Ethiopia: First Impressions

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The mango tree provides shade from the unrelenting heat as the bird it holds sings its song. Laughter fills the air as a group of local boys splash each other from the water pump they are using to wash themselves and their clothes. In the dry river behind them, a local woman fills a jerry can from a hole that has been dug to reach the water that is so scarce at this time of year.

I absentmindedly scratch at the fresh mosquito bites I woke up with this morning as I take in my surroundings. Cattle and goats dominate the dusty road, reluctantly moving aside for the occasional vehicle that passes by. The sun covers the landscape and shade is scarce. Bells and energetic shouting in the distance indicate a bull-jumping ceremony is underway.

I look out at the vast African landscape as I contemplate the potentially challenging and rewarding experiences that lie ahead of me. This is the home of the Hamar tribe of Ethiopian Omo Valley – and this is my home for the next three months.

I ignore the bead of sweat forming on my forehead and release a contented sigh laced with excitement. The journey has just begun…

 

Like most people my age, my first awareness of the country called Ethiopia was via an international aid appeal for the devastating famine that spread throughout the country in the 1980’s. Heart-breaking images of malnourished families dominated the TV, parents began using the phrase ‘there are starving children in Ethiopia’ to guilt us into eating our vegetables and a stereotype was created that has been difficult for the country to shake.

Despite tourism still being in its infancy, travellers who have ventured to Ethiopia in recent years have returned with stories of intriguing history, diverse landscapes, vibrant cultures and fascinating people. So when the opportunity to spend three months volunteering in the Omo Valley presented itself, it felt like the perfect chance to replace the media-contrived stereotype that has influenced my perception of this country with my own memories and experiences.

I’ve only been in the country a week – and I’m only spending my time in one small region. But I already feel overwhelmed with sights, sounds and experiences of a complicated, intriguing and beautiful country. I hope to battle an unreliable Internet connection and share these over the coming months so stayed tuned!

First Week as a Volunteer

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As I planned my three-month volunteering adventure in Ethiopia with Big Beyond, I was warned there would be challenges. Our remote location in the South Omo Valley is difficult to reach, is without the modern comforts we take for granted and our work with the Hamar community will require patience, flexibility and cultural sensitivity.

I was prepared for a challenge; I wasn’t prepared for it to begin before I arrived!

For reasons unknown to anyone except themselves, Ethiopian Airlines decided my luggage didn’t need to follow me to Arba Minch and offloaded it during our short stopover in Jimma. I joined local men, women, children and chickens for an uncomfortable bus ride to Turmi the next morning as my luggage remained in Jimma, waiting for the next flight on a three-times-a-week route.

I arrived at our camp in the Hamar village of Shele in the same clothes I would be wearing four days later. I learned more about the role I would play as a pioneer volunteer with Big Beyond as my bag travelled through Turmi with a trucker who was paid to drop it here but continued with it to the Kenyan border. I was introduced to the friendly, beautiful and proud Hamar community who are partnering Big Beyond in an initiative to better their lives whilst retaining their culture, as one of our local team members travelled through a rival tribe’s territory to negotiate the return of my luggage.

It wasn’t quite the start I was expecting!

But my bag has arrived, I’ve changed my clothes and I’m ready to throw myself into the experience.

My first week has been full of insignificant but memorable moments: observing a group of Hamar men watch a car tyre being changed for the first time, learning my first Hamar word, trying three locals beers and deciding on St George as my favourite, eating the country’s staple food injera and hoping I learn to enjoy it before I leave, watched a full moon rise over the traditional hut (modernised with a cemented floor and bed) that I’ll be living in, passing around parsey (traditional drink) in the home of a Hamar family, being asked why I am single and travelling on my own, and learning the first of many interesting facts about a culture that has shunned modern technology and outside influences for centuries.

Stay tuned!

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Allan Seabrook says:

    Hi Kellie,

    Thanks for sharing this amazing experience with us. As an African, even having lived in a number of countries on the continent myself, I’m embarrassed at my ignorance of Ethiopia. Already, you’ve opened my eyes and mind and I can’t wait to follow you in the days and weeks ahead. And well done on not wasting too much time before sampling the local beers 😉

    Keep writing. Keep inspiring. Keep opening eyes and minds.

    Allan

    • Cheers Allan – look forward to sharing more in the coming months, there is SO much I want to write about and share with you all and it’s only been two weeks. An incredible part of the world, very thought-provoking and eye-opening.

  2. Cant wait to hear more about your time here! We’re currently in the north and were consodering visiting the south but after we heard some stories about what a zoo it had become with negative impact from tourism we decided against it sadly because it looks so facinating. Good on you for delving into the culture with such commitment, absolutely the way to do it vs. showing up for a few days, getting a ton of pictures of the tribespeople and leaving. Looking forward to your stories! Take care!

    • The stories about the ‘zoo’ are unfortunately true when it comes to what you can do/see as a tourist here. But this is an area we are starting to look into and have some exciting ideas that may hopefully help change things – watch this space! Would love to see more of Ethiopia and head north, enjoy the rest of your time 🙂

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Ethiopia: Introduction to a Hamar village in the Omo Valley