Wednesday 10 July 2019

My work trip to Ethiopia

Last year I travelled to Ethiopia. My academic background is in public/global health and at the time I was working at Brighton and Sussex Medical School on a project focusing on neglected tropical diseases in the country. I had been to North Africa before including Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt but had never been to Sub-Saharan Africa so it was an exciting trip. This was also my first time working on a project specialising in a rare neglected tropical disease on the foot/legs. I didn’t know what to expect from Ethiopia. Sadly, the country came to focus in the 1980s with the Band Aid movement because of the widespread famine affecting the country which left 1.2 million people dead. Thankfully those days are long gone and friends who had visited told me the country is vibrant and booming. They were right!

View from my hotel room in Addis Ababa
We travelled to the capital, Addis Ababa in late September after the monsoon rains. As a result, the country was green and lush and the the countryside was stunning. The first three days were taken up by the conference, meetings, interviews and networking. Everything was based in the hotel we were all staying in so I didn’t see much natural light at all! It was lovely to network and meet so many people from diverse backgrounds though, mostly all specialising in global health. When we went out for dinner one night I tried my first typical Ethiopian dish including Injera (Ethiopian flatbread) and Berbere consisting of lentils, tomatoes and spices. Both of these are staples of Ethiopian cuisine and I tried them many more times during my stay. I’m a big coffee drinker and the Ethiopian coffee is one of the best I’ve ever tried. We had a walk amongst the streets late at night and everywhere was full of life. Bars, cafes and the noise and bustle of people chatting on the streets reminded me of India.

With health workers at the clinic near Bahir Dar, northern Ethiopia
After a fairly exhausting three days we flew north to Bahir Dar in the Amhara region in northern Ethiopia, the best part of the trip. Work in the day consisted of visiting a very basic health clinic in the countryside and meeting patients with tropical diseases as well as interviewing and taking photographs of them. We saw how they lived, how treatment in the clinic was offered and how their lives changed for the better after treatment. We had a translator with us and their stories were amazing. Everyone in Ethiopia seems to be incredibly photogenic with each face capturing so many stories. This was a very basic and remote health clinic with an emergency room and delivery room consisting of a hut with the nearest hospital miles away. It really does make you think. After we had interviewed one lovely patient she invited us all back to her home to show us how she lives and works as a farmer. It was such a welcoming gesture. Her home was a very basic hut in the middle of stunning countryside but she seemed happy and told us about her son going to college. 

Patients at the clinic
The stunning scenery around Bahir Dar
Lush and green countryside
There were lots of photo requests from children!
The traditional Ethiopian dance of Eskista (shoulder shaking) 
In the evenings and on the last day we had some free time. Our Ethiopian guide showed us an amazing dancing venue where dancers took part in Eskista, a traditional dance with intense shoulder movement. I have never seen anything like it in my life! It was amazing to watch and the audience could also join in! We had some amazing meals in a beautiful restaurant overlooking Lake Tana, went to a local market and on our last day took a boat trip to several of the island monasteries across the lake. This was a highlight. Not only were there amazing views across the lake from the boat but we travelled to several small islands all with their own individual monasteries. Each monastery contains the most colourful and intricate Christian scenes with each paining telling a unique story in history. On the way back, we even saw a hippopotamus in the lake! 

The most delicious fish meal overlooking Lake Tana
Inside the island monastery on Lake Tana
Paintings for sale outside the monastery 

Amazing wildlife on the lake
Traditional Ethiopian fisherman
I stayed for six days in total and managed to see so many wonderful parts of the country. Many things surprised me. There were poor parts to the country especially when we visited the health clinic in Bahir Dar but Addis Ababa was much more modern than I expected. It was also very clean and cool because of it’s high altitude of 2.355m! When we travelled to Bahir Dar, I realised, to my surprise, that I understood some Amharic! I learnt some Arabic when working in Palestine and didn’t know the two languages were similar! Ethiopia has such a rich history and unique culture that I’d love to return one day. The Ethiopians we met along the way were so friendly and welcoming and I will be forever grateful to our two Ethiopian health leaders/tour guides who escorted us throughout our trip and showed us both sides to the country.

Market life in Bahir Dar
Flying on a little plane back from Bahir Dar back to Addis Ababa
Although this was a work trip and most of my time was tied up with work I’d love to return to the country on holiday and take Pip! I’ve written about how to afford a family holiday, tips for travelling on a budget and for finding a cheap last-minute holiday. There are lots of easy ways to save money for travelling.

If anyone is interested I watched The misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan in Ethiopia and more recently, the Travel Show with Tony Giles, a blind traveller who travels around Ethiopia and proves you don’t need to see to appreciate travel. He also travels to the famous town of Lalibela, a religious site for Coptic Christians, with a particularly moving scene. Both were fascinating documentaries but obviously being in Ethiopia itself was 1000 times better!

* All words and photos are my own. Do not copy without permission. 

Have you been to Ethiopia or surrounding countries? I’d love to hear about your experiences! 😊


  1. What an amazing trip. So nice to see the positive things about the country like the beautiful wildlife, food and the art in the monastery. I really enjoyed reading this

  2. This sounds like such an incredible experience! x

  3. Amazing! I know nothing about traveling all over the country, what a wonderful looking place to explore.


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