Water to Thrive Executive Director Susanne Wilson leads a trip of supporters, volunteers, and interns to visit planned, in-progress, and completed projects throughout Ethiopia and Uganda.
We arrived in Addis Ababa this morning just in time to watch the sunrise. After getting through the visa line and successfully getting everyone’s luggage, we made it to the hotel for a short rest before heading out to explore the capitol.
Ethiopia is the only African country never colonized by one of the European powers. However, the influence of Italy is seen and felt … as evidenced by our first meal of pizza and lasagna.
After lunch, we toured the National Museum of Ethiopia, where we came face to face with Lucy. Lucy is the 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus Afarensis skeleton discovered in 1972, named for the Beatles song. In Amharic, her name is Dinkinesh, which means “You are marvelous.” Read more about this famous fossil here.
After the museum, we toured the Holy Trinity Cathedral. We were there during the prayer service and witnessed chanting and the division of women and men during the ceremony. The church is the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie.
An early dinner closed our first day in order to get plenty of rest before a 5:30 am departure for the airport.
Our morning began with a predawn wake-up call in order to make our 7:00 am flight from Addis to Mekele, the home city of our partner in Tigray, REST.
REST was founded in 1978 in response to the drought in the region of Tigray. They then launched large-scale relief operations that lasted until 1987. Since then, they’ve focused on multi-sector, long-term development and are now the most prominent NGO in Ethiopia.
After checking into the hotel, we visited the local market which offered lots of opportunity for interactions with the local people. The young children were especially curious about the “foreigni” or foreigners. The colors, sights and smells were a earthy bouquet for the senses. The items of the market included everything from spices, fruits, vegetables, hand-sewn clothing, stoves, aromatic cooking fuel, coffee, grains, pottery and live chickens.
On our way back from the market, we got up close and personal with some camels. The group noticed the branding of the camels but also noted that they were not tethered, fenced in or otherwise contained. The question remain unanswered as to why they didn’t just run off.
The Abraha Castle Hotel was the perfect spot for a midday break. The nice breeze and a shady veranda made for a great photo op and a place to experience the local honey wine.
The finale of the evening was at the local traditional restaurant. We ate in the traditional Ethiopian style using our hands to tear a piece of injera (the traditional spongey bread) to pick up roasted goat meat, shiro (chickpea dish), and salad. Lastly, we listened to traditional Ethiopian music and danced, all shoulder and neck movement which is the unique style of the country.
Thanks to the irregularity of African internet, we’ve disappeared for a few days, but at least for the night we’re back!
Yesterday morning we left the Planet Hotel in Mekele and visited 3 well sites along the way to Hawzen. The first gave us quite a hike into a gorge, but was absolutely beautiful. The second 2 were unfinished hand dug wells (a dream for this civil engineering student) where we were met by a group of school children singing excitedly and dancing in circles. Of course we had to join in the fun!
After yet another long bumpy ride, we arrived at our home for the evening, Gheralta Lodge. The view at this place was like something you could never imagine. The quiet beauty of this rustic Eastern Tigray lodge was much appreciated after a few long, hot days.
Today looked similar to yesterday with 3 site visits on the way to a new location. At the first, we were met by the largest group of singing schoolchildren we’ve seen yet. What a beautiful thing to see the gratitude and excitement of these kids! The second and third were spring protections in a similar location to one another. We were met with open arms, honey burgers, chickpeas and roasted corn. This week, with 9 site visits under our belts, we have each been blessed in different ways; some even remain unknown to us for now.
To finish the day, we finished our drive to Axum where we toured the St. Mary Zion church where the Ethiopian Orthodox Church believes that the real Ark of the Covenant is located. This prompted an interesting discussion at dinner about the Ark, its whereabouts, and what that means for us and the church today.
After three days in the field with REST, our NGO in Tigray, visiting wells, this morning we took a short (30 minute) flight from Axum to Lalibela, the site of the ancient monolithic rock-hewn churches built by King Lalibela. There are eleven churches, and the most famous is St. George which was carved in the shape of a cross. The churches are still in use today and are a religious pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.
We had lunch at the Ben Abeba restaurant which is situated precariously on a high overlook. The restaurant looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. It offers an expansive view of the landscape below. The wind was whipping and a bit chilly, but the blankets provided by the waiters kept us warm and cozy. We enjoyed seeing Yohannes, our guide, wrap up Paul, our appointed holy man.
After rides in tuk tuks (three wheeled cabs), we shopped for souvenirs and talked to the local children who were all eager to practice their English.
While Africa is beautiful and we are having a blast, the one thing I miss most about the U.S. is consistent wifi. The past two days have been filled with lots of traveling. We left Lalibela and arrived in Arbra Minch around lunch time. Our tour guide took us to a Dorze village in the Great Rift Valley. This tribe is famous for its weaving skills.
We took a tour of their village and saw the houses that they constructed out of false banana plant leaves. A lady allowed us to tour her house, and we were able to see how they cook the traditional food of fermented banana made into bread and some sauces such as honey and one made of spice.
The local villagers came and danced the traditional dances for us. While the northern part of Ethiopia dances with their shoulders, the central and southern part dance with their hips and legs. All of our group members danced to one of the songs with the people. My favorite was watching Paul dance with the men. The men dance like they are holding spears and are fighting. Half way through the song, a village man brought out actual spears for Paul and the others to dance with. Our time dancing with the Dorze people was my favorite part of the day. We headed back to the lodge and during dinner we had a sing-off of sorts with European guests sitting across the restaurant. They would sing European songs (and “St. Jude”), while we would retaliate with songs from the Sound of Music and “Proud to be an American.” After we finished dinner and singing, our team retired for the night.
The next morning we woke up early and took a safari through one of the Ethiopian National Parks. The fact that it was raining did not stop us from seeing monkeys, birds, gazelles and zebras. The park roads were very muddy though and if it wasn’t for our skilled drivers we would still be stuck in the park roads. Africa has some serious mudding. We also got to see the “Bridge of God” or a piece of land that separates two of the most famous lakes in the Great Rift Valley. After a brief lunch and nap stop, our next visit was to the Konso tribe. The Konso tribe’s culture and land is considered a World Heritage Site. The village was settled in the Southern mountains and had very narrow roads between houses in order to provide protection from invading villages and animals. The people were carrying loads of plants on their backs, and the kids were wearing tattered clothing and playing with socks rolled into balls. One thing we were really struck by was how the children seemed to be affected by all sorts of health issues, even more so than the others we’ve seen so far.
In the center of the town was an infamous structure that the unmarried boys from around 12 until marriage sleep in. This is so they can assist with any emergencies such as fires, invaders or illnesses which would require the boys to lift the ill person on a stretcher and take them to the nearest clinic. Our time at the village was brief, so by the time we finished it was almost dark.
It had been raining on and off the whole day, but my favorite part of today was seeing four rainbows. We saw the first one on the way to the village. Being the photographer’s dream, I took many photos of the first rainbow. On the way back, we saw a double rainbow. Being equally excited, I jumped out of the car and took pictures of it. Not even ten minutes later, we saw another one. Ironically when we saw the first, I was telling everyone how rare rainbows are. I guess they aren’t as uncommon in Ethiopia as they are in America. Our team made it back safely from the village. We will be taking a tour on one of the famous lakes and will travel to a new area where we will stay the night. Please pray for everyone to stay healthy, as most everyone has been affected a bit by the new foods and long car rides.
The Great Rift Valley is home to seven lakes and today, we took a boat tour on Lake Chamo. The World Wildlife Federation supports the protection of the lake. The lake is home to thousands of Nile crocodiles, many species of birds and hippos.
Our tour took us to the crocodile market which is a stretch of shore where hundreds of the Nile crocs congregate to sun bathe.
Although the crocs were interesting to watch, the most exciting part of the tour and a bit scary was when a bull hippo decided to warn us to get out of his territory.
This afternoon, we traveled to Hawassa, dodging goats, donkeys, sheep, cattle, tuk tuks and people that all share the road.
Tomorrow, we are visiting more wells with our partner, Development and Social Services Commission (DASSC) which is part of the Mekane Yesus Church.
We had a full day of site visits in Hawassa. Everyone noticed the extreme differences from Tigray. Hawassa is very green, lush, hilly and tropical. Horses are more prominent than in the north and streams and lakes are more plentiful. Roadside sales of crops included potatoes, bananas, avocados, papyas, corn and breads.
We visited 9 hand dug wells. Several were located at schools and health posts. Two of the wells were funded by a young Ethiopian adopted by an Austin family. Instead of birthday gifts he asked for donations for water for his home village. Before the wells were completed, the women and young girls walked one hour to a river to collect water twice daily. During the dry season, the walk was even longer.
Everyone enjoyed interacting with the villagers. They especially like having their photos taken and learning English.
This evening, we arrived at our lodge on the banks of Lake Langano, another of the Rift Valley Lakes. We had dinner while observing the full moon of the summer solstice. Tomorrow, we continue traveling north to meet with another partner.
Yesterday we spent the day traveling from our Lodge on Lake Longano to Ambo. We stopped briefly on the banks of the lake and visited a fish market.
Today, we met with our partner, the Central Gibe Synod Mekane Yesus and toured 7 water sites. All of the wells were hand dug schemes. Most were in various stages of completion. Most were already treated with chlorine and simply waiting the three days after treatment before officially being opened to the villages.
We asked one of the water committee members to show us the current water source. Seeing the dirty puddle was beyond our imagination and made for some emotional discussion. The woman told us she would attempt to strain the worms with cloth, but that all suffer from water borne illness and that the children are especially vulnerable and many have died.
It is a wonderful feeling to know that lives are being changed, but as one man reminded us, we need to continue our work because there are more who need the blessing of clean water.
Our last day full day was spent in the Gosu Kora community and school. We were greeted with an escort of beautifully decorated horses. Rachel, W2T intern, got in a little ride before we were greeted by singing children from the Gosu Kora School.
A pipeline and latrine project is nearly complete. The school has over 400 students who now have water and will soon have separate boys and girls pit latrines. The community also now has water.
The community served us an Ethiopian feast and our team received presents of traditional dress, jewelry and scarves.
After a small delay of a flat tire, we returned to Addis for our last group dinner at a traditional restaurant.
Tomorrow, we return home with full hearts, new friends, warm memories and hope for continuing the work of building wells and changing lives.