First Impressions

OK. I’m not going to lie. I’m not the same broke graduate student I once was back in 2000 slogging through the muck in New Delhi, India in monsoon rains or the young woman in her twenties without children traipsing through Guatemala, Honduras, Tanzania, Liberia, and other “developing” destinations with a breezy sense of adventure despite the initial culture shock upon my arrival.

One thing a fellow traveler in India (in her early 50’s) once said always stuck with me. She said, “I’m older now. I want to be comfortable.” I thought it was rather humorous at the time and I may have even rolled my eyes, but alas, as someone now living a relatively cushy life in Rome, Italy with her broke student days behind her, I can sort of see where she was coming from.

I haven’t been on a trip like this since 2007 when I traveled to Liberia to shoot documentaries for The UN’s World Food Programme. I knew that a huge culture shock awaited me and I was going to be in for a bit of a mental struggle, even more so trying not to fret about my husband and children I’ve left behind me.

I went through great pains to ensure we got our Christmas tree up and Nico’s birthday party celebrated in grand fashion before I left. His real birthday is actually tomorrow. I organized three babysitters to help out my husband and wrote down every minute detail trying to plan far in advance so 99% of mishaps can hopefully be avoided.


After finally kissing the boys goodnight and catching my taxi to the airport, I got hit with a strong wave of the usual mixed emotions of traveling so far away to a place so unknown and different than what I normally encounter on a daily basis.

These feelings come and go at the start of a big trip and thankfully I know my traveling self well so was fully prepared for the mixed emotions, fears, happy surprises, and all the rest.

Lucrezia, my Roman friend and colleague also teaching at Addis Ababa University, was there to meet me at the airport. We took a taxi to her flat which is well integrated into regular Addis Ababa society. Her neighbors are locals and so far incredibly friendly if not a bit shy. One interesting thing I noticed is that here in Addis the rich and poor and everyone in between coexist right next to each other side by side.


Her neighborhood which is quite close to the university actually just had its main street dug up so it reminds me a bit of Moshi in Tanzania (where I worked for a month in 2005) with big potholes, rocks, and dirt that make it a bit difficult to walk and drive. All that said, I WILL say after having walked around quite a bit all day that there is considerably LESS in the way of “poop” on the streets here (even with gangs of goats, dogs, and chickens walking around here and there) than in my relatively cozy Monteverde Vecchio neighborhood in Rome.


Anyway, the day was spent trying to catch up on all the sleep I missed on the late night flight from Rome, orienting myself in Lucrezia’s apartment and neighborhood, and then meeting with another professor (a German) and one of my students, Daniel (thankfully with a name that is easy to remember) for lunch at Taitu Hotel. Luckily this is the month when a lot of Ethiopians are fasting so there are more vegetarian offerings available than usual on the menu. I got a traditional injera (tef pancake) and shirot mixture of spices and chickpeas.

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Tomorrow I will meet the Director of the MFA Film Program at Addis Ababa University, presumably have a chance to print out my syllabus, and then will start teaching at around 10AM. Thankfully Daniel, the one student I have met so far seemed very excited to learn animation and had already done the readings and videos I have assigned. So, that already feels heartening.

I’m now going to take advantage of the internet connection Lucrezia and I got by ducking into a fancy hotel to do Skype with Michael and the boys in a few minutes. More updates soon.



Read the next blog post in this series.