Our team arrived one by one in Ethiopia with a sense of excitement and knowledge of very few words in the local language, Amharic. We later discovered we were mispronouncing the very few words we did know, but our students and locals always appreciated the effort. The airport was located in Bole, a newly expanding area southeast of the city centre with a lot to offer culturally, entertainment-wise and with endless dining options. The drive home from the airport to our hotel made us anxious to explore the city.
We had our first true cultural experience at Yod Abyssina, a traditional Ethiopian restaurant accompanied with traditional Ethiopian dance for entertainment. True to Ethiopian tradition, meals are preceded and end with a hand-washing ceremony called sen’na bert, during which water is poured over the hands with a basin held below to catch the water. The team quickly grew fond of the various Ethiopian dishes that are accompanied with injera bread, a spongy sour dough made from teff.
Ethiopia has a very strong café culture and life seems to take a slower, more relaxed pace in general. This was a very warm welcome to our team given our busy lifestyles back home. We discovered cafes that doubled as art galleries and tasted some of the best coffee in the world in the country of coffee’s origin.
Some of our best memories were formed inside the classroom, as there was nothing more rewarding than seeing the development of our students. Our students were initially very shy and reluctant to participate. As our friendships grew stronger, so did the engagement of the class. Business plans were slowly beginning to shape and the enthusiasm of both our team and our students mounted for each following class.
During our first weekend, the team made arrangements to go on Safari outside the city to Awash National Park. Accompanied by a trusted tour guide and a scout, we saw many animals, bathed in a natural hot spring and relaxed by the raging Awash Falls. It was incredible to imagine that baboons, warthogs, wildebeest, tortoises and other exotic animals were common sights for the locals.
It had only been our first week and we had already made many friends in the area. The students quickly became close friends of ours and it became routine for them to stay behind after class to socialize and share stories when they were not working on their business plans. Over time, our vocabulary grew as well thanks to our Amharic for Beginners guide and we were well on our way to becoming Ethiopian.