Ouch! I only managed to have one hour’s sleep on the plane, but not even two nights of sleep deprivation could dampen my enthusiasm to meet the Partners For Change Ethiopia team – oh yes, and hopefully squeeze in a few London Marathon training-runs.
My night-flight to Addis Ababa sped past after I got chatting to a Somalian entrepreneur called Mohammad whose life-story had all the makings of a film. After his mother passed away, the teenager and his brother were uprooted and sent to London to be raised by their aunt. Mohammad was told that his father was dead. It was a difficult time for Mohammad and his brother and they felt a loss of identity and isolation.
It was only years later that Mohammad discovered that his father, although blind and deaf, was actually still alive and living in Jijiga. Although he cannot communicate with his father due to his health issues, being reunited with him has changed his life. Mohammad now makes regular trips to Ethiopia to help his father and his community, and he has imported a truck for his family, so that they can earn a living.
I was deeply touched by Mohammad’s humility and resilience, and his determination not to regret the past, but instead to use it as a springboard for a better future.
As soon as we entered the airport, we noticed a poster boldly declaring that “Ethiopia is Ebola Free”, and we were given a quick health-check by the onsite medical team, some of whom were wearing masks. We were quizzed about whether we had been to West Africa recently.
At that point, I noticed a mother with two young children carrying a lot of bags. I offered to help her to Passport Control. What I hadn’t realised was that she needed to sort out her tourist visa first, so 45 minutes later (!), we all left the airport, but it was lovely to meet a fellow mum. I still remember how a stranger helped me out with my bags in Johannesburg airport a couple of years ago when I was travelling alone with my boys, Josh and Jack.
After going through Customs, I was met at the airport by Solomon, one of the managers at the Partners For Change Offices in Addis. He mentioned that it was a public holiday in Ethiopia – Adwa Day – which commemorates Ethiopia’s victory over Italy in 1896. Despite the streets being relatively quiet by Addis standards, driving to the hotel was a little hairy, and there was a great deal of dust because a lot of the city is under construction.
I had hoped to log onto the internet immediately, but there was a power-cut in my hotel, and it continued on and off for the rest of the day, but at 11pm, I did manage to make a Skype call home and speak to my husband and eldest son Joshua which was great.
Oh, by the way, one quirky fact about Ethiopia. It’s actually seven years and eight months “behind” the rest of the world because whereas most country adopted the Gregorian calendar some time ago, Ethiopia continues to use the Julian calendar.
One of the many highlights of my first day in Addis was catching up with Mulugeta Gebru, the national director or “father” of Partners For Change in Ethiopia, who is a fantastic ambassador for his country, and over the last 30 years has helped to change thousands of lives. Mulugeta updated me on what the charity has been doing since the event we organised for the 30th anniversary at the House of Commons in October. Partners For Change Ethiopia really has made remarkable progress, and I am sure that I will see plenty of evidence of that this week.
Another memorable moment was doing a dusty 30 minute run in between work meetings. Despite the cacophony on the streets of Addis, my jog was full of surprises and very enjoyable. Just a yards away from where I was staying, I stumbled across a man with his herd of goats, and just around the corner, there was a Coptic Orthodox Church Service taking place. What an adventure! I loved it.
Enough for today. It is wonderful to be back in Ethiopia again. Tomorrow I fly to Dire Dawa to see first-hand all the work the charity is doing in the community of Gende Tesfa….