Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’ Category

The Bad Samaritan

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

(these “beggar anecdotes” were written a couple weeks ago during the time I was visiting Lalibela in Ethiopia)

You’re Poor with No Opportunities?  Tough luck.

Was approached by a kid as I walked down the street who insistently wanted me to exchange Euro coins into Ethiopian Birr.  I had done this with a few other kids who had loose US change and the word apparently got around I was the new contact for currency exchange.

I didn’t appreciate this new role though and tried brushing him off.  Kept walking.  Told him I don’t need Euros anyhow and didn’t know the exchange rate to boot. 

Then another guy ran up from his internet café shop I was passing:

“Hey! Hey! You! You! Need internet?!”  I kept walking.  “NO, I told him.” 

He was as persistent as the kid: “Please!! Please! come to my internet shop!” 

“No! I don’t need your internet.”  Adding to myself, “And please go away.”

Then another kid came up on my left side with still more coins.  Could I please change these to Birr too?  My patience was wearing thin as I kept walking, telling them all, “No, no, no, a thousand times no.” 

But I was outnumbered, three people jabbering to me at once with different requests: “Internet! Euros! Change!  Please! Farenge! Internet! Euros! Birr! You! You! You!”  I insistently told them all, “No, no, no, no no, no, no…” as I continued striding down the street.

Yet the first kid became more insistent, holding his Euros right in front of my face and getting in my way, explaining he JUST wanted a few birr to buy some shoes!

In massive frustration I stopped right in the middle of the road and spun around on the poor kid and looked him right in the eyes and said, “Lookit! I am NOT a European so I don’t need Euros -  I don’t even know what the exchange rate is!  In fact,” I added, “I am AMERICAN.” 

As I was patiently explaining this to him, I noticed something about his eyes.  They were severely crossed – one turned inwards, just like mine.  He was about thirteen.  And I noticed he DID need new shoes, and he looked forlorn at my sharp attitude.  He walked off.

Of course, then I felt awful.  Yes, I AM American.  And because I’m American, when I was 13 years old like that boy I was having my second cosmetic eye operation to have my eyes straightened.  This kid, at 13, is just trying to scrape enough cash together to buy himself a pair of shoes.  He’ll never have the opportunity to have an eye-straightening operation, they will always be severely crossed. 

Yeah, so later that made me feel kinda bad.  At the time though I didn’t feel bad enough to come back and exchange his paltry Euros.

I’m a Bad Samaritan.

You Need Medical Help?  Oh well.

I walked to the top of a nearby mountain today.  As I left town, two boys decided to accompany me as guide up to the monastery.  I didn’t want them to accompany me.  In fact, I wanted to be alone for five minutes to think without being continually pestered.  Alone time, as you will find next time you visit Ethiopia, is not meant to be.

The boys came despite my protests; but they grew on me.  By the end of the hike, I liked them both quite a lot. 

One young boy, Tilouse, kept wiping his eyes because they were tearing up.  At first I thought it was dust or wind or something but he kept wiping them all the way up and down, about a three hour hike. 

Turns out he has had problems with his eyes since birth.  Also turns out he is “very clever,” as two of his friends later told me.  At least clever in Math, where he’s supposedly far above his age grade.  He wants to be an engineer someday. 

Even though he’s always crying and his eyes are bloodshot, this little guy is happy!  Always smiling (when I saw his family later they also told me he is usually happy).

Tilouse will smile real big, then his eyes tear up and he has to look down and wipe them.  I don’t see how he could be so happy with that type of eye problem.  If my eyes wouldn’t stop crying I don’t think I would be happy.

As we were coming down the mountain Tilouse looked at me with this big grin and said, “I am soooo happy!”  then wiped more tears away. Makes my eyes water just remembering it.

Come to find out, Tilouse is also an orphan. 

Later, I went to his grandma’s house, where he lives.  I met his sister and brother and uncle.  They all live in a dark mud-baked hut.  They didn’t ask me for money… a pleasant change.  In fact, they treated me as an honored guest and gave me coffee, tea, and chapatti.  One of Tilouse’s friends gave me a necklace and tied it around my neck.

I took Tilouse and a few other kids out to supper that evening.  Tilouse just kept grinning and crying. 

Apparently there isn’t anything the doctor in Lalibela can do for him except refer him to the Addis Ababa hospital, which he did.  But his family is too poor to send him to Addis; much less pay for medication. Tilouse told me he had never left the town of Lalibela before. 

Tilouse with Eye Problems

So Tilouse needs help.  But so does everyone else.  I wanted to help, but didn’t know how without staying in Lalibela longer to talk with the local doctor and figure out more details and then take him on a 12 hour bus trip down to Addis (and back), which I also didn’t want to do as it would be inconvenient, you know? 

So Tilouse will probably have eye problems his whole life because I didn’t want to stay an extra day longer to help him. 

I’m a Bad Samaritan.

You’re Destitute?  Sorry, I’m too Lazy to Pull Cash From my Pocket

A few days ago I was on a long bus ride when we stopped for a break. 

As I was walking back toward the bus I bought some cookies from a street vendor.  He gave me change which I had in my my hand as I turned around and was accosted by an old beggar lady.  I gave her some of my change.

Then I turned again and another beggar stepped up to me so I handed him my remaining change.  As I held the bills out I noticed with dismay he had no hands which to accept!  just stumps of arms.  He motioned with one stump toward his front coat pocket… so I deposited the birr there. 

As I again tried moving towards the bus entrance a third beggar blocked my way.  This time I was too lazy to reach into my pockets for a few more birr so said, “No,” instead and tried walking around him.  But he was insistent and tried blocking my path.

To my surprise, a fellow bus passenger literally stepped between the two of us and knocked the beggar backwards and told him to leave me alone.  Which he did as I quickly ducked back into the bus.

Jesus always had time for people.  And compassion. Not I.

I’m a Bad Samaritan.

I Can’t Help You All, So I Don’t Think I’ll Help Anyone

Pressing physical need is everywhere. 

Today I was on a mini-bus ride.  We were stopped waiting for more passengers.  I was in the back minding my own business by a window seat when my window opened (from the outside) and several beggars started asking me for money.

Among them were a few healthy-looking kids and an elderly lady who appeared to be blind.  I gave the blind lady some birr and told the rest, “No,” and shut my window.  I also drew my curtains shut too.  Just like Jesus would have done.

I am particular about which beggars I give money to.  My style is to discriminate on health: if they look pathetic I give a few cents which won’t help them anyways, otherwise I hoard just like Jesus said to do.  Because, as we know, I’m a Bad Samaritan.

But back to the story, it wasn’t 30 seconds before my window was reopened and a number of hands were thrust through the curtain practically into my lap!  Good grief. 

I wanted to shout at the bus driver, “Could we please leave now?? Like, RIGHT now?!”

There were plenty of other people in the matatu but I was the only one being targeted.  Because I’m white, and everyone knows that white people are filthy rich.  I felt like Nemo surrounded by piranhas.

From outside I could hear murderous chanting of, “Farenge.” 

All this solicitation has got me thinking about what it must have been like for Jesus.  Then I remembered he had 12 burly bodyguards to keep the crowds at bay.

“I can’t fix all of Ethiopia with my loose change,”  I stewed to myself.  I’m not going to give them anymore, I’m sick of giving handouts.

Why didn’t anyone else on the mini-bus come to my help?  Why didn’t any of THEM help the beggars?

Finally I opened my curtain and a myriad of faces awaited me.  More kids.  Another lady.  The original blind woman now practically crying in her insistence I give her more cash.  I told them all to go away – I wasn’t giving anyone anything more period.  Just like Jesus would have said it.  And, unbelievably, they did leave me alone.

Yes, I’m a Bad Samaritan.

Invisible Lazarus Becomes Visible

Everyone has a story.  Kids walk up and give me their story.  Are they true?  Who knows. 

Back at home I never liked handing out money directly to people who asked because I didn’t know what they would do with it.  Instead, it seemed better to give something tangible (like food).  Having said that, think I’ve only ever bought food for one person back in the States. 

HERE though, the kids oftentimes don’t even ask for money, they ask for food in the first place.  And they are happy to walk me to a nearby bakery or restaurant or street vendor.

In fact, these last couple days in Lalibela I had kids eat with me almost every meal.  Not that I really wanted them to, but invariably wherever I went I attracted a string of kid-followers.  All of them want something from me.  When mealtimes came I wanted to eat, but what was I supposed to do?  Have them sit outside the door (or by the window) and salivate over my food while they themselves are famishing hungry?  Or worse yet, have them come inside, sit down, and study my every bite?  No, I just invite them in and buy them some food too.  It’s cheap anyways.

Being in Ethiopia has frequently reminded me of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  Jesus said the Rich Man ate in luxury while Lazarus sat outside his door wishing for crumbs.   Apparently, the Rich Man never even bothered to give crumbs. It’s sobering how, in the story, the fortunes of these two individuals were reversed in the afterlife.

Did Lazarus go to hell because of failing to give charity? Was his lack of good deeds what sent him to hell? No, it was his attitude towards God that sent him to hell. But his attitude towards God affected his actions towards the less fortunate.

The book I’m reading now, The Reason For God, makes the point that God doesn’t send anyone to hell, people choose to go there of their own free will. And they continue to choose staying there. He says the afterlife is but a continuing trajectory of the path we begin in this life.

Even looking further at the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man it could be noted the Rich Man never asks to be let out of hell. He instead tries getting Lazarus to run an errand for him (revealing a lack of humility in viewing Lazarus as a nobody) and also shifts blame of his being in hell to God for not giving enough warning.

In short, the Rich Mans attitude in hell seems to be about the same as his attitude back on earth: on the arrogant and haughty side.

Keller writes,

The people in hell are miserable… raging like unchecked flames their pride, their paranoia, their self-pity, their certainty that everyone else is wrong, that everyone else is an idiot! All their humility is gone, and thus so is their sanity.

They are utterly, finally locked in a prison of their own self-centeredness, and their pride progressively expands into a bigger and bigger mushroom cloud. They continue to go to pieces forever, blaming everyone but themselves.

That is why it is a travesty to picture God casting people into a pit who are crying “I’m sorry! Let me out!” The people on the bus from hell in Lewis’s parable would rather have their “freedom,” as they define it, than salvation. Their delusion is that, if they glorified God, they would somehow lose power and freedom, but in a supreme and tragic irony, their choice has ruined their own potential for greatness.

Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.” As Romans 1:24 says, God “gave them up to…their desires.”

All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that?

Lewis writes:

“There are only two kinds of people – those who say “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.”

(The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, pg 79)

These are hard sayings, especially considering I see the same arrogance of the Rich Man in my own life. Being here in Ethiopia puts a mirror to my own face in revealing my often unloving attitude towards the less fortunate. Especially since they are the very ones I’m presumably here to help! I have to ask myself, “Which trajectory am I on, really?”

Sure, sometimes I do help gracefully and sometimes I am nice and take the demands with humor and grace, but more often I’m peeved and wish they would all get lost and/or take a hike.

Perhaps that is one of the benefits of traveling in an impoverished area: the mirror effect. Back home Lazarus is hidden; over here he’s out in the open. Here, Lazarus often takes the form of a young boy in tattered clothing following me around pleading, “Farange, I’m so hungry!  Could you buy me a piece of bread?”

I find any time I’m put into new testing situations it reveals more black yuckiness in my heart. Yet perhaps acknowledging that is a good first step towards resolving it. You can’t fix a problem you don’t know exists, right?

Final Note

I don’t want to give the impression that all I deal with is beggars and kids harassing me or that I’m having a horrible time.  Not true. 

It’s just that the negative points of travelling are what stick in my memory the strongest and – perhaps – make the more interesting stories to relate.

Sundry Pics from Egypt and Ethiopia

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Tombs of Mohammed’s Family – Cairo, Egypt

Tombs of Mohamads Family From Outside

Mohammed Family Tombs

  Ceiling of Tomb

These tombs are located in an obscure crypt located within the City of the Dead in Cairo.  A local guy from that city took me in his old beat up pickup truck.

Mr. Welsh & Mr. Poland – My Travelling Companions in Egypto

Matt and Nick in Dahab

Nick and Tomasz

Matt and I both rendezvoused in Eliat, Israel before entering Egypt.  We hit town the same evening and amazingly upon showing up (neither of us having hotel reservations) we ended in the same hostel – in the same dorm room!  Not planned, and we didn’t even know until that night when we saw each other.  Especially odd considering there were a plethora of hostels in the neighborhood to choose from. 

But then Matt and I split again and crossed into Egypt independently on separate days (Matt wanted to go a day earlier). 

Since crossing borders is always an adventure, this resulted in us both having unique adventures.  Turns out Matt ended up spending a night as the only tourist in a Bedouin camp when he couldn’t find through transportation.  Later we met up again in Dahab, Egypt but this time we didn’t have the fortune to pick the same hostel… ended up at opposite sides of town.  But after a couple days later Matt moved over to my hostel.  So we were travelling together, kinda.

Regardless, Matt and I did have a great time together and one day the two of us went snorkeling and Matt stepped on a sea urchin and got thorny spines all over the top AND bottom of of his foot!  Ouch.  What’s worse is it was later that night we hiked up Mt. Sinai… hehe.

So then I went on to Cairo and Matt back to Israel.  But after a a few days I took an antiquated train up to Alexandria where, lo and behold – who was waiting for me at the station but good ol’ Poland himself!!  Mr. Tomasz.  The two of us then explored Alexandria and Western Egypt together.

Guess I’ll always remember taking an overnight bus ride with Tomasz from Alexandria to the Siwa Oasis.  During the night as we crossed the desert and temps inside the bus got downright frigid and neither of us could sleep well.  Every now and again I’d look out the window and see this full moon lighting up the dune landscape in amazing detail.  I remember thinking, “We’d better not have bus trouble because we are at the back side of nowhere.”

At pre-dawn we pulled into our destination – this hole in the wall small town called Siwa.  Both of us were bleary-eyed as we stumbled from the bus, but no time to sit around, we had to navigate to find a hotel.  Found one Tomasz had in mind but it was locked up.  So I called the owner and woke him.  He came down and unlocked the door – checked us in.  Tomasz and I groggily found our way to a third floor room.  There were two beds, and immediately we both crashed to sleep without unpacking or anything.  We were just soo tired.   

When I did the reverse overnight bus ride (by myself this time, straight back to Cairo) I brought my sleeping bag onboard the bus and snuggled into it for the night and slept quite soundly.  Upon arriving at the Cairo bus station at the crack of dawn I was immediately thrust into the non-stop nutty traffic and forced to navigate across the city via subway, etc. but, unlike before, I wasn’t so tired and was able to hit the ground running.   

Citadel – Cairo, Egypt

Massive ancient fortress; replete with several mosques within the compound.  I visited this briefly one day while in Cairo. 

Mosque Courtyard

Prayer Calling Seat for the Iman

Men Praying in Mosque

From the ramparts of the Citadel was a striking view of Cairo with the Giza Pyramids outside town in the desert:

Pyramids Across Cairo Skyline

Here is another skyline photo below, check out how many minarets there are… The “call to prayer” time in Cairo is ridiculously obnoxious (at least from my limited perspective as an infiedel) with the nonstop cacophony of a ka-billion discordant singers through squawking megaphones.

Minarets in Cairo

The Nile / Sailing a Felucca – Cairo, Egypt

The Nile

Felucca Sail

Sailing a Felucca

I was walking along the Nile river and saw these Felucca’s just aching to be sailed. 

There was a guy sitting on a park bench up by the main road offering rides for 100 EGP ($17).  I sat on the bench beside him for awhile and thought about it – watching the boats and the Nile. 

Finally I decided to walk down and look at the boats up close.  There was another man down by the boats so I asked him how much a ride would cost?  He said 50 EGP for an hour.  Whatta deal!  Half what the first guy offered, so I told him I’d do it.

To my chagrin, Mr. Cheapo hollered up to Mr. Expensivo guy on the picnic bench to come on down as they had a customer.  Turns out Mr. Expensivo was the captain who took me on my ride.  Slightly awkward.  The fellow who offered me the half off rate was the boat manager and didn’t care much about the Captain getting a tip.

Felucca Captian

Another thing I saw walking along the boardwalk was a hip café where apparently all the guys take their girlfriends.  Reminded me of the “dating room” at BJU I’ve heard about.

Couples Hanging Out by the Nile

The Famous Egypt Museum – Tahrir Square – Cairo, Egypt

The Famous Egyptian Musuem in Tahrir Square

It looks nicer on the outside than the inside.  The exhibits are poorly labeled (or not labeled) and it has the feel of a musty old warehouse.  Outside touts are swarming about, seeking whom they may swindle a dollar from.  No joke, I was outright lied to by touts.  For instance, one of them insisted the museum was closed to individuals right now and only groups could enter (not true).  Then he suggested that while I was waiting maybe I could go see his shop?  I forget what I told him, but it wasn’t what I wanted to tell him, that’s for sure. 

I find there are many times (like even today) I think rotten things in my head I wish to tell annoying touts that somehow gets filtered to comments fairly civil by the time the words exit my mouth.  I guess that’s progress, but it would be better if I were less bitter towards them in the first place.  They’re just trying to make a living.  Dishonestly is all.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Friends I made in Addis.  The guy with his arm around me, Abraham, is someone I hung out with for a several days and even later met his Dad in Bahir Dar. 

Drogba Nick Abraham Simon

Did you know that in Ethiopia it is normal for guys to walk around hand-in-hand to show friendship?  Seemed wrong to me, but that’s what they do.

Lake Tana – Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Lake Tana is the lake where the headwaters of the Blue Nile comes from.  Tana also has a number of islands with ancient monasteries on them.  I took a boat trip out on the lake to visit several of the monasteries.  The lake was cool, but the monasteries weren’t much to write home about: big circular huts that didn’t look that old. 

I thought the papyrus boats were the most interesting part.  That, and taking our boat up the first bit of the Blue Nile river.

Lake Tana Island

Lake Tana - Papyrus Boats

Lake Tana Papyrus Boat

Lake Tana Kids on Papyrus Boat

Lake Tana Monastery Dock

Lake Tana Monastery Deacon

Lake Tana No Entrance

I don’t endorse the “No Lady” entrance above.  Just found it interesting.  Several of the monasteries were open to men only. 

Honestly, I feel that much of what I saw of Orthodoxy in Ethiopia was counter to teachings in the Bible.  Crosses are everywhere (including at the top of the sign above), but I feel the symbology is too often misused.

Blue Nile / Birds / Hippos – Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Blue Nile Early Morning

Blue Nile Birds

Hippo in the Blue Nile

Hippos Kissing in the Blue Nile

Tis Issat Falls – Tis Abay, Ethiopia

Tis Issat Falls March 2012

John the Guide

Tis Issat Falls with Boys

The kids above are eating sugar cane, a popular snack.

As far as touristy type things go, Tis Issat Falls was the coolest thing I saw in Ethiopia.  The waterfall was thunderously loud and impressive and shot out mist a long ways and probably ruined my white T-shirt.  And this is the dry season… in the rainy season I was told everything is far more impressive.

Not as large as Niagara Falls, Blue Nile Falls more than makes up for it by its’ remote location.  The Falls are in the middle of nowhere, a bouncy 45 minute ride from the nearest town (Bahir Dar) on dirt roads.  During the couple hours I hiked around the falls I was the only foreign person I saw.

Not to mention…. notice how there are no rails at the top like at Niagara?  Not as much safety stuff.  Not to mention I even went swimming down in the pool at the bottom which I’m sure isn’t allowed at Niagara Falls.

The Rock-Hewn Churches – Lalibela, Ethiopia

Eleven massive churches have been chiseled from single large pieces of rock.  They date back to the 12th and 13th centuries.  Here are pictures I took of two of them:

Rock Hewn Church at Lalibela

Women Praying at Rock Hewn Church

Inside the church’s were massive vaulted ceilings with perfectly formed arches inlaid with designs.  All this chiseled from one piece of rock!  No room for mistakes.  I was impressed.

Arches Inside Church 

Ceremony at Rock-Hewn Churches Celebrating St. Mary’s Day

One thing to remember about the town of Lalibela (pop. ~14,000) is that it is located at the backside of nowhere.  About a two hour drive on dirt roads from the nearest sketchy paved road in northern Ethiopia.

So this is the real deal and many of the local houses are made from earth and sticks.  Coming to Lalibela in some ways feels like stepping backwards in history a millennium.

The day I was visiting the churches there were many people praying and worshipping because it was St. Mary’s Day.  From what I gathered they have Saint’s Days quite regularly. 

But their carrying on wasn’t only for show because there were hardly any other tourists.  It’s just what they do.  Tradition.

Priests Reading and Singing

Men Singing

Perhaps the High Priest

Man Reading

Women at Church

Woman at Church

Walking Sticks

Funeral in Lalibela

During my time in Lalibela there was a funeral.  I took some pictures of the processional from an adjoining hill (that was also part of the cemetery).  I was wandering around out there seeing what I might see and lo and behold I saw a funeral procession.

What you can’t hear from the pictures is the continual trumpet blasts and literal screaming by certain mourners.  As Christians I thought we were supposed to have hope for the future?  Maybe screaming is therapeutic.

Funeral Sepia

Funeral Procession

Some Fellow Tourists

Two Gentleman Chaps

These old boys were travelling together.  Maybe they were brothers?  Often I would see them deep in discussion about some particular point of interest.  This made me wish I had a travelling companion myself. 

Maybe when I’m old and grey like these guys I can go on a trip with my brothers to exotic places like Lalibela, eh?

And Finally… Avocado Fruit Juice!

IMG_7063

This has become an addiction for me.  Every restaurant I visit the first thing I do is ask if they have Avocado Fruit Juice.  Most don’t.  But this one did.  It’s scrumptiously healthily sugarly deliciously wonderful.  Says I.

From Fish to Freedom – Tis Issat Falls

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

If yesterday was a disappointment, today more than made up for it.

It began at 5:30am when I woke up for an early morning stroll down to the river (about a mile away) to see if I could spot any hippos. In the pre-dawn there were already quite a few people gathering water in buckets for the days usage by the Bahir Dar bridge. An AK-47 wielding security guard wasn’t keen on me taking pictures at the bridge (he thought I was a spy) so for a moment I thought I wouldn’t get to see the hippos afterall. But a friendly Ethiopian named “Freedom” saved the day by offering to show me hippos. Off we trekked upstream a ways over rocky boulders. I was surprised how well he moved considering he had a bad limp from being shot in the leg during the Ethiopian-Eritrea conflict. There was a great spot of rocks that jutted out into the river where we spent about an hour watching hippos splash around and blow blasts of watery-mist in the air as the sun slowly rose over the dusky African bush. Could hear them grunting too, though he assured me hippos are quite safe and never bother the villagers. That was reassuring until he told me there are crocodiles too and they aren’t safe at all. Whatta deal. I got some pictures but can’t put them online until I have wi-fi on my laptop.

This hippo adventure was followed by an egg-sandwich breakfast back in town at a local cafe and then a walk to the bus station. It wouldn’t be right to stay in one place long. The point of traveling is to travel.

After locating the right bus to Tis Issat falls, I entered the crazy thing and waited. When the bus filled up (many moons later) we took off. The relic belched black smoke like it ran on coal. Folks inside had pretty amazing costumes too. I finally felt like I was in Africa proper. Many were wrapped in blanket garb holding their trusty ol’ stick; not unlike Rafiki in the Lion King.

Usually when I travel via bus the luggage carriers up top hold smart-looking backpacks. On this trip they were filled with burlap sacks of produce and dusty old plastic water buckets.

After an hour-long journey of jarring along on dirt roads – passing through multiple mud-hut villages – we arrived. I declined the guides who flocked to my aid (since I was the only white person on the full bus I was the primary target). I declined the guides because my official Lonely Planet guidebook said they were unnecessary. One persistent teenager (John) decided to guide me anyways, even with no promised fee (he wasn’t an official guide, just a kid who lived in the Tis Issat village). Turns out he was the best guide I’ve had so far in my journeys – at the end I paid him the guide service fee which he was happy about (and I’m sure gunning for the whole time).

Hiking around the falls took several hours. I was the only “farenge” there which made the experience that more authentic. The falls are pretty stupendous.

Highlights of the trek included: 1) drinking coffee in a mud hut with locals – a little boy was scared of me and ran out 2) walking across the dizzying gorge on a swinging footbridge 3) watching the thunderous water plummet 100+ feet to a pool below 3) swimming in said pool 4) seeing the very tree the Mysteries of the Nile film crew tied their ropes to when rappelling down the falls in the movie 5) crossing the Blue Nile river upstream of the falls in a motor launch.

Getting to know my guide John was rewarding too, he was a helpful and knowledgeable fellow. Humble. 16 years old. Had a great attitude. And he was all for jumping in and swimming. Twas a hot day.

The bus ride back was slightly packed. First, the regular seats filled up (if 3 to a seat can be considered regular). Then the middle aisle filled up with people standing. I was sitting towards the back and the bus had both a back and front door. When the aisle filled up people began loading into the area where the stairs are at the front and back entrances. Then we took off.

But! there were more people along the road who also wished to catch a ride. Of course we picked them up too. I didn’t see how another body could fit in the bus, but every time we stopped and the doors opened everyone would just skoosh inwards a little and the next stick-wielding bushman hopped in. Incredible.

A college aged guy I was sitting next to had the name of Fish (what’s with the weird names today? First Freedom, and then Fish!?) He turned out to be good company. We jawed for nearly an hour before the bus embarked, then hollored at each other over the noisy babble and blaring Ethiopian pop songs on the jouncy ride home, then grabbed some supper together at a local pizzeria (I chose pizza over Ethi-cuisine as I’ve eaten my share of Ethi food lately… plus I was paying). Couldn’t believe Fish had never eaten a piece of pizza before in his entire life. And he still hasn’t, because he got spaghetti and wouldn’t try a piece of my cheese pizza as cheese isn’t on his diet for some special religious holiday he is currently celebrating. I think the religious holiday is Easter. Though I don’t remember anywhere in the Bible it saying I can’t t eat pizza just because Christ resurrected from the dead.

Fish and I then ran around town doing a few errands like buying Bibles from the Bible Society of Ethiopia (one of which I gave to Fish) and getting transportation lined up for me tomorrow to Lalibela. This was followed by meeting up with the Dad of a guy I had randomly met in Addis. This father-guy met us at a local cafe for a coke and turns out he was the nicest Ethiopian I’ve met so far! A highly educated man, he is a veterinarian and also a lay pastor to boot. A Christian, he converted from the ubiquitous Greek Orthodox Church to faith in Jesus a number of years ago. Now his entire family also believes in Jesus. He has traveled too, having lived in Russia 6 years at one time. Fish, the veterinarian, and I had a great visit – the vet guy even began witnessing to my Fish about Jesus Christ! Had Fish lookup certain references in his new Bible.

It seems a strange life I live.

Finally, everyone left to go back to their respective homes. And now I too, after having duly recorded the days proceedings for the benefit of mankind and future progeny, am heading towards crashing in bed after another eventful day.

Catching a bus to Lalibela 7am tomorrow.

Hope this post wasn’t too boring.

Caveat Emptor

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

If I visit India someday, I think I’ll skip seeing the Taj Mahal. I pretty much have grown to despise touristy stuff. Whether America or Tim-Buck-Two, can we please get off the beaten track?

I’m currently in Bahir Dar, a city on the edge of Lake Tana in the Ethiopian Highlands.

THE Lake Tana that is the source of the Blue Nile.
THE Lake Tana that is dotted with islands (wherein reside ancient monasteries).
THE Lake Tana shown on the movie Mysteries of the Nile.

Yesterday when I arrived I was quite proud of myself for avoiding all the hotel hustlers at the bus station. But then later I was got by another young Ethiopian man at my hotel who setup the tour I did today to the monasteries on the lake.

He was an “in-between person,” what is commonly called a “tout.” Touts are the ones who arrange tours and take a commission off the top. I didn’t think he was a tout because he basically said he wasn’t. He said he was the boat operator. And here I thought I was getting good at spotting these leaches, but he was smooth.

On whole, the trip today went fine, and if this man had been totally honest I would have been quite the happy camper. Honest, his dishonesty didn’t help him at all, and it just made me upset. Of all sins, I think lying is the worst one.

When I was at the holocaust museum in Jerusalem (Yad Vashem) I remember they said it was easy to get the Jews to walk into the gas chambers because they lied to them, telling them they were going into a communal shower to get washed up.

The only bad thing that happened to me is I lost out on some money so I shouldn’t be upset about that as I have enough. Not to mention the whole trip today was still under $50, which is a good deal for what all I got to do and see. But it’s the principal of being deceived that makes me angry.

First thing (which I didn’t find out until later) was he charged me about three times too much for the trip. I was proud of myself for having haggled him down from 450 birr to 300 birr (300 birr is about $18). But…! come to find out, I could easily have gone with another outfit for only 100 birr.

Then, he told me this was a REALLY good time to visit the monasteries because there was a big festival going on today. If I went the next day (which I was planning to do) I would miss the whole thing. Complete lie. Only thing close to that was someone had died on one of the islands and the museum there was closed!

He guaranteed lunch was included in the price. Again, false. I paid for lunch (the tour guide was nowhere to be seen during lunch).

He promised there were TWO other tourists coming with me. False. There was only ONE other tourist, an Ethiopian.

He said he would pick me up at 8:30am today. He showed up at 7:40am at the cafe where I was trying to have a nice relaxing breakfast alone. He then proceeded to sit down at my table and bother me through the entire meal trying to sell me more trips (which I declined, finally suspecting the guy for who he was).

He said the trip would last until 3:00pm. We were done by 1:00pm.

He wasn’t even correct about little things like the HP on the boat, which he claimed was 9.9. It was 25.

Lastly, and the BIGGEST thing he outright lied about was when I asked him point blank if there were any additional hidden fees or expenses. He said no. I asked about tips and he hemmed and hawed and said if I wanted to give a tip to someone I could but they were optional. So my 300 was all inclusive. Boat ride. Lunch. Monastery entrances.

So, was that true? Absolutely not. At each of the five monasteries we visited there was an entrance fee! 100 birr at each location.

Not to mention there was a mandatory guide required at one who charged another 45 birr. This isn’t counting the tips which were expected.

I’ve wanted to visit Lake Tana for a long time. Today I got to. On the lake we boated up to the headwaters of the Blue Nile River. Went up the river a ways even. That was amazing (even though I didn’t see a Hippo). It was especially cool because several weeks ago I was in Alexandria, the exit of the Nile where it slips into the Mediterranean Sea. So I’ve now been to both the start and finish of the longest river in the world: the Nile. Over 4,000 miles long.

BUT, the whole time out today I was irritated. I tried really hard to forget it and enjoy my time, but each priest who asked me to cough up yet another 100 birr for the sake of Mary so I could walk into one more round thatch-roofed hut they called a monastery (where I wasn’t even allowed inside to the most holy-of-holies) I remembered how this was supposed to be an all-inclusive package.

Honestly, it feels that everyone around me today has been hitting me up for money: a tip for this, a fee for that, etc. No joke, the first words I heard out of a humans mouth this morning was from the cleaning lady at my hotel: “Money!” Taken aback, and still bleary eyed, I asked, “What?” She repeated, more insistently, “Money!!”

Today on the boat I remembered Jesus’ words about how if we don’t forgive when people sin against us, our Heavenly Father won’t forgive our sins against him. So I tried to forgive the young guy who had been so deceptive. Yet I still felt angry. Is it possible to forgive and feel angry at the same time?

I was telling my friend Marshal how I had to firmly explain to one insistent local how I am NOT a bank. Marshal told me he has seen a T-Shirt that reads, “I’m Not a Bank.”

Because I am a foreigner, I am assumed to be rich. In particular, because I am a white foreigner I am assumed to be rich. In Haiti people called me “Blan” and demanded money. In Ethiopia I’m called “Ferenge” and hit up for money.

Marshal told me there is another T-Shirt that reads, “My name is not Ferenge.” I’ve been called Ferenge so many times in the last week I’ve lost count.

Of course there is also the more ubiquitous, “YOU!” I’m also called. Kids run along behind, “You! You! You! Give money!”

Being seen only as an object is dehumanizing. I think I realize a little better now how women may feel if a man treats treat them as an object.

It hurts my feelings to be treated kindly only for my money. There has been instance after instance where people appear to be different, to be truly friendly, then turns out they were only more sneaky in how they pilfered my cash.

I’m often asked what I’m learning in my travels. One thing I’m learning is to be mighty suspicious of man-kind. It’s got to where I consider everyone I meet as a lying thief until proven otherwise. In short, I’m becoming cynical of humans.

So this post wasn’t very uplifting, but that’s how I feel.

Yesterday I did meet one nice guy who seemed genuinely friendly (code: he hasn’t asked me for anything yet). Turns out his brother worked with the Mysteries of the Nile film crew. His brother even accompanied the crew on their entire three-month journey! He said his brother was the only local from Bahir-Dar that went, was hired based on his kayaking skills and because he spoke Italian.

Did his brother REALLY work with the film crew? Does he even have a brother? Who knows. But I’m suspicious.

Begging the Issue

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Been walking the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for five days now.

What to do with the beggars? They are everywhere, sitting in their misery with hands stretched out. Some blind, some deaf, others with deformed limbs, swollen extremities and missing appendages… others hunchback bent over double, some old and toothless, some women young with baby. It’s all quite disturbing.

“Give to the one who asks you,” Jesus said (Matthew 5:42). Is holding ones hand out considered as asking? Because if it is, walking down the street here is a full time job in giving.

For the beggars I feel sympathy and compassion, but also feel sick they’re forced to trade dignity for food. Saw a young guy today who looked healthy except for one leg was deformed. He was begging. I got angry. Why do you want me to treat you as charity? Why give up your dignity when you could fight your handicap? I know, easy for me to say.

I found out about a program here in Addis that offers reduced priced meals. You can buy meal tickets to this ministry (Hope Enterprise) for 1 birr each (about 6 US cents). I’ve bought several hundred of them – seems to be a handy thing to give out to beggars. Sometimes they don’t know what I’m giving them and look confused – I try to explain. Other times, they look excited.

But the needs don’t stop with beggars. Let’s talk street kids. I could talk stats, and I saw online an estimate of 50,000 in Addis, but it hits home closer when you meet them.

Filthy. Tattered rags. Skinny. Sores. Walk beside you, point to their bare feet, their scanty clothing, ask you to do something. You do something, they want you to do more somethings. Where does it stop? I can’t help them all. Can I even help some?

I’ve met people in Addis. People on the street. Randomly got plugged into a group of college kids. They want me to start a non-profit sponsorship ministry for street kids. One of them grew up as an orphan. He’s married now with a baby boy. He wants to partner with me to help street kids.

I’ve been in Addis five days.