My Ethiopian Adventure–from Addis to Kombolcha


Saying goodbye to Addis at 8 in the morning, we headed northeast and later north toward Kombolcha–spelling differs, depending on whose map you view.  The official Ethiopian map spells the town as Kombolch.  Addis is high, the second highest capital in the world.  We drove northeast all morning across rivers and through green fields.

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Not far outside Addis we saw this scene, a river with many people near it.  Our driver, Alemu explained this river contains holy, healing water and all those people you see through the window are pilgrims coming to be blessed by the resident priest and hopefully healed by the river waters.

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Who would know this is Ethiopia if no one told you? Not what I expected at all honestly.

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Most of the farmland is very rocky.  Farmers gather rocks, in some places make fences out of them or just pile them up.  Even with these efforts fields remain full of rocks.

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We drove for hours through this type of farmland.

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This is a typical country village which appeared off and on continuously along the highway.  Traditional buildings are usually round with thatched roofs.  More and more people have begun to use metal roofs which forces the building shape to rectangular rather than round.  We heard a story about a thatched roof house that caught on fire.  Nothing but the thatch burned because underneath the thatch was a meter of mud.

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Most Ethiopian farming is done the old way:  either horses or cattle pull the plow with a man guiding it usually through a lot of rocks.  I commented about seeing no tractors so then every time we saw one everyone shouted, “Juliana, there’s a tractor.”  I think I saw only five of them in ten days and only one was actually working in a field.  It became obvious rather quickly how totally impractical a tractor and its equipment would be in much of the farmland:  too many rocks and as you will soon see, too steep.  The tractor would fall over.

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Eventually we started climbing higher and higher.  To the left was one of Ethiopia’s high peaks near or over 4000 meters–13 to 14 thousand feet.

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And then, there it was, Menelik’s Window.  This was the first area we saw with numerous gelada baboons.  However, these ran away unlike the ones later in Simien National Park.

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That’s Dino down on the edge.  At this point in the trip, I was still quite horrified by all the steep cliffs and stayed way back.  He was trying to get a good photo of the baboons.  Menelik II, the last Ethiopia leader to be able to claim himself as a direct male descendant of King Solomon, found this place special, a view into the real Ethiopia across miles of mountains. He is known for defeating the Italian invaders, expanding the kingdom, and especially for modernizing Ethiopia.

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My grandson now owns this hat.  This boy and his friends spend their days chasing the baboons away from the tufts of grass, which their families use to make the thatched roofs, and making hats for sale.

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You can see the selection of different styles of hats on display on the grass.  On the mountainside in the back lots of herbs grew, including thyme.  The boys also sold packets of herbs they had gathered and dried.

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We dropped down on a winding mountain road through eucalyptus forests.  Eucalyptus is not native to Ethiopia, but grows everywhere there.  It is used as a basic material for building their houses, for scaffolding to build tall city buildings, for just about everything.  Several different species grew along the road.

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Ethiopia’s main highways are excellent.  Many were built years ago by the Italians, more recent ones by the Chinese.  Ethiopians make jokes about how long the Chinese roads might last.

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Eventually, we dropped down out of the mountains into an area that was much drier.

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A typical town with all sorts of shops right along the road.  When driving in Ethiopia, dodging people, cattle, camels, horses, burros, and goats is the norm. Everything it seems likes these good roads.

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A boy driving camels down the highway.  Loose animals, like the burro on the right, roam seemingly unattended.  I saw few fences.

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In the small towns in this semi arid area, we saw several totally veiled women, faces covered totally except for their eyes.  Alemu informed us that this was a new thing, not seen until the last few years.  He seemed to think it had become fashionable to copy Saudi women.

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We stopped to look at certain plants beside the road.

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Dino recalled playing with these pretty green balls as a child with this forewarning,  “Do not eat them, do not touch your eyes or you will go blind.”  They are called the Apples of Sodom.

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At this juncture near the beginning of this adventure, I had not yet realized how everything in Ethiopia possesses symbolic meaning.

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We drove along this immense, lush valley for miles.  Alemu said this huge herd of cattle belonged to a semi nomadic group who brought their cattle here during the rainy season to graze and fatten.  A bit farther down the road the land belonged to one of the richest men in Ethiopia, indeed the world, Al Amoudi.  It was the only place where I saw a tractor actually used in a field.

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Arriving in Kombolcha, we saw this new college in the process of creation.  This became a common sight–new buildings, new schools, construction everywhere.

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My first hotel room in Ethiopia at the Sunny Side Hotel in Kombolcha complete with mosquito netting–the blue blob above the bed.  At least it had a shower and toilet.  Many places use the style of accommodations one finds in a lot of Asia.  Forget toilets as you know them–just a tiled area with a hole in the ground and the ever present water with which to wash.  We carried our own toilet paper just in case.  However, many places had both so customers could choose.

Bedtime Reading or Not–the Hazara


A lifelong habit that helps me settle down to sleep remains reading.  However, occasionally I delve into a book that turns out not to be so wonderful to read just before going to bed.  The topic turns to the disturbing and then, suddenly, my mind churns.  By that time, it is too late to go back.  Or, like the book I am reading now, parts of it consist of stories inspiring, amusing, enlightening, parables for life.  Then there are the other parts:  the abuse of an entire people by the other ethnicities surrounding them, genocide, turmoil, invasion.  I remain a lifelong lover of libraries.  Recently, while browsing through new books, I found this one:  The Honey Thief  by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman.  Mazari grew up in a Hazara village in the northern part of Afghanistan, the area known as Hazarajat, became a master rug maker and fled from the Taliban to Australia in 2000 where he met his now close friend and coauthor.  For several days now, it has been my bedtime reading.

The Hazara people speak a dialect of Farci, the language of Iran.  Data varies, but they number approximately seven million in Afghanistan and remain one of the largest ethnic groups there.  Nevertheless, in spite of this, other groups discriminate against them for various reasons, including the fact that most Hazara are Shia Muslims surrounded by Sunnis.  Until 1893, they were the majority when half were massacred and many fled to live in Iran, Pakistan, and India.  Some believe the Hazara are the descendants of Genghis Khan’s warriors.  Many resemble the people who live in Mongolia today and in many ways parts of their culture resemble that of Mongolia, e.g. their tents look like yurts; no one knows for sure.  They have lived in what is now known as Afghanistan for hundreds of years.  They are people of the mountains who have learned to cultivate beauty and farm in high, inaccessible places.  They are famous for poetry and story telling.  Unlike other women in Afghanistan, they shunned burkas, fought along side men as soldiers, and believed in education for women.  These attributes fueled discrimination by other groups there.

Now back to bedtime reading.  Several stories in particular contain what I consider the necessary qualities for bedtime perusal:  entertaining and instructive without gore, controversy.  They also hold an unusual quality of something you cannot quite quantify, a hint of the mystery of life, of a particular kind of not quite describable beauty.  Hoping that at least some of you will find the book and actually read it, I will first list the stories to read without dread or worry if you want to read at bedtime:  “The Wolf Is the Most Intelligent of Creatures”, “The Music School”, and the “Snow Leopard”.  Under no circumstances read “The Life of Abdul Khaliq” and “The Death of Abdul Khaliq”.  You will, indeed, learn a considerable amount of Afghan history, but unless you are quite heartless and insensitive, you probably will not be able to drift off to a pleasant dreamland for hours.

If all this stokes your curiosity, here are two websites to learn more about the Hazara:  www.joshuaproject.net and http://www.hazarapeople.com.

Do you like to eat? Bees and the Food Supply


SAM_1074Do you like to eat?  Do you eat almonds, apples, cherries, watermelon, blueberries, or cantaloupe?  In fact, the biggest factor limiting the world’s food supply is not war, drought, or any of the factors you commonly hear about.  The world’s food supply is limited by the amount of bees available for pollination.  In the last five years in the United States alone, approximately one million honey bee colonies died each year, about one third of our national bee herd.  Bees are in danger of extinction.  Native to Southeast Asia, honey bees were domesticated long before written history, before the building of the Egyptian pyramids.  Thousands of species of bees exist, but honey bees carry the main load of pollination for cultivated crops.

More than 740,000 acres of almonds, California’s leading agricultural export,  remain in cultivation in the Central Valley of California.  Pollination depends on bumble bees, honey bees, and wild bees.  Sadly, the wild bees are mostly extinct, killed by pesticides and habitat loss.  Now pollination depends on traveling bee keepers and their honey bees.  Today, commercial bee keepers number one fourth of what they did in 1980.  To get enough bees the almond (and cherry and apple, etc.) growers hire these bee keepers to install approximately 2 million bee hives to work the pollination.  Almonds alone require at least 1.5 million hives.  Each almond tree’s blossoms number 25,000 and at 135 or so trees per acre, that adds up to 3.5 million flowers to pollinate.  The difference between a poor harvest and a great one depends on bees.  After the bees finish their work in the Central Valley and other warmer climates, the commercial keepers take them to places like Idaho and North Dakota for the summer where they sip alfalfa, buckwheat, goldenrod, and sweet clover blossoms and produce the honey sold in groceries.

Where have all the bees gone?  What leads them toward extinction?  In 2006-2008, beehives across the world from Europe to here to Indian and Brazil nearly collapsed.  Causes vary:  foulbrood–a bacterial fungus, wasps, ants, mice, a host of viruses, nosema–bee diarrhea, and certain pesticides.  What can we do?  First, we can ban certain pesticides that are known to harm bees.  Second, we need to grow more flowers and blooming weeds (yes, I said weeds) to encourage a broader spectrum of healthy bees for pollination.  Honey bees cannot do it all alone.  The lack of sufficient flowers is the result of not only pesticides, but also the increase in lawns.  If you personally want to make a difference for bees and ultimately our food supply, let the wild flowers grow, plant more flowers and less lawn, limit pesticide use.

This morning I went out to my xeroscape garden–I have no lawn–and photographed bees.  At one catmint plant, so many busy bees made a clearly audible buzzing sound.  I witnessed at least four different kinds–species–of bees.  These SAM_1076

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Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror


This blog began as a vehicle to “make” me write more and share my writings, e.g. poetry, flash memoir, essays, with others and to learn from reader responses.  Along the way, it morphed into my recipes—starting with friends requesting them, my travels and adventures, inspirations, and thoughts.  This post will morph me into something I fear may be far more controversial, but also feel I must explore. Several years ago, a couple of friends and I enrolled as continuing education students in a course about Islamic thought and literature.  Our hope was to learn more about exactly what the title indicated.  Although I had already read quite a lot of Middle Eastern literature, especially Iranian, and also some Turkish novels as well as memoirs and nonfiction books, I had no one with whom to discuss my readings and thoughts.  This presented an ideal opportunity.  After a couple of weeks, it became quite clear that the teacher had a definite agenda.  Although she never overtly discussed her own religious beliefs, she generally chose parts of readings to discuss to promote a certain, anti-Islamic bias.  We read the Quran (in translation because none of us spoke or read Arabic—mine was a Pakistani translation), Ayaan Hirsi Ali—various works including Infidel, Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography, and short stories by Iranian, Palestinian, and other Middle Eastern authors.  None were from Southeast Asia where the majority of the world’s Muslims live.  None were from India.  When we discussed the Quran, she chose very specific passages that zeroed in on what she perceived to be Islam’s oppression of women and promotion of violence and war.  When the rest of us tried to also discuss passages about ones duty to the oppressed, the orphans, the poor, she would channel the discussion back to her chosen agenda.  Some dropped out.  The rest of us decided to stay because we wanted to read and discuss the writings in spite of the situation.  Over time, our insistence on a broader based view seemed to affect her strong bias slightly.  In the end, she even showed the Iranian movie, “Children of Heaven”, which presents the plight of a poor Iranian family in a very sympathetic light.  The father overtly loves his wife and struggles valiantly to help her and his family in any way he can. This class has led me to further pursue my readings of literature from Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, India, etc., both fiction and non-fiction and to learn as much as I can about the past and present as it relates to issues in these parts of the world.  Since then, I have also experienced the privilege of hosting exchange students from Thailand, Brazil, and Argentina.  One of my closest friends grew up Muslim in Indonesia.  I also have Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan and atheist friends from many parts of the world, and some who have little interest in religion. Recently, the librarian where I teach asked me to read Wanted Women, Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror:  The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui.  I finished it recently and highly recommend reading this book.  The author, Deborah Scroggins, spent six years following the lives of these two women, including interviewing their colleagues, family members, self proclaimed jihadists, and government officials from several countries.  She delineates an incredible amount of information and data.  If you care about the political and spiritual future of this planet and the ongoing controversies surrounding Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, this book provides an excellent opportunity to explore history and the events of the last 20-30 years, and then to develop your own insights.  My hope is that this post will encourage others to explore new avenues of knowledge and open wider venues of thought that encourage a better, kinder world in which we respect and value each others’ differences.

Recommended additional readings:   This is one of my favorite magazines.  It is free and covers art, cuisine, nature, history, literature, geography, just about everything imaginable.  For teachers, they have suggested uses and additional materials at the back.  It comes out six times per year.

If you are unfamiliar with literature from the Arab world, this is a good place to start.  Mahfouz won the Nobel prize for literature.  Although his novels take place in Egypt, the themes are universal.

In spite of the word jihad in the title, this is more of a “fun” read.  The Iranian American author, a journalist, decided to go to the Iran of her roots and work and live there for a while.  This book describes her adventures as a journalist in Iran.

Other books I recommend are Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina B. Nahai                   (this is one of my all time favorite books), No God but God by Reza Aslan, another Iranian journalist, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (this book is a novel about Rumi, whose beliefs Islamists do not find acceptable), and Shattering the Stereotypes:  Muslim Women Speak Out edited by Afzal-Khan.

Another source of information about events, literature, art, etc. in the Middle East is a blog entitled “Sugar Street Review”.  One of their latest blog posts, Top Five Female Arab Writers provides a list of these women with photos, brief bios, and some critique.