-break from all my travelling, especially as I am approaching the halfway mark in my career break. I was glad to discover that, contrary to the image I had of a country in meltdown, all seemed well in Ireland. At least that was the impression I had from all the festive bars and restuarants I frequented in my attempts to catch up with as many people as possible.

But the most important people I had to meet for the first time were my two nephews - Tom
and Christopher.
So I'm happy to report that to me Ireland all seems well, Guinness, brown bread and chicken fillet baguettes are all as tasty as ever, and the only major change I noticed was that my brothers are now both experts on all things baby related!