By Lauren Michael
When I told my mom that I was thinking about studying urbanization abroad in Ethiopia she immediately googled “Does Ethiopia have Ebola.” The answer: Africa is really big. So, no. Ethiopia did not and does not have Ebola. That’s not to say that she wasn’t still worried about me going. I was worried too. Even as a sophomore, I still got homesick. If I went to Africa, I would be gone for twelve weeks, which is longer than I had ever been away from home before. As part of my decision process I went on walks after class with the professor leading the trip and talked with students who had gone before. Eventually, I was convinced that this was something that I wanted to do and I would be filled with regret if I was too afraid to try.
A group of thirteen other Carleton students and I (mostly sophomores and juniors with one senior) flew to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, on January 1st 2016 and the adventure began. We stayed in a gated house ringed with razor wire that, like the rest of the city, often didn’t have electricity. On the bright side, the high altitude (7,726 feet) meant that there were very few mosquitos and none that carried malaria. On a typical day, if any day could be considered typical, we would wake up at six in the morning and go with our translators (most people in Ethiopia speak Amharic) to condominium sites At the condos (don’t think of them as nice Florida vacation homes) we measured the residents’ daily energy consumption and talked with local people about the effectiveness of the energy efficient stoves which we were trying to introduce. Since it’s considered rude not to accept when offered food or drink, each of us probably averaged six cups of coffee by the time we left in the late afternoon. As a non-coffee drinker I was wired. We spent the evenings and weekends wandering around the city, finding new places to eat and hanging out with our translators while trying to learn Amharic. We went to soccer games at the stadium, learned how to use public transportation, went to a church service and visited the largest open air market in all of sub Saharan Africa.
Not everything was great however, and there were times when I wanted nothing more than to jump on the next plane and fly home. For example, I was hospitalized for three days for a gastrointestinal infection. Furthermore, one afternoon our professor brought home two sheep and had us slaughter them and cook them for dinner on the energy efficient stoves. I have never been more disgusted by a meal than by the stringy sheep legs, braided intestines, and raw liver that we ate that night. But, despite these and other trying times, I am glad that I went. Not only did I prove to myself that I am capable of being away from home, but I also met some wonderful people who turned out to be the closest group of friends that I have made at college thus far.