I duck into the rattling blue tuk tuk of the only driver who seems to maybe recognize where I’m trying to head. We’re heading back through town, past busy streets and stands of eucalyptus. The driver stops in front of a cement block hotel. There are zero cars around. And when my tuktuk driver leaves, it’s strangely quiet. (I try not to think about how I’ll get home.)
Instead, I convince a shyly smiling woman to help me dial Anteneh on the hotel phone, as men watching the soccer game in the next room, stare curiously between both. In another minute, I’m talking to the inspiring young, medical student, himself. Studied abroad, and returned to work at the local hospital, in Gondar, where kids run to him and adults wave.
Strangely exhausted, but camera-loaded and ready to put myself (finally!) to some use, and capture Gondar life, as it is–I’m completely taken back when the party Anteneh invites me to (a gathering of volunteers, local and imported hospital staff) is a real full-blown party.
The metal gates swing open to a giant white house, with a garden nearly taken over by a home-made volleyball net. The first person to greet me is a friendly doctor, in Gondar, from sleepy northeastern US.
It’s hard not to notice a couple flecks of blood on his shaved face — a bad shave, I assume, and hope he’s not a surgeon.
“Welcome to Gondar!” He smiles and shakes my hand. He laughs good-naturedly, “I just slaughtered a goat!”
It’s so unexpected, but yet strangely so normal, I burst out laughing. Then see the deflated carcass and furry head sit in a pool of blood, to the side. “Would you like a beer?”
I break my golden-rule of solo-travel, and accept a cold beer, and dive head first into a dizzying round of introductions, and purposes, and stories. Amazing stories and reasons for being here, in Gondar. From as far as the Philippines and India. From the UK and the states. Even a woman who grew up in the same distant beach town, on the central Oregon coast, where I spent my summers. Doctors, peace corp volunteers, teachers, students-on-a-gap-year.
I, on the other hand, have a laptop, and marketing-skills that will help someone sell 2% more of something back home, and a beaten-down dream of working and traveling abroad and making a difference.
And standing there, as I’m generously offered to share in their celebration, with fresh goat kababs, rice, wat and veggies, I feel the intense disappointment of my own shortcomings in a brutal way. They’re all actually doing something. Something of value. Something that will make a difference.
Whereas, I was drawn here with no amazing purpose, no special life-saving skill, no ability to make a difference. Despite my insistence that this was going to be something different, it’s just more of the same. I’m a tourist. I’ve arrived, I’ve hopped the tourist circuit, I’m cutting my trip short by two months, and dodging a photo opportunity to document a historic HIV/AIDs testing in a small Ethiopian town because I’m not hitting my deadlines, my savings are suffering, my mortgage is looming and I’m wondering how I got this far, without a better plan, without actually doing anything of value…
A wild, no rules game of volleyball in a wild yard turns to soccer, which ends when the light falls and the group heads inside. In some conversation, Meskel comes up. Didn’t I know? It’s the festival (second only to Timkat in December) in just two days. You have to stay in Gondar to see it, they tell me. It’ll be like nothing else, really amazing. People from the villages come for miles. You can adjust your plane ticket in town, easy!
I think of a few more days with these people. I think of working all day tomorrow so I could justify Meskel off. I can’t think of anything better. Yes, I’ll stay!
Like any party anywhere, talk turns to music and dancing. At some point, the friendly and funny doctor (one of many names I cannot remember) and I talk of little-known G. Love & Special Sauce, and that one song. And then he’s finding the song and I’m nearly falling down as we’re in Gondar, Ethiopia, laughing and singing, to my favorite song from the summer when I was 15 and pulling weeds in my parents yard: “I like cold beverages, I like cold beverages..”
Music and beer. The room spins with people dancing and laughing. We sing our hearts out to Michael Jackson, “Billy Jean” and “Bad”. The music shifts to the exotic local songs, the Ethiopians in the group teach us a local dance that feels something like a modified electric-slide along with the art of shoulder-dancing (a series of non-stop shoulder shrugging that feels epileptic, and puts us all in fits of laughter as we try, until it wears our shoulders down to nothing).