Birthday Blog

January is a birthday month in our house and it coincided with sister Pat’s retirement trip to Ethiopia, so this year we celebrated together. Our trip took us through the Rift Valley Lakes and on the night of the 12th, stayed at an “Eco Lodge” in Chencha, a village set high in the hills overlooking the valley. The guidebooks warn you it’s likely to be cold and rainy, and at an altitude of almost 3,000 metres, that’s not surprising. They were partly right, but we arrived in glorious sunshine, with great views back over Lake Abeya , Ethiopia’s second-largest lake.
The village is home to the Dorze people, famed for cotton weaving and tall beehive shaped houses (our rooms for the night). The houses are built with bamboo sticks woven with grass and false banana leaves. The “false banana” plant played a big part in the tour and seems to be useful for everything apart from producing bananas. A “design feature” of the houses is that they can be lifted and moved in their entirety when the base starts to rot or is chewed by termites.
We walked around the village and saw many of the local crafts including cotton spinning (done by the women) and hand operated looms in action (operated by the men). The Dorze cotton products are said to be some of the best in Ethiopia. The weaving association takes commissions, including producing the “shammas” for Ethiopian airlines staff. Pat modelled one of theirs when we visited. A major failing of mine since we’ve been in Ethiopia is being unable to pass a scarf stall without being tempted. So the amazing range available could be described as scarf heaven or scarf hell!

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The evening celebrations started with a glass of local Araki, then after the walk we finished in a local mead house (tej bet) otherwise known as “high school” serving honey wine. Apparently this name gives everyone an excuse to go there regularly. Then it was back to the Lodge for eats with the other guests, followed by “entertainment”. This seemed to be a chance for any of the locals to call in, especially those who fancied joining in with the music and dancing. Pat and I were of course obliged to and were glad we did as they were very generous with gifts for us then and the day after.
The Lodge works well with the community and as our guidebook said it is one of the places where tourism has been turned into a positive for the local community. The following morning we visited a “Kindergarten” which is a sort of extra school that Mekonen, the Lodge owner, runs mainly for orphans. Not only did we see how well they learn the alphabet and counting in three different languages, but also their progress in dancing. The local dance is a great “butt shaker”. Later, when we’d stopped to look at the views as we drove back down to the Lake, we met a group of girls and young women singing and clapping as they carried their loads up the hill. It was a lovely sound and a lovely moment, especially as it gave Ba’by our driver a chance to show off his dancing too.
All in all, a great place to spend a birthday. I hope our Aunt Eileen and Uncle Gordon in East Yorkshire see this blog and a special hello to them! Also, Happy Birthday to all our friends with January birthdays – Lesley, Ally, Cathy’s dad, Roger and Anthony (and any we’ve missed).

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