2017 Great Ethiopia Run - and Tour

by Green Olive Staff - 

Our pilot tour to Ethiopia was a great success. In line with Green Olive’s commitment to social activism, the organisation has partnered with a local travel company and an NGO with similar values. In addition to some touristic activities the group also spent time with the deaf and physically challenged communities of Addis Ababa. Among the activities has been a basketball game with physically handicapped people in wheelchairs.

Green Olive CEO Fred Schlomka and his daughter Maya were in Ethiopia helping run the tour and they also taught a mixed class of deaf and hearing children at the Addis Ababa Mekanisa School for the Deaf.

Each day most of the group trained with high level Ethiopian runners. Other activities were a workshop of traditional dance, a yoga class and other activities.
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After several days in Addis Ababa our group piled into two 10-seater minibuses and we headed out of the city for four days of exploration. We drove south-east on the Chinese-built expressway, then south at Adama through villages of stick, mud and straw houses, and farming areas where the most common form of technology is a horse and cart and a hand-held scythe.

It was a packed few days learning about training methods of long distance running at the village-level, visiting a Rastafarian community, and a boat trip across Lake Awasa to take a look at bathing hippopotamus, and many varieties of exotic birds.

In between visits to sites and peoples, we trained in running, yoga and karate, ate some wonderful local foods, and met an amazing variety of local peoples.

The village of Bekoji was particularly eye-opening. Training under the watchful eyes of their trainers, young people from the region undergo a rigorous program of body-toning, and training in long distance running. Many of them stay in the program dormitories, and others stay in huts and shacks around the village that their families rent for them, each one hoping for a champion in their family and a way out of abject poverty.

We visited one of the teenage athletes in his 6 square metre hut, and gave him a Green Olive Solar Lamp. Several lamps have been distributed during the trip and plans are afoot to ramp up the program to include distributing of large numbers of lamps in the coming years. Tens of Millions of Ethiopians live off the grid, or have, at best, an unreliable electricity supply that often is shut off with no notice. Green Olive aims to do what we can to help, using profits from tours and solar lamp sales - to provide lamps at not cost to deserving families.

Rasta music was the favourite in the bus, although Fred put on his wife Sunita’s harp music and all agreed it was good for chilling out in the afternoon bus ride after a busy morning. We had a great visit with the 800-strong Rastafarian community in Shashamane. These dreadlocked men and women are mostly from the Caribbean, North America and other countries, but have been drawn to Ethiopia due to their religious passion to come home to Rasta roots. We ate a great vegan buffet lunch, and enjoyed an impromptu concert.

A day was spent in the Bale Mountains National Park, hiking up Mount Tullu Dimtu, Ethiopia’s 2nd highest peak at 4,377 Metres. After lunch on the mountain we visit the rainforest for a short walk through the trees. We saw various wildlife including wolves, olive Baboons, and various types of antelope. Apparently it was quite unusual to see the baboons by the roadside. We stopped and had these curious creatures stand on their hind legs to peer into the van and get a better look at us. Basically  we were in a cage (our bus) and the baboons were bringing their families to see us.

In between, we managed some shopping, a visit to a waterfront fish market, riding a horse and cart, great and oddball meals, and staying in a variety of guest houses.

Lake Awassa was a ‘full on’ experience. Next morning we went to the waterfront where we saw many Marabou storks at close hand and fishermen were bringing in their night’s catch. The amount they can sell is strictly regulated, and inspectors were on hand to count the tilapia and catfish. The fishermen sat and skilfully sliced 2 fillet off each fish. That was the delicacy, and people were sitting in nearby cafe/shacks, and having Ethiopian style Sushi breakfast. The rest of the fish were passed to others who gutted them and removed the eyes and offal. The remainder, including the head was is used for fish soup.

We hit the road for a long slog back to Addis Ababa, but it was worth it. That evening was a ‘Pasta Party’ at the Hilton Hotel for all the internationals who had registered for the tour. We also picked up our official running shirts and numbers

The ten kilometre run was next day. Our group was dropped off near Meskel Square where the runners were congregating. The atmosphere was festive, with music blaring, spontaneous dancing, and groups chanting.

There were face painters, stiltwalkers, and many runners, especially young women, had redesigned and restitched their official running shirts into chic tops.

Then we were off. Not exactly running. The press of the crowd (40,000 strong) was such that it was not possible to run unless you were lucky enough to be at the front. Then things loosened up, and some people started to jog. However probably at least half the crowd just ambled along, singing and dancing to an inner tune or to one of the many DJs along the route. 
It was a great party. Many people stopped at pubs along the way to quench their thirst with a beer or two. A great time was had by all. No-one was timed. The event can only be described as a super fun run, although a few serious runners in our group managed to get up front and ran a great race.

Then the run was over, but the party was not. The after-party/festival showcased some fine live Reggie Music and great food and drink.

On our final day a few of us sought out the city’s forgotten Jews - the Beit Avraham (House of Abraham) community. They had split off from the more mainstream of Ethiopia’s Jews a couple of centuries ago. and a small number (less than 1,000) now lived in Addis Ababa’s Kechene neighborhood.
Some of them pose as Christians and go to church, practising their ancient Hebrew rituals in secret. Despite a constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, and a public image of a religiously tolerant country, the local socio/religious dynamics tend to favour the dominant Orthodox Christians, and sometimes result in prejudice.

We found the synagogue, but no-one was there. However one man who was willing to talk to us declared that he was Christian but his brother was Jewish, not unlike some European or US families that are religiously mixed. This neighborhood will be a stop on the Green Olive Jewish heritage Tour that is being planned for late 2018.

We visited a neighborhood weaving facility where about twenty men were sitting behind large handmade looms, producing very fine cloth at amazing speed. Each weaver set his own prices and paid a fee to the facility owner. We couldn’t quite figure out if it was a cooperative or not. However there was no clear ‘boss’.

The trip created lasting memories for all who participated. Ethiopia is a country with much depth that Green Olive will explore with more tours over the coming years. The people, culture, wildlife religions and amazing landscape of Ethiopia has all the elements needed for great touring.













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