Ethiopia is often compared to India and has soaked up a lot of both Indian and Arabic influence in its dress, language, architecture and music, thanks to the trade routes that connect it to the asian continent, making it even more fascinating than the average African country. (continued below)
Near Bar Hadir
This sweet lady smiled so gladly when I asked to take her picture as she worked in the back of the one small restaurant.
The wonderfully progressive village of Awra Amba in Northwest Ethiopia values gender equality, hard work and care of societies most vulnerable above all, as well as keeping religion as a private choice and not a communal necessity.
This sweet old gentlemen broke my heart. When I asked to take a picture of him, he requested in return that I look at the wound on his stomach from a botched operation that was causing him great pain, under the assumption that as a westerner, I must have medical training. Of course, I was unable to help, telling him I wished I could... The problem would be internal, and I hate to think what will happen if it doesn't heal on it's own.
Primary School in Awra Amba, North Ethiopia
A lady sitting outside the elderly living quarters in Awra Amba. One of the community's most valued qualities is taking care of its most vulnerable inhabitants, with a 24/7 carer to assist in whatever they need. I stood talking with them outside their home, & I spotted this woman's tattoos hidden under her veil, & asked if I might see them better. She seemed flattered, but said with a smile that they were only beautiful when she was young. I told her I thought they were even more beautiful now.
As a village that is committed to gender equality, it was normal to see both men and women doing tasks that one would only see one gender doing elsewhere. I'd only been in Ethiopia a few days when this picture was taken but even then I was struck that it was the only time I saw children playing together, rather than just boys playing with boys. In fact it was possibly the only time I saw girls playing at all during my time in the country.
Awra Amba's main source of income comes from spinning cotton and weaving it into fabric which they mostly sell to tourists. Traditionally spinning is woman's work and weaving men's, but as always in Awra Amba, the work is done by both according to their skill, and spinning in particular is done even by the oldest in the community, and done together every Tuesday under the tree in the centre of the village.
This young girl kept looking back shyly as Nick and I came up behind her as we walked around the outskirts of the village that evening. I couldn't resist snapping a picture of her sweet smile.
For me travel is so much more about the journey and though it might be a little uncomfortable at times, I feel the experience of being another person using public transport endears you to local people in a way that so often restores my faith in humanity and allows me for just a brief while to be accepted as part of culture that my skin mostly leaves me outside of.
Such was the experience with the Toyota. After three minibuses (local transport) and seven hours on the road, I waited for a last ride of 64km to Lalibela, which I had been told wasn't possible, that I'd have to wait until morning, but so had I been told the same thing before every bus to every place since I'd started that morning so I didn't pay much notice. I waited on the corner of the turn off to my destination, munching on some roasted barley I'd just bought, when a ute turned up and I again used my very sophisticated "(pointing-) Lalibela?!” sign language to communicate my needs. The man wanted 200 birr ($10) and was totally uninterested in bargaining, luckily another local man asked me where I was going and asked again for me, at which point they said I could pay 100 birr if I rode in the back, which I was happy to do (though less so when I found out everyone else was paying fifteen).
It was a bit of a tough journey, excessively bumpy along a winding dirt road that kicked up a huge amount of dust that left me looking extremely Oliver-twist-esque, and that was before it started to rain, but my three companions made it pretty wonderful: Two men and a young woman with a little toddler strapped to her back. She held onto my leg through the journey to steady herself while the other men held onto her shoulder to keep her from knocking around too much. About half way through she wrapped her thin scarf around my head to keep the dust from my eyes and frequently patted my knee and gave me a thumbs up. We all laughed together as we were thrown in the air over particularly violent bumps, or local kids screamed FIRENZE (foreigner) after the car at me, and they saw my obvious embarrassment.
The older man shared his warm shawl with me as the afternoon light faded and it got a little cooler as we approached Lalibela, and for once, I felt the way I do in India, as if I was home. It's a feeling of kindness, humanity and community that I never feel in the western world with all our walls and barriers and social divides, and it brings me a deep, deep, all-encompassing joy that feels quite addictive, it is for these moments that I have such a deep desire to travel.