Sarah Tolessa of Marion took her two sons, Hap and Anderson Waddell, to Ethiopia for a month during the summer. To hear Hap and Anderson talk about the trip, it sounds like one big safari. But Tolessa had other reasons for making the trip. How many elementary school teachers get a chance to present in front of an international audience?
It was her third trip to Ethiopia in a little over a year. She went to the country in eastern Africa in the summer of 2011, at the invitation of a friend, to volunteer with Ethiopia Reads, a charity that trains librarians, teachers, and school administrators on how to get more use from books in schools.
Tolessa found the experience rewarding enough to make two return trips to Ethiopia in about a year.
Tolessa said people have been surprised when she tells them how mild the temperatures were during the trip to Ethiopia. It was cooler in Ethiopia for most of the time they were there, with highs in the mid to upper 80s. The reason for the mild temperatures is that Ethiopia is very mountainous. They spent most of their time in Addis Ababa, the capital city, which is at an elevation of about 7,700 feet above sea level.
Tolessa and her sons did go on a trip to southern Ethiopia, where they saw a bunch of safari-favorite animals, such as crocodiles, hippos, zebras, gazelle, monkeys, baboons, and hyenas.
“We were in a little metal boat, and one of them (crocodiles) swam right under our boat and scraped along the whole length,” Tolessa said.
As frightening as the crocodiles were, Hap got a bigger scare from Ethiopia’s mosquitoes. The family took precautions, including getting 11 shots before going and using mosquito nets while sleeping in the south, but Hap came down with malaria for about two days. One night he got tangled up in his mosquito net, was bitten by a bunch of mosquitoes, and got ill.
“It’s horrible,” Hap said, saying he hurt all over and was sleepy the entire time.
Hap wasn’t much of a fan of the local cuisine, either. Most meals consisted of injera, a kind of flat bread, almost like a pancake, made from teff flour and served with stew on top.
Anderson said he was interested in how Ethiopians built their homes, using whatever materials were available.
“Going to Ethiopia is like going back in time,” Tolessa said. Farmers plow their fields with oxen, they carry water home instead of relying on plumbing, and animals are everywhere.
“In Ethiopia, there aren’t fences; the animals just roam,” she said.
Tolessa also met a man named Maranata during her first trip to Ethiopia, and they quickly hit it off. When she returned to Ethiopia in March, they got married.
The trip this summer was her sons’ first time to meet Maranata face-to-face. Tolessa said they are getting close to having all of the arrangements made for Maranata to move to the U.S., after beginning the process in April.