The best thing about my trip to the Bale mountains is that I never actually made it into the mountains.

Photo not taken in the Bale mountains. The Bale mountains are the small things in the distance.

Photo not taken in the Bale mountains. The Bale mountains are the small things in the distance.

The trip started out on a terrible note. I woke up at 4am to catch the bus from Addis to Bale, and I was not happy about it. The ATM on the way was closed, so I was low on cash and would be for the entire trip. When I reached the bus station, the tickets for the Bale bus were sold out. I was ready to call it quits and go home, when an Habesha (= Ethiopian word for “Ethiopian,” don’t pronounce the “H”) girl decided to take me under her wing and help me get to Bale. She was also ticketless and her destination was her family’s home in Robe, a town in the heart of the Bale region. She decided that we would go together, despite a large communication barrier because she speaks about as much English as I do Amharic. Her name is Mimi.

We caught a bus to Shashemene, home of the Rastas and Mimi’s younger sister, and spent the night. The next day we made our way to Robe, though the trip took longer than usual due to our unexpected stop at a health clinic (see birth on a bus).

For the most part, I like riding Ethiopian buses. You see the real people. You see the countryside. You stop at the local restaurants and shops. But most of all, I like how the long bus rides create a community. The people on the bus are incredibly friendly to each other. They share and trade seats so that everyone is comfortable. They buy kilos of kolo (a traditional snack food) and offer some to everyone. It’s this community feeling that makes the long, hot, dusty bus trips enjoyable.

I spent the weekend plus a few days in Robe with Mimi’s family, where I was received with overwhelming hospitality despite my unexpected arrival. In Ethiopian culture, guests always receive special treatment. A Firenge (= foreigner, or white person) guest receives even more special treatment because it is assumed that they don’t know how to live like an Habesha. On a trip to the weekly market, many people remarked to Mimi and her grandmother that they were very lucky to have a Firenge staying in their house.

To the market and back

To the market and back with Mimi's grandmother

But I didn’t feel like a Firenge at all. For the first time since arriving in Ethiopia, I felt integrated in the culture, if only for a few days. After convincing Mimi’s family that I did not need special Firenge treatment, they immediately incorporated me into their daily life. I ate injera (Ethiopia’s staple food) at every meal, used a traditional toilet, and slept in their beds with them. I practiced my Ethiopian dancing and doubled my Amharic knowledge. I had interesting conversations about religion and government with Mimi’s two younger siblings who spoke English very well. On top of this, they cooked me special traditional meals and washed my clothes as they would do for any guest. Their generosity was immense, and I was proud when they told me my injera-eating technique and dancing skills were just as good as any Habesha’s.

Eating injera

Eating injera

Me, Mimi, and her sister Beta

Me, Mimi, and her sister Beta

Mimi's daughter

Mimi's daughter

I could have gone into the Bale National Park and paid the ridiculous Firenge entrance fee. I didn’t, though, and I didn’t think twice about my change of plans. The mountains will always be there, but an opportunity to build such friendships with an Habesha family are more hard to come by for this Firenge.

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