Saturday, March 4, 2017

Goals for Return Trip #2

I had three goals for our trip to Ethiopia. Let's see how well I did.

Goal #1: Give our kids a positive experience of Ethiopia.
We absolutely met this goal. Six months later, the boys are still talking about visiting their family, about Lalibela and Lake Tana, about the food, even about the Edna Mall. There were definitely things about Addis that they didn't like but those were minor compared to the pride and knowledge of their country that they gained. I give us an A.

Goal #2: Do it as affordably as possible.
We spent about US $4,800 for six weeks. This includes lodging, transportation, food, activities/guide/interpreter fees, and souvenirs, but does not include gifts to family in Ethiopia. It works out to just under $120 per day. We cut costs by mostly staying in guesthouses in the "budget" and "moderate" categories, and by camping for our week in the kids' village. A good strategy was to find cheap accommodation near a nicer hotel, then get a day pass and use the hotel's pool and other facilities. We probably saved the most money by not having a driver. Instead we used a combination of mini-buses, buses, bajajes, and locally arranged private cars. For longer distances, we flew using the huge discounts available to anyone who enters the country on Ethiopian Airlines (for example, Lalibela to Addis was only $63 for me and $53 for each child). We only used an interpreter when we were in the village and the rest of the time English and my minimal Amharic were sufficient. For tourist attractions we found the guides on site or those arranged by our guesthouses to be very good and affordable and we didn't need to bring an outside guide. Despite getting ripped off a couple of times, we did well. I give us an A-.

Goal #3: Be a bottomless well of patience.
I knew the trip would be challenging for the boys and from the first day I saw behaviors that I hadn't seen in years. One of the boys returned to what I call "shadowing," where I start to say a sentence and he finishes it with me but with a quarter-second delay - "What would you-you like-ike to-to drink-ink? Do-do you-you want-want a Fanta-anta?" This was actually a helpful strategy for him to learn English. On our trip I was generally understanding when he started to do it again. But have someone shadow you every day for weeks without a break and you will see how grating it gets. There was also a lot of complaining from one boy, especially when it came to walking anywhere. I did a good job being patient with it but it didn't leave much patience for other annoyances. Between the shadowing and the complaining, I had two blow-ups on the trip. And by the end of the six weeks, with my husband around to share parenting, I had moments when I literally hid from my children. Overall, I give myself a B-.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Ethiopia return trip #2 Part 7

We woke up at 5:00AM to be at the small Soyema bus station at 5:30. There are two buses a week to Konso, and there are always more people who want to ride them than there are seats. We waited outside the gates, and when they were unlocked at 6:00AM, T and our teacher friend rushed in like it was Walmart on Black Friday. Luckily we got seats. The bus left the station with every seat full but no one in the aisles, in adherence with transportation regulations. Then it drove two blocks down the road and picked up everyone else who hadn't been able to get a seat. I entertained myself on the two-hour ride to Konso by waging a silent battle for six inches of floor space with the woman next to me.

The day before, T and I had climbed 30 minutes up a hill to get cell phone reception and call Chuchu, our resident guardian angel in Konso. He was waiting for us at the bus station. He took us to breakfast, to the rock formations known as "New York" -

and on a tour of a Konso village. Very cool winding rocky streets and hundreds-years-old community houses where teenage boys spend their nights guarding against invaders.

Chuchu had arranged a van to take us to Arba Min'ch. He said that four years ago I wrote him a review on TripAdvisor that made his tour business take off, and because of that he didn't want any payment. I think his business took off because he's a great guy and excellent tour guide. We did persuade him to accept our tent as a gift, so now he can also offer camping tours (I have his contact information if you're interested).

In Arba Min'ch we stayed at the Soma Lodge, right on the edge of the escarpment. Positives - amazing view, comfy beds, interesting fellow travelers including a group of adult adoptees returning from Spain, a large troop of baboons living right below us on the cliffside. Negatives - barely functioning bathrooms.

In Arba Min'ch we arranged a boat ride to finally see the famous crocodiles of Lake Chamo -

and we walked in Ne'ch Sar National Park. 

The rest of the time we hung out by the pool at Paradise Lodge. Honestly, we were done. After the great week in the village everyone was ready to go home, but we had a couple of days to wait and it was more pleasant to be in Arba Min'ch than in the pollution of Addis.

We flew to Addis on August 19 and stayed in a little hole-in-the-wall hotel. We had our last meals with friends, went shopping for gifts and food to take home, watched some of the Rio Olympics, and in a last minute surprise, got to see Dawitt, our wonderful guide from 2014. In the early morning of August 21 we took an ancient Lada taxi to the airport and flew home.

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