From Clonmel to Ethiopia: A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step


When I sit down to think about it, I’ve been lucky enough to have had a great few adventures so far…

I have voyaged across the Atlantic Ocean not through the air but by sea, if you can believe that, and the Pacific too.  Woken up to tropical islands at my bedroom window; sailed into Sydney harbour just as the sun was rising against the backdrop of the Opera House.

I have traversed North America by train. Eyes glued to the pane as we travelled through vast fields of corn, the arid deserts of Nevada and as we wound our way up into the snow covered Sierra Nevada.

And I have been a humble pilgrim on the road to Santiago de Compostela quite simply putting one foot in front of the other for over 800km for 33 days, getting into all sorts of scrapes along the way with mad French men, fountains of wine, Dragons and more besides.

…I think Huckleberry Finn would be proud!

But the small few steps it took to move passed the departure gates at Dublin airport on the morning of the 3rd February 2013 were tough.  I didn’t feel like myself anymore, my shoes felt weighed down to the ground.  I hesitated twice and had to turn back to see if “they” were still there. (They were.)

The past few weeks have been difficult for me with my impending departure date looming large, I am forced to try to understand all over again why I have made this decision-to up sticks for two years and prise myself away from friends and family and relocate to parts unknown.

It’s no small undertaking to leave it all behind again.  To miss everything and everyone all over again.

I am nervous and sometimes I wonder if it will all go right but then again I wonder how it can possibly go wrong with the support and encouragement of so many wonderful people behind me.

During VSO training I met some really top-class people, one of them was Claire.  She shared with us intrepid adventurers a beautiful  fable- I will share it with you here now.

Essentially it’s a tale of two travellers, both going to the same town. On the way, the first traveller meets a local, and asks ‘what is the town like?’. And the local says ‘tell me about the town you’ve just come from’ and the traveller says ‘well, it was full of thieving people, full of beggars, full of dishonesty and bad behaviour’; and the local man says ‘and so you shall find that here’. The second traveller then meets the local, and a similar exchange takes place, however the traveller says about the town he left ‘it was a wonderful place…full of kindness and honesty and friendly people’, and the local man, again, says ‘and so you shall find that here”

The lesson being, what you expect to find, you will.

So, interestingly enough, I find that I am not at all apprehensive about what lies before me because I expect that there will be all sorts of people there, just like home- people I admire greatly, people who grate on me, people I love to spend time with, some whom I’d rather avoid, people who will cheer me up when I’m feeling down, and others who may make me feel worse! People to look after me when I am ill, those who will make me laugh, those who will think me laughable…and perhaps some who will even make me cry!

I am not so much worried about them, merely nervous about the people I have left behind.

So come with me instead.  Read this blog and leave your comments, share in my little personal triumphs and laugh with me through the abject failures, brushes with the law, gastro-intestinal difficulties, near death experiences and others.

And now, if you are settled in for the evening with a big mug of tea and some nice treat, then I will begin.

When you first met the hero of this blog, I was blubbering like a fool at the departure gates of Dublin Airport.

But by the time, we had touched down in Frankfurt two hours later, the emotion of goodbye had melted away somewhat and for the first time in my life I felt an involuntary flutter of excitement in my tummy when it came time to board the plane to…Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Africa!

The happy-go-lucky adventurer is back!

See ye in two years!

huck finn


32 responses »

  1. Oh Aisling I love that you remembered the traveller tale! I love the whole post in fact. So glad you made it there safely and that emotions had abated a little bit by Frankfurt. Looking forward to hearing more. Can you post your address on here? Claire xx

    • I loved it, Claire! Thanks for sharing 🙂 Are you speaking of my physical or email address? No physical address at the mo as I am holed up in a “hotel” waiting for my accommodation to be sorted out- small matter of there being no shower, sink or toilet in it! Where in the world are you? XX

      • Shower? Sink? Toilet? Where do you think you are Aisling? This isn’t a holiday camp you know! Great start to the blog – look forward to reading more in future.

      • Ha ha! Thanks for bringin me back down to earth Martin! In any case, I find that the shower, sink and toilet might be surplus to requirements as there doesnt seem to be enough water in the town to operate any of them anyway!
        Hope all is well with you 🙂

      • Still in London, VSO don’t seem hopeful of finding me a placement so its a waiting game…also thinking about other options too. So a bit frustrating really! I mean proper physical address…let me know when you have it 🙂

      • 😦 Keep me informed, I hope they get something for you soon X

        Will let you know if I ever make my escape from this infernal hotel!

  2. Hi Aisling

    What a great post and what a lot of emotion – was with you on that !

    Lovely that you’re there and ready to rock !

    How was the training ? Meet lots of great people ?

    My start date has been delayed a bit – no probs – loads to do – so gives me a bit more time

    Did my pamper and champers fund raising event at the weekend and made just over £700 – sooo pleased

    Loof forward to hearing more

    Amanda xx

    • Fair play to you, Amanda! People are so generous 🙂

      Training here was very intense and I had a “stomach bug” in the middle of it so I was a bit of a grumpy-guts I think! But it was a great way to meet all the other volunteers even if we are know separated by hundreds of miles!

      Electricity and water are not constant here but otherwise things are good.

      Hope your prep is going well- so excited for you! Keep in touch


      • Hiya Aisling

        How’s it going ? Only another 3 more weeks for me to work the off to hopefully sunny Cuba for my last blast holiday – cant wait !!! Enjoy the heat – we have snow, ice and a v chilly wind here !!!!

        You still in the hotel ?? I am hoping to finally get round to sorting out renting my house out this weekend – my biggest fear and not got a chance to do anything yet – here’s hoping

        Enjoy the weekend and tell me all your news

        Met some others coming out to Ethiopia on my SKWID the other week – a fab doctor etc

        Amanda xx

      • I have just earned my freedom from the hotel!! I thought the day would never come! Hope you enjoyed SKWID. I found it quite helpful and thought provoking. Good luck with the house, I’d say that is a difficult thing to have to do. Enjoy Cuba- I’m “well jel” as they say 😀 Don’t hesitate to give those Ethiopia-bound my details X

  3. Hi Aisling, good to see you arrived safely. I hope you got in some socialising during your training in Addis. I presume you’re in Weldiya, judging by the lack of water & power!
    Good luck, I look forward to keeping up with your progress here on the blog.

    • Hiya Terri! To be honest, here wasn’t much time to socialise in between “tummy bugs” and the training- onlt lasted 6 days and then we were driven off into the wilderness! I am now looking ahead to Paddy’s Day and hoping to blag an invite somewhere in Addis 🙂 Power and water are quite temperamental but it’s surprising how quickly you get used to it really. Thanks for all your help XXX

      • Hope your post-hotel accommodation meets expectations!
        The embassy used to invite all registered citizens to Paddy’s day drinks, don’t know if that’s still the case. Goal & Concern might do something too. I’m sure you’ll find something to go to.
        Melkam Idil!

      • Salemnesh Terri!
        I have just registered with them- the only other time I was in an embassy was when I had my passport stolen in New Zealand so I’d love another go at the whole embassy thing! Will let you know what my plans are for the big day 🙂

  4. How eloquent! A wonderful description of your introduction to Addis and Ethiopia. We proceeded you by 6 years, but in Assosa, and our early days didn’t seem nearly as interesting, not even the tummy bug. It is a fabulous country we really enjoyed the experience and hope you have as much joy and excitement as we did. Jerry

    • Aw, thank you so much Jerry! We have another new volunteer in Assosa at the moment- her name is Debbie, a lovely English woman struck down by the same tummy bug as me on the first week so we now have a special bond 😀 Her blog is if you are feeling nostalgic for Assossa. Thanks for reading and for your kind words X

      • Hi Aisling, thanks for Debbies blog address, great to hear about Assosa again, made all the better by a glace out of the window at solid mist.
        Hope your early days of assignment go well, we waited for 2 weeks before we met the guy we were supposed to work for! Its amazing how initial concern wears away over two weeks. ‘This is Ethiopia’ or at least Assosa, our standard phrase in the early days.

      • Ha ha! Seems quite typical Jerry! But I have to say workwise they have been on the ball here. Uni is going great and I am very busy- it’s great to be made use of, that was my worry that I wouldn’t be needed here. Went to a kindergarten this weekend to help some teachers- it’s all go!

        Sorry about the mist 😉

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