Photo: Jeremy Woodhouse
The road was windy, unpaved and in a valley. Up on the cliff we observed people walking home from Sunday church, women in white shawls holding large umbrellas. Men in tattered baseball caps with finely sanded walking sticks. On their feet cheaply made Chinese plastic sandals.To the right was a craggy mountain with stunted trees growing out of it. I won't call it rain or drizzle but something was coming down. Kind of a thin white mist, an air of quietness and peacefulness pervaded the surroundings and us in our vehicles. Glancing out of the window coming up the road I spotted a teenage boy walking towards us. Over his shoulder he had a long stick, on his back it appeared he had a bag I really couldn't make out what he was carrying in his arms until he was next to the car. And there he was, a boy carrying a chicken, with not just a stick over his shoulder but a spear and tied to his back was a goatskin bag and a large metal kettle. All the makings of a proper Sunday dinner. Who could ask for a better, in the moment photographic experience.
Photo: Jeremy Woodhouse
What makes Ethiopia wonderful for a traveler and photographer is spirit of the people. Kids in rags, women trundling up steep embankments with 20 litre yellow buckets on their backs, homes that are awash in mud after a flash storm, the constant struggle to earn a living where an economic infrastructure doesn't seem to exist in the 80% of the country, one which is agrarian — all can really be bruising.
Yet, whereever we ventured we were greeted with smiles, laughter and shakes with that uniquely Ethiopia way of doing it, the hand shake and then pull in to do the shoulder to shoulder bump. It is very easy to feel at home while traveling in this wonderful country. As a outsider Ethiopian life seems extremely difficult, but the hardy welcome we received show a population of stoic people who put on a great game face.
View from the Dining Room at the Buska Lodge — Photo: Jeremy Woodhouse
While staying at the Buska Lodge in Arba Minch I had the opportunity to befriend many of the service workers. They all relished to the opportunity to practice English, talk about themselves, and not be bombarded with requests from the other guests. They all had name badges with titles, everyone seemed to be a director of one department or another. These people, all in their 20s, were the first in their families to master English (some better than others). When I asked the quality control director what he dreamt about last night he mentioned that he had a vision of owning a car. I asked him if he had a license and he replied that he was saving his money so that in the very near future he could take driving lessons. When I inquired what the very near future meant, he replied, "within the next five years".
Photo: Jeremy Woodhouse
Ethiopia, Abyssinia the birthplace of civilization has been my home for the past two weeks as myself and photo leader extraordinaire Jeremy Woodhouse sheparded ten photo enthusiasts through the remote Omo Valley. Guatemalan photo journalist Holly Wilmeth was part of our team and she mentored, cajoled, provided invaluable asisstance and smiled her way through the trip.
To me the take-away from this most unique of photo expeditions can be summed up in the expressions; surreal, is this for real, it really isn't real but we can make it real. How do you describe your joy after camping in the rain for two nights and you get to a really well appointed hotel, charge into the shower praying for hot water and out of the shower head comes a blast of freezing water. Yes, the knob is red and says hot and you know that the sun was shining all day and the solar system should be working. After much time getting frost bitten I turned the red one off and the cold blue one on and suddenly a blast of scalding water hit my skin and turned me red. Not wanting the next guest to think unkindly of the hotel I pried off of the knobs and rearranged them to the reality of the water temperature that would hopefully come down.
iPhone Photo, Jeremy Woodhouse
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and to drink a machiato in the Tomoca coffee house located in Addis Abba is the ultimate coffee centric experience. With a unobtrusive store front off the bustling Churchill Road, the 62 year old coffee bar shows little sign of change. The rusty and faded Tomoca banner is the color of a weak latte and the size of the sign and typography all say pure, true to spirit, perfection.
Behind the raised cashier counter are two serious looking women in their freshly laundered orange blouses. They don't smile and rarely talk, just let you know that the best coffee you will ever drink in your life costs a fraction of what you will pay in your home country. Machiatto for 30 cents, U.S. You tell them what you want and they dispense the chips. Small white is a latte, large black is macchiato, white chip indicates a simple strong black cup, round white means with milk.
In the back is a long thin counter with cups of different sizes. Directly centered is the Habesha women dutifully cleaning the coffee cups in soapy water and then drying them with a well worn towel. To her left and right are the ancient coffee presses each manned by gents who have roasted, ground, scooped and filled the machines for many years. When I asked one of these artisans how long he was doing it, he replied, “before you were born”. Like the coffee — simple, strong and with feeling.
The coffee is poured and you know yours is ready when your chip has a cup in front of. You grab it and sip from the cup, all the while observing the regulars perched low on a wooden bench. The younger folk at the four high counters talking about life and liberty. The television, high on the wall, has its sound off and the news on. There has been a raid in the center of Paris. Terrorists are dead. Time stands still, drinking coffee as a spiritual activity, total tranquility. Great way to start a trip or end one. Will be back soon.