Let me paint you the portrait of a young woman.

For her, a weekly trip to the supermarket begins with her seated at the living room table on the computer were she prints off her prepared list of items categorized by food type (and sundries).  Pen to the ready she moves into the kitchen to begin the inventory and deliberates a while on exactly just how many small, medium or large tins of no-sugar-added-beans would be needed that week and how many cartons of skim, light, super and/or light super milk it would be sensible to buy before writing the number on the type-faced sheet.  Her shopping bags are already in the boot of the car, inserted into one another in order of size to economize space and to give the appearance of order.  The token for the shopping trolley is already on the key ring to avoid the time-wasting and needless two minute search for a coin outside the supermarket.  She works her way through the shopping aisles methodically, daring to stray from her list once or twice for an allowed treat. (Deviant behaviour) Home again and the goods are unpacked from their specifically appointed bags, all excess packaging is removed and put to one side for recycling and all oversized servings are carefully sectioned, bagged, labeled and refrigerated/frozen as appropriate.

She’s a real sad case, isn’t she?!

I am that woman.

I don’t rush into almost anything. I carefully consider and deliberate it all so painstakingly that I have oftentimes invoked the wrath of many of my more impulsive friends.  “Would you ever make a decision, Aisling, for the love of God!”  How many hours have I spent procrastinating?  My usual MO is to come up with an exhaustive list of pros and cons on the issue at hand and then I’ll sit down and have a good think about it for myself.  Then you better believe that I will talk to every single one of my friends and family about it at least twice before making a decision which I can reconcile myself with.  When I have the decision made I will speak to every single one of my family and friends again at which point someone may say something to change my mind and then I am plunged into a crisis and the pen and paper comes out again! (I even once wrote a list of pros and cons with regard to a soon to be ex-boyfriend. The poor young fella had a lucky escape I’d say!!!! ;))

But when Peter offered me the chance to escape from the compound in the company of other volunteers for a few days, I decided there and then to get the hell out of dodge, believing that if I didn’t get out then I could very well be on the next flight home to Ireland.

Getting to the start and end point of the trek was part of the adventure for me as it would mean a two day bus trip to parts unknown, where Tigrayinha, and not Amharic my trump card, was the mother tongue of the people.  There is little possibility of pre-booking bus tickets and accommodation in other towns, and the booking of which over the phone is made difficult due to the language barrier.  But whatever the reason, perhaps the great door handle debacle of 2013, I was feeling reckless, fierce and a bit McGyver-esque, like I could take on all of Ethiopia on my lonesome armed with just a toilet roll insert, cotton bud and plastic spoon.

I believe this is what the young people are terming “YOLO”.

It was all fairly last minute but my, wasn’t it exciting!

I lied to the neighbours telling them I was going on a work trip.  It was for their own good as the idea of me walking anywhere, for any length of time, for purposes recreational or otherwise, would have both distressed and confused them greatly.

It went something like this.  Got up at 4:30 in the morning to go to the bus station.  Wanted to get transport to the Tigray capital of Mekelle where I was to overnight but found direct travel was not possible.  Located a mini-bus headed to a place called Alamata where I was told I could switch.  Had to contend with the over-amorous attentions of fellow male passenger for two hours on said minibus.  Got to Alamata and changed to another mini-bus destined for the city.  Spent the next three and a half hours chatting to the bus driver in bad Amharic/English/Tigrinhya.  Arrived in Mekelle and managed to find some decent accommodation for the night.  Spent the afternoon gloating to myself in the hotel room that I was still alive and well and ate an entire packet of biscuits as a self-reward. Next morning up at 05:00 for the same rigmarole at a different bus station, this time destined for the city of Axum.  Much jostling for tickets and a space on the bus.  Eventually sat down in an unoccupied seat, young man BOLTED from the rear of the bus to sit down beside me, thereby abandoning his companion.  Eight hours of mostly one-way conversation later I arrived in Axum and made my way to the hotel.  Met the other volunteers there for dinner ahead of our real adventure the next day but, by this stage, I already felt like Indiana Jones!

So the next morning we were transferred by jeep to the start point for the hike and after that spent the next four days hiking in beautiful, beautiful Tigray.  And whether it is due to the fact that I am using a SD card I bought in Ethiopia or my crap photography skills, I stopped taking pictures in the end as they bore absolutely no correlation to the landscape.  It was so much larger than life up there, it was unearthly.  It was so peaceful, so quiet.  And so fantastic to feel exercised out in the fresh air as nature intended!  We had guides and mules and local cooks to serve up platefuls of hearty Ethiopian food along the way.  Each day we hiked around ten kilometres to a new lodge which seemed to teeter in an unlikely and precarious way on a cliff edge some two or three thousand metres above sea level.  What a privilege to be alive and to be there at all!

The trip got better for me as I discovered there was Irish involvement in the whole thing.  The lodges were built with money from Irish Aid and an organisation called Tesfa which is charged with providing alternative sources of income for rural people in Ethiopia. http://community-tourism-ethiopia.org (Tesfa is a name given to boys in Ethiopia meaning “Hope”.)  Half the fee for the hiking goes to the local community to spend as they see fit, for example irrigation systems, hospitals, schools etc.  Some of the money then goes to individuals from that community who are nominated to work there as guides or cooks.  We booked through an agency which took a slice of the money but we found out in retrospect that it would be possible to just contact the guide themselves and so cut out the middle man entirely.  The services on the trek were very basic but it was a great experience and reminded me so much of being on camp in Ireland with the scouts that I even got a little home-sick at points :/

When I got back to the compound, the neighbours had what they called an “Ais festival” to celebrate my return which turned out to be a coffee ceremony in my house with accompanying goodies.  They told we with faces marked with emotion how the Summer neighbours had gone home in the meantime and were sorry I was not there to say goodbye.  This was probably for the best, to be honest.

The trip was a very good idea.  Great to spend time with other volunteers, great to get out of waterless Wolida and the compound and get some perspective on things again.  And also great for my confidence.  I travelled for hundreds of kilometres down roads I never knew before all on my own and bar a few unsavoury incidents with the usual unwanted male attention along the way, it went well! In fact while waiting to get on board a minibus in one of the stations a local boy remarked, “Erra! Anbessa nat!”.  I don’t know whether he was impressed with my Amharic or my ability to carry my own bag as a foreigner but what he said translates as, “Arra! She’s a lion!”

I find I have to agree with him!

I’m a lion! Hear me roar!

Oh and the water came back!!!!!!!! 😀


10 responses »

      • Not so much, I have been fortunate enough to rustle up enough assisting photographers work in the last few months to not have to be ‘roadside’ 😉 but I havnt ended my contract yet just incase i hit a really slow patch, as always its a treat to read your travels gosh ais you’ve some guts!! xx (sorry late reply I havnt touched my site in so long!)

      • Oooh that’s brilliant Jess! But a bit scary too, you are very brave, i guess it’s nice to have action as a back up. Hope you are enjoying life as a photographers assistant! And thanks for the good wishes as always. Mwah! x

  1. I’ve just been viewing the pics of your trip in the mountains!  What a chance to see another part of the country. Take every opportunity like that  which comes your way. Life here is very ordinary. Autumn rains bringing down the leaves before they could show us all their splendour. God Bless Maria

    • Thanks Maria 🙂 XX I’m so lucky being placed in Ethiopia, it suits me down to the ground for so many different reasons. But would you believe that a body could still be hankering after the prospect of a dull, normal Irish day? 😉

  2. Pingback: In Ethiopia with a Mule: A book review | Aistear

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