In early March I went on a work field trip to the Amhara region with some colleagues. Our task was to interview Health Extension Workers and women in remote communities about a long term family planning project my organisation has been implementing over the past year. In the week leading up to the trip one of my colleagues, Dawit, would say (daily, and sometimes hourly) ‘It will be an adventure”.
And boy was he right!
It all began at 6am on the day we set off. We started early because we had a 545km road trip ahead of us. No-one talks in hours here, it’s all about km’s because you never know what the road will be like. 100km could take 1hr or it could take 10. Despite our best intentions to start early (I am not a morning person), the car didn’t even make it to pick us up. At 6am there was a call from my workmate who was in the car, “Ahhh Emy, the car is stuck!”
So there we were (with a very grumpy driver) waiting for a tow truck to arrive and drag the car out of the ditch. But after an hour of waiting, a few local guys decided to take things into their own hands and try and lift the car (yes, a massive 4WD) out of the ditch. With their hands! I thought this was funny….and ridiculous. But they did it. Habesha power!
So we had progress, the car was out of the ditch, the driver was smiling again and off we drove. There was however some clunky noises coming from the back of the car. We asked the driver if this was ok and he flippantly gave the old “chigar yelem” aka “no worries”. We weren’t happy with this response (and the lack of seat belts), especially with such a long drive ahead so we asked for another car.
We parted ways with damaged car #1 and we were told car #2 was on its way. At 10:30am (a much more respectable time) car #2 arrived. With a very happy and smiling driver.
It was only 2 hours into the trip that car #2 starting overheating. We pulled off the road, the driver opened the bonnet and was immediately engulfed with clouds of steam from the engine. “Chigar yelem”, driver #2 says! Hmmm, we know what that means…
Whilst the driver sorted things out under the car bonnet, a few kids appeared. It doesn’t seem to matter where you go in Ethiopia, it can appear to be a remote place but if you stop for a few minutes, people will inevitably appear from what seems like nowhere. It could be kids herding their cattle, kids on their way home from school with their books in hand, women and girls walking with loads of wood on their heads, jerry cans of water on their back and babies strapped to their sides, or even donkeys loaded with so much hay it looks like the hay is moving along the road with 4 mysterious legs.
These particular kids were on their way home from school. They were so shy to begin with. Shy but curious. They kept their distance so we tried to reel them in with some basic conversation. Eventually they were smiling and showing us their school books. Our driver needed more water and asked one of the boys in the group if they could find some for us. The boy sprinted off and returned 15mins later with a jerry can full of water. Champ.
Whilst it’s easy to get frustrated in these situations, I think they are the moments that actually make the journey special. Unexpected events, unexpected experiences. Completely random. Genuine. And this trip had a lot of these moments and they are the moments that I talk about with a glow when someone asks about the trip.
They couldn’t stop giggling. And neither could I!
Back to the journey. Car #2 continued to overheat every hour and every hour we had to stop by the side of road to add water. By 6pm the driver decided the car couldn’t go any further. So there we were, half way to our destination and without a car. But our quick thinking colleague organised a minivan to take us to the next main town where we could arrange to meet up with car #3.
10 minutes into the drive with car #3 and guess what. The driver gets out and has a big vomit on the side of the road. We’re a bit concerned about him and the 5 hour drive ahead. But what’s his response to our concerns, “chigar yellem”! Naturally.
Despite 2 car breakdowns and a spewy driver, we finally made it to our destination of Bahir Dar a day later than expected. Bahir Dar is a cruisey little town on the banks of Lake Tana (Ethiopia’s biggest lake and the source of the Blue Nile). We used Bahir Dar as a base for the next few days whilst we conducted interviews at Health Posts in the surrounding areas.
Our visit to these Health Posts was a special opportunity to get out to remote places (sometimes 5 or more hours along dirt roads). “African massage” was a term thrown around a lot on these trips. We got lost quite often (even with 2 local guides in the car with us!) and we only made it to 3 of the 6 Health Posts we were meant to visit. But I was repeatedly told 50% is a great result.
Despite this (great) result, the trip was unlike any trip I have been on. It was an unforgettable experience. An experience I feel grateful to have had. I can’t find the words to give this experience justice so instead of words (or jokes) I’ll leave you with pictures of the colourful people we met and the interesting things we saw along the way. Enjoy.
These are the Health Extension Workers who are implementing long acting family planning solutions into their communities:
Props! Yes, we’re immature:
These were the strong and determined women we met who have chosen to take on the long acting family planning options offered by their local Health Extension Worker:
They even Ride to Work out here! On the African massage roads:
The film crew in action:
And me overly happy to be off the dusty roads and on a pavement!
Our car broke down again (surprise, surprise) and whilst it was being fixed we had a couple of hours hanging out on the side of the road of this town. The guy in the yellow and green Ethiopian football top was very keen to have his photo taken. He then dragged everyone around him in to also have their photo taken!
This kid was trying so hard not to smile. Didn’t want to jeopardise his tough guy look!
But then his friends came along and he cracked:
Caught this guy just sneakily taking photos from across the street. Without permission. Cheeky!
And after 5 days on African massage roads, covered in dust and well and truly worn out, I succumbed to one of life’s indulgences…brunch with a manicure and pedicure. Don’t hate me: