Ethiopia is…different

I knew that the GAP trip to Ethiopia would be different when I signed up for it.  It’s why I signed up for it!  I could never have imagined how different it would truly be though.


Water:  We are advised not to drink the water in Ethiopia.  Natives are used to it, but we faranjis could get quite ill.  We’ve been going through 10+ bottles of water a day between the 7 of us.  This includes using bottled water to brush our teeth, avoiding ice, and not using dishware that is wet with tap water.  Though this is a bit of an inconvenience, we realize we are fortunate, as much of Ethiopia has no access to piped water.



Produce:  The rule we were given is, “if you didn’t peel it, don’t eat it raw.”  That means no salads, no fresh fruits or veggies (like the beautiful burgers people here eat, piled high with lettuce and tomato), and no juices.  I was dying for a salad by day 2.  Good news: those amazing fresh bananas they sell everywhere are OK.


Bathrooms:  This is only day 4, but I’ve already completely given up on finding TP in a restroom here.  We’ve been…ahem…saving “it” for when we return to our hotel rooms at night.

Oh, did you want to use that sink?  That's where we store our concrete blocks.
Oh, did you want to use that sink? That’s where we store our concrete blocks.

Animals:  There.  Are.  Animals.  Everywhere.  They crowd the roads, they roam the markets, and they are very vocal at night.  Horses, cows, donkeys, goats, sheep, chickens, cats, dogs, lizards, monkeys, hippos, ibexes.  Everything but pigs, really (pork is taboo here).  Oh, and giant bugs.  Like the ones Simba ate in The Lion King.  That’s a real thing.


Remote:  I have visited family in small-town western PA.  I’ve driven across the US twice.  I thought I’d seen remote.  In working on our project, we are trying to grapple with the logistics of delivering rabies treatment and vaccine to areas without electricity or cell phone coverage, that are a 12-hour walk from any road.

People live down there.


Coffee:  Oh, you just drank a 30-ounce coffee from Starbucks?  That’s adorable.  This 3-ounce Ethiopian coffee had more caffeine, more flavor, and no coffee breath aftertaste.

During a meeting at the University of Gondar, we were served coffee, kolo (roasted barley), dabo kolo (crunchy bits of bread), and tea.


Hospitality:  People are happy to see us here.  Shoppers in the market greeted us with “hi” and “welcome.”  The hotel clerks know our names, went out of their way to buy Niraj a birthday cake on an hour’s notice (complete with candles and an English-language birthday song), and have accommodated our every wish.  Many people in Ethiopia know at least rudimentary English and are more than happy to practice with us.  We attract a lot of attention, and the vast majority has been positive.


Food:  We’ve been reminded how wonderful fresh, simple food is.  Salty food is rare, and even sweet food is only mildly sweet.

Shiro and lamb tibs with injera for lunch.


Lifestyle:  the nature of life in Ethiopia is very communal.  In Ethiopia, many daily activities require trips outside the home, like getting water, using the internet, working, and getting food.  In the US, we can do one grocery trip a week, and do almost anything else right in our own homes.  The communal, cooperative way of life in Ethiopia is manifested as well in the personal relationships.  It is not uncommon to see men holding hands with male friends as they walk down the street, and children are frequently seen looking out for each other.

Danny and Niraj.  Friendship level: Ethiopia


Javed makes an Ethiopian friend.
Javed and his Ethiopian bestie.