Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

Monday, December 27, 2010

Searching for Dube, but Dube Found Me

For those of you following my blog semi-regularly, I posted a story about a boy named Dube a while ago. Ethiopia is a country where kids have a horrible reputation for harassing tourists, scamming, begging, throwing rocks, and being drunk or high. These are, of course, the most extreme examples, but they sadly are often what tourists remember of the children when they visit Bahir Dar. The ‘bad kids’ can ruin an outsider’s impression of street boys, and that impression can lead to negativity.

I’m guilty of it. In the beginning, the kids were hilarious. Then the honeymoon ended, and the near-constant shouts and begging from children turned me into a slightly bitter person. After continuing to live in Bahir Dar for some months, I became more aware of the problems in Ethiopian society that cause these boys to live on the streets and behave the way they do. Plus, in the end, boys will be boys. I’m sure I yelled offensive things at people when I was young too.

We foreigners here are pretty easy targets, so we seem to get the brunt of this behavior. Other than having rocks thrown at me, I’ve become much more sympathetic and patient about the harassment.

A friend of mine described it best. 95% of all Ethiopians, young and old, are very polite and reserved. Unfortunately, the ones that are obnoxious are so loud, bold, and mean that they can ruin your whole day. It’s easy to associate the irritating behavior of one with all the others. Being here for more than 2 years, I was lucky enough to move past the bad first impressions and start to understand the larger forces at work here.

This brings us to Dube. He is one of the boys that were able to show me the other side of kids in Bahir Dar. He is very polite, honest, and humble. When placed amongst the loud boys, it would be easy for him to go completely unnoticed because of his calm demeanor. That calm demeanor, though, is exactly what makes him great.

Having no way to contact him, the times we would see each other were always by chance. Today, one of our chance meetings happened. I was leaving the post office, feeling slightly annoyed that my mother’s Christmas package hadn’t arrived yet. Walking back toward town, I heard his familiar voice calling my name from my left. He was sitting on a blue bicycle that has to be from 1970 and has only pegs for pedals. The poor condition of his ride was in contradiction with his personal appearance, though. He was looking a bit heavier, and thus healthier. New clothes had replaced the rags I remember him wearing. And as always, he was sporting his huge grin with deep dimples.

I took him to a small juice shop where we enjoyed some cold, thick, layered juices of mango, avocado, and guava. Him trying to practice his remarkable English, and me my meager Amharic, we had a bilingual conversation about school and family. He again impressed me with his photographic memory, recalling things from our friendship with vivid detail. Then we sat in awe as a bright yellow Hummer H2 with plates from Sudan drove up and down the road, drawing attention from the bajaj drivers and pedestrians. Not a common site in our small city by the lake.

The conversation eventually turned to me asking about how he thinks he will do over the next few months after I leave. I don’t take care of him in any way right now, and he does seem to be doing quite well compared to when I met him. In any case, Dube now has a mobile phone, so I’m getting him in touch with the staff at the New Day Children’s Centre to see if he can benefit from their services in any way. In a perfect world, the linkage will happen and Dube will be able to get better scores in school, eventually going on to university and fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor. If anyone deserves a leg up in this world, it’s him. He is too bashful to ever ask for anything from me, but that too is part of his charm.

It was good to see him. I now have his phone number, so I’ll make sure to share one final technicolor juice with him before I leave for Low2High.

Me and Dube on the main road in Bahir Dar. Ethiopian crafts for sale hanging behind us.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Back into the Training Routine

I’m feeling better today. After cheating and having 2 lazy days for Christmas, I’m back into my training routine and getting motivated for the expedition again.

My exercise routine now consists of waking up at 5:45 am, and heading our running at 6am. I run toward the road to Addis Ababa, and then up and down a large hill 3 times. From the top of the hill, I get a beautiful vista of Lake Tana and can watch the city slowly wake up. The run takes about 70 minutes round trip, and is great for both cardiovascular endurance and for strengthening my leg muscles on the big hill.

In the evening, I do 60 minutes of calisthenics working my upper body and core. I use a resistance band and body weight to work my arms, shoulders, back, and abs. After that, I take the fully loaded bike out for a ride around town. I ride for 60 minutes continuously, never stopping, and if possible, constantly pedaling (not coasting down the gradual hills). All said, it’s 3 hours of training, every day. I'm lean and fit, and that's exactly what I need for Low2High.

After the morning run and evening bike ride, I drink a whey protein shake. Other than that, most of my protein comes from eggs. I eat sheep and goat meat in restaurants, but rarely cook it in my house. I weigh 175 pounds, so I try to consume 175 grams of protein throughout the day. Some days, it’s hard to pull off. I’m pretty sick of my high-protein food options lately, so I often end up eating the other local foods that are made of vegetables. Food is such a comfort, so at least if I chose a non-high-protein option, it’s because it’s a food I crave and it improves my mood.

Getting back into my routine is helping to focus my mind again. It was hard to feel homesick after speaking with my family on Christmas, but the mentally calming effect of exercising has grounded me. I’m ready to do this thing!

My days are now spent saying goodbyes, packing, and taking care of logistics. I’m exhausted. I have to do a lot of to get out of here, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since I’ve lived here for 2 years. I had a good break for Christmas, and will have a good New Years party, but with the rest of my time I’m phasing out of Peace Corps and prepping for Low2High: Africa.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hearing Family, Longing for Home

Christmas was great. Some friends and I went out on a boat on Lake Tana and enjoyed the company of a pod of hippos. Three adults and one baby seemed to be toying with us until they got a bit close to our metal-hulled boat, forcing us to back off. We brought two boys from the New Day Children’s Centre and a young girl from Dangila. After a quick stop at Debre Mariyam monastery, we returned to dry land to cook our Christmas feast.

Beef stew, mac’n’cheese, mashed potatoes, and cornbread. What a meal! I ate until I felt sick, and then at 10pm (2pm New York time) my family called. Right on time.

While this third Christmas in Ethiopia was by-far the most festive, talking to my family as they trickled into my grandmother’s house reminded me of how much I miss home. The commotion of a party growing in size, the familiar sound of my grandmother’s laugh, and even the dirty jokes being not-so-quietly repeated all reminded me of the joy of being with family around the holidays.

A few moments later, I was off the phone and settled in for a movie with my friends. It was hard to focus on the movie as I kept thinking of home. For the first time since I seriously started preparing for Low2High, I had doubts.

I don’t doubt that I can do this. I don’t doubt that I’m prepared and will have a great time. What I am starting to doubt is my decision to stay in Africa a bit longer without a break. I have been in Ethiopia for more than 2 years already. It’s been hard being away from my old life sometimes, yet I’m staying an extra few months to do what will probably be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Before Peace Corps, I served in AmeriCorps for 2+ years in Sacramento, New Orleans, and Saint Louis. Far from my native Western New York. Sometimes, I feel like it’s time to throw in the towel and just go home.

This doesn’t mean I’m backing out. In fact, watching donations come in through is motivating me even more, and as a result, I’m now fully committed. I can’t back out now. The people that are donating their hard-earned, recession-weakened paychecks want to see me attempt this thing, win or lose. All it means is that my family is still important to me, and being away for a few more months is going to make this even harder. When I finally make it home, I’m spending some quality time.

I have made a budget that accounts for food, shelter, water, miscellaneous, etc. during Low2High. I’m now convinced that spending a little extra money on communication will not be a luxury, but a necessity.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

For info on life in Ethiopia at Christmas time,  read my guest-blog update at

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Catastrophic Bicycle Failure

Today, I had a major failure on my bike. The pedal is tearing away from the hub at the weld. It's a nasty break, and I can't fix it. It happened while riding to work this morning, with only 2 weeks left in Bahir Dar before I go on to Addis Ababa, and then Djibouti. The bad news - I don't have time to fix it. The good news - I have 2 bikes, and my shitty, Chinese-made, Ethiopia-bought 'Phoenix Fashion' is the one that broke! The Trek 820 for Low2High is still good to go.

Big crack where it's coming apart at the seem.
Both pedals going upward. The right pedal now spins free and leans outward.
A new bike of this model in Ethiopia costs roughly $100 USD. I asked a repair shop if it could be welded, and they said no. So, to replace the whole casing would be about $30 USD. I remember back to my puke-green '94 Ford Taurus I had in college. Her name was Zola. After 200,000 miles, the transmission died and I drove it everywhere in 2nd gear, all the time. It wasn't worth repairing, so I scrapped it. I feel that this bike will have a similar fate. I was going to sell it before I left, but the brakes are shit, the tires are shit, and now the pedals are shit. It's barely a bike anymore.

I can pilfer some parts from it. The pedals themselves, the tires, spokes, chain links, brake cables, and the seat are all interchangeable with my Trek. Also, the rain fenders might fit. I haven't tried to swap them yet, but some rain protection would be nice. I'll spend tomorrow stripping the Phoenix down to it's basic parts and seeing what I can use.

This is exactly why I've had 2 bikes. This cheap bike was my daily rider. It's less likely to be stolen, and it prevents wear on the Trek. Even though this bike is busted, and I now have to take taxis for the my 2 weeks, at least it wasn't the Trek that broke. That said, I got the Trek used from another Peace Corps volunteer who had ridden it around Africa for a while. I don't know how much abuse it has taken since I didn't get it new. All I can do is take caution on rough roads, and bring spares of as many parts as I can.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spanish Imposition

Tonight was a good night of drinking beer, cracking jokes, and drawing fake mustaches onto people's faces. I went to a dinner party with a Spanish couple, and some of our friends from Japan, Korea, and Germany all came out. It was a very international night.

We played some drinking games, and had a good laugh at the expense of each other. There was a part of the game where I had to let everyone draw on my face, and I ended up looking ridiculous. It was the kind of night I needed to decompress a bit.

Earlier today, I was able to get some spare parts for my Trek mountain bike at the local market. The shitty Chinese bikes that they sell here (I have a 'Phoenix Fashion'!) have the same size tires, so I was able to pick up 10 extra spokes for 10 birr (about 65 cents USD) each, and 2 extra tires for 120 birr (about $7 USD) each. It's good to know that my wheels are taken care of. I just need to get some new brake pads, and I'm all set with my bicycle gear.


Friday, December 17, 2010

3o Days

The Low2High: Africa expedition will official begin in 30 days on the shore of Lake Assal, Djibouti. Final preparations are being made to prepare my body and all my equipment for 3 months of cycling through east Africa.

At this point, before the expedition even starts, it's overwhelming to think about what I'm going to attempt to do. To ease my mind, I break it up into stages, and each stage into smaller goals. Trying to think about everything that needs to happen before I trek up the edge of Uhuru Peak almost makes me nauseous. This is the largest project I've ever put together, and from January 16 on, it's a solo journey. I know that once I'm on the road, I can only plan one or two days at a time or I risk mental exhaustion.

The first stage is the bicycle tour from Lake Assal, Djibouti to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I think that Addis will be a good opportunity to take a break. It's a familiar city, I have contacts there, and I'll be able to sort out my remaining visas. The second stage is the longest, cycling from Addis Ababa to Moshi, Tanzania. From southern Ethiopia on, it will be unfamiliar turf for two solid months through four countries. Stage 3, I get off the bike and trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I'm feeling good. I am in shape, and my bicycle is ready. The last remaining equipment I need is for the documentary. I have made arrangements to get a microphone and camera clamp into Ethiopia which will aid in my filmmaking. Once that gear arrives, all my equipment will be sorted.

To close out Peace Corps, I need to travel to Addis Ababa and sign some documents. I will do that next month, and while I'm there I will get my visa for Djibouti and a new Ethiopian visa. I'll be here as a tourist when I come back through, and my current work visa will no longer be valid. Ethiopia might not let me have 2 valid visas at the same time (one working, one tourist), so I might have to get my Ethiopian tourist visa in Djibouti City before I come back through. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Learning Some New Languages

If there’s one thing Peace Corps has shown me, it’s that knowing a little bit of local language can simplify things. Amharic has, and continues to kick my ass. For me, it’s been a ridiculously hard challenge to learn this language, and the lazy part of me has become dependent on the fact that most of my friends and coworkers speak English quite well.

Even though my Amharic may be sub-par by Peace Corps standards, I still know enough to get by, which seems to always impress Ethiopians. I find that showing a little language skill gives me immediate street cred. It makes Ethiopians take notice, and bonds are formed more quickly. People trust me sooner. It also helps when negotiating prices, since I can hear the side conversations people may be having about money. Even if I don’t understand, I can pretend I do, and people seem to give me more fair prices as a result.

Amharic is the national language of Ethiopia, but not everyone speaks it. There are 80 million people here, speaking 88 different languages and dialects that have evolved from centuries of isolation. So, Amharic will get me through most, but not all of Ethiopia. What other languages can I expect to encounter on Low2High: Africa? To name a few – Arabic, Afari, Somali, Oromifa, Sidaminya, Swahili, and French. There’s no way I can master any of these languages in the short time I have, but that doesn’t mean I’m just winging it.

The first country I am going to is Djibouti, so I’ve been learning a little French from podcasts I was able to download when I visited the States in June. I've had no prior experience with French, despite growing up on the Canadian border. Remember that scene in 'Canadian Bacon' where the Anti-Canadian American rebels were pulled over because the graffiti on their truck was only in English, and not duplicated in French? Classic. Didn't Michael Moore direct that movie?

I’ve also been learning a bit of Arabic over time from a woman in Bahir Dar that used to live in Harar. She is a seamstress and works next to my lovely bread lady. She started teaching me Arabic words after I taught her the lyrics to some Michael Jackson songs. No joke. Arabic will be useful in Djibouti and eastern Ethiopia. From there, I can rely on Amharic and English again until Kenya. While traveling through Ethiopia I will cram some Swahili, which will be useful in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

Podcasts and prasebooks until my brain turns to liquid shit. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s a plan nonetheless.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rookie Filmmaker

The idea of filming Low2High: Africa is exciting to me. I want to show the reality of my life on a bike in east Africa for 3 months. However, I have no clue what I’m doing.

I want the expedition to shape the film, and not the other way around. Filming will naturally alter some things as I go, and maybe I’ll make slightly different decisions as a result. Even though completing the expedition is higher priority than making the film, I’m still aiming to make a decent documentary that can be used for further fundraising for the New Day Children’s Centre and possibly open the door for me to get sponsorship for future expeditions.

This past weekend, my friend Sher gave me a crash-course in filmmaking. She will be advising me throughout Low2High on all issues related to the filming by acting as my consultant-by-email. Hopefully, if I have any questions from the road, she will be able to get me sorted.

In addition, I’m investing some of my budget in film equipment. I am borrowing two cameras, but the onboard microphones record sub-par audio. I am buying an external shotgun microphone to hopefully fix the problem. I’m also buying a clamp, so I can fix one of the cameras to anything, including the bike itself. I imagine that most of the filming will take place off the bike, while I’m walking around a town, sitting in a camp or hotel, or enjoying a vista of landscape or wildlife.

I’ve been learning the technical side of filmmaking, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around how to tell a story with a video camera. The storytelling seems abstract from where I’m sitting now, but it’s something I want to have a good grasp of before I start out. I’m open to any and all suggestions about making this film.


Sunday, December 12, 2010


I’m doing research on the possibility of riding into Somaliland during Low2High: Africa. It’s not necessary for the route to Kilimanjaro, but I think it would be an interesting country to visit. The security situation in the capital, Hargeisa, seems to be relatively secure, but it’s hard to find information on the rest of the country.

The little information I can find seems to be polarized. One source will say that the security situation is generally safe, and Somaliland is building its tourism industry. Another will say that it’s overrun with pirates, Al Shabab, and bandits. As with all situations that prompt contrasting reports, the reality probably lies somewhere in the middle. The only semi-consistent piece of information I read is that to travel in or out of Hargeisa by land, tourists must pay for and be accompanied by an armed guard.

If it ends up being too much hassle, or seems dangerous, then I’ll skip Somaliland and travel from Djibouti to Ethiopia via Dire Dawa as planned. However, a visa for Somaliland can be easily obtained in Addis Ababa, so I can’t help but wonder if I could bike through it. The plan in my head would be go travel from Djibouti City across the border to Saylaac, Somaliland, then south and east to Hargeisa, and then northeast to Las Geel and eventually Berbera on the coast. I’d then double back on myself, and go back through Hargeisa on my way to Jijiga, Ethiopia.

The only people I can find online who have actually cycled in Somaliland are Riaan Manser during his circumnavigation of the African continent, who was denied entry by bike and had to fly into Hargeisa and then rent a bike, and Kate Leeming who bicycled through Somaliland and eventually Puntland on her bicycle tour from the westernmost to easternmost points of Africa, but she did the final leg accompanied by several armored vehicles and government officials.

The purist in me wants Low2High to be a truly solo expedition, and not rely on armed guards. Maybe that’s something I’ll need to sacrifice anyway since I can’t climb Kilimanjaro without a guide as per park regulations. However, if I suddenly become dependent on several guns-for-hire to make an unnecessary side trip, then maybe I’m being too ambitious and am losing site of what Low2High really is; a human-powered, solo expedition.


PS - How was my use of that semicolon? I've never fully understood those damned things.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Documentary in the Works

There's been talk for months of filming Low2High for a documentary to be released after I return from Kilimanjaro. I'd be filming it all myself as I travel through East Africa. Low2High will still be a solo expedition. No camera crew for Kyle! My friend, Sher, and I have been figuring out the logistics of carrying camera gear on the bicycle, capturing quality audio, keeping the batteries charged, and creating backups of all the raw footage. It's proving to be a bit elaborate, but not unreasonably difficult.

I'm still learning how to use the cameras, and how to make a watchable film. Sher is spending her weekend giving me a crash course in filmmaking. In the meantime, she went with me yesterday to the New Day Children's Centre where we interviewed the manager, Fikeru. We're also focusing on getting some footage of Bahir Dar and some new promotional photos for the Low2High blog and facebook pages.

One thing I'm keeping in mind is the large number of survival shows out there right now. While I'm taking some filmmaking pointers from Les Stroud ("Survivorman"), the last thing I want to do is imitate him or Bear Grylls ("Man Vs. Wild"). This won't be a film about survival. It'll be about life in Africa, and one man's travels through this vast continent on a bicycle. It's not going to be an instructional video on how to wring drinking water out of elephant crap or footage of me eating live insects. If I get hungry, I'll stop in a village and order some food at a restaurant. Deal with it!

The idea of filming Low2High is exciting to me. Even though I won't be able to release anything until summer 2011, I think I'll enjoy the filming process during the expedition.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Low2High Pic of the Day

Visit the Low2High facebook page to see the Pic of the Day. Some will be of me training, others of the New Day Children's Centre, and some will be complete nonsense. It's as much for my entertainment as it is for yours.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sense of Urgency, or Lack Thereof

I am frustrated beyond words right now. My primary assignment is not with the New Day Children’s Centre, but with an NGO that shall remain nameless right now. Today was the due date for my final assignment, an international grant application. I worked on it for weeks, and it’s been ready for about 6 days now. I’ve just been waiting for my NGO to give me one document, our audit report, which needed to be attached. After weeks of trying, no one can produce this common and public document. Every manager should have a digital copy. Now, after all the work I did, the deadline has passed. The organization will not get the money, and all my work was for not. The answer I received from the staff; “You can have it tomorrow”.

The deadline was TODAY! ‘Tomorrow’ is not only a false timeframe that is synonymous for ‘whenever the fuck I get around to it’ in the Ethiopian workplace, it’s also what they’ve been telling me every day for weeks when I ask about the report. Tomorrow is now a day too late. The application is finished, but we lost because of a missing attachment.

There’s no way of knowing if we ever would have won the grant, or how competitive we even would have been. I’m disappointed that tens-of-thousands of (US) dollars could have funded projects here, but because of simple poor work ethic, we are now disqualified. Potential future income: gone.

This is one of those days where I can’t wait to hit the road, and be free of work obligations. Set my own pace. To Kilimanjaro (whenever the fuck I get there)!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Finding Dube

The street boys in Bahir Dar have a wide range of reputations, mostly negative. For many reasons, a lot of boys come from families that cannot afford to put them through school, so they works as shoe shiners, minibus doormen, or selling small items like tissue paper and lottery tickets. Others have no job at all, so they wander the streets, sometimes drunk or high on Chat. The ones who work are often so persistent in their attempts to sell things to tourists that they can be quite off-putting. The ones who drink or get high can be obnoxious, and even dangerous.

All these preconceived notions toward street boys make it hard to give them the benefit of a doubt. A little over a year ago, I met Dube. He's a smart, funny, and kind-hearted boy, who attends school in the mornings, but has to work his afternoons to help support his family. It's amazing to watch him charm the tourists with his impressive English speaking and honest approach. He never tries to scam anyone, and is upfront about just looking for honest pay for honest work, like carrying bags or guiding people to their destinations. While many of his peers are ripping people off and doing drugs, he's sticking to his morals and getting by with integrity.

Whenever I run into Dube, he's always warm, and remembers not only my name, but detailed accounts of what I've told him over these last 12 months. I honestly enjoy his company, and he's been a huge help with some small tasks, like buying souvenirs at a fair price. In exchange, I'll buy him a juice or some lunch. Never soda, never coffee. Something nutritious. I also bought him an English dictionary when he got me out of a jam.

I don't know where he lives, and he doesn't have a phone. I haven't seen him in a couple weeks, which is no reason to be alarmed, but I want to find him. Before I leave, I want to see if there's anything I can do to help him. I'm not in a position to send money after 4 years of living on a very tight budget, and sending money just creates dependency on outsiders. I want to be sure he has a plan to finish school, and doesn't end up carrying bags for tourists for the rest of his life. I have a couple weeks left, so I'm going to get him in touch with some local organizations before I go that could help him and his family. He's earned his stripes.

Sometimes the system works. Let's hope this can be one of those times.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Live from my Mosquito Net, It's Saturday Night

The mosquitoes that Bahir Dar is known for are out in full force tonight. I'm taking refuge under my mosquito net, especially since it's malaria season.

Changing of the Guard - Tonight I met with 5 new Peace Corps Volunteers that have just finished training. They are starting their 2 years of service in Ethiopia today, which is coincidentally the 2 year anniversary of my arrival in Ethiopia. It felt good to meet them, and I believe that the Peace Corps is getting stronger here, and I'm leaving Ethiopia in good hands.

I received an email today from the Hamburg Sun newspaper about doing an interview for an article about Low2High. It's the local paper from my hometown of Hamburg, NY, which is just south of Buffalo. Hopefully the interview will happen next week, and an article will be published soon after. Since Low2high is a fundraiser for the New Day Children's Centre in Ethiopia, I'm trying to get as much exposure as possible. The feature on was great, but maybe a bit premature since the expedition won't start for another 5 weeks. I'm open to anybody's ideas about getting exposure and spreading the word about Low2High and NDCC.

On that note, I emailed some organizations a while back about sponsorship. I had some ideas about them donating money in exchange for ad space on my blog, or on the Low2High facebook page

So far, no takers on sponsorship, and I don't blame them since I'm an unknown person in the world of expeditions, and my blog gets very little exposure. However, I got an email today from one of the organizations that said they'd consider sponsorship if I could get 1,000 'likes' on the Low2High facebook page, so if you have a facebook account, do me a favor and 'like' it, and tell your friends.

Alright, I'm going to brave the mosquitoes and make some food.


New Photos from Great Ethiopian Run

My friend and fellow PC Volunteer, Sher, with me after the Great Ethiopian Run

Central Addis Ababa during the Great Ethiopian Run

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Beers with Tesh

I had a couple drinks with my friend Teshager tonight. He’s one of my closest friends in this country, and we had a great talk about life, romance, and, of all things, geology. He is a man that I am so grateful to have met, and will be sad when I have to leave.

It was a good, warm night in Bahir Dar of sitting on the balcony at a restaurant, drinking cold Dashen Beer, and watching the nighttime weirdos stirring to life in this small city. The bajaj drivers picking up college students on their way back to campus before the curfew locks them out, the lost and confused tourists trying to find their way to their overpriced, tacky hotels, and the usual random characters of the night were all out in full force. It was nice to feel like the last 2 years have been a great learning experience, and I now feel that I understand this place, just in time to go…

Maybe I’ll never fully understand life in Ethiopia, but being a Peace Corps Volunteer has forced me to learn the culture and (embarrassingly little) of the language. I’m glad that this has been my first experience abroad. It’s hard to ever picture myself in a white Land Rover, driving my self-entitled ass around town. Maybe it’s arrogant to think I’ll always be in touch with whatever community I live in, but right now I think that I’ve done well for myself in Bahir Dar.

As I stated before, I need to soak up what’s left of my time here and not worry about the future, and I feel that I did exactly that tonight. A couple beers, a good friend, and a good view of the city. Could I have a better night right now?


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Facebook page for Low2High: Africa

Low2High: Africa is now on facebook. Check out additional photos from the New Day Children's Centre. 'Like' the page and communicate with me more easily, since blogspot is hard to access from Ethiopia.

I'm not the most tech-savvy person, so all I can say is log in to your facebook account, and search for 'Low2High: Africa', or go to

Thanks for the support!


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Strain on Retlationships

I’ve been off doing my thing for more than 4 years now. 2 years of AmeriCorps put me in California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, and Texas for different disaster recovery and conservation projects. After that, 2 years in Ethiopia with Peace Corps. I’ve been transient, and often hard to get a hold of. I’ve been bouncing from place to place, friend to friend, job to job. I’ve visited 42 states in the last 8 years.

It’s been an amazing way to spend my mid-twenties. I’ve been meeting a lot of amazing people and have been traveling to places I never imagined. The down side? My family back in New York. I’m so out of touch with things back home, and now I have a girlfriend living in England. My life is all over the globe, and it’s hard to manage with poor internet and phone services, and very little money in my savings.

What is starting to make me nervous is communication during Low2High. For me, it’s very important that I can keep in regular contact with the people I care about. I won’t be bringing my laptop because the MacBook is a bit too heavy, fragile, and expensive for a bike tour. I can get sim cards for different countries as I go, but the phone network will be spotty. Maybe I don’t need to be nervous. Maybe it’ll work out fine, but I need to be prepared to spend some extra time and money keeping in touch with everyone. After putting up with my last 4 years of vagabonding, they deserve it.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

49 Days...

'Low2High: Africa' will start in 49 days, and counting.

The plan as of now is I'll first go from Ethiopia to Djibouti by bus, with my bike on the roof. With 2 friends from Peace Corps, we are going snorkeling with the whale sharks that come into the harbor in the winter. After that, it's off to Lake Assal, the lowest point on the African continent, to start the expedition.

Right now, I'm in Bahir Dar for training and finishing some work. I still have to finish my Peace Corps contract before I can hit the road. I'm already feeling nostalgic for this place that I've called home for the last 21 months. As hard as it's been, there are many things that I will miss. I've made some close friends here, and it'll be sad to walk away from them. But, all things must end, and Peace Corps is another part of my life that I have to finish.

Truthfully, I feel a bit 'off' right now. Everything I do now is preparation for the big ride, so I feel I'm missing out on what's happening around me. I'm being very cautious not to get injured, I'm back to daily exercises, and my mind is on one track. It's hard to think about anything else except Low2High. In a way it's consuming me. Becoming an obsession. I think I need to take the time to enjoy this place for my last 6 weeks so I say some proper goodbyes and end my work on a high note.

If I keep looking to the future, I cannot enjoy the present. I'm lucky enough to live overseas, in Ethiopia of all places. I'll do what I can to not let 'what comes next' get in the way of 'what is happening now'.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Video, photo from Great Ethiopian Run

Video clip of me in the Great Ethiopian Run. I can be seen in the first 3 seconds on the left side of the frame. Not the best video, but the videographer caught me in the frame by accident and I was luckily able to obtain this copy.

Photo from the Great Ethiopian Run, January 21, 2010. A fun day in Addis Ababa that, to quote a friend, was 'more like an obstacle course than a race'. Holes in the road, rogue water bottles, and runners at all different paces made the run harder, but much more fun.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Approaching the end of Peace Corps

This week has been a conference. Peace Corps will end for me in early January, so this whole week has been dedicated to preparing us volunteers for wrapping up our projects, saying our goodbyes, and transitioning back into our lives in America.

I was prepared for a bunch of lame speeches and premature, forced reflection, but was pleasantly surprised at how useful the conference has been. It does seem daunting to go from living in Ethiopia for 2 years, and then to go back to my old life, so I'm glad to have the support that Peace Corps is offering.

Even though I'll be sad to leave this place behind, I'll be excited to start my expedition and raise some money for NDCC. I don't know how I will handle the stress of the next 6 weeks. I always knew this time would come, but now it's actually here.

My training for this week has been a total wash. Other than a quick kayak trip across the lake and a bit of pool time at the conference, I haven't been exercising at all. It's been too tempting to sit and drink with my friends for the last time, and that's exactly what I've been doing. At least I'm stuffing my face with a lot of good food, so I might put some pounds back onto my skinny frame. I'll be sure to start my exercises again when I get back to Bahir Dar in a couple days.

Although there is a bit of sadness, knowing that I'm that much closer to starting the expedition is getting me excited. I'll keep you all posted on my thoughts as my time in the Peace Corps winds down.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

10K run through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Yesterday I ran in the Great Ethiopian Run. It was the 10th anniversary, and 35,000 runners dressed in green, yellow, and red took to the streets of Addis Ababa. 

It was part chaos, part competition, and part fun. What the race lacked in organization, it made up for with excitement. Ethiopia is known for it's world-class runners, so many people were thrilled to run the same course and same race that made their heroes famous. 

I ran the 10K in 59 minutes, and 21 seconds. Not the best time, but the clusters of people and high altitude are my convenient excuses. It was fascinating to see the different attitudes of the participants. Some people took it VERY seriously and were frustrated every time they ran up behind a group of slow stragglers. Some people were just walking and enjoying the event for what it was. Ethiopians were singing national songs and blowing horns, turning the race into an impromptu parade. 

I did try to run it as fast as I could, but I still enjoyed the festivities around me. The other runners and the spectators all seemed to be having a good time. Everyone was civil, and I didn't see any fights.

Some racers were taking shortcuts, and when they would join the crowd, people would cheer "Leiba! Leiba! (Thief! Thief!)" It was all in good fun, and I enjoyed the morning of culture and racing with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.

I felt good after the race, but now, the day after, my knees are a bit sore. It's to be expected since I've been cycling more and running less lately. 

I'll post a photo of the race as soon as I can get a copy from my friend as I did not bring my camera.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Great Ethiopian Run

I will be running in the Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this weekend. With more than 35,000 runners, the GER is one of the biggest races in the world. Since Addis Ababa is at an altitude of 2,300 meters, it's also one of the hardest.

The GER is going to have so many participants that it might be hard to spread out and actually run for the entire 10k. I've been training for the run, but the run itself seems like it will be just a fun way to spend a Sunday morning, enjoy the opportunity to run through the otherwise crowded city streets, and meet other athletes. I'll try to post pictures of the race next week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feature on ExWeb

I'm being featured on !!

You can follow me here on my blog, but spread the word about ExWeb, because it's a badass site!


It's officially a fundraiser!

This expedition is a fundraiser for the New Day Children's Centre in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. All donations go directly to the organization to help them raise funds for a new compound. I have been teaching Life Skills classes to the young adults at NDCC for the last 2 years. They are some of my greatest inspiration in life.

NDCC is a registered charity working to support young people living in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. The Centre provides everyday essentials like food, clothes and access to accommodation for its students, helping them to put and end to their life on the streets, and to finish their education in a safe environment.

Founded in 2006, NDCC has grown from caring for 12 children to supporting over 50, and now employs nine local staff. One hundred per cent of the money we raise goes straight into the project, making sure that all of our students get the care they deserve and that every donation really does make a difference.
Donations at:

Training in East Africa

I've been training for months, and it's not getting any easier. The reality is that Ethiopia is a hard place for a 'ferenji' cyclist. Extreme weather changes, dangerous truck drivers, and rock-throwing children are all very real dangers here. I feel that this is a good taste of what the real expedition might throw at me. All the blogs I've read other people's tours sum it up as 'if you can survive Ethiopia as a cyclist, you can survive anything'.

I'm feeling strong, and confident. With 57 days until the expedition begins, I feel that I have the chops to do what I need to do. East Africa isn't just about getting by, it's about thriving against all odds.