Getting to Lalibela…By Bus!

“Batman has to break the mob…while the Flash travels to the past to solve the secret of…‘The Disco of Death!’”

Yes, that’s right, I read my first comic. Where, you ask? In Kombolcha, Ethiopia, after a 12-hour travel day on public buses, while eating an odd (yet tasty) concoction of rice, beets, and honey. Yes, this is my life.

I left Addis Ababa on Saturday, September 7th after a week and a half for our Mid-Service Conference and medical checks. The day’s destination – Kombolcha. Usually seven hours by bus, we had the unfortunate luck of the private buses choosing not to run and we hopped on a public bus by late morning. Two to three hours later we arrived Debre Birhan hoping to make a quick switch to a bus going to Camise/Kombolcha/Dessie – we weren’t being picky. Two to three hours later, we were on the road again. If you ever find yourself in Ethiopia, don’t, I repeat DON’T travel the weekend before the Ethiopian New Year.

While sitting in the bus station, another volunteer who had left Addis much later than we had caught up to us. He joined our bus and we arrived in his site at 7:30. I remember him shaking his head as the three of us said we were going to try and push on to Kombolcha. An hour and a half later, we were in Camise.

My boyfriend went to Camise a year ago for his “demystification trip” and I’ve never heard a kind word about the city. With that said, we had to hire a private minibus to get us to Kombolcha. We got to our friend’s house shortly after 10. One hell of a day. Which is how I came to find myself reading comics and eating rice/beets/honey. Also…while on the bus, I slept through my first camel viewing. Damn.

Day two almost involved sleeping in….almost. Instead, we made our way to Dessie, twenty minutes away to procure direct bus tickets to Lalibela for Tuesday. But to no avail. Thanks to the holiday, all tickets were sold out. There was talk of trying to hop from minibus to minibus and make our way on our own, busing back to Addis and flying to Lalibela (not actually considered given our Addis/Kombolcha trip the day before), and busing to Mekele and trying to fly in from there. In the end we decided to risk the minibuses and leave a day early. With that decision made, we returned to Kombolcha and spent the evening at the beer garden. We also ate the best shiro and salad I’ve ever had. EVER. And…I saw my first camels.

Chandler and I were up BRIGHT and EARLY the next morning to catch a bus back to Dessie, then get on one to Woldiya, and hope that once in Woldiya we could get to Lalibela – either directly or through other small towns nearby. Our bus driver to Woldiya assured us that we could catch a direct bus to Lalibela from there and proceeded to spray air freshener (that smelled like man) all over our bus.

We were in Woldiya by 11:30 and on the way to Lalibela by 12:30. Good timing considering we almost got kicked off our bus before it even left the station. The man wanted 150 birr for a ride whose distance should have warranted a 60 birr fee. So Chandler started haggling and the man very grudgingly dropped the price to 120. We still felt ripped off until we watched every Ethiopian on the bus pay the 150 price. No wonder he almost kicked us off. Lalibela’s expensive…even before you arrive.

But arrive we did, at 5 pm. The last leg of the journey had been beautiful, traveling up in the mountains and through valleys filled with yellow flowers. The final two hours was on an unpaved road, but the scenery was so captivating I honestly didn’t mind. Also, in 1955, Thomas Pakenham visited Lalibela and since there was no road, his trip took four days (from Dessie) by mule. Seriously, no complaints here. We checked into our guest house, found eggs for dinner, took much appreciated hot showers, and passed out.

Day four – Lalibela. Woke up early only to find that it was pouring. Suddenly found myself thankful we had an extra day in Lalibela. We had already purchased a flight to Gondar for Thursday. Went back to sleep and this time, woke up to sunshine. So we made our way to the churches. After a rocky start (it’s hard to swallow the almost 1,000 birr price tag even when you know it in advance) and a bit of confusion concerning the map, we found ourselves in the Southeast Cluster of churches. We started with Bet Gebriel-Rafael.


This is a photo of the entrance. The guidebook told us we would get to cross a rickety wooden walkway…guess they’ve made a few improvements. We had to pass through some underground tunnels to make our way to the next few churches – Bet Emmanuel, Bet Mercurios, and Bet Abba Libanos.

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I’ll never get used to these views: Wenchi Crater Lake

Sorry it’s been so long since my last update! Things have been pretty crazy here and the wireless has been pretty unreliable as well – I know what you’re thinking…intermittent wireless, sounds rough. Well it is : )

So these photos are a few weeks old…I took them on our hike around Wenchi Crater Lake in Ambo during IST.1

Our first glimpse of the lake.2

At the start of the hike, we had no idea it would take 6 hours! And…most of us had bacterial infections haha, but it was still totally worth it : )3

Me and Laura, being adventurous! It was interesting running/falling back down and out of this!4

This is what paradise is supposed to look like!

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And the adventure begins: Integration in a foreign community

I’ve lived in Ethiopia 79 days. Which is such a crazy thought. Sometimes I feel exactly the same as the day I left Minnesota, and other times I realize nothing in my life will ever be the same.

I’ve irreversibly changed in so many ways, many small, but some big. I might have fleas…or bed bugs, I can’t really tell and somehow I’m not concerned. I can kill a spider without crying. I almost, almost, look forward to my cold showers. I really have gotten used to constantly being dehydrated. I’m in a relationship for the first time since high school – and let’s face it, those relationships only barely counted anyway. I’ve realized that by coming here I won’t change the world, but I can have a huge impact in the lives of a few individuals.

That’s probably the biggest difference between when I left and now: I now know I can’t change the world. I had all these grandiose ideas about the good work I’d do here and the impact I could make, and I still plan on making an impact, just on a more personal level. I’m helping the girls in my compound with their English. I’m showing my community that there are ferengi interested in learning their language. I’m being friendly toward the street children without giving them handouts.

And over the next few weeks I’ll begin my projects in the schools. I have no idea what I’ll be doing in the primary schools, because I’m supposed to spend these first three months observing classes and learning what skills these teachers need the most help with. I plan on doing a lot of co-teaching over the next two years. But my role in the Teacher’s College is much more defined. Stories have been collected from nearby villages and are currently being translated into English. Once that’s finished I’ll help copyedit those stories and design the book. We’re also creating audio files for each of the stories and I’ll get to help bring those characters’ voices to life.

My goal for today and the rest of the week is simply to continue trying to integrate into my community. It’s harder than it sounds, especially since I live in a city with 160,000 inhabitants. But hey, I’ve forced myself to leave my house every day so far, and I feel like that’s something to be proud of.

My room is also starting to feel like a home, now that I’ve filled it with a bed, wardrobe, and kitchen cabinet. Now I just need to add a comforter and curtains and get to work on putting up the wall decorations. So I have plenty to do before the school year starts in September. I can’t believe that summer is already coming to a close, but here in Ethiopia, it’s the rainy season that’s ending. And with that ending, comes the heat, so really, my summer is just beginning, and with it, the beginning of this two-year adventure.

I’m officially the girl with the purple door.

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