The other day, the Peace Corps interviewed me for a small newsletter they put out for volunteers. Among the questions, “what is your favorite quote” was the one that left me thinking the most. I love quotes, and the question left me wondering: what are my favorite quotes?
Bobby Kennedy: “Some men see things as they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”
Bobby Kennedy is my homeboy. I really think that Bobby Kennedy could and would have been an incredible President. The assassination of Bobby, his brother, and MLK in the same decade is one of our greatest tragedies. This quote was actually attributed to Bobby by his brother during his eulogy. It is one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. If you get the time, go on Youtube and search for “eulogy of bobby kennedy”. The last minute is magic.
So I’m not really one to write down inspirational sayings or post motivational sayings on my mirror, but this quote might be the exception. It is my adopted mentality for my time in the Peace Corps. It would be very easy to get caught up in how bad things are here. To see the poverty can be tough, the sickness and the sadness. And yet, the culture shock has not been too bad. I expected extreme poverty, but the mentality of the people here is more fascinating than their lack of money. Nevertheless it would be easy to give up in a place like this. Hopefully, I can see solutions more often than problems, and make Bobby proud.
1. Materialism “The best things in life aren’t things”
On the way to Bonga we passed a school on the side of the road. It was in a rural area, surrounded by grassy plains, kids herding goats, and fields of teff running up the mountains. The front wall of the school was painted with a bright mural of kids playing together. In large block letters above the mural it said:
“Welcome: We do things different here”
It was the perfect microcosm for life here, pretty hilarious, and would have made for an awesome picture. I will have to write a thousand words to make up for my inability to snap a photo.
Living in Ethiopia is a life-changing event. Regardless of prior disposition or world-view, Ethiopia will change you. It is an indisputable fact. The most obvious difference I’ve noticed is very much intangible. It is the way of life here– that prohibits materialism and trivializes time. There is no concept of time here, only recently did kids start celebrating their birthdays. Most adults here just know the month they were born in. This can make getting work done extremely hard, but highlights the pettiness of the American obsession with time.
I’ve been even more impressed by the nature of the people here. They are genuinely happy with very few possessions. I’m embarrassed by how many things I’ve brough. I could wear different clothes each day for two weeks, whereas my host brother has one shirt. The kids see my room as some sort of playground Mecca, filled with things they didn’t know existed. I hope they realize that while I have many things, the only things I can’t do without are back home. They have it good here. They don’t have good shoes but they have an unbreakable sense of family, and traditions that best our commercialized ones. So, “the best things in life aren’t things” is one of my new favorite quotes. I’ve translated it into Amharic and it has even caught on in my neighborhood…
”Yaheywot mirt nehger kus aydalum”
“I only like people who like people”
I can’t remember who told me this, but I like to think I made it up. Sure enough, all my best friends and favorite people love people. I got a conference call last week from Carly and a bunch of my best friends, all guys who like and seek good company. Michael Jennings, for those of you who know him, is a good example. The guy loves people and he also ‘loves his liiife” Miss you brother.
Miss you too Pat.
“People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example rather than the example of our power”
Bill Clinton, for all of his rights and wrongs, discretions and triumphs, really knows how to deliver a message. I smoked but I didn’t inhale? Genius. This quote, given at the 2008 Democratic National Convention paints the best picture of why I applied to the Peace Corps. I remember traveling to Europe and Morocco and hating seeing graffiti saying ‘death to America’ or suggesting that I have (relations?) with our previous president. I love America and I’m glad that people share that opinion here. I can’t go a day without someone telling me they love Obama, that he is in fact, Kenyan, and asking me if I know him. Yes, America has the capacity to blow up the world several times over, but it is our (sometimes hard to find) selflessness and caring that leave a bigger impact.
This much I know. What the Peace Corps does around the world has far reaching consequences. If an anti-American radical sect arrived in Ethiopia, they would have a lot of trouble recruiting in my neighborhood, where my pack of kids will have hopefully grown up with a positive and tangible example of our better nature.
Oh and don’t worry Dad (and Grandpa), I’m not that liberal.
*Disclaimer* This blog post is probably pretty boring, unless you are planning a trip here, which you should be doing. Right now.
Friends and family who visit me should be assured that I would pick you up at the airport, arrange for your accommodations and give you a great feel for the country. For those of you I do not know, I will write and continue to edit my travel advice. Of course, for the small price of several dozen homemade cookies and fresh socks, I could probably be your personal tour guide as well.
Ethiopia is a great place to have a planned itinerary through a travel agency. In a country where transportation is pretty awful, having someone organize your stay is relatively cheap, and will save you several headaches. For adventurers on a budget, a little research, patience, and planning can make traveling in Ethiopia easier.
I would recommend arranging a flight that arrives in the early morning in Addis, giving you plenty of time to arrange your accommodations for the night. From the airport, and anywhere in Addis, you have two options for getting around by bus. For adventurers trying to save money, you can find a line bus that will take you to a destination in the city. Your best bet for a good hotel is in the district called “Mexico” any bus driver will let you know if they are headed that way. Otherwise, save yourself the hassle and contract a taxi (small blue cars) to take you to a hotel. You will pay perhaps 50 times the price, but even that is less than 10 American dollars. Don’t forget to haggle for everything. A contract taxi from the airport should cost no more than 150 birr.
Within the Mexico district, the Ras and Waba-Shebele hotel are reasonably priced modern hotels with hot showers. The price fluctuates but should be less than 300 birr per night (15 dollars) For those traveling with lots of money, the Sheraton is the best hotel in Africa. The prices are in dollars and are very expensive but it is incredible from what I hear.
In Addis, be very careful with your wallet and valuables. Your hotel room should be safe, and there is very little crime here, save for pick-pockets. Especially be careful if you (and you should) visit Mercado, the biggest outdoor market in Africa. For food, take a bus or taxi to “Bole” where you can find Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, and Italian restaurants…
If I wanted to give someone a tour of the best Ethiopia has to offer, a true taste of the country, these are the ten destinations I would choose. In order:
- Simien Mountains (imagine a greener, more epic grand canyon, filled with monkeys)
- The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
- The ancient city of Harrar
- Arba Minche, Nechisar Park, and Chencha
- The Bale Mountains National Park (especially If the Simiens aren’t an option)
- Bonga/The Kaffa Rainforest (A little bias here perhaps)
- The Blue Nile Falls
- The cities of Bahir Dar and/or Gonder
- Awash National Park
- Wenchi Crater Lake (great day trip/weekend getaway from Addis)
Given a week, a traveler would have to choose between visiting Northern, Southern, or Eastern Ethiopia. Personally, I would head north, spending a night in Addis, a night in Gonder or Bahir Dar, 2 nights in the Simien Mountains, and a night in Lalibela. Plan for two travel days.
However, developing an itinerary is very difficult. In Europe you can depend on things like schedules, (brilliant!) set prices, and paved roads. In Ethiopia there are no schedules, and the roads, well, they suck. To see all of these sites by public transport, one might have to go back to Addis in between each stop. . Your best bet therefore is to fly to major destinations. I know flying is an option between Addis and major cities and destinations. If the price is reasonable, it is definitely worth it.
If you are taking public transportation, try and use Salam bus or Sky bus. These will give you a guaranteed seat, and help you avoid the sheer craziness of the alternative…on my way to Bonga, 100 people crammed into a bus that in America would seat 30
I hope this was hopeful for those traveling to Ethiopia. Later, I will include a packing list for travelers, and one for future Peace Corps Volunteers here.