Travel Tuesday: Awra Amba, Ethiopia Part 2

I apologize in advance. This is a long post. But it’s worth it – I promise.

Usually when I travel, I prefer venturing into the unknown, but it always proves to be a challenge. When I was planning my trip to Ethiopia I found a tiny blurb in my friend’s Lonely Planet that went something like this: Awra Amba is a quiet weaving co-operative community that is worth a detour off the beaten path.

Well, say no more. I dragged my new Australian friend with me, as this journey required some hiking and I didn’t want to go it alone. (thanks to Catherine for sharing her pics with me. She took most of the amazing pics below)

Yup. At the bus stop in the middle of nowhere

Yup. At the bus stop in the middle of nowhere

Getting ready for our 5km hike!

Gearing up for our 5km hike!

Our hike was long but offered some amazing scenery

Our hike was long but offered some amazing scenery

Ladies headed to the market

Ladies headed to the market

When we finally arrived, we sat down and took in some of the village. Everyone seemed very happy and busy, except the school kids, who were on break.

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Catherine and I in the dining area

Catherine and I in the dining area

Our morning started out with a tour around the community with a brief history lesson and explanation of how the weaving cooperative works. We finished our afternoon with a meet and greet with the man behind everything, Zuma. I’ll explain this a little backwards starting with Zumra and his reasoning for starting a community like this:

Zumra grew up, like most Africans, in a household where is mother did all the housework, farming and child rearing while her husband was off working and/or drinking in the bar. His father would get home and demand dinner and not participate in any of the household operations. Zuma grew up questioning this way of life. He envisioned a community of equals. Where men and women pitched in. Since his thinking was very radical for the times, he was ostracized and ended up leaving home at 13 in order to find like minded people. He wandered around Ethiopia for five years and finally decided to return home (unsuccessful in his search) to become a farmer. He started working to provide for those less fortunate, giving away most of what he made – which provided the opportunity to be criticized by family and friends. He took to the road again during the rainy seasons in search of his ideal community – one without discrimination. In 1972 he finally found the group he was looking for and founded the Awra Amba community. His basic principles for this community to be successful were:

– respecting the right to equality of women

– respecting children’s rights

– helping people who are unable to work due to old age and health problems

– avoiding bad speech and bad deeds

– accepting all human beings as brothers and sisters

Sounds spectacular doesn’t it? I’m sure you are asking “Well how does this work – especially in Africa?” Here are some key points on how the community works:

The community is based on two kinds of membership: Community members, these members can be from anywhere as long as they subscribe to the beliefs of the community, and Cooperative members, the members that actually live, work and participate in the community.

There are 13 committees that lead the community. Anywhere from Guest Reception and Lost and found property to Edlerly and Oprhans Care and Security and Education. Each committee plays their own role in ensuring the community operates smoothly. They have a committee that identifies problems, one that resolves complaints and even a hygiene and sanitation committee

For work, women and men partake in the same activities as long as they have the physical strength to do so. Men weave, women farm, there are no restrictions. They select workers for each task based on their specific skills, interests and ability to do the job. Gender and age do not matter. To foster this equality, all salaries for any work done in the community go into a communal pot and is distributed throughout the households, committee funds, library, school, and clinic.

They have schools built in the community for the young kids and the high school age kids go to a nearby town of their choosing. When children are finished high school, they have the option to remain with the community, or seek work elsewhere. The majority of them stay based on the strong foundation and principles the community has to offer.

When it is time for marriage, it only occurs at the full consent of the two parties. Either party is welcome to marry outside the community. Women are not allowed to marry before 19 and men 20 – giving them ample time to finish their education and make the decision to marry on their own. Couples are monogamous (a rarity in a lot of African communities). There is no special celebration after weddings – it is recognized as a paperwork activity. All decisions are made equally. In order to get a divorce you have to go through the Complaint Resolving Committee and they will work to help resolve issues before resorting to a divorce.

I think one of the most crucial foundations of the community is that they all care for one another. The community has something called Lewegen Derash, which is a fund that supports the elderly and those unable to work. On a designated day of the week all money raised from activities done within the community (weaving and spinning) are donated to Lewegen Derash. This fund supports things like providing educational materials for children, provide treatment for sick people who have no money, support people who are unable to work and even to help people from outside the community.

Here are some pics of our tour:

The Library

The Library

Beautiful babies

Beautiful babies

Wee kids in the classroom

Wee kids in the classroom

Our lovely tour guide showing us how they make injera in the community kitchen

Our lovely tour guide showing us how they make injera in the community kitchen

My favourite part of the tour was getting to see the weaving happening. It is utterly astounding and I probably could have watched them for hours:

I wanted to purchase this blanket but they were all sold out...

I wanted to purchase this blanket but they were all sold out…

So I got this one instead!

So I got this one instead!

And this robe...very warm!

And this robe…very warm!

After the tour, we got to meet Zumra and ask him some questions. He was a very interesting man. I think the most intriguing part of his story was that he was fighting hard for a community of peace and equality in an era (1970s) when this was completely unheard of. He has received support from a few other areas in Ethiopia and he knows of one other community that has been inspired by their beliefs and principles, but his dream would be for his community concept to spread around the world!

Catherine and I with Zumra

Catherine and I with Zumra

Sharing photos of Zumra's world

Sharing photos of Zumra’s world

Catherine and I got to spend the night in the village in some newly constructed dormitories. It was a wonderful experience (except for the flea bites I seemed to accumulate) and we were very pleased with the reception and incredibly humbled by the energy, passion and dedication that all community members seemed to posses for their lifestyle. We were escorted (for the whole 5kms) back to the main road by Zumra’s youngest son (he was 19), who was attending University in Bahir Dar (about 2 hours away). He said that he couldn’t wait to find a wife and build a family in Awra Amba one day.

Once again, sorry for the length of this post, but this was probably one of my favourite highlights of my trip to Ethiopia!

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Travel Tuesday: Ethiopia Pt. 1

It has almost been two years since I was in Ethiopia. I spent three weeks there traveling around after I was finishing my volunteer placement in Kenya.

I landed in Addis Ababa and was immediately surprised. Ethiopia was very different from what I was expected. It had come a long way from the starving children on those Plan Canada TV asks. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a very poor country, however you could tell that there had been significant improvements – especially in infrastructure.

I ended up at this quiet little hotel (there are no hostels in Ethiopia) a short distance from the airport. It was cheap. The manager was nice and spoke a little English and there were only two cockroaches in my room – you’ll understand the important of this statement further along in this story.

I spent a couple of days checking out the city, getting accustomed to the money and new time and date. They operate on a 12 hour clock that starts at 6am. According to wikipedia:

To convert between the Ethiopian clock and Western clocks, one must add (or subtract) 6 hours to the Western time. For example, 2 AM local Addis Ababa time is called “8 at night” in Ethiopia, while 8 PM is called “2 in the evening”

Confusing enough for you? Well, get this:

The Ethiopian calendar has twelve months of exactly 30 days each plus five or six epagomenal days, which comprise a thirteenth month.

Yeah, that’s right. 13 months! Luckily enough, most Ethiopians understand time and dates of the rest of the world, so I wasn’t too lost.

After a couple of days in Addis, I decided to get on a bus to my first destination – Bahir Dar. The bus left super early in the morning, which involved standing around in the dark and cold waiting for the right bus to show up. I met this woman named Catherine, who I eventually ended up traveling with for most of my journeys.The journey took a full day and we arrived at the bus stage in Bahir Dar, exhausted and dirty and subject to so many hawkers trying to get us to stay at their hotels and overcharge us for taxis and whatnot. Before I get into that, check out these amazing pics from our bus journey:

Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa

Traditional housing

Traditional housing

Family compound

Family compound

Spectacular views as we drove up into the mountains

Spectacular views as we drove up into the mountains

Crossing the Nile River

Crossing the Nile River

So we arrived at the bus stage only to be hounded by thousands of touts trying to get us to take their taxi to their ‘friend’s’ hotel. We picked the most trustworthy guy and got in a tuk tuk with him. We had also met a Dutch girl along the way, who joined us to the hotel. I think we picked something that looked cheap from one of our guidebooks. The hotel was empty and was relatively clean so we settled our stuff in and headed out for a walk to the market.

Very similar to Kenyan markets, but a lot more organized. This was the mattress section.

Very similar to Kenyan markets, but a lot more organized. This was the mattress section.

And indoors you could get any grain you like. As long as it was teff :)

And indoors you could get any grain you like. As long as it was teff :)

We took a day trip from Bahir Dar across Lake Tana. The weather wasn’t amazing, but we ventured off to some islands full of monasteries. I borrowed some pics from my friend Catherine:

There was lots of beautiful 'art'

There was lots of beautiful ‘art’

A woman transporting water

A woman transporting water

Enjoying the sun while waiting for our boat to leave

Enjoying the sun while waiting for our boat to leave

The outer 'ring' of the monastery

The outer ‘ring’ of the monastery

The one thing that I really wanted to do (because I’m such a crafty person), is visit a small weaving cooperative called Awra Amba. I feel like this special little place deserves its own blog post, so I’m going to save it for later. All I will say is that it required some hiking and taking nondescript buses to get there, so I am really glad that my new friend Catherine was down for it too – it was definitely off the beaten path!

Stay tuned for part 2 of my Ethiopia journey…

 

 

2015 Book List

If you have read my Goals/Challenges for 2015, you see that I set a pretty lofty goal of reading 26 books by the end of the year. I found this cool list online that I thought might help me work towards my goal. Some books will check off more than one category, but it should provide some variation to my reading list.

  • A book with more than 500 pages
  • A classic romance
  • A book that became a movie
  • A book published this year
  • A book with a number in the title
  • A book written by someone under 30
  • A book with nonhuman characters
  • A funny book
  • A book by a female author
  • A mystery or thriller
  • A book with a one-word title
  • A book of short stories
  • A book set in a different country
  • A nonfiction book
  • A popular author’s first book
  • A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet
  • A book a friend recommended
  • A Pulitzer Prize-winning book
  • A book based on a true story
  • A book at the bottom of your to-read list
  • A book your mom loves
  • A book that scares you
  • A book more than 100 years old
  • A book based entirely on its cover
  • A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t
  • A memoir
  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A book with antonyms in the title
  • A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
  • A book that came out the year you were born
  • A book with bad reviews
  • A trilogy
  • A book from your childhood
  • A book with a love triangle
  • A book set in the future
  • A book set in high school
  • A book with a color in the title
  • A book that made you cry
  • A book with magic
  • A graphic novel
  • A book by an author you’ve never read before
  • A book you own but have never read
  • A book that takes place in your hometown
  • A book that was originally written in a different language
  • A book set during Christmas
  • A book written by an author with your same initials
  • A play
  • A banned book
  • A book based on or turned into a TV show
  • A book you started but never finished

Goals/Challenges for 2015

I already created this post once – and it disappeared. I can only take that to mean that the following list is not meant to be. Alas, I will try again. I have put together a list of things that I would like to accomplish in 2015:

Creative projects:

  • Finish all current projects. This might not seem huge, but I am a MasterProcrastinator and have the attention span of aknat. I start A LOT of projects but finish few. 2015 is the year of changing this. You may not believe me,so I have outlined a couple of examples:
    • Cross stitch project started likely over 10 years ago
    • Icelandic sweater (from wool purchased in Iceland in 2011) which now only resembles a tube top
    • African print shorts (started in 2013) that are currently two sizes too big
    • This list goes on, I promise
  • Utilize all of the yarn and fabric in my apartment. It’s a lot. Trust me.
  • Launch two new product lines for my online shop
  • Finish my online travel writing course. Yeah, you know, the one that I enrolled in in 2012. It even has its own home on this website. They have since re-designed the course, so I’m started back at chapter one. Go me!

New projects:

  • Build frames and canvas stretchers for all my artwork. Much cheaper than having a professional do it and you can learn anything from the internet these days
  • Create my own beauty products (I’m talking toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo/conditioner, lotion, etc.) Once again, the internet is magic
  • Build a terrarium. So retro, so me. This guy is my hero.
  • Plant/grow my own veggies and herbs. I have already started growing things from kitchen scraps. Who knew this was possible! Shut the front door!
  • Read 26 books

Lifestyle projects:

  • Pay off debt. Volunteering for two years, traveling for over 8 years and refurnishing a new apartment really takes a toll on the old pocketbook.
  • Run 5 races this year. I’ll plan to do two 5Ks, two 10Ks and one 15/18K. Once the temperature gets above zero again…
  • Stick to my diet. (I’ve got IBS yo!) I was doing REALLY well. Then Christmas slapped me in the face. I’ll get back on track this year!
  • Join some sports. I’ve already signed up for soccer and curling and I have every intention of trying out for a competitive slo-pitch team.
  • Meet new people. I’m a hermit. I have often spent a weekend indoors knitting for 72 hours. I need to get out and meet some new people. Or else I will likely die alone. Alone, but warm from all the afgans I will have completed. :)

 

Happy New Year!!

Plus two weeks…

Yeah I’m a little late on the mandatory Happy New Year blog post. I guess I have been too busy reading everyone else’s posts on the past year and what’s to come this year.

I have always been a little baffled why people wait until January 1st every year to make changes in their life – because, well…There’s no time like the present. Right? [pot calling the kettle black, I know]. I think we all get so busy and consumed in so many things that we forget what the big picture is all about. I would love to think of myself as the type of person who works consistently year round to become more of the person I want to be. [I am a firm believer that everyone, I don’t care who you are, always has room to improve in some facet of their life.] But, I’m not. I have good intention, but there is always something better on Netflix.

So, because I’m a champ procrastinator (I’m 13 days late on this) and I LOVE taking on more than I can handle (you will understand when you see my list), I have created some Goals and Challenges for 2015. I feel like these lists are overrated, but I took some time over the past few weeks to figure out where I’d like to be in December this year and how I get there exactly – in all areas of my life! I feel like a lot of these are carrying over from last year, but last year was a BIG one and things got kind of insane.

Uh – yeah. Just a small list. It should keep me busy and hopefully I won’t be too lazy to blog about a few of them. I think if I accomplish 50% of them, I’ll be happy. I’ve made a lot of posts about things I’d like to do…remember Travel Tuesdays? and have a hard time following through. Well, I need you guys (my readers – all 5 of you) to hold me accountable…

That being said, I should probably write a Travel Tuesday.

Travel Tuesday: A Day in Tallinn

The fact that I am addicted to Netflix shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. My most recent poison is a Canadian show called Being Erica. For a Canadian TV show, it’s pretty amazing! It’s about this 32 year old female who has a bunch of regrets in life. She starts travel therapy and gets to go back to her biggest regrets and change them…she learns some fantastic life lesson along the way. The writers of the show have made it really easy for any single 32 year old female to relate to.

But tonight as I sit here trying to type this post, instead of feeling like I was watching my life being portrayed on tv, I feel like my Travel Tuesdays let me travel back in time and re-live some of the best times of my life. So here we go again…

One of the reasons I love visiting my friends in Finland so much (aside from the obvious) is that it is so close to so many other places! Back in 2009, Kirppu and I took a quick day trip on the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia.

Tallin is such a beautiful town that has astonishing architecture. The Old Town of Tallinn is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so.

Ferry ride to Tallinn

Ferry ride to Tallinn

After a short 2 hour cruise across the water, Kirppu and I spent the day just wandering around taking in the beautiful buildings, drinking wonderful beer and eating a picnic in the park! My favourite part of Talinn was the Old Town. I love the contrast between history and the promise of new beginnings.

Town Hall Square

Me @ Town Hall Square

View of Old Town

View of Old Town

Old vs. New

Old vs. New

Dinner on the patio

Dinner on the patio

Sunset cruise back to Helsinki

Sunset cruise back to Helsinki

Travel Tuesday: I left my scarf in San Francisco

It’s Tuesday! For real! YAY!

This week on Travel Tuesday, let’s take a look back into the not-so-distant past to my most recent trip, which included Las Vegas and of course, San Francisco!

I had never been to San Francisco and I was really excited! I ended up staying in a hostel, because San Fran is EXPENSIVE! But it all worked out in the end. I stayed at this place and it worked out great as they had lots of FREE activities planned. And some cool people!

My first day, I went for a walk around the harbour and down to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was pretty cool and very kitschy. There were plenty of corn dogs and overpriced, deep-fried seafood, but was definitely lacking a few ferris wheels.

The pier

A walk along the Pier

Me with the seals at the harbour

Me with the seals at the harbour – they stink!

The next day, I signed up for a walking tour of the city that led us ALL around town. Our guide took us to Chinatown, where we saw a fortune cookie factory, to Jack Kerouac alley, to little Italy, and up to the Coit Tower. The views were absolutely amazing!

View from around the Filbert Street Steps

View from around the Filbert Street Steps

The 'other' bridge

The ‘other’ attention-starved bridge – poor guy

We also walked by the church where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe ‘got hitched’. FUN FACT: The quotations are there, because they didn’t actually get married IN the Catholic Church as they were both divorcees, so the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral was where they posed for their photos!

The church where Marilyn and Joe got 'married.

The church where Marilyn and Joe got ‘married’.

After our LONG walking tour, I went to the Exploratorium with a few girls from my hostel. The Exploratorium is a giant experience based science centre and it was amazing. There were so many exhibits that challenged the way you think about things. My favourites? The water fountain exhibit: (the photo below needs some explaining!) There was a normal water fountain and a water fountain made from a toilet, both with the same quality of water in them and you had to decide which you were going to drink from!) I definitely noticed the challenge in my perceptions on this one. Although, I knew it was clean, my brain was still telling me to step away!

Obviously I chose the toilet!

Obviously I chose the toilet!

The emotion tester: You sit with a partner and one of you is hooked up to a sensor that measures your heart rate (I think) on the end of your finger. The other person asks you a bunch of questions from a set of cards and you have to answer them…things like “Describe the last time you cried”. I learned that I’m easily stressed, but immediately calm down when I think about being near the ocean (no surprise there!)

I also managed to squeeze in a visit to The Mission and went for lunch at this awesome Korean fusion restaurant.

On the Friday night that I was there, there was a food truck festival at Fort Mason. It happens from 5-10 every Friday and there was about 30 gourmet food trucks with every ethnicity of food you could ever ask for!! I made sure to save room for a bouquet of bacon from Bacon Bacon (yes, it is exactly what it sounds like) and a frozen ice cream taco (pretty awesome for being gluten and dairy free, so I can’t imagine how good the ‘real’ ones would have tasted)! There was even beer vendors and a handmade cotton candy vendor! It was amazing!

Bouquet of Bacon please!

Bouquet of Bacon please!

The Saturday before I left, I rented a bike and made the trek across the bridge. What an experience! I biked over 30 kms – half of which was uphill. OK – I’m not going to lie. I didn’t bike up any hills. But at least I wasn’t the only one walking my bike :)

Love the contrast of the fog and the palm trees at Fort Mason

Love the contrast of the fog and the palm trees at Fort Mason

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the beach

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the beach

Mandatory selfie in front of the Golden Gate

Mandatory selfie in front of the Golden Gate

Trying to take photos with your cell phone while riding a bike over a bridge is harder than you'd imagine!

Trying to take photos with your cell phone while riding a bike over a bridge is harder than you’d imagine!

I spent the rest of Saturday (as if I was able to move after my long bike ride), rushing around trying to squeeze in the rest of the sights including one last ride on the cable cars, Lombard Street (which was stunning!) and a comedy show! I ended up getting a public transport pass, so I took the cable cars a number of times and it might have been my favourite part of the city! They are so old and amazing and it’s a little exhilarating careening down a hill knowing the only thing that is going to stop you is the guy operating the foot break! AGHHH!

When two street cars meet...

When two street cars meet…

View from Lombard Street

View from Lombard Street

My very own street!

My very own street!

All I can say is – until we meet again San Francisco! (Oh yeah, I also left a scarf behind in the aftermath of a hostel pub crawl!)