When my flight was officially booked for Ethiopia and Rwanda, I felt a flood of emotions. I was excited, of course, but also nervous about what this faraway place had in store for me. I can be a bit of a worrywart, so between thinking about how long it would take, flying alone, what illnesses I could potentially get and what the food would be like, I was letting my mind get the best of me.
As I get older, I’ve realized that being scared or nervous can be one of the best things. Usually when I feel this way, I am doing something outside of my comfort zone of my day to day life. Times like these have challenged and pushed me, but for the most part, they have been hugely rewarding.
When I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was exhausted, but my heart was racing with excitement to get off the plane and start this new experience. The worst part for me, the long journey there, was over. Ethiopia blew me away. The city for the most part is quite developed. It has malls, movie theaters, spas and delicious restaurants. I was not expecting to receive massages and have incredible meals while I was there, but I happily welcomed that. That is not to undermine the extreme poverty, pollution and overpopulation in areas as well. Those parts were very humbling, at times heartbreaking, and made me very aware of exactly where I was.
My favorite place during in Ethiopia was Lake Awassa, which is a few hours outside the city. The city life was nice but I found the peace I had heard so much about here. Our hotel was beautiful. We could watch the most colorful sunsets ( below ), have fresh fruit smoothies and watch animals wander in their natural habitat. We watched monkeys playing around (sometimes in our room) and hippos surfacing right outside our doorway! We were also able to go for long runs outside in the fresh clean air. It was perfect.
From Ethiopia, we went to Rwanda. I was completely in awe of the natural beauty, landscapes and greenery of this country. Waking up, having coffee and looking at this scenery was so serene. I absolutely loved Kigali, but my favorite place in Rwanda was Lake Kivu. This was a few hours away from the city and the drive to get there was almost as stunning as the actual lake. The ride took us through rolling green mountains and into smaller villages outside the city. We tried food from local markets on the side of the road (so good!) and were able to get the feel for villages and the people in them. One thing that really got to me was how hard working everyone was. As soon you can you walk, you’re helping the village in some way. Some little ones carried big buckets of water on their heads, other had barrels of oil to cook dinner. Many of these kids were walking long distances and up steep hillsides. I couldn’t help but notice the big and beautiful smiles on all of their faces – how happy so many seemed without all of the “necessities” we so often take for granted here in the US. They work hard, live simply and live presently. This way of living gets away from so many of us during our everyday lives.
Kivu was a weekend full of wonderful people, beaches, dancing, drinks, homemade dinners and new friendships. The peace felt there was unlike any place I have ever experienced. In our bungalow, at Palm Garden Resort, we woke up to stunning sunrises and fell asleep to multi-colored sunsets. We danced until the early hours of the morning at a local club/restaurant, White Rock, tunes included Rihanna and Beyonce on repeat ( I didn't hate it). We were disconnected from the outside world and were able to really just be present with each other and the people around us. The background of volcanoes, lakes and sunsets wasn’t too shabby either. It was the highlight of my trip.
While I was so fortunate to experience these beautiful and serene parts of Ethiopia and Rwanda, this lifestyle is far from a reality for a majority of the people that live there. Too many people live in extreme poverty. In the refugee camps, families have been displaced from their homes and sometimes separated from their family members. They are living on top of each other and away from everything. Seeing these situations was obviously difficult and it made my heart just ache. It’s a hard but true reminder that whenever you are having a hard or sad day, there is always someone wishing they had your problems instead of their own.
Africa was a game changer. My heart will forever be affected by the places I was able to see and the lifelong friendships that were created. Everywhere we went people were generous, welcoming and excited to share the love of their countries with me. They reminded me to live more fully, to be more selfless and to appreciate the beauty of this world around us. Thank you to everyone that made this experience what it was. Until next time :)