Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I have a confession to make. I wrote up a whole post on Gondar and our crazy trip there... and I made myself re-write it.  We had a bad experience while we were there and got taken advantage of by the guy who was supposed to be our driver.  And, mostly because we were already just tired and emotionally drained, we let it sort of taint most of our trip.

I wrote a whole post in which I painted this dude as a villain all the way through. And couldn't click "publish." 'Cause you know what? I'm no better than he is.  Yes it was wrong of him to take advantage... but every day I participate in a system that is built upon taking advantage of others.  Along with a whole host of selfish things I do every day.

Plus, the power differential was so great between us.  Here's this young kid, with no steady income to speak of, living in a country where just getting by is a struggle.  Again, I am not justifying his actions, but in the grand scheme of things - it is more likely that he needed the money more than we did.  Although I will admit I had to go through being just plain mad about it in order to get to thinking that.

So... here is our trip to Gondar with a much healthier point of view.  Dang it, I just needed to knock myself off my own high-horse this time. :)  Why is it so easy to be judgemental?? argh.

Our boy is from Gondar. It's a city about 11 hours northwest of Addis Ababa, three hours east of Southern Sudan.  We flew and it only took about an hour.  We knew when we got our referral that we just had to travel to where he was from.  I think I've mentioned before that the hardest part of receiving our referral was the lack of information. So many questions we'll never be able to answer for him.  I wanted at least to go to his hometown so that I can tell him about it and so he'll have pictures of it.

Gondar was it's own little rollercoaster of a trip for us.  We woke up at 4:30 in the morning in order to head to the airport at 5.  If you read the blog post about Friday in Addis, you know we were just emotionally exhausted and kind of ready to head home already.

We arrived in Gondar and there was a cheerful looking boy holding a sign that said "cassell welcome to gondar."  On the way from the airport, our driver Dawit told us he had our day already planned out. He had talked with our agency, knew the areas we wanted to hit AND said he'd take us out somewhere where we could see some monkeys (you should have seen Riley perk up at the mention of monkeys).

We got checked in to the hotel (Quara Hotel - it was really nice!) and met Dawit at the front desk.  He informed us we were going up Simen Mountain to see some monkeys.

I figured he meant we'd drive out of the city a ways and see some monkeys near the road.  In Swaziland, there are orange groves and monkeys always go in and steal the oranges. You can see them from the road.  I just assumed we were in for the same kind of experience.  Boy was I wrong...

We had a BLAST! It was some of the craziest hiking we've ever done.  Muddy as all get-out and no real paths to speak of. We wandered around and the local children followed us.  It was cute. All they knew how to say in English was "hello!" and they'd just repeat it over and over!

And it was some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen. These pictures don't do it justice!  Giant cliffs leading down to a valley with waterfalls on the other side.  Beautiful!

We hiked around up there for a few hours. And I was thinking to myself "this is great! We so needed this to lift our mood."  Riley had so much fun but it was tough going for him.   A lot of the places weren't super-safe and so he needed to be carried and I think a couple times Dawit and the guide he hired to go with us grabbed him by the arms a little rougher than he liked.  I'm not complaining at all - they kept him safe!  If it had just been Rob and me with Riley, it would have taken us 2 hours longer to help Riley across. In some places, the guide had to help ME across!  Of course, Riley insisted over and over that he could do it himself.  I can't stress enough how far DOWN those cliffs were! Yikes!

And we really did see monkeys!  Colobus monkeys and baboons. Really close! Check 'em out:

The family of baboons - we actually hiked right over there and ended up standing right where they are!
We headed back down the mountain and had perfect timing - the rain started as we got back to the car!  And I learned something - rivers there are REALLY affected by the rain!

Here's a river I happened to photograph on our way up the mountain:

And check it out on our way back DOWN after it had started raining:

Abebe at Oziopia (our guest house) had told us a story of how he lost two friends when he was a boy because they were swimming in the river and it had rained in another area but they didn't know it.  The water suddenly came flooding through. He and one friend just ran naked away; his other friends tried to grab their clothes and they were swept away.  Now I understand how that could happen.

We had left most of our luggage in Addis because we didn't want to check all those bags for just one day in Gondar.  But in our efforts to bring as little as possible, we each only had one pair of shoes and Rob and I had planned to wear the same jeans both days.  Oops.  But we had had such a great time we didn't really care. I figured "who cares if I have muddy jeans for a plane ride home?"

We got back to the hotel and the driver had said he wanted to eat lunch (we had eaten granola bars and didn't really feel like stopping to eat).  Here's where the taking advantage part happened. I don't need to go into details, but it was just a bad situation.

After that, we were kind of deflated.  We still hadn't gotten to see any of Gondar so we had to stay with Dawit if we wanted to learn about the area.  And we didn't really trust him anymore.  So anytime he tried to take us anywhere, we were doubtful.  And it was still raining.

When the driver returned from his lunch, we went out to the address that we have from our boy's history.  If it hadn't been so rainy, I think it might have been an emotional moment.  But we were dodging giant rain drops and jumping over mud puddles.  It may have been good to have a distraction - my emotions had been stretched enough by that point.

Next we visited Bridge of Hope (formerly Bridge to Israel).

Bridge to Hope is the orphanage where our boy was in Gondar.  It's really a great place.  Had it not been raining and if we hadn't been so bummed out/frustrated by our driver situation, I think we would have enjoyed being there.  The social worker, whose name I never caught, showed us around.  It really is a cool place. They are a model orphanage for other places in the country.  The kids live in "family houses" and they have a farm and dairy cows to generate income for the orphanage.  But it was raining and it was hard for us to be there just "touring" without anything to do.

After Bridge of Hope, we drove over to the Kusquam Mariam Church.  It's a super-old church in the village area where our boy is from.  I've been wanting to go. The ruins really are beautiful. I need to go back and do my research and learn more about Ethiopian history 'cause Gondar is important.  Gotta figure out exactly how! ;)
Kusquam Mariam church
Oh, I have to tell you HOW we got to the church!  Remember how I said it started raining as we left the mountain? And how it never stopped? Well, roads aren't paved in Gondar. So they get muddy.  And the church is on top of a hill.  The van couldn't make it up the hill because of all the mud.  We were stuck!

So we got out of the car and walked up the hill in this mud! I wish I could tell you that I considered it part of our adventure, that I happily joined the other regular folk walking up the hill.  But I'm going to be honest: I had a bad attitude. I am fairly certain I gave Rob a death look for having agreed to walk up that hill.  I've never walked in mud like this - you sink in about an inch with every step.  Remember - we had no other shoes and no change of pants!  Thank goodness no one fell!
This is the mud we walked in!
So we checked out the really cool church.  Then, muddy, wet, cold and tired, we headed back to our hotel.  Thank God there was a restaurant in the hotel. I don't think we could have handled trying to find a way to go somewhere.  Rob went down to the restaurant and asked if we could get our food to take away.  They looked at him like he was crazy and we figured out why: he came back to the room with pasta wrapped up in tin foil and some forks! ha ha!  We didn't care. We ate it and were all in bed by 8:15.

Good thing we went to bed early in Gondar... because the nearby church service started at 5 am.  So shortly before 5am, we hear VERY loud preaching over a loudspeaker. Interspersed with VERY loud (although very nice) singing.  I stayed in bed and listened, trying to sleep, refusing to admit defeat until about 7.  Rob gave up and got up at 6.  Riley must have been exhausted -he slept through the whole thing!

We met up with Dawit at 8 and we walked over to Emperor Fasiledes Palace.  He couldn't really tell us much about it so I need to go find a book somewhere.  There were actually lots of different ruins of different palaces with signs saying which ruler had which.  It's a big place.  I mean B-I-G.  Lots of palace ruins. Pretty impressive.
Fasiledes Palace

Another part of the palace, overlooking Gondar

We still had tons of time before we needed to be at the airport so we decided to go to the market just so we could see it! I am glad we went - it was craziness!  People EVERYWHERE! And Dawit told us that it was actually not crowded at all since it was a Sunday! 

The market was much bigger than it looked. At the edge, there were people all in the street with their wares spread out in front of them on tarps or in wheelbarrows.  But we walked down a little lane and suddenly there were stalls everywhere with clothes and food and household items! It was huge!
Fresh veggies!

Chickens anyone?
After the market, we grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out to the airport. I mentioned earlier that Gondar is only about 3 hours from Southern Sudan.  And y'all know about all the unrest that's been going on over there.  The UN had used Gondar as a headquarters for sending peacekeeping troops over:

It was crazy to see all these UN trucks - I'd only ever seen them on the news.

We had another slight altercation with our driver again at the airport but the WONDERFUL Gladney staff saved the day. We called Belay and were able to resolve everything over the phone.  We waited very uneventfully for the plane, boarded, and were SO glad when we arrived in Addis!  Boy had we missed Abey and everyone at Oziopia!  And just to drive home how amazing Abey is - he met us at the airport with presents for me and for Riley!  He picked out a t-shirt for Riley (which fit him perfectly) and an injera plate for me.  He even wrapped them in wrapping paper!  

The best part was that the wrapping paper had roses all over it with the words "Conjugal Bliss" in script. ha ha ha!

Next and last post from our trip: the loooooooongest day ever - our trip home!


  1. I have SO enjoyed catching up on your trip! I love your writing style, it's just like being there! Thank you for sharing this journey...


  2. Just wanted to share that I love reading about your trip! We didn't get a chance to travel outside of the city when we brought our son home last fall, but after reading your post, we def. need to make the trip when we go back, as we are back in for the long haul again! Hope MOWA issues your letter quickly and you fly through embassy;)


  3. Loved seeing the pics. of Gonder. So sorry it was a tough experience. Hopefully, we will have another get together soon!!

  4. Loved this post!! And the part about the church blaring the preaching over the speakers just might explain Marshet's 5 plus minute "sermon" he gave this morning!! I had no idea what he was saying, but video tapped it because he seemed pretty passionate about what he was saying. A friend's daughter translated it for me-- he was preachin' it!!! :) He must have spend 4 years of his life listening to those sermons through the speakers. :)


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