A Long Overdue Ethiopian Update

Oh my loyal blog followers, how I’ve neglected you.

I really did have the best of intentions to write an update at least fortnightly, but here I am at the end of week 6 of my Ethiopian adventure with only 1 post to my name.

Lucky most of you are family and friends so you have to love me anyway, but I will try to give you a quick snapshot of what the past 6 weeks have looked like from this sunny corner of the world.

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Ethiopia has delighted and challenged me, plunging me into situations I never thought I’d be in and confronting me with issues that are so easy to ignore from your own shores.

My weekdays have been filled with writing articles for The Reporter, a task that has seen me pound the pavement looking for stories the old fashioned way. I’ve kept up the pace of writing one story per week, they’re also online if you’d like to take a squiz:

Hannah Godefa Leading Fight for Girls’ Rights (my favourite so far, this girl is the UNICEF National Ambassador to Ethiopia and at 19 has already been crusading for girls’ rights for 10 years)

Flavour Comes First at Ethiopian Microbreweries

Camaraderie and Charity at the Diplomatic Bazaar

Street Art at LaGare to Save Lives

As a rapidly developing country, Ethiopia has given me plenty to write about. I’ve been lucky to have been given so much freedom to organise my own stories, including arranging interviews, taking pictures and injecting my own little bit of creative flair.

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Chatting to the other journalists has been just as much of a learning curve. Their frequent trips to hot beds like Turkey have enriched my world view whilst their relentless commitment to ensuring government accountability and transparency has reinforced my understanding of the value of quality journalism in building a functioning democracy.

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I’ve been living in the capital, Addis Ababa, in a pretty hip suburb called Bole. There’s a cinema and German beer garden, and burger joints are a dime a dozen. ‘Street people’ as they’re not so affectionately called here, line footpaths wherever you go. A stark reminder of the lack of resources in a country overflowing with people but always running low on opportunities.

Many young people try to make their own way by selling books on streets, shining shoes or riding in minibus taxis all day collecting fares. They must take their future into their own hands because there’s no one higher up who’s going to cut them a break.

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On the weekends I’ve taken a couple of trips to historical cities. First on the list was Harar, a city in eastern Ethiopia that is encased by a tall, white wall.

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Plonked on top of a hill, we had to fly into a city that was one hour away and then drive through a breathtaking mountain range to reach our destination.

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It was like being driven into The Lion King, with huge red rocks bursting from mustard coloured dirt and hyenas prowling around the town’s external wall.

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The second stop was Gondar, a lush town in the north. Despite the churches blaring hymns throughout the city from 11:30pm Saturday night until the end of the day on Sunday, I still managed to fall in love with it.

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There were grand castles built in the 1630s that still held some of the magic from the banquets they used to host and an immense mountain range that reminded me just how small we really are.

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A four hour trek on New Year’s Day gave me plenty of time to take in the fresh air and sheer silence that are impossible to find in the big city.

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It’s Christmas in Ethiopia tomorrow, they celebrate the holidays later than the rest of the world because their resistance of colonisation has enabled them to maintain their own calendar (also, the year here is 2009…I’m yet to work that one out). The western world is certainly having its influence, but I’m enjoying the Christmas trees, tinsel and carols that have made their way into local traditions.

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I’ll be celebrating with my host family which at the moment consists of five kids, three adults, two Belgians and me. Quite the cocktail! They’ll be sacrificing a sheep and a chicken in the backyard to prepare for Christmas dinner, a tradition I’m not really looking forward to taking part in but I can’t be choosey about which elements of the culture I accept and decline.

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It’s hard to believe I’ve only got two weeks left in this incredibly complex country. I plan to spend it consuming as much coffee and injera as I can, playing Uno with my new Ethiopian family and enjoying the extra reading time I’ve gained thanks to the lack of internet.

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But I’d be lying if I said I’m not looking forward to being reunited with all my loved ones, a huge bowl of muesli and a reliable toilet when I get home!

Elyse

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