Crossing from Sudan to Ethiopia can pretty much be described as going from an elementary school library to a night club. Immediately, we went from quiet, friendly, calm, welcoming and conservative to loud, aggressive, dirty and chaotic. The Italian and Catholic influence on Ethiopia was immediately apparent – cafes, pizza and necklaces with large crosses were everywhere. Every other vehicle on the road is a foreign aid vehicle and, judging by how raggedy all the children are, they seem to be necessary (though their effectiveness is questionable – more on that later). In Sudan, most of the children were in school, in Ethiopia, most seem to wait on the side of the road with rocks and sticks, just in case a juicy target cycles by. Cycling became significantly more difficult as the landscape changed from desert to mountains overnight; however, the most pertinent difference to the riders was the sudden availability of alcohol.
It’s hard for any of the riders to definitively say whether they like Ethiopia or not. There are so many pros and cons to being here but I’ve found with the right attitude, it is a fascinating and unique country. Here’s a brief breakdown of Ethiopia through the eyes of an outsider:
-coffee (which originated in Ethiopia) is cheap, organic, freshly roasted and easily ordered in any little village we cycle through
-injera, fresh juices, shiroo (?) and Italian food, the only thing missing is sushi
Song and Dance
-I love the simple beats and strings of traditional Ethiopian music, and the crazy shoulder and neck movements of their traditional dances. We tried to mimic the moves at some local clubs and let me tell you, it felt like I climbed a mountain with nothing but my traps and deltoids by the end of the night, but it was one of the best nights I’ve ever had
-the Ethiopian highlands are stunning; climbing them is an intense workout, while descending them is an even more intense thrill. Days are cooler, and by that I mean not 30 degrees instead of 50, thank f-ing god, and there is a great diversity of wildlife (my most exciting spottings include vultures, baboons, and chameleons).
-all week I’ve been moving kids from the ugly category to the good and back again, finally settling on the middle ground of BAD. It’s amazing how one day the majority of the kids, across all the little towns and villages that we cycle through, are friendly and supportive, and the next the majority are little devils. There is still so much to say on this topic, and as I’ll be in Ethiopia for another couple weeks, I’ll save it for another blog post.
-Ethiopia ranks 174/187 on the Human Development Index, ahead of such countries as Chad, Liberia and DRC. That being said, there is a huge presence of NGOs here (Plan, World Vision, Hunger Peoject, UN etc). In the villages we’ve been through (and most of the population is concentrated around the main road we’ve been following) the people appear to be just barely scraping by (ie kids are clothed in really tattered clothes likely donated by the west, have no toys and no shoes, but aren’t starving). Ive seen very little industry, all agriculture, including the transportation of crops, is done manually or with the help of donkeys. The hardest part is seeing the vast number of street kids; I’ve heard there are as many as 5.4 million orphans in the country. I’ve also been told that average Ethiopians can only afford their traditional coffee ceremony once a week (as opposed to daily in the past). Unlike in Latin American countries where there is vast poverty, but also extreme wealth, I haven’t seen a single residence (after a week and a half and two days in Addis) that would pass for a house in Canada. In Egypt and Sudan, separating our garbage into organic, burnable, and reusable didn’t matter so much but we were told once we hit Ethiopia, they will punch each other in the face fighting over our empty water bottles. A few days ago the lunch crew made the decision to not leave empty tuna cans for the locals after kids hurt themselves fighting over the cans the previous day, and the truck was stoned the whole way out of the village.
Thr Culture of Entitlement
– this of course is my, an outsider’s, biased opinion, but if there’s ever been evidence of how foreign aid can corrupt a culture, look no further than Ethiopia. There is such an aggressive and unabashed sense of entitlement among the youth and adults alike, a result of decades of dependence on donations. I can’t emphasize enough how common it is to have Ethiopians of all ages demand money from us. They expect the shoes from my feet, bike that I’m sitting on, sunglasses from my head and literally the shirt off my back. I’m sure donations have established schools, provided clean water sources and saved lives, buy I also can’t wrap my head around where all the money is going now. Still need to dig deeper on this one…