We started the day by going to Beza International Church in Addis. It was great to worship among people from many nations. However, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed. I was hoping for more of a true Ethiopian cultural experience, and this was not that. It was designed to cater to people like us. Everything was in English only, and on this particular day there was a guest speaker from Chicago preaching. He had a good lesson, but I was not there to hear a white guy from America speak!
We grabbed a quick lunch and coffee at Kaldi's - Ethiopia's Starbucks. Really it is. From what we heard, a lady from the U.S. started the business and based it on Starbucks. Now the franchises are everywhere. I would choose Kaldi's over Starbucks any day. For one thing, the macchiatos are only 90 cents! (And they are oh so yummy!) They have a lunch menu with sandwiches, etc., amazing desserts, and my favorite - a long list of freshly made juices. I had some strawberry juice, Daniel had avocado juice (so good!), and our friend Joanna had mango juice. A big glass was only about 75 cents!
Our travel buddies - Joanna and Taylor
After lunch we spent about six hours outside of Addis Ababa, driving through the countryside. I'm so thankful for the experience. We saw "storybook" Africa. It was so different from being in the city. We passed one small community after another of round mud huts surrounded by tidy fences made with thin eucalyptus limbs. There were endless fields covered with cows, sheep, and mules roaming free. There were no fences to contain the animals, but there was always a shepherd close by. There was teff and eucalyptus growing everywhere.
We passed many villages that looked like small-scale versions of Addis with rows of multi-colored wood paneled store fronts selling bananas, mangoes, and bottled water. The women walking along the road were all wearing long, dark skirts and scarves gracefully draped around their heads and shoulders. The men were holding hands and talking, sometimes loafing in the villages and sometimes shepherding in the fields. The children we passed always tried to wave us down, smiling and shouting, "Hello! Hello!" Before long we were waving back at all of them. There were small groups waiting by the roadside at each village for the next blue and white taxi-van to come by, the primary mode of transportation for most of them.
Gotta love the dead animals on top of a public bus
I drank every bit of it in, thankful for the opportunity to see this land that is so close to my heart, but until now I hardly even knew. Once again I felt grateful for our driver Dawit, our ticket into this unknown world.
My favorite moment of the day was when we spontaneously stopped at one of the small mud hut communities along the road. The villagers had had placed several beautifully made injera baskets and mesobs (the big baskets that traditionally serve as tables in Ethiopia) beside the road, indicating that they were for sale. They wanted only 120 Birr for each handmade basket - about $8.50. We gushed about how beautiful they were, inquired (through Dawit) about how they were made, and ended up in the middle of the village getting a personal demonstration. While Daniel photographed the artisan, I watched the men standing in a semi-circle behind him as they grinned from ear to ear with obvious pride and wonder over what what taking place. We felt the same way - joy and wonder about this fun cultural experience. After passing out a gallon sized ziploc bag of granola bars to the children (and almost getting knocked down!), hearty "amesegenallo's" (thank you in Amharic), and big waves, we headed on our way, our trunk filled with injera baskets and our hearts filled with joy.
Our destination was an Orthodox church and monastery 100 km north of Addis Ababa. This was quite an interesting cultural experience as well. We were first shown a list of rules regarding who could enter the building and asked if we were "clean." The list was straight out of the Old Testament ceremonial law and was very personal. There was an awkward moment as we looked at each other and had to announce publicly if there was anything "defiling" each of us. The inside of the church was beautiful, filled with paintings and gorgeous stained glass. We had an official "tour guide" to walk us through. After we finished in the church, our guide passed us off to another man to take us to the cave, which was a 15 minute hike away. This was an unforgettable experience. He was wearing a purple jumpsuit, carrying a large rifle, and he practically ran up the rocky hillside, despite being at least 60 years old. He put us to shame as we huffed and puffed behind him. He obviously got a kick out of seeing how slow and out of shape we were compared to him. At the cave, we were told the legend of the venerated saint in the Orthodox church who supposedly prayed for 29 years straight while standing on one leg. Eventually his leg fell off, and he just kept praying. Now the cave is a "holy" site, and the water dripping inside the cave is collected in plastic barrels to be used as "holy water" in the church. It was interesting to say the least. I have to say, I felt pretty disturbed by what I learned about the Orthodox church. It seems to be a mix of Christianity, Old Testament Judaism, Catholicism, and mysticism. They pray to Mary and the saints, bow down before the ark of the covenant, deify Solomon and the Queen of Sheba... Jesus is in the mix, but it certainly doesn't seem like he is THE way, the truth, and the life.
Shrine around the entrance to the cave
On the way back we stopped along the winding road that leads to the monastery and got a glimpse of the Blue Nile Gorge - the Ethiopian Grand Canyon. I told Daniel that I felt like we were looking at a painting. It was so beautiful! Part of the gorge was sheer cliff and part was steep hillside, terraced for farming. The bottom was so green and there were villages clustered around the river. And as a bonus we got a close up look at a group of Ethiopian baboons, the Gelada monkeys. Every documentary we have watched and every book that we have read about Ethiopia mentions these baboons. They are found only in Ethiopia, and they well-known by anyone interested in the country. We were so excited to see some!
This was such a great day. We chose to come to Ethiopia a few days early so that we could see and experience as much as possible, and I am so thankful that we did. Our trip into the countryside allowed us to get a glimpse of how the majority of the population of Ethiopia actually lives. It is a whole different world than life in the city. I'm so glad that we were able to see firsthand a bit of the beauty of the country. I highly recommend doing this if you travel to Ethiopia to adopt. Once our scheduled activities began there wasn't much time for just taking in the culture. Our two extra days were priceless.