BTC Ethiopia: Day 5 – Coffee Region and Harrar
Ababa, the national coffee quality officer was joining us, as he had the paperwork to get us in the fields, would act as a guide and teacher, and had essentially helped plan the day’s events.
We left early, as we had a 1.5-hour drive up the mountainside, and then another hour up the mountain highlands. The drive was beautiful with big mountain and valley views and an obviously cooling temperature as we increased altitude.
As we climbed altitude, we saw farms, but we learned that in the last few years, what were once coffee fields had been turned to Khat (chat), hundreds of hectares of nothing but the plant (and amphetamine drug) that has taken eastern Africa by storm. It’s a cash crop, doesn’t require much water, grows like a weed in these parts, and when chewed creates a high that is almost sedative in nature. This reduces motivation and affects all areas of life as any narcotic does. Since the last visit GHNI made to the coffee fields, more Khat has replaced the coffee trees. So much so, that we long passed the area they visited last in pursuit of the big coffee fields we were headed for. After hours, literally, of not arriving at our destination on the most ragged, bumpy roads we had experienced yet, we finally stopped. Not because we arrived, but because it was such a difficult ride up the mountain in the back of that truck, it’s a miracle no one lost their cookies, and people’s backs were really starting to hurt. We were almost 4 hours in, and had an in-exact distance, but at least another hour to go.
As we stopped to discuss what was best for the team’s wellness and reconcile that with the cultural element of having a local government official who had prepared this for us, we encountered some children along the road. We took pictures, talked a bit through some translators, and just enjoyed the rest and stretch from the rugged ride.
The landscape in this area was transporting, like something out of Lord of the Rings… If unicorns were real, this is where you’d expect to see them. High in the mountains, clouds (as low it seemed like you could touch them), lush, damp, green trees and grasses, towering trees (many of which had fallen at the hands of the villagers to sell for timber), affecting the structural integrity of the land.
After deliberation, we decided to go back, not go to the big coffee fields,and head towards our ultimate destination: the holy city of Harrar. We appologized profusely to Ababa, but explained that the road, time, distance and overall roughness of the trip were not good for the team – there was a gap between expectations and reality on this journey, as often happens in developing countries, but this was a bit extreme.
Funny though, sometimes things just work out for the best, and even though we didn’t get to where we were originally supposed to go, we stopped at a few smaller coffee fields on the way down. And it just seemed like it was meant to be. We were happy, healthy, and still got to learn from Ababa touring the coffee trees with us, talking about how they produce, monitor, and harvest the crops.
On many of these trips, we each encounter one or two children that we seem to bond with deeply, for no obvious reason. It was Kat’s turn on this trip – she met Biftu, which means ‘the sun’. They instantly connected and Kat observed that they had very similar body language, personalities and even face shape. You find the most unexpected commonalities and connections when you travel to new places, and this is clearly one that Kat will work to maintain, although that will be extremely difficult. We all felt deep connections to all of the villages, and then had the honor of getting to know children and people who touched our hearts even more deeply.
As we continued our descent down the mountain, we continued to visit another coffee field where we learned of the farmers’ methods, saw a very lush plot of fruitful coffee trees, and where Amanda got the children to say ‘Hi Brandon’ to one of our fellow founders of Changers of Commerce who couldn’t be there.
Once we were on paved road, which when you are driving fast over very rocky, pitted, clay roadways, up a mountain, sitting sideways in the back of a truck, you GREATLY appreciate, we headed to the city of Harrar.
You could tell that Harrar is undergoing major development. A mostly Muslim city, due to it’s holy significance in the Karan, it is a very cool city. Lots of development and a mix of very new and extremely old (not just old, ancient). Harrar is famous for its highland coffee region, but also for its many ancient gates still remaining from hundreds of thousands of years ago, many of which frame the entrance to their famous market. We enter the market, it is busy, crazy, spice filled – goats and children are everywhere – fresh fruit, baskets, rows and rows of jelly shoes and spices line the alley ways. It’s hard not to step in goat poop or on a child, or on each other, but you figure it out.
Amanda buys Kat some jellies, the rest of the group tours, takes pictures and gets occasionally visited by people who want their picture with us or those who just want to speak English with us… and a few who ask for money. Although this is such a fertile, growing, and alive city, there is still absolute abject poverty all around.
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