Ethiopia, as seen through my eyes

January 27th, 2009 | by addis portal |

Addis Ababa street

Before traveling to Ethiopia we had an image of the country that we forged by reading books, looking up information on the Internet and reading about the experiences of those who traveled this road before us.
Now it is my turn to leave my experience written in this blog, it is not the universal truth but simply Ethiopia and the experience of adopting from that country, as seen through my eyes.
Was I surprised by Ethiopia? Not at all. I found what I was expecting to find and it turned out to be not like the experiences reported by other adoptive parents. Even many of them that shared the stay with us in the same Guest House, adopting from the same Orphanage and visiting the same city, have completely opposite opinions than me.
I think that having been born in a country that has many of the problems of Ethiopia, with a different culture than the US and Europe has a lot to do with it. I already have the experience of adapting to another country and I know how to value, respect and understand cultural differences.
The first issue is about poverty in Ethiopia.Addis from Entoto Mnts I wasn’t surprised or shocked by it. Other people found it shocking and hard to see.
I’ve seen poverty in Argentina and the difference with Ethiopia is that in the African country even with the terrible poverty, people have an incredible dignity and strength, a kindness and a joy that you don’t see in Argentina.
Is Ethiopia safe? I was led to believe that it was very dangerous to walk in the city, specially for us “ferengi”. The first thing we did was ask the locals we met if it was safe to walk and where and they told us that there was no problem, that it was very safe and if somebody bothered us we should simply ignore them or politely say we were not interested in what they had to offer or ask and that would be enough for them to leave us alone.
Addis streetAnd that turned out to be true, we went for a walk in the city and we absolutely had no problems, we even came back to the Guest House after dark but there were so many people walking in the streets that you don’t feel unsafe, everybody walks and minds their own business. Obviously Ethiopians looked at us, but nobody said anything or bothered us, just a few asked for money and only by saying no to them they left us alone.  I know of other families that didn’t dare to walk in Addis for fear to be cornered by beggars.
It didn’t trouble us the big amount of people in the streets, again I come from a culture where people walk a lot. In Addis streets are always crowded, only a few fortunate can afford to buy a car.
It’s advisable to be respectful of the local culture and its laws. And you should not to take pictures of people faces since it can seen as offensive and an invasion of their privacy, but it’s OK to photograph landscapes, streets, buildings (except embassies and the Prime Minister Palace) or oneself.
MerkatoAbout the air quality of the city, yes, it’s very polluted but not more than many cities in Latin America like Buenos Aires when sometimes in the downtown area it is hard to breathe.
Another subject is about diseases and getting sick while you are there. I also traveled thinking that if I didn’t carry a whole pharmacy with me I wouldn’t be able to survive. Even when it is advisable to take with you your own prescriptions and some basic medicine for an emergency, if you only plan to be in Addis, there are not many dangers, even the yellow fever vaccine is not mandatory if you come from a country free of that illness. There is no risk of malaria in the city so if you are only going to stay in Addis, there is no need to take precautions about it. Also if you will have no contact with animals you don’t need the rabies vaccine.
It’s important to vaccinate against Hepatitis A and B, polio, chicken pox, typhoid fever and maybe yellow fever, not that it’s likely to get sick but just in case.
What it’s more probable that you can catch in the city is some intestinal parasites or maybe have some episode of traveler’s diarrhea, so it’s advisable to take some antibiotic like Cipro and only drink bottled water.
There is a possibility to get scabies from the children at the Orphanage, it’s something almost unavoidable because you can’t handle your own child with gloves. So if your child has it and you catch it, be patient and get treated once home.
eucaliptusSomething we brought home without expecting it was those nasty bed bugs, it’s not nice but we survived. Actually, it’s something you can catch in any hotel of the world even the most expensive ones.
There is another polemic topic about traveling in Ethiopia with your recently adopted kids but that’s something I will talk about soon in another post, I promise.
What’s important it’s to seize the moment, to learn about the culture and respect it, play common sense and enjoy the few days that you visit the country of your child.
I understand what other families felt in Addis because they come from another culture and other experiences and sometimes it is difficult to leave behind what you know and to be open to the different, the unknown, but I really enjoyed walking among Ethiopian people and for the first time feel how is it to be the “different”,  the one that everybody looks at. I wasn’t afraid, actually it was kind of liberating.
We didn’t have the chance to walk the Merkato, we only saw it from the car and I know that many people don’t recommend to go there but it didn’t seem intimidating to me, we didn’t do it just because the families that were with us at that time didn’t want to walk. I think it’s an experience I will save for the next trip when we come back with the children.
Sometimes it hurts to read derogatory comments about the country in other blogs of parents who adopted from there. It’s sad they weren’t able to understand the culture and the problems of Ethiopia and that they were only interested in taking the kids home as soon as possible just like somebody stealing a precious diamond from the depths of the Earth.
Every time I’ll listen to Teddy Afro, smell the scent of the eucalyptuses, the coffee or the spices I will relive those days I spent in Addis.

alicia
AliciA

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