June marks our first trip in 2017 to check on the progress that’s being made on wells in Ethiopia. From June 1-16, Susanne and the group have a packed schedule. Not only are they visiting multiple well sites, but they are also making time to see some sights and take in the Ethiopian culture we love.
We can’t wait to see pictures from their visit to the Castles of Kings, the famous sacred monolithic churches, and of course our water projects, and Susanne will be sending back blog posts as rural Ethiopia’s Internet connections permit. You won’t want to miss a moment of their trip, so make sure you follow their progress and experiences here. If what you see excites you, make sure to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can travel with us on future trips!
On our way to Africa doing God’s work through our hands. The hotel shuttle driver is from Ethiopia. She was so happy when we used her language to say thank you. I love making connections.
We have arrived safely! Apparently the government has shut down the Internet because of national exams, just opening it up again late today. We are safe, well fed, and tired. Off early in the morning to Lalibella.
It is the end of day one and we’ve managed to see sights, shop, and experience a coffee ceremony. The flight was as easy as a 13-hour flight can be. We arrived early Saturday morning, and after checking into the hotel and resting for a brief time, we toured the National Museum where centuries of Ethiopian history are displayed.
The most famous exhibit is the display of Lucy, the earliest Astralopithicine afarensis discovered at the time and named after the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. We also toured the Trinity Church, which is an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church and the most dominant religion of the country.
After a short night of sleep, we were off to Lalibella, the home to the monolithic churches which serve as a second pilgrimage site for Christians who might otherwise travel to Jerusalem. We were treated to an afternoon rain shower, which is unusual for this time of year since it is technically still the dry season.
Following the tour of the churches, it was time for shopping which involved lots of bargaining, refusals, smiles, and hugs. Our journey back to the hotel was highlighted by a ride in the local taxis, or tuk tuk, which are three-wheeled covered carts creatively and brightly decorated. Our tuk tuk held six in a space designed for four.
Back at the hotel, we were treated to the traditional coffee ceremony. The coffee is served in three courses; abol, tona, and bereka. Each course is progressively weaker and served in tiny cups without handles.
We are looking forward to more adventures and visiting water projects in the coming days.
After visiting Lalibella, we had a short flight to Gonder which is consdidered the Camelot of Africa because of the medieval ruins of the castle of the Gonderian kings. The castle ruins are encircled by a wall in which there are 12 entrances. We used the royal entrance and then exited through warrior gate. UNESCO and the Federal and Local Government are all working in collaboration in preserving the ruins. The ruins sit on more than six acres of land and include stables, a feasting room, musical performance hall, a spa for the king and his concubines, and a cage for lions. The lion was the symbol of strength and courage of the kings. One of the wives of a ruling king succeeded him upon death and served as a model of female leadership by promoting women’s vocational programs.
After leaving the ruins, the group relaxed at a local coffee shop/retail store. Lost sunglasses were replaced and a much-needed horsehair flyswatter was purchased along with a Jebena (traditional ceramic coffee pot). A pop-up dance party ensued after the shop worker turned up some music and displayed the neck and shoulder movements of the traditional Ethiopian dance moves.
We had dinner at Four Sisters restaurant, which is actually three sisters and one daughter. The place is rather obscure as we drove through what a appeared to be a desolate field and absolutely empty gravel parking lot. We were greeted by a bugle blast from the parking attendant who directed us to the lit entrance where a couple was performing a musical welcome. We chose to dine outside and because it was windy, each diner could choose to don a poncho-like garment for warmth. The restaurant was beautifully decorated with paintings by a local artists and we were serenaded by the same man who greeted us at the door. We feasted on traditional Ethiopian injera, wot, and tej. We were well fed and ready for the next morning’s early start to visit water projects.
After a couple of days of visiting cultural and historic sites, our small group was ready to get down to business. Water to Thrive has a new partner in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development Inter Church Aid Commission (EOC-DICAC). The EOC has over 40 million followers. You can find a church in every district including remote and inaccessible locations throughout Ethiopia. The development arm of the Church was established in 1972. The DICAC supports rural water supply, road construction, education, irrigation, food security, aids prevention, care of refugees, and emergency food assistance.
Our projects with EOC DICAC are located around Gondar or Gonder – as we learned, spelling is arbitrary. We have five projects including 3 hand dug wells, one shallow borehole and one spring development.
The five water points serve almost 3,000 individuals. The photos show the new wells along with the water sources that served the communities before the wells were constructed. The people we meet share similar words of thanks to the donors and as expressed by one woman at the well, “Thank you and may God bless. You have saved us and we are overwhelmed with joy.”
After a very long day, walking several miles to the wells, we were exhausted but also realizing the hardships of the people we serve. They walk the same distances hauling heavy jugs of water, firewood and small children with seeming ease. We are all full of love and understanding of the importance of our work.
We are experiencing very cool mornings and evenings, and we are thankful for the relief from the daytime heat. Our attention today turned to the community of Robit, which has a deep borehole project we completed in 2012. The project consists of a reservoir tank holding 35,000 litres of water serving more than 3,000 people who live along the Megech River.
The project was not working due to downed power lines which occurred two weeks before our arrival. We learned the true meaning of our saying, this is Africa (TIA). The problem has been reported but nothing has been done. Another separate issue facing the community is the bridge that crosses the river and separates the town into two halves. Every July and August, the river floods and washes the bridge out, and then the community spends a month rebuilding the bridge. Brizi Medina, one of our travelers, is an engineer and works on water projects in the US. She recommends converting to solar and plans on working up a solution after returning to the US.
We reflect this evening on the importance of providing water to all in need and that it is part of our humanity to help our brothers and sisters in Africa. We are reminded that it is God’s work, our hands.
We traveled to the Simien Mountains, which are over 10,000 feet altitude. In fact, we stayed in the Simien Lodge which is the highest lodge in Africa.
The mountains are home to the Walia ibex, the Simien Wolf, leopards, and the Gelado monkeys.
We hiked on a trail that revealed some of the most spectacular scenery we’d ever seen. The bird watching presented us with species of birds unknown. The flora and fauna of the mountains are amazing and extremely fragrant. Thyme grows wild as does a type of tomato.
The highlight of the hike was being able to sit almost unnoticed right in the midst of the Gelado monkeys. They are the only grass-eating primates and can devour a kilo a day. They have a unique social system and live in large groups with each alpha male having six or seven females. They have a complex vocal range that is very similar to humans. In fact, it felt like we were in a crowd of people with all of the grunts, moans, squeals and growls. Probably most interesting is the fact that they sleep in cracks and crevices along the cliff face. This cliff hanging is their way of avoiding their predators, the hyena and the leopard.
After our hike, we enjoyed our dinner around a roaring fireplace. It was difficult to comprehend that we were cold after the sweltering heat at the lower elevations. We were treated to hot water bottles to slide between the sheets which were very welcomed. Tomorrow we are heading to Axum to meet with Water to Thrive’s partner REST.
After we left the Simien mountains, we traveled to meet with our partner, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST). We visited many villages over the next few days and we were often greeted with groups of villagers singing, clapping, popcorn being thrown about, dancing, and the happy sound of the lalalala that the women use while celebrating.
The words of thanks were heartfelt and touched us all. More than once we found ourselves in tears moved by the change that the simple gift of clean water brings to rural villages.
The days have been long, hot, and difficult as we traveled over dirt roads that provided what the drivers like to call the African massage. However, it is worth it when we see the faces of the children and the smiles of the people. They remind us that water is life. It touches everything.
The women are relieved of the backbreaking work of walking two, three, even four hours to collect one jug of dirty water.
The children can spend their time going to school. It reduces illnesses and even death. It also provides peace as neighbor fights neighbor over water.
Most of the celebrations include the traditional coffee ceremony where women and men sit in separate groups. The women first roast the beans and pass the smoke among the group. Then the women pound the roasted coffee beans and the ground are poured into a jug and cooked over a portable stove. The grounds provide three pours.
The coffee is served in tiny cups. The coffee is dark black and very strong. Along with the coffee, we enjoy injera, bread, shiro, more popcorn, and roasted barley. They have so little, but want to share and for us to enjoy.
Today we encountered something that can best be described as Ethiopian fondue. A mound of barley dough was formed into balls that were stabbed by a stick and then dipped into the berbere. This delicate palate had one small bite and I’m pretty certain the spiciness burned off a few tastebuds.
We are sad to leave each time as we depart from a village. The people line up, waving, smiling and now are happy to have clean water.
The organization also serves as a business incubator for the women once they graduate from the program. One of the most interesting projects they support is the training of women who are disabled. The women run and maintain public toilets and receive the income paid to use the facilities. In addition, women who graduate can form cooperatives and even apply for micro-loans. Timret Lehiwot is next focusing on the husbands and male partners of the women to educate them in the hopes provide for gender equality.
After the tour, it was time for some last minute shopping before Kathy and Brizi head back to the states. We hit the Shiro Meda, which is an outdoor market. The experience can be a bit of sensory overload as the stalls are located beside a very busy road jammed with huge tour buses, taxis, cars, pedestrians, a van equipped with loudspeakers asking for donations to cover a injured man’s hospital bills, and vehicles parked at off angles ignoring any sense of order. Added to the noise and fumes are the hawkers asking you to visit their stalls and the homeless people asking for your change. Each of us managed to negotiate and make some good bargains.
Our group has parted ways, as Gashaw and I head to Uganda to visit more water projects while Brizi and Kathy take a late-night flight back to the US. Kathy expressed her gratitude for an amazing experience and for having her eyes opened to the water issue. When asked about her favorite part, it wasn’t sitting amongst the monkeys in the Simien Mountains or the amazing landscape or even the great bargains, but it was the joy and gratitude she felt from the people in the villages who now have clean water.
Follow Susanne and Gashaw’s Uganda travels here.