By Lisa Bloom
ETHIOPIA! What I learned in our two week trip, which just ended. (Now I’m in Israel on a very different kind of trip for the next ten days.) My highlights:
1. Ethiopians are the friendliest people I’ve met in my lifetime of travels to about 60 countries. It was just a constant pleasure to be around them. They welcomed us into every social occasion, from a dance in their hut to a massive religious celebration (St. Mary’s). They insisted we sit in the front. Genuine grins and warmth, nonstop.
2. The children, who are not taught to fear strangers. Oh dear Lord, the kids who smiled and waved delightedly as our car went by village after village, as if it’s the most wonderful thing ever. The little boys who run up to us and say “welcome, where are you from?” The girls who took my hand and stroked my hair. Giving them pens and watching them light up like it was Christmas morning. My heart twinged saying goodbye to these beautiful children.
3. The Fistula Hospital. Many African women incur horrific injuries in childbirth, because their bodies are too small and malnourished to give birth. Rips in their bladder and elsewhere leave them incontinent. The Hamlin Fistula Hospital fixes them. I am proud to be a donor. We visited, and seeing these tiny bodies in hospital beds moved me beyond words. I will never forget or abandon these sisters.
4. The rock hewn churches in the north, especially Lalibela! Who looks at a stone mountain and says, “I’m going to carve that into a massive church?” King Lalibela, that’s who, in the 12th century. Eleven of these massive structures, still standing, in continuous use for 900 years. Truly a wonder of the world, and this alone was worth the trip. Hard to get the scale of them in photos. You just have to go and see them for yourself.
5. The geladas (formerly called baboons) in Simien National Park. You can walk among them, and they just keep munching on that tasty green grass, by the hundreds. The babies frolic adorably into the stream. The big male got his funky monkey on with a female who screamed in . . . pain? Ecstasy? Both? Couldn’t tell. Tried not to look, but they didn’t seem to care.
6. Buying some vibrant paintings in Addis Ababa on the last day, and meeting the artist, who told me he wanted to capture the hard lives but also the joy of Ethiopian women. And I think he did, in the painting I bought.
7. Being told that injera, the local spongy bread they eat at every meal, is high in iron, whole grain, superfood yada yada by everyone. Yep, okay! Got it!
8. Surviving the rutted, scary guard-rail-free high mountain roads. Yikes.
9. Talking to a survivor of the communist genocide years at the Red Terror Memorial Museum in Addis. Human cruelty knows no bounds, and the 20th century was its nadir.
10. Buying multi-layered fresh fruit juice everywhere, for about 50 cents a glass!
Selam, Ethiopia! Thank you for welcoming us farenji, and for an amazing two weeks. I hope we will stay connected. And I hope Americans will stop thinking of the country as just a dusty faraway place where famines happened. They did, but decades ago, and ninety million people wait to greet and surprise you if you choose to visit, which I highly recommend.