It’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog and I’m really excited to share with you what I’ve been doing since then. I should mention that I have written the piece about the healthcare system but I won’t post it until I return to the U.S.
I haven’t neglected the piece, I just want to make it as complete and uncensored as possible. Moving on, I’m excited to write about my experiences from the past five days I spent traveling through Arsii and Bale. What I witnessed over the past week was nothing short of breathtaking beauty. I only hope my words can do my eyes justice in conveying the awesomeness of the Oromian landscapes, traditions and its people.
We set out for our road trip just after lunch and began heading south under the midday sun. If you’ve never driven on open road in Ethiopia, you’ve missed quite a thrilling ride. It felt like an ongoing game of chicken, speeding down the road at oncoming traffic, seeing who will be the first to veer away. Who needs roller-coasters when you can fly down asphalt road at over 110 KPH while dodging pedestrians, animal herds and other cars on the road? As we blazed down the highway, I gripped the seat and pressed my foot down as if to somehow make the car slow down.
Our first stop was in Debre Zeit/Bishoftu which is about 47km outside of the capital. Bishoftu is home to the famous Lake Hora, the destination for thousands Oromos as they make their annual pilgrimage for Irreechaa, the Oromo thanksgiving holiday. Amid the stillness and tranquility, I imagined myself among my Oromo brothers and sisters standing lakeside, dressed in wayyaa aadaa (cultural clothes) and listening to the elders’ blessing. I hope to return one day to experience the annual event.
After a brief stay, we hit the road again, this time with Arsii-Nagele as our destination. The straight asphalt road begs for speed and is surely any speedsters dream road. We passed by one of the many greenhouse farms that grow roses for export to other countries. I’m just guessing but I would say this particular farm was about 1.5 km2 and full of only roses. I remembered that just before I left for Ethiopia, I heard a report on BBC that the U.S. had just sent $113 million to Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia for famine relief, and thought, how can they grow flowers for export when their own people have no food?
Before reaching Arsi-Nagele, we took a brief detour to see Lake Langano at Sabana Resort. On the pista road to the resort, our car came to a halt as we were stopped by a young boy doing acrobatics in the middle of the road. Once he got our attention, he put on a full show, dancing and moving to the music coming from our car- Could You Be Loved by Bob Marley. I’ll be sure to remember him and his gleeful antics every time I hear that song now.
We arrived at the resort around sunset which made for a gorgeous addition to the already incredible scenery of the lake. The lake is at the bottom of an enormous gorge which you must tread down in order to reach the beach. Once at the beach however, you’re in for a spectacular treat. The peace and tranquility are so powerful you feel like you must whisper as not to disturb the silence. The only sounds you hear are the birds chirping and the distant chatter of other guests; quite a change from the hustle and bustle of the capital.
As the sun sank lower into the western sky, it casted the most beautiful shadows on the rocks of the hillside and appeared to dance on the calm waves of the lake. I can still see it when I close my eyes. The resort itself is very relaxing and offers bungalow-style lodging and lakeside dining. In my opinion, definitely a must see if you ever find yourself in the area.
We set out on the road once again to reach our final destination for the day, Arsi-Nagele. We arrived after sunset but the streets were still buzzing with people busy with their days end. In the morning, I enjoyed a traditional coffee ceremony with family and believe it or not, quurt (raw meat). Well, I had about two bites before my medical knowledge got the best of me and I requested tibs/wadii, instead. We then set out for Shashamene and Hawassa.
Shashamene, a town dedicated to Rastafarians by Haile Selassie, is about midway between Nagele and Hawassa. In the town best known for its Rastafarian inhabitants, we visited a local restaurant and Rasta getaway. Located just a short distance off the main road through town, this local shop is owned and operated by a Rastafarian family that has lived in Ethiopia for over 35 years. Among their offerings are fresh fish caught daily from Lake Hawassa and the honest to goodness best juice I’ve ever tasted in my life complete with pineapple, strawberry and coconut. We detoured here for about an hour just sipping our juice and feeling ire listening to the cool reggae rhythms playing overhead.
Next stop, the beautiful and famous Hawassa. This town is best known for its tourist attraction Lake Hawassa along with the luxurious lakeside resorts. Our first stop in town was a beautiful Italian villa style restaurant called Venetti, located just across from the Oasis International Hotel. This restaurant owned and operated by an Italian native, offers pizza and pasta dishes that rival those in Naples or Sicily.
We cruised over to Lewi resort to take in some sun by Lake Hawassa as we let the heavy Italian lunch settle. This resort is Hawassa’s hidden treasure. One of the oldest resorts, it offers a unique experience of nature and comfort blended so well together one cannot help but relax and enjoy the beauty of the landscape. Complete with palm trees and swinging chairs, the lake terrace is the main attraction at the resort. You’ll find most people relaxing with a fresh squeezed juices, macchiato or cold beer, taking in the spectacular views and wildlife. The tranquility of the terrace café is occasionally interrupted by a brave monkey pillaging for food. Just in front of my table, a woman eating French fries found herself in a game of tug-of-war with a determined monkey. She did win her plate of fries but not without losing her table and juice to the primate.
From here we drove around town to check out Hawassa proper. Most certainly the most attractive part of the city is the palm tree lined street leading to St. Michael’s church. As we drove down the street, the afternoon sun set the golden dome of the church ablaze in the distance and created the most picturesque scene.
Our last stop in Hawassa was the beautiful, world-class Haile Resort, owned by famous long-distance runner Haile Gabreselassie. The resort is nothing short of regal and offers condominium style lodging, fine dining, entertainment and an Olympic size swimming pool with a water fall. As you enter the hotel lobby, you feel as though you’ve stepped into perfection. From the chairs to the chandeliers to the floor-to-ceiling windows the resort lobby offers a glimpse of what a stay at this resort would be like. At the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer, amidst all the grandeur and luxury, I couldn’t help but think of how different the world just outside the resort is. It puts into perspective all too clearly that the class gap in Ethiopia is widening at an unstoppable pace and the middle class is vanishing.
The next morning, we again packed up and headed for Bale, passing through towns like Kofele and Dodola. The scenery and environment of Bale is more than I can fit into one paragraph so I will leave that for my next entry. To be quite honest, Sof Umer (Africa’s largest cave) is enough to be one blog by itself so I will do it justice and write about it with my description of the beautiful land and people of Bale.
I hope you enjoyed coming with me as I reflected on my trip through Arsii. The land and the people are truly a sight to behold. The landscape, the sunsets, the local accent of Afan Oromo are all so beautiful and I find myself amazed time and time again at the broad characters of my people. If only our differences could be appreciated as blessings perhaps our future could and would be bright. I’m so proud to be part of such a vast and ancient culture. My sister always quotes a line from Wordsworth, an awesome but not mainstream rapper: “Currently, I’m standing on the shoulder of my ancestors.” I’ve never felt that more than I do, standing in the heart of my mother’s and father’s land, a 21st century woman, but ever so an ancient Oromo.
Until next time,