Last day in Zanzibar

As our trip to Zanzibar came to an end, we spent the final day visiting historical sites and getting in some last minute beach time.  Stone Town is filled with interesting locales and the island itself is a crossroads of East African, European, Indian, and Arabic culture. This results in an interesting mix of architecture and a complex history.

Churches and Mosques mixed together in Stone Town

Churches and Mosques mixed together in Stone Town

 

The West side of the town is a maze a tiny streets that can be difficult to navigate, but exploring the city is well worth the effort.  Each turn reveals art stands, boutiques, corner cafes, historic sites, and locals willing to chat.  While the weather and scenery are beautiful, some of the cities more somber landmarks point to a checkered past.  We took a guided tour of the old slave market, and it was a sobering experience to understand how bad the conditions had been and learn about the huge volume of people who passed through the slave markets of Zanzibar.

Our guide shows how slaves were collared down in holding pits.  This room was meant for 75 women and children.

Our guide shows how slaves were collared down in holding pits. This room was meant for 75 women and children and there’s little to see of it outside this picture.

Monument outside the old market.

Monument outside the old market.

Anglican Church outside the market.  The British were instrumental in ending the slave trade in Zanzibar.

Anglican Church outside the market. The British were instrumental in ending the slave trade in Zanzibar.

After touring the town, we hired a local cab to take us to the East side of the island and Pongwe beach.  We found out the hard way that the tourist season hadn’t started yet, and most the hotels with beach access were still closed.  Luckily, our cab driver was willing to press on. After a drive through the town of Pongwe, we came across the Zanzibar Rock Resort.  We sat down to have lunch and were able to walk down to the water right from the resort’s sea side restaurant.  (I’m not a paid sponsor of the Zanzibar Rock Resort, but I would highly recommend staying there if you ever end up on the island.)

I would have taken more pictures but I was too busy enjoying the beach

I would have taken more pictures but I was too busy enjoying the beach

We were sad to say goodbye, but eventually we had to jump back in the taxi and head to the airport.  Visiting Zanzibar was a great time and the perfect way to wrap up the team’s last week in Africa.

Traveling Smart with Your Smartphone

I have publicly rebelled against having a smartphone since high school, when all of my friends made the transition. I did not believe they were worth the expense, but when I decided to spend a semester abroad, I realized there could be some advantages. Most notably, having a smartphone gives you access to a GPS which is extremely helpful when you’re lost. Additionally, there are many moments when you’ll need to look up things you wouldn’t have expected, such as the opening hours of a restaurant or store. Internet isn’t as widespread in Europe as I was used to it being in the States, so having a data plan was essential for me to manage my time effectively. I found my data plan to be cheaper than the one in the States, however I did have less data, which required me to be selective with my access. I recommend getting the proper simcard and plan in your host country as soon as possible. This will also be good when you meet new friends at orientation and in your classes, as you can swap numbers right away!

There are also a lot of very helpful apps. Here are a few that I used while abroad:

Word Lens
Worried about getting to a restaurant and not knowing how to order in another language? This app translates the words of any picture you provide, offline. It’s extremely effective when you want to translate a whole paragraph instead of having to type each word individually, and also a lifesaver when you don’t have internet access. I would also recommend getting another translator app with audio, if your phone doesn’t already come with one.

Google Voice/Whatsapp
By now, most people know about Whatsapp. It is a free messaging app for anyone with a smartphone to connect. There is also an app called Google Voice, which works a bit differently. Google Voice actually gives you a vacant US number (if you set it up while you’re still in the States) and then allows you to call and text via this number to US and Canada numbers for free. Neither of my parents have smart phones, and a lot of my friends in the US didn’t have Whatsapp, so I used Google voice to text them. Once you set up the number, you can download the app and text them like you would normally, as long as you have access to internet. Then, you can call them via Hangouts which is directly connected to Google Voice. (Technically, you can call them via Google Voice as well, however if it is connected to your US # it will not work when you get a new simcard)

Duolingo
Instead of dropping hundreds of dollars on Rosetta Stone or an extra language class, Duolingo is a free website and app that allows you to practice a language in an easy and fun way. The app focuses on language you would actually use (for the most part, one exception was when it taught me how to say “I am a butterfly” in French), and goes at whatever pace you are comfortable. I would argue it’s not necessarily sufficient to learn the language totally, but as a beginner or someone trying to refresh their memory, it is a great tool.

CityMaps 2 Go
This app downloads maps of major cities (you get 4 free!) that you can access offline. It is perfect for traveling, and easily highlights tourist hotspots to visit. It’s much easier than carrying a map everywhere, and you can put a thumbnail on key locations (such as your hostel) on it as well, incase you get lost.

Kitestring
At the risk of sounding motherly, I strongly advice you to get this app for safety reasons. If you are going to a hostel by yourself, or on a date with someone you just met, or any other situation you are wary about, you can sign up for this app to check in on you at a designated time. If you don’t respond, it will alert your friends or other emergency contacts. Even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can sign up for this free service online.

Lastly, if there is some sort of Kill Switch you can download on your phone (Android and iPhone both have it), I recommend getting it. Europe is notorious for pickpockets, and I had the unfortunate experience of having my phone stolen. I called my parents immediately, and my phone provider got me a new phone within 6 days, making the process as painless as possible. Another friend of mine was not as lucky, and had to buy a basic phone to use for the rest of the trip. In the beginning of the trip, I found I was very vigilant over my belongings, but as time passed, I became more relaxed. My phone was taken when there was only a month left in my program. On a positive note, as I had personal information on my phone (from Venmo to Amazon), I was extremely thankful I could delete all of this information after my phone was taken.

Remember, the most important thing when you’re traveling is to be smart and safe. With the right Apps, your smartphone can make your travel experience that much easier and more enjoyable!

Sharing hugs and tears – Red Terror and the human spirit

This post was written by Javed Cheema

Javed and Ale

Javed and Ale

Ale and I went sightseeing on my last full day in Addis. Our guide whom we affectionately called Madame Mebrat accompanied us. We didn’t really have a plan except that we wanted to see the unseen Addis. Oh, what a great day it turned out to be.

First, we went to the Ethiopian version of the local convention center, which was set up in a few large tents in what seemed like an open garden. This was a total chance discovery. Only later was my initial surprise to be revealed of having been frisked lightly at the entrance of the garden. We heard a band playing in the distance and we headed towards it to see a small crowd of people lining up against a red carpet. There were dance troupes representing the welcoming party dressed in the different ethnic outfits of Ethiopia. Large 4x4s would come in every few minutes and well dressed people in suits would disembark and head towards another tent of suited people sitting in front of a make shift stage. Later we found out that these were actually ministers of the state and the whole wait was for the prime minister himself to show up! They were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the liberation from the brutal Derg regime of communists.

We milled around for a while and then headed out of the garden towards the Red Terror Museum. I didn’t know what to expect and was totally unprepared for the scenes and emotions which lay ahead. Right at the entrance was a statue of an old woman, flanked by 2 younger ones with anguished expressions and tears on their faces. The plate read “NEVER, EVER AGAIN!”.

never again

never again

At the entrance was a most touching quote from this same old woman whom we found out had 4 sons slaughtered by the Communists in their prime, on a single night! The haunting quote read, “As if I bore them all in one night, They slew them in a single night!” Being a father of 3 myself, I knew what this quote meant as a parent and shuddered at the words which were a reality for this old woman.

As we got further into this rather modest but well-curated museum, we were quite shocked by the sheer capacity for barbarity in man. We discovered how over 2.5 million Ethiopians perished in the Derg period – some from a callously managed famine and others slaughtered at the hands of the army and citizen thugs. We were shown how people kept hope alive in the midst of unimaginable misery. We discovered how the students and the intellectuals were specifically targeted for barbaric torture and inhumane conditions during confinement to break their spirits and those of their fellow citizens. The “lucky” ones found a quick death.

We were shown the favorite “harsh interrogation” (aka torture) techniques that the regime had mastered in a particularly harrowing display of a hands-on human model sculpture. Many a time during the tour we almost ended our visit. The museum was too much for not just us but was even more so for Mebrat. Every few minutes, she would slip into a corner sobbing, letting her tears flow and getting a hold of her emotions. I first thought that this petite woman had an especially sensitive heart. Later I was to discover that hers was the strongest heart of us all. She shared with us that the horrors we could only imagine in faded pictures and descriptive words were actually hers in real life. Her own husband had suffered the brutality first hand. She had lost many a smiling friend to the 17-year-long horror of the Derg regime.

Another particularly harrowing exhibit was that of several glass cabinets filled with the remains of mass graves – tattered blankets, clothes, shoes, watches, rings, etc were the personal belongings of the victims. Another room had cabinets filled with human remains – skulls, teeth and bones. We were told that these represented a tiny fraction of mass graves that actually existed. Our wise tour guide made a decision to tactfully steer Mebrat away from this room as it might have been just too horrific of a memory for her.

We left the museum and walked in solemn silence for a while. We hugged each other and thanked Madame for sharing her sorrow with us. We made a real connection of humanity amongst us. Our hearts felt heavy but our spirits felt strong. I felt the weight of the resolve from the powerful words of the statue: “NEVER, EVER, AGAIN!”

PS. the Derg were toppled with US help to the rebels in the early nineties. Our visit happened to mark the 20th anniversary of this. That is why the Prime Minister was visiting the garden earlier!

Entoto Maryam Church

Wednesday 5/21/14

On Wednesday morning we met with Dr. Hailu for our final presentation. He offered helpful suggestions for improvement, and we all felt satisfied by our work and his feedback.

In the afternoon, Dr. Hailu accompanied us to Entoto Maryam Church, a beautiful old building located up a winding forested road at the top of Addis. This is where original capital was, since it served as a strategic overlook, and where King Menelik II was crowned in the late 1800s. We saw many women carrying large bundles of firewood on their back up the hilly roads.

blue wall

blue wall

church

church

princes(s) entrance

princes(s) entrance

memorial wall

memorial wall

where to go?

where to go?

Afterwards, we did some shopping at the wholesale market Shiro Meda, where Danny and Niraj finally bought their Ethiopia soccer jerseys at a reasonable price.

Shiro Meda

Shiro Meda

We ate at the Lime Tree Cafe for dinner, a popular place with expats. We were excited by the sign reading that they wash their vegetables in bleach water, hurrah! Because then we could finally eat a salad, which we shared with gusto. It was the first time we’d eaten raw vegetables in almost three weeks. (Because the water they wash vegetables with is not safe for us to drink, we’ve been avoiding raw vegetables since arriving here.)

Finally we dropped Katie and Niraj off at the airport, who are leaving early for prior commitments. The trip is really beginning to wind down!

Lucy, and Looking Away

Sunday we worked for a few hours in the morning because our deliverable to the GAP office was due today. By the afternoon we felt ready for a break, so most of us went to the National Museum of Ethiopia, where the fossils of Lucy and other early hominds are kept. The Awash region of Ethiopia is home to many ancient fossil discoveries, and we were lucky to see some of them.

Lucy!

Lucy!

Katie + Ardi = BFF

Katie + Ardi = BFF

After the museum, a few of us went to a cafe across the street and ordered some coffee, tea and pastries. The doughnut was one of the best we’ve ever had!

Awesome doughnut!

Awesome doughnut!

After yesterday’s excursion to the textile shops, the guys wanted to do a little masculine shopping, so off to Churchill Avenue we went in search of some swords and wooden objects. We pulled up to a small stretch of vendors which had many poor people asking for money outside of them. Several of the people were tiny children. After two weeks here, I still can’t get used to that, and my heart goes out to every kid. They touch their hands to their lips, indicating, “Give me food,” and hold their palms open, ready for us to place something in it. But we don’t, because we don’t really have food with us, and if we give anything, we will immediately be swarmed.

Child

Child

And that’s exactly what happened. After about 45 minutes of shopping and haggling prices with the help of our local guide Mebrat, we got in the van and all the beggars pressed up against the sides of the vehicle, talking through the windows, asking for food, or to sell us one more item. I closed my eyes, I could not look at them. I had to look away.

We drove off to dinner, to a comfortable night in our lovely hotel, to a night full of dreams.

Be careful what you wish for…

Tuesday May 13th

When the location for GAP clients was announced, I didn’t hesitate to sign up for Ethiopia. There was no thought, no contemplation, and no matrices of pros or cons. I simply used my gut and cashed in all my chips so I could work in Africa because I knew it would be an adventure.

I am an adrenaline junky. I thrive on fast-pace heart stopping moments that trigger you into fight or flight mode. In my mind, an African adventure might be going on safari or being stranded on the side of the road hundreds of kilometers from help. I learned that a true adventure is anything that just takes you along for the ride.

I knew Tuesday would be different because a few of us were flying from Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa instead of making the more than 8 hour drive. I didn’t know that arriving at the small, resort town airport at 7am was the beginning of a long and adventurous day. Our first shock came in the literal sense of the word. Upon entering the airport, we had to put our belongings on a conveyor belt to go through security. As Danny leaned on the rollers to take off his shoes, he was zapped by an electrical current. OUCH!  We all stopped to make sure he was ok, and then continued on our journey.

Our chariot awaits

Our chariot awaits

The flight was smooth, and we were all mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape below of us (not to mention grateful that we weren’t driving on the switchback road we could see from the plane). Upon landing, we easily spotted Asres, our local guide from Addis Ababa University, and piled into the truck that would take us to our lodgings for the next eleven days.

The Nile

The Nile

As soon as we pulled into traffic we were sucked back into our version of an African adventure. Cars were whizzing by us right and left. Pedestrians were inches from the bumper of our car. We were on sensory overload from all the black exhaust, dust and constant beep, beep, beep of coming from every direction. There was bumper to bumper traffic; trucks piled high with cargo, mass chaos in round abouts, and people using the gridlock situation to sell cookies to all of us stuck in traffic. WOW!!  The adventure was back in full force and my eyes were wide open to take it all in.

Water cans, water cans, and more water cans.

Water cans, water cans, and more water cans.

After more than an hour of driving over bumpy roads, behind loud trucks and onto dirt shoulders we finally arrived at our accommodations. It was time to settle in and relax while we waited for the rest of our team. As they say, there is no rest for the weary. Our planned housing had some unforeseen issues, and while trying to decide the course of action, a teammate’s bug bite conditions became worse. We all loaded back into the truck and drove 90 minutes to seek medical intervention.

More sights, sounds and smells grabbed our attention as we waited at the hospital. Addis Ababa serves as the hub for people from all over Ethiopia to come in search for treatment of malaria and other diseases. I have never seen so many people gathered outside in waiting areas, seated on benches near patient rooms or openly weeping over a diagnosis. I didn’t know where to look or what to observe. It was the most humbling experience of my trip to Africa so far. Luckily, our teammate’s situation was quickly treated, and we left to reunite with the rest of our team after their long drive.

I thought we were simply going to pick up the rest of the group and head back to our housing. We said goodbye to the University of Gondar driver, Amara, who had accompanied us for nine days. After hugs of gratitude, the adventure tapped on my shoulder to remind me it was still there. Our accommodations had not been settled. I watched as our hosts huddled around a computer and spoke in rapid succession. I don’t speak Amharic, but I am smart enough to know that they weren’t talking about putting us up in the Hilton. They entertained us by giving us a tour of the heritage museum on campus, which is housed in the former palace of the king.

Saying goodbye to Amara

Saying goodbye to Amara

palace selfie

Roar!!! The palace turned museum

 

Sitting in the office of the person who would play a hand in where we would live while in Addis Ababa, I thought about taking a shower and climbing into bed. I knew we had a long day ahead of us, and all I wanted to do was stop moving. But as before, the adventure heaved me out of my rest and kept chugging for many more hours. With no real solution in sight, calls were made to Ohio to seek help for our situation. Kurt, Heidi, Wondwassen Gebreyes, and Christine O’Malley were responsive, compassionate, and instrumental in our attempt to solve the issue.

While waiting for arrangements between OSU and Addis Ababa University, the team headed to dinner near the National Museum. My body relaxed and enjoyed the sumptuous food. We all agreed that we had found the best pizza in Ethiopia. Considering we had pizza almost every day, this was a huge discovery. But wait, there’s more. Yes, that’s right, the adventure wasn’t over. Lodging was finally secured for us in the center of the city, but now we had to drive more than an hour one-way in traffic that hadn’t died down — even though it was 7:30pm — to retrieve our luggage from the very first place we traveled to after landing in Addis. All of us were weary after having started our journey at 5:30am that day. I volunteered along with Danny to get the luggage while the others handled the check-in at our hotel.

Driving at night is no different than the daylight in Addis Ababa, except it is harder to see the people crossing the street inches in front of your car. The same gridlock we experienced at 1pm was still present even though it was 7 hours later. The place we were headed to locked the entry gate at 9pm, and I didn’t think there was any chance we were going to make it in time. Just when we would finally get moving, I would see brake lights ahead. It was touch-and-go for a while, but we arrived at 8:45pm.

With the luggage on board, the last leg of our adventure was coming to an end. For me it was full of ups and downs, twists and turns, peaks and valleys. Just when I thought I could breathe, a new roadblock appeared. Though it was exhausting both mentally and physically I wouldn’t have it any other way. I believe that anyone can have a normal day where things run smoothly and fall into place. But what is the fun in that? What do you learn if there is no adversity? Only by tackling what is in front of you does true adventure appear.

 

Gondar Churches

On Saturday most of the team got up early to drive to the Simien Mountains, the second-highest point in Africa, with tons of wildlife and natural beauty. Carla and I chose to stay back in Gondar to explore the city. Our university guide and host Sintayehu met us at the hotel and accomodated our request to walk into town, about an hour walk. Since Saturday is a market day, we saw lots of people from the villages walking through town with their wares and animals (donkeys, mules and chickens). Carla and I enjoyed walking past the shops we normally drive by, because we got to see a more close-up view of the surroundings. For example, we saw there was a barber shop and some vendors selling some delicious-smelling, fried street food. We stopped in a Western Union to get some cash, and it took a really long time. We have noticed that “lines” here, such as they are, don’t really exist. People often crowd around a bank teller or post office window, and try to get their attention.

We went to our first stop, King Fasiledes Bath. It was built during the 1600s as the king’s personal pool, and is quite large, about Olympic-sized. Now it is empty, except the one time of year when people go swimming for Timkat, the Feast of the Epiphany for Eastern Orthodox (the main religion in Ethiopia) in January. There were huge trees with roots growing out of the stone and bricks, and we also saw parrots and other brightly colored birds.

Hellooooo from inside the pool!

Hellooooo from inside the pool!

We next took a bajaj (motorized three-wheeled rickshaw) to Qusquam church. We were trying to get to the Selassie church, but the bajaj driver took us there by accident. It was a lovely accident, as we were able to explore the ruins of old stone buildings. We learned that many historic buildings in Gondar had been bombed by Somalis during the war.

Qusquam Church (detail)

Qusquam Church (detail)

For lunch we stopped in the Four Sisters restaurant, a tourist destination that capitalizes on foreigners’ interest in traditional Ethiopian customs, like ritualized hand washing. Sintayehu’s cousin Eden joined us, and then we all went to (the real) Selassie church together. We had to take off our shoes and there were separate entrances for men and women. Inside, the small church was covered in religious paintings that are about 200-300 years old. With Sintayehu translating, an elderly man dressed like a priest told us about the art. According to him it was painted on fabric and then pasted on the walls. He also explained the different saints, some of whom were Ethiopian, and Carla and I were not familiar with. Others were more universal, like Jesus, Mary, and the holy trinity. Selassie actually means “trinity” in Amharic.

Priest displaying works of art

Priest displaying works of art

Ceiling

Ceiling

Outside church

Outside church

We took the bajaj back, and it was so helpful to have Sintayehu with us. Not only for his friendly companionship, which really added to our experience of the day, but for his local knowledge of negotiation, and ability to get better fares for us than we would have gotten for ourselves.

Bajaj selfie: Carla, Sintayehu and me

Bajaj selfie: Carla, Sintayehu and me

 

 

St. Mary Festival Day

Friday May 9th

 Today was a holiday, the first of the ninth month in the Ethiopian calendar, the feast of Saint Mary. Ethiopians use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian (which Americans and Europeans, etc use), and their current year is 2006. Their time follows the traditional Middle Eastern 12-hour clock, in which the start of the day begins at 6am, which they call 12.

Due to the holiday, our time would be limited, so we headed out to the rural areas to conduct some interviews. We drove about 30 minutes outside of Gondar to the village of Ambezo to interview the Health Extension Workers there. We were curious to discover what type of things they encounter in the rural areas when dealing with health issues of the villagers.

One thing that has surprised us and brought much joy is talking to the local children. When driving on country roads we see a few people, but once we pull our vehicle to the side of the road children swarm the van. They seem to come out of no where to look at the “firenje” (foreigners). During this particular stop we handed out pencils and showed the children how to do O-H-I-O.

Giving pencils to kids O-H-I-O

A particularly confusing stop for us was when we thought we were walking to a “kebele” (neighborhood), but it was really just a lookout point. It was a worthwhile stop because a little girl, Tigist, took Katie and Danielle by the hand and walked to the edge of the view point. She was very soft spoken and so sweet. We have found most of the children here to be very affectionate. It is so heartwarming to see the way they embrace us with so much trust and love.

Tigist

Kebeles have leaders, and we met with Asfow, the leader of the Charambazo kebele. He told us how laws passed from the government are enforced at the kebele level. For instance, Ethiopia recently had a very successful HIV campaign to raise awareness of how the virus is spread and can be prevented. The kebele leaders organized HIV testing and gave HIV-positive individuals agricultural jobs. One thing that would not happen in the U.S. is the manner in which the interview was conducted. We drove to a location where the kebele leader was waiting for us on the side of the road with a rifle over his shoulder. We picked him up, and drove him to his next meeting, all the while asking questions. One week into our GAP project and we are learning to just roll with it, as none of us objected to the gun.

The last interview of the day was with a local religious leader of the Eastern Orthodox faith, which is the most popular religion in Gondar. His time was limited due to the holiday, but he was forthcoming with information. The site on which we met him had a large building under construction that will soon be a home to people with HIV and AIDS.

Before lunch we stopped with our Amharic speaking client ambassadors to get a plane ticket from Gondar to Addis Ababa. This is where we learned the power of patience, and discovered just how valuable our translators were. We arrived at at the ticket office at 11:45am and the agent behind the counter worked on our transaction for over 90 minutes. Hunger creeped in and we shared two granola bars between 7 people. Luckily for us a distraction in the form of a “firenje” allowed us to take up the time. Shached, an Israeli woman doing volunteer work with the local street children, shared the wait with us. We compared notes on Ethiopia and talked about our experiences abroad. If you would have told me that I would spend over an hour and a half in an airline office, I would have told you no way that would happen because I buy my tickets on the internet!

After lunch we walked to a historic landmark in Gondar called Fasilidas Castle. We were shocked by the 200 birr entrance fee per person. Though that equates to $10, we haven’t paid more than a few dollars for any meal, and $0.50 for souvenir post cards. Again, our client ambassadors came to rescue by negotiating for us to get the student rate. We each showed our BuckIDs (yes, all of us brought them all the way to Africa!), and paid just 75 birr per person. The castle makes Gondar a tourist destination in Ethiopia, and lends to the richness and vibrancy of the city beyond what you may read or imagine to exist in Ethiopia.

Castle

Though we are thousands of miles away from home, Gondar allowed us to keep up with our daily practices. Friday prayers were attended in a local mosque, and Danny and Danielle went to Shabbat services at a local synagogue. Danielle noted that the temple was simply an open air space with a corrugated metal roof, and basic benches with a curtain separating men and women, as in the Orthodox tradition. Most women wore all-white: white head coverings, shawls and dresses underneath. She also noticed that while some of the prayers were similar to the ones back home (like L’cha Dodi – welcoming of the Sabbath bride – and blessings over the bread and wine), others were different. Congregants repeated the rabbi after every word, and at the end of the service, women called out a high pitched “ay-ay-ay!” sound, which would definitely not happen in most American shuls! It is nice to be so far from home and be able to keep up with some of our traditions.

Coffee is very important in the Ethiopian culture. They have a formal ceremony for roasting the beans and pouring the coffee for guests. There is even a special dress that the women wear for the occasion. Though some of the others on the team have seen this ceremony, I had not. To my surprise, when we returned to our hotel a ceremony was set up in the lobby. With no one around but my teammates, I saw a photo op, and sat in the seat to pretend pouring coffee. I was nervous when the lady who was supposed to perform the ceremony caught me in her spot, but she was gracious and covered my head and shoulders with her scarf. It was so touching that she let me enjoy the moment and embraced me with her clothing.

Coffee Ceremony

The night ended by participating in another Ethiopian tradition called “eskista,” which is apparently the dance that the Harlem Shake is based on. This is shoulder dancing, and it is exactly what the words describe. You move your shoulders in various ways to the rhythm of the music. I couldn’t believe there was actually going to be an audience for the shoulder dancers when we first walked into the night club. We were the only people there. After just a short time the place filled up with Ethiopian twenty-somethings dressed to the nines in nice jeans and shirts for the guys, and colorful blazers, dresses and cropped pants for the women, who also had their hair styled in sleek side-sweeps and wore bright lipstick. There was so much energy, especially when the musicians and singers performed popular songs that had the whole crowd up and shaking The dancers came into the audience and danced with us. It was so much fun and a truly Ethiopian experience. Another entertaining moment was when a male singer sang some double-entendre-loaded songs to the audience. It was all in Amharic, but we know at least one verse referenced us, because the whole club looked at us and laughed. I couldn’t think of anything to compare it to in the U.S. for our hosts. I felt like I was experiencing something truly unique to the country I chose to work in for the next few weeks.

At the end of a very long, but culturally rich day we all fell asleep easily. We knew the next day was going to have more adventures as some of us were going to the Simien Mountains for exploration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carnival, Rio de Janeiro

As many may know, the celebration of carnival in Brazil is the biggest event of the year. It starts Friday, the week before Lent and goes until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The majority of people travel all throughout Brazil to their desired location to spend the holiday. For myself, I was extremely fortunate to spend carnival in the best place in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro.

Hard to see but Christ the Redeemer

Hard to see but Christ the Redeemer

IMG_1078

Sugarloaf Mountain

IMG_1305 (1280x956)

 

Due to the traffic of Carnival, our 6 hour trip took more than 12 hours, making our arrival time at 4 AM. Since many of the streets were blocked off due to the festival, our GPS could not find the house we were staying at. Instead, it kept taking us in a small circle around one of the smaller favela. After seeing the panic on my roommates face, I decided that paying a cab driver to direct us to our place of stay would be the best option. Thankfully we did because their was absolutely no way we would have found it on our own.

Besides this first mishap, everything else about the trip was phenomenal! Every morning we had this amazing view of Rio that was almost surreal.

View of RIo

My first monkey/lemur. I don't know which one it was.

My first wild  monkey.

After overlooking this view for a bit every morning we would go straight to the bakery 6 houses down and buy some awesome bread for breakfast. Actually, one thing that Brazil really lacks credit for is how amazing their bread is. From there on, absolutely every moment was an awesome and exciting adventure. The first day we walked for miles around the city getting the chance to see some of the more famous landmarks in Rio de Janerio.

Steps Selarón

Steps Selarón

In front of the Steps Selarón

In front of the Steps Selarón

Everything throughout the city and most of Brazil is extremely vibrate with colors. One thing I have come to love is the Graffiti. It truly is an awesome form of art and if done with permission, it’s encouraged!

Rio 4IMG_1318 (956x1280)  IMG_1048 (1280x956)

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Since I went to Rio with all Brazilians who have been there before, I did not get the “touristy” experience of Carnival I was expecting. The main celebration  takes place in the Sambadrome but it was to expensive for the others to go. However, we did do what over a million others were doing, celebrate in the streets. This to me was still a great time! Everyone dresses in the most outrageous clothing with hundreds of local bands that play the famous Samba music from Rio.

Street Carnival

Street CarnivalIMG_1395 (1280x956)

 

IMG_1085 (1280x956)What I found to be so amazing is how nice and controlled everyone was. Their were times were we walked for literally 25 minutes, shoulder to shoulder, to have enough space to move. For having such enormous crowds I did not see one bad incident the whole trip. Everywhere you turn there is someone something. Fortunately their were many people also selling Brazilian Barbecue which was delicious!  With absolutely no complaints, for three full days this is what during the day carnival consisted of for us.

My roommate Marcelo

My roommate Marcelo

One of the nights we spent at Copacabana beach which was a blast. The streets again were flooded with people and everyone followed a float that had a band playing Samba on top of it. The people on the beach were playing volleyball but only with their feet and head. How they were able to do it, don’t ask. We then slept in one of their friends high-rise that was located right next to the beach. The view was spectacular, overlooking the lit up favela to your far right and  the beach to your left. However finding our way home at 7 in the morning dragged out to be a two hour adventure.

Copacabana beach the morning after

Copacabana beach the morning after. I was very curios if people were sleeping in those tents.

 

Finding our way home. The city was covered in trash the next day following Carnival.

Finding our way home. The city was covered in trash the next day following Carnival.

Like any other normal human being, be the forth day of Carnival our bodies need to recuperate. So instead of joining the party we had a beach day and  went back to Capacabana. The beach was packed with people who indeed did where Brazilian bikinis. This was the first true culture shock I have had this whole time in Brazil. From what I was told, Rio is one of the few beaches that this is a norm and plays a large role in its popularity. Merchants would walk up and down the beach selling awesome beach towels that I found to be great souvenirs for my family.

Following my trip to Rio, I most definitely am going to revisit the city before I leave Brazil. There are so many more adventures, sightings to see, and activities to do that I missed out on.

Exploring Rome!

We were given a walking tour of Rome by tour guide. This day provided some of the best pictures of our entire trip! One of the biggest stops being the Colloseum. Our tickets to get in were already paid for with the cost of the trip and our guide walked us through and provided us with the history. We stayed together as a group and after this was finished the tour was over. The students were then free to explore Rome as much as they wanted until our welcome dinner at 7:00. Students went their different ways. Some went shopping. Others got food. One student, Matt Shaver, bought a day pass for the train and got off at every single stop and explored!

O-H-I-O in front of the Colloseum!

And again

The whole group!

Another stop during the day was the Pantheon. It was unbelievable being inside of a building with so much history.

In front of the Pantheon

Night time on the river.

View from the top of Rome

Overlooking Capitol Hill