Cliff Hanger

My Grand Adventure The Hike Part Two

Turns out we have gotten to a place that is more cliffs than caves.

Beautiful though, Bedele monkeys hooting and swinging in the distance, water dripping on the sheer rock faces. Everyone is now taking pictures.

Guess who is popular?

Every person there wants their picture with me.

Who cares if he looks like a corpse, he’s white. I oblige and put on my best face and later sunglasses. Half the people wanted pictures on my phone. Looking back on those pictures gives me a kick now. My face red as the Chick-fil-A logo (man would I do awful things for a Chick-fil-A sandwich), sweat splashing down my cheeks and glacier, empty eyes betraying the smile on my face. In one picture I am with a teenage boy, young women my age, and middle-aged man in camo attire. Not the weirdest picture I would take today.


About 10 minutes in I am done with my button down shirt and strip down to my wifebeater. Cultural norms be damned, no one cared.

Another 15 minutes go by and some Oromians (Country Ethiopia, Region Oromia, City Lalo) in traditional garb make it to the cliffside. 6 men in body length white gowns and 4 women in lime green body length dresses. Not a speck of dirt on any of them.

I look down and see dirt on my crotch, I mean, how?

They get pictures together, women crouched in front of the men, cute stuff, poses like my little league baseball pictures. Then I hear the dreaded words. “Foreingi! John! John!” Oh god no. The red color drained from my face into a deathly pale. I scramble for my shirt but they just grab my arm and pull me in.


It felt like I was on an Ethiopian red carpet with the amount of cameras in my face. Me, front and center in the middle of 10 delightfully dressed Ethiopians. Me, backwards hat, wifebeater, crotch stained dress pants and all.

I am so sorry Ethiopia and America.

To be fair they didn’t care one bit. On the walk back I obliged the request of the teenage boy who wanted to carry my backpack for me. Any strength, pride and dignity long since forgotten on the cliffs of the Ethiopian rainforest.


The walk back isn’t so bad, all downhill. We get back to a small hut and music is blaring. Ethiopians love to blast music. It’s time for a celebration.

Khalid drags me into the center of the hut and gives me a seat front and center. I’ve learned to accept the preferential treatment and show gratitude, protests are seen as disrespectful.


Plus, it has its perks, I get the seat with the most leg room on any Ethiopian bus, right next to the driver.

Right as the celebration is going to begin it is time for a torrential rainstorm. Remember, I’m in the rainforest. Everyone gets jammed packed together. I’m right in the center. Now, I’m not claustrophobic by any means, but being packed in like sardines into an unlit hut will make anyone uneasy. There was no room to sit anymore because everyone was huddling to get under cover. Nothing to do but wait it out.

Not so bad, but one Ethiopian practice I don’t like is whenever I get quiet they say “dubadhu” or “taphadhu” “talk” and “play.” It’s tough to talk or play on command with a language I have only been learning for 3 months. This compounded with being surrounded with bored Ethiopians and being exhausted myself made for an overwhelming experience.

After 10 minutes I ran out of things to say. So I figure I just won’t respond. That led to them being worried something was wrong. John, are you sick? Are you okay? Do you want some coffee?!

I only have the language skills to say yes I’m fine, not to explain I just want to zone out and be left alone. And, yes, I got coffee. After an hour delay the rain had finally let up enough to start the celebration. Great, I couldn’t take much more. It’s frustrating because I know they mean well.

The music shakes the hut, the traditionally garbed folks come out and dance their hearts out. The most prominent Ethiopian dance is hands on the hips, feet in rhythm and shoulders shaking violently. As if there is a massive tarantula on your shoulders and it’s impossible to shake off. I have yet to see even the most suave Americans have a hint of respectability.

I, of course, go head-on into the dance and accept my foolishness.

Ethiopians love every second of it. Any feelings of being tired or overwhelmed whisked away with the laughter and joy the Ethiopians have at seeing me dance. Mostly laughter.


After a half hour Garama pulls me aside and says it’s time to go. Back to the Isuzu (they also have the nickname of Obama, why? I have no idea). Jammed packed with another 50 Ethiopians we head back to Lalo.

This time with mostly boys my age. They break into song, everyone but me knowing the words by heart.

I look off into the vibrant, green trees enjoying the chorus.


3 thoughts on “Cliff Hanger

  1. It is just so fun to read his comments and see the photos. I love the way you, John, want to fit in and be a part of the whole experience. I love how you go along with learning customs along with language and all the nuances of just being there. You are so “right” for this whole assignment and this form of serving your country. Your smile and your arms around all the people speaks volumes about your whole experience there. Rock on.


  2. You are so blessed to be so immersed among these people and that they seem to take to you so easily and so completely. Perhaps when they ask you to “talk” or “play” you could respond by asking them to teach you more words in their language. Turn it around to a letting them teach you. Maybe that would fill the time, but take some pressure off you to come up with what to do. Just a thought. Love these writings.


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