We arrived in Hawassa (also known as Awasa), a city located 270 kilometers south of Addis Ababa, around late afternoon to beautiful weather. Our hotel was located right on Lake Awasa, a beautiful, pristine lake set against the mountainous backdrop of the Great Rift Valley. Our group of journalists were staying two nights in Hawassa where we would visit the Regional Hospital, a Health Center and a Health Sciences College to learn about their maternal and newborn care in the region. It was our first visit to Southern Ethiopia and I was excited for the meetings and interviews ahead.
I had been warned about the monkeys from our Program Director who told me stories about their bravery at jumping from the trees and snatching your breakfast right out of your hands. Although they were rather pesky I still enjoyed watching them play with their humanlike fingers and features. They were a fun photo subject while I passed away a free Sunday afternoon.
I was thankful to have a room with a beautiful view of Lake Awasa where I could get some writing done and relax a bit after a rather exhausting trip. It was my first two-week journalism trip away from home and although it was incredibly exciting and fascinating sleep was something that was lagging. I had to admit I was exhausted.
Living in Minnesota where our winters are long and brutally cold, I often crave the outdoors and in summertime spend as much time as possible outside. I read outside, eat outside, walk and run around the lake and even work outside. I loved that our hotel in Hawassa was focused around nature and had many outdoor areas to sit.
Our breakfast, lunch and dinner were served outside on the terrace overlooking Lake Awasa. I purposely rose at 6 am each day to enjoy a cup of strong coffee when all the world was asleep. It was too beautiful to be inside.
On the hotel grounds, monkeys were everywhere. On the rooftops, in the trees, along the sidewalks and climbing up the side of the hotel balconies. I heard it was mating time which could explain their rowdy behavior and chasing expeditions. Still, they were fun to watch.
Except of course when they surprised me by jumping down onto the table and stealing my carrots!
Since it was Sunday afternoon and we had no meetings planned for the day, I thought it would be fun to get a few close up shots of the monkeys to send to my children. We don’t have monkeys roaming freely back home in Minnesota. Only in the zoo. Apparently another journalist thought it was hilarious to watch me and grabbed my photo below. Here I am talking with my kids via Skpe trying to show them the monkeys.
Being away for two weeks is a long time especially when you have young children. I missed them dearly and wondered what they would have thought of this place. Someday I hope to bring them with me on my journeys and show them the world. Not just the monkeys, but the people, the culture, the poverty and the despair. Without seeing the world, we live in such a bubble.
Staying at such a nice hotel felt rather humbling especially after seeing so many people along the drive without running water or electricity. It is hard to internally justify except for the fact that we needed somewhere safe, with clean water, electricity, food and good wifi so we could work. I remember thinking the contrast was even worse in Addis where our beautiful new Western hotel looked right out over a giant slum. That kind of inequity seems to be a slap in the face.
That evening, there was a Muslim wedding outside along the lake. It was beautiful. They played music until sundown and we even were invited to dance. I have never been to a muslim wedding so it was really cool to witness one.
The next morning before our meetings, I rose early to enjoy a delicious cup of Ethiopian coffee along the lake and found a fisherman in a papyrus boat, similar to the ones I watched in Bahir Dar at Lake Tana. This one however was a mini, half-sized boat. I watched him for a while wishing we could communicate. I showed him my camera and asked if I could snap his photo. He agreed as long as I’d give him a small donation. He was the only fisherman out there unlike Lake Tana which is loaded with papyrus boats.
Later that afternoon, the daily rains came and we witnessed a gorgeous double rainbow. It was such a beautiful place yet the storms seemed to foreshadow trouble ahead.
Later, we would encounter our first real resistance with the Ethiopian government who is known to be highly repressive with journalists and had recently arrested a group of bloggers and journalists in April. The arrests caused anger and was the latest example of rising concerns about freedom of the press and access to civil society in this rapidly developing nation. We were about to find out for ourself what it was truly like to be a foreign journalist in Ethiopia.
I was in Ethiopia in June as a reporting fellow with the International Reporting Project. To see all my stories from the trip, click here. My stories are a mix between photo essays, culture, travel and newborn and maternal health (which is what I was primarily reporting on in Ethiopia).