Happiness, and all the things we take for granted….
Each year, Romain and I go on a trip focused on adventure.
Together we have adventured to South Africa, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
This year, I wanted to go to Sudan because I read that there is a travel warning for Americans traveling to Sudan, thus the trip would have a true adventurist twist to it, but, I couldn’t get direct flights that fit our schedule …
I looked into Somalia, but that didn’t work either.
Ethiopia fit perfectly into our schedule.
From Dubai, it’s an easy 4 hour direct flight to Addis Ababa, and with the one hour time difference we arrived to Ethiopia early Friday morning….and then a kick ass adventure began.
Quickly, we checked into the modern, western hotel and then went out to walk around, sight-seeing.
We walked around the area near our hotel for a good 90 minutes. We met a group of female construction workers.
In the afternoon, Romain and I went to the “Mercato.”
The “Mercato” in Addis Ababa is the largest market in Africa.
We toured the massive market for a couple of hours.
Everything you can imagine is for sale in the mercato (metal, food, clothing, agriculture, machines, internet cafe, playstation rental facility, live animals, etc)
We didn’t see any other white people or tourists the entire time in the mercato.
Everyone was friendly, and we got invited to have a coffee with a group of men in a make shift, style of café.
As we strolled through the market, many people said to us “soldier soldier” because Romain and I were both wearing our motorcycle boots … which are French army boots.
But everyone was warm and friendly.
A beautiful Ethiopian woman with blue eyes in a pink dress had her own style of cafe on the side of the mercato, serving coffee.
She was charmingly – unfriendly, and her charm won me over. She offered us a coffee (our 2nd coffee in about 10 minutes)
I think I paid her $20 for the two coffee’s…but it was worth it – just for the story,
In the late afternoon, we had a driver take us around the city and to the museum.
Finally, we drove up to the top of the surrounding mountain ….
As we were driving up the very steep road, we saw many people walking up it.
Young children dressed in dirty school uniforms were laughing and seemed to be happily, smiling and playing as they walked home from school up the crazy, steep road. (the walk up the mountain must take them 2+ hours and to think they do this every day)
Several women were carrying large bundles of wood on their backs… also walking up the steep road.
We stopped to take pictures, and I felt the wood pile the woman were carrying … must have been at least 30-50 lbs. It was heavy.
At night, we walked all around the city … it was pitch dark, but we never felt in danger.
Everyone we met was warm and friendly.
On Saturday, we woke up at 4am and went to the airport for a 6am flight up north …on the drive to the airport, we saw many many many Ethiopians “jogging” in the streets.
Even in america, I have never seen so many people jogging on the streets at the same time.
The flight up north was an easy 60 minutes.
The drive from the tiny airport to our hotel in Lalibella was a good hour across gorgeous scenery.
There were many people on the side of the road walking in the same direction as we were driving.
Our guide told us they were all going to the same place we were going … because “Saturday” is the biggest day for the market.
We stopped several times to take photos. Everyone was friendly.
A memory I will probably never forget was of a young boy, maybe 10 years old or so … who came up to the side of the car and motioned as if he was writing … and the guide told me “he is asking you if you have a pen” … the young boy was begging for a pen.
Many people in Addis Ababa begged us for money …. And we gave away in total about a $100 throughout that first day … but we noticed up north almost no one begged or asked us for money.
The boy didn’t ask for money.
He asked us for a pen.
As I type, I am remembering his shy, smiling face, almost embarrased and shy for asking us for a pen.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a pen to give him.
We checked into our hotel, and then had breakfast on the patio facing the amazing view.
We didn’t speak for the hour or so — we just sat looking at the view.
Lalibella is famous for the rock churches (Christian) which were carved from the top down 600-800 years ago.
The site reminded me of Petra in Jordan.
Our guide told us that Ethiopia is 70% Christian.
The detail of each church is remarkable.
Each church was carved entirely from the top down, and some of the churches are at least 3-4 stories high.
Even the inside of the buildings have been carved out. Incredible to experience such perfection achieved 800 years ago.
The churches were connected with underground tunnels and trench-like paths.
We saw very few tourists the entire day, so it was like having the sites all to ourselves.
Around lunch time, Romain and I visited the “Saturday market.”
Possibly the “coolest” adventure I have had in my lifetime was walking around this market.
No one asked us for money, and I don’t remember anyone trying to sell us anything.
It was as if we didn’t exist to the people in the market.
Of course, we were the only “white guys/tourists” in the crowd.
We walked all throughout the market. We didn’t want to miss anything.
We were never worried about our safety, and we never felt in any danger.
Not at all.
After the market, we walked through an old village which was right next door.
We saw up, close and personal how the Ethiopian’s in this region live.
A group of children came running out to us, and one boy in particular was sweet and tender.
He kept hugging me, and holding my hand.
As I type, I feel sadness thinking about these kids.
All the things we take for granted…
There was a group of people playing “fooseball” … and several people were waiting in line to play.
The “fooseball” table was broken and looked 50 years old.
The final site of the day is the most famous site of Lalibella, a church carved in the shape of a cross .
It’s one of Ethiopia’s most iconic sites.
We had the church all to ourselves.
We took several pictures with a group of priests, and one deacon … warm, friendly men.
We got back to our hotel at 8pm … our hotel had an unobstructed view of the plains of Ethiopia.
We sat on the balcony and just enjoyed the sounds of Ethiopia.
The room had two tiny single beds, and Romain seemed to fall asleep instantly ….
But I couldn’t sleep.
I sat on the balcony staring at the stars in the sky just thinking about life, and all things I take for granted.
Because there were no lights anywhere… the view was pitch black with just the stars above. Gorgeous.
I couldn’t sleep, and surely slept less than 3 hours.
I just layed in bed and thought about how soft, and spoiled I am compared to the people I had met throughout the past two days.
Early, the next morning (after a great, strong coffee) … our guide picked us up and drove us to the final site of our trip, a church built in the side of a cliff, famous for having Holy water.
The drive to the airport was back across the plains of Ethiopia …
As we drove, I thought about all the things I take for granted – even just buying a canister of salt…
I thought back to the day before, at the market…
We had seen several women whom our guide told us had walked 25-40 miles carrying large bags of salt to the Saturday market to try and sell.
Imagine carrying a heavy bag of rock salt 20+ miles to a market …. just to try and sell.
I thought about the little baby at the market … his parents were selling rice or grain.
I thought about the 8 year old boy who I saw picking up shit from the animals (with his bare hands) and then trying to sell it.
There was a group of young boys doing this throughout the market.
We flew back to Addis Ababa, and then later in the evening back to Dubai.
It’s not just the poverty of the people in Ethiopia that got me reflecting on my own life, but it was the arduous, tough life of the people … women carrying loads of rocks, people carrying large oil barrels on their backs, young children, less than 6 years old all alone on the side of the road herding animals.
But the Ethiopian people didn’t look or seem to be unhappy.
On the contrary…they all seem to smile, and acted happy — not one person was rude or unfriendly to us the entire trip.
No one was aggressive to us.
“Happiness…” and all the other things we take for granted.