Thank you Dakota and Brent--I hope you will inspire more parents to get out and see more of Ethiopia.
I’ll admit, when we first heard about Ethiopia’s new requirement to travel twice during the adoption process, we were bummed. I quickly started doing the math in my head, calculating how much our total adoption expenses had just gone up. However, as I read the threads on AAI’s Ethiopian Adoption Yahoo Group about the new two trip rule, my disappointment faded and I quickly embraced a point made by many adoptive parents that had gone before us – What a great opportunity to really TRAVEL and learn more about your child’s birth country before you tackle parenthood!
My husband, Brent, and I are travelers. We each separately spent several months backpacking around Western Europe in college. We have seen 49 of our country’s 50 states and parts of Mexico and Canada. A cornerstone of our relationship is a 7 month trip we took around Southeast Asia. Five years ago we put our backpacks in the hall closet. They haven’t come out much since, except for the occasional trip to the Mid- or Northwest to visit our families. We traded our wandering, seasonal lifestyle for grad. school and “real jobs” that have allowed us to pursue other dreams, like starting our family through Ethiopian adoption.
As soon as the idea sunk in, I ordered Lonely Planet’s guide to Ethiopia and starting planning possible itineraries. Choosing a route in a country with so much historical and cultural significance wasn’t easy. Should we check out the ancient ruins in Gonder? Island monasteries on Lake Tana? The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela? Gelada Baboons and unsurpassable beauty of Simien Mountains National Park? The maze-like streets of Harar? Or should we head south to learn more about the varied cultures that live there? The opportunities seemed endless, but our budget wasn’t and our time was even more limiting.
Girls playing near a mountain of teff
Ultimately, the choice was easy once we found the right perspective. We decided to base our travel around the regions of the country our kids were born in – Sidama and Addis Ababa. In the end, our court trip consisted of the following itinerary:
· 4 days in Addis Ababa solely dedicated to our court date and spending time with our kids
· 4 days in Awasa with daily trips around Sidama - the birthplace of our son
· 5 days horse trekking outside of Bale Mountains National park in Oromia
· 1 night in Wondo Genet to relax and clean up after horse trekking
· 5 more days in Addis sight-seeing, shopping, and trying to learn more about our daughter’s past
Despite the short time frame, it was an epic trip. Not only did we have adventures equal to those of past trips, but we learned a wealth of information about Ethiopia and its people that we can share with our kids as they grow up in America.
Traditional home in Sidama
Maybe you’ve got some wanderlust too or maybe the idea of traveling in Africa absolutely frightens you, but the opportunity to learn about your child’s birth country seems like an opportunity you can’t pass up. Either way, I’ve put together this list of “tips” to help you make the most of your own epic journey around Ethiopia.
· Get a good travel guide. I am a huge fan of the dry humor of Lonely Planet.
· Realize that things are changing extremely fast in Ethiopia and your travel guide that was written 2 years ago is already very outdated. Fortunately, our experience indicates that things have only gotten easier for travelers.
· Don’t under-estimate how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B. Ethiopia is still a developing country. It’s better to add some extra padding into your itinerary and find you have extra time to linger somewhere rather than stress that you won’t be able to fit it all in.
· Be realistic about what you can do with your timeframe. You can always come back. We have found that our travel experiences are much richer when we take some time to actually experience a place rather than just check it off our “I’ve Been There” list.
· Don’t forget to take a deep breath, relax, and smile.
· It might be easier to plan some parts of your trip once you arrive in Ethiopia.
· When weighing the costs of taking a trip or not taking a trip, consider that it is very inexpensive to travel in Ethiopia outside of Addis. You’re already paying for the plane ticket to Ethiopia; the extra cost to travel is relatively insignificant.
· Don’t leave home without travel insurance. You likely won’t need it, but you don’t want to be without it if you do.
· Realize that accommodations and food outside of Addis are simple. See how far you can push your comfort level. In the end, the experience will far outweigh the discomfort of sleeping in a shabby room without a hot shower or eating food you’re not used to.
Sampling the local Bale Mountain cuisine - kocho - tasty, really!
· Be flexible with your itinerary. Time operates differently in Ethiopia. Consider unexpected changes part of the adventure rather than a setback.
· Be open to strangers. Unlike anywhere else we have ever been, we found the people of Ethiopia to be extremely open, warm, and helpful. I don’t know how many macchiatos we drank with relative strangers that just wanted to learn more about the farangis they spotted walking down the road.
Impromptu hair braiding session with children from a local village.
· A great guide or driver can be your best ally – they can serve as a historical/cultural guide, interpreter, and friend. Ask other adoptive families for suggestions (we can provide several).
· Try public transportation at least once; it’s easy to figure out. Just tell people at the bus station where you’re going and they’ll get you on the right bus. The ride is cramped, hot, stuffy, and noisy, but it will give you a true feel for Ethiopia.
· Don’t forget to take a deep breath, relax, and smile.
· Knowing a little Amharic will get you a long way. We always found people that spoke English well wherever we were; however, the smiles we were able to elicit when we rambled off the limited Amharic we knew were golden.
· Don’t get bent out of shape about paying the farangi price. Bargain with a smile and realize the few extra birr you will inevitably pay for things is very little to you and sizable to the person you are paying. I consider it just part of being a tourist.
· Remember you are representing America and adoptive families as you travel. Ethiopia is blessing us with the opportunity to raise some of its children. Let’s show them how grateful we are.
· Putting yourself in such an unfamiliar environment can be frightening. Remember that Ethiopia is a safe place to travel with very low levels of crime toward tourists. Don’t let your fear hinder your ability to enjoy yourself and gain as much as you can from your experience.
· Getting flustered, raising your voice, and demanding things will get you very little. A smile and flexibility will open doors you didn’t even know existed.
Enjoy the journey of a lifetime. Think of how fun it will be to share stories of your adventures with your kids down the road!