Volunteering in Ethiopia
Arriving in Africa
I have been dreaming of going to Africa ever since I was a kid. Other opportunities always popped up so I headed to Europe for a couple of months, then Europe again to live in Germany, then Thailand to live there, then Indonesia and area to travel, then South America for a year and a half, then India/Nepal for 9 months.. Combine that with a few stopovers in France ranging from 1 – 3 months and you get a total of about 4 years (48 months) spent abroad… and a grand total of…. wait for it… 3 or 4 days I spent in Africa.
After spending a good chunk of time away from Canada, and many a year in both third-world and non-english speaking countries, I never know just how much, if any, culture shock I will experience upon landing in a new country.
I have, however, always held Africa in a different light. I had been there only once on a quick trip down from Spain with my sister and mother when I was but a new traveler; the type with a Canadian flag, brand name clothes, cash dispersed in four different pockets, and fear of anyone who attempted to talk to me.
Oh, and it was Morocco, to say that Ethiopia would be different, and basically brand new would be the greatest of understatements. So, after a quick stopover in France, and some planning with Arnica and the rest at Vulnerable Children Society, I landed in Addis.
For the first time in my life, I had a driver waiting to pick me up… unfortunately, I clearly had no idea what that meant. Here I was expecting to find my name held up high in the sky on a big whiteboard for everyone to see, as if I was essentially royalty… That, believe it or not, is not how it turned out.
I landed at the beautiful hour of 1:10am and didn’t want to go outside directly, it’s Africa after all. Isn’t this the place that those commercials have been insistently convincing me my whole life that starvation, kidnapping and theft are the norm?! Go outside in the middle of the night, without my driver? Never!
I also, however, didn’t have a phone and couldn’t find an internet connection…
Unbeknownst to me, my driver was not allowed to come inside, which meant that I was sleeping in yet another uncomfortable (and slightly chilly) airport, waiting for someone to arrive who was, at the same time, waiting in a much more uncomfortable (and chillier) van, waiting for the ridiculous Farenji to step outside.
Oh, but don’t worry, this didn’t last. A mere 4 hours later, I finally found an internet connection and contacted some people back in Canada who promptly informed me of my ridiculousness (though they were kind enough to not word it that way). Unfortunately, the driver had gone home (can you blame him?!)
He agreed to come back in an hour or so. Thus, I sat around watching a documentary on Ethiopia and finally went out to meet him around 6am. The street was incredibly comfortable, not at all foreboding, and in no way dangerous… Of course I never once thought about how unbelievably irrational I had been waiting in a chilly airport, frightened by my own shadow and the notion of dangerous Africa.
Incredibly, Ketema (the driver) showed up with a jacket that read Canada, a hood from a different jacket and a smile on his face. Any lingering doubts or fears that I had vanished the moment that this poor soul, who I had left to suffer in the shockingly chilly night opened the door without a hint of resentment, and even apologized profusely… as if the whole thing was not only my horrible misunderstanding, but rather somehow, the blame fell squarely on his shoulders.
Of course, there was still a bit of culture shock, but from that moment forward I knew that volunteering and living in Ethiopia would be easier and a lot more pleasant than I expected.