We were staying in fellow volunteer Marlies’s house which she kindly offered us as she had gone away for Christmas. We could loll and mooch around together in the house as much as we pleased, which was just as we wanted. This home-stay in a middle-class neighbourhood in Addis afforded my family an insider’s view of the life of an Addis-based volunteer. The first days passed by in a haze of altitude sickness, shortness of breath, feeding times and extreme fatigue as the Healys struggled to adjust to this foreign environment, typified by my father’s occasional summary, “I just don’t know what to think”. On morning one, we went out for an exploratory ramble to get a few groceries and a sense of what the place was like. Addis wasn’t found wanting in this regard and, as if I had planned it, before leaving his stall the local bread boy had asked me for my phone number! Later in the day, Marlies’ house-cleaner came in wanting to do a coffee ceremony for us, we told her that was very kind but we were just on our way out into the city, at which point she almost started to cry in protest. She just managed to get out the words, “It is our culture”, breathless with emotion. Unwanted male attention + a forced coffee ceremony = initiation to Ethiopia complete 😀 Such formalities out of the way, we were free to hit the road to Woldia. We travelled through the Ethiopian countryside, breaking for lunch where the posse had no other option than to try some local fare. They adjudicated the plate of injera laid before them dotted with different stews. Again Dad seemed to speak for them all, peering over the top of his glasses and prodding an unidentified sauce on the plate; “What’s that lad doing there?” Upon tasting, they decided it was not abominable but neither was it delicious. I was equal parts relieved and terrified and hoped their bowels would hold up until the next stop. We got out to stretch our legs at a beautiful gorge en route, where we were immediately set upon by men selling hats. They promised to give us a good price but, sadly, they could not offer a hefty discount as they were poor students (approximately 40 years of age). Bedecked in a novelty hat which smelled distinctly of goat they professed, “The old man is very beautiful!” (…interestingly this was not to be the last time we were to hear this on the trip)…and we were sold!
Two matching novelty hats in tow, we broke the trip overnight in the town of Kombolcha, three hours south of Woldia where we were treated to a FEAST at fellow VSO volunteers Deb and Eric’s where somehow Deb managed to put on a three course spread of garlic bread, stew, curry, toffee sauce, meringues and home-made ice cream. We never wanted to leave. But Woldia beckoned.
The following day we stopped off at a lakeside monastery where we met my Kenyan brother and fellow VSO Volunteer James. We spent a really enjoyable afternoon by the lake, eating freshly grilled fish, drinking beer, watching birds, and people, donkeys, cattle, goats and sheep doing a solid day’s work. My father’s hitherto fore unknown obsession with donkeys really coming to the fore at this point of the trip. Dad (to no-one in particular, incredulously): “There’s fair asses there, boy!” Dad( to himself, in amazement): “Wandering ass, ha?”
The men took a tour around the Monastery while the Healy girls were banished to the nun’s loomery lest we taint the sacred island or, as is I think is far more likely, tempt the men out of their monastic way of life. While at the nunnery, I exchanged social pleasantries with the women there who were as usual astounded by my twenty words of Amharic and the fact that I was living in Woldia. “Gobez!” (“Clever!”) They were wiley enough though as all Ethiopians are and their motives couldn’t be said to be entirely altruistic as before long a plan was in motion that we would transport one of the nuns to Woldia that afternoon. The driver told them this wouldn’t be appropriate as it was a privately charted car and there was little room. This went down as well as perhaps the presence of a woman in the monastery would. Following some feigned confusion on their part which was painful for us all to watch, the nuns bade us well on the journey ahead (through clenched teeth) and left their piercing gaze do the rest of the talking. As we made for the getaway-car, the heat of the nuns glare was palpable on the back of my head (could have been the sun too?)… James made the observation that on this of all days it would be a really bad omen if there was” no room at the inn”, so to speak. It was Christmas Eve. They do say that a rolling stone gathers no moss but by the time we arrived in Woldia we had already picked up a Canadian and a nun so I’m not sure what that says about us. We offloaded the nun but Canadians I find are more difficult to get rid of and it now gives me great pleasure to announce that the Woldia Volunteer crew has one more member. Welcome to Woldia, Francis! 😀 We planned to stay four days meeting my neighbours and friends, soaking it all up in the holiday resort that is Woldia. We arrived to a lovely welcome at my second home in Ethiopia the Lal Hotel and prepared for the onslaught of coffee ceremonies and invitations that was surely to follow.