Travel + IFP Tips

My time in Ethiopia was nothing less than amazing. I loved the country and all it has to offer. Ethiopia is beautiful and a great place to travel, especially those who are new to traveling. The people are extremely nice, the area is generally safe, and the culture is beautiful! I am sad to be leaving Ethiopia in two weeks, (my time here flew by way too quickly!!) but I will carry what I have learned and the beauty I witnessed for the rest of my life!

Here are some tips if you ever decide to do the Ethiopia IFP, or decide to travel to Ethiopia. Before I begin, note that you will never be 100% ready or prepared to travel to a place you have never been to! You will forget things and you will lack things while abroad, but you will be ok!

  1. You are going to be uncomfortable
  • We are told our whole lives that America is the most comfortable place to live. A lot of us may have never left the country, let alone to a developing country, so your perspective on life-styles is, most probably, extremely limited. Be mindful of this; there is more beyond what you know and are comfortable with. When you go to a developing country, the environment will be completely different from America. Your norms may be irrelevant. But roll with the punches.
  • Sometimes there isn’t electricity or hot water. It happens, get used to it.
  • There usually isn’t toilet paper when you go out, bring some with you
  • There are bugs in the house. It happens, get used to it.
  • Ethiopia (at least while I was here) isn’t as capitalist, individualistic and service oriented like the US. It is more community oriented and tradition based. Things that are obvious to you, or make sense to you may not to them (make note of this in restaurant settings)
  • It is a different pace here, slow and fast at the same time, adjust to it, don’t expect it to adjust to you
  • Internet is not a guarantee – learn to live without it
  • Things aren’t weird, better or lesser in comparison to the US; they are a different ways of living, a different comfort – be open-minded enough to make yourself comfortable in the new environment.
  1. You will probably get sick
  • Almost all of us got sick. Your body is adjusting to a lot when traveling; new time zone, new temperature, new life-style, new food, etc. Most often than not, it is easily curable with a visit to the local clinic, and whatever medicine she/he prescribes. It will suck, but, more often than not, you will get better and your body will adjust. It is normal part of travel, especially when you’re living locally and not in a resort. Don’t fret, and more importantly don’t let it ruin your travel.
  • Don’t self medicate yourself. Don’t assume you know more than the doctors here, and prescribe yourself things. The doctors are very helpful and very smart, and I would listen to whatever they say.
  • Stay hydrated (bottled water), eat lots of cooked vegetables (leafy greens, if washed well is good, but are more susceptible to carrying germs) and give yourself ample amounts of rest
  • Bring multi-vitamins, vitamin C, and any other healing supplements
  • Be mindful of what your body can take and what it cant.
  • You will be ok
  1. Internships
  • Don’t come into Ethiopia, or IFP in general, thinking, “what can I get out of this country”; instead think, “what can I give/bring to this country”.
  • There were many hiccups with internships this summer. As I stated before, you are in a different country with different norms, and different procedures. Having interns is not a norm here, at least the way it is in the US. Be ready for slow days, no days, and then lots of work being piled on randomly.
  • If your internship isn’t what you wanted, talk to Yosef and be proactive. Actively seek new opportunities wherever you can.
  • Many of the internships assume that we (graduate students from America) are experts in development. They may be intimidated to talk to you and assign you work. Show them you are approachable and you are here to learn from them!
  • Be communicative to your internship about what you think and feel. Suggest tasks to them, repeatedly ask for work, and make yourself available.
  • Internet is a norm for work in the US it isn’t for Ethiopia. There will be little to no Internet, so download work before you come into the office.
  • Learn wherever you can, even when it seems you don’t have work to do. Ask questions (however random). Talk to your coworkers.
  • Be flexible – things may change in the last minute, plans wont go the way you want it. Look at it all as a learning experience
  1. Food
  • Ethiopian food is very delicious and extremely nutritious. Take it easy the first couple weeks. Eat some traditional food but allow your body to get used to it. There are plenty of Italian, American, and other international food places to give yourself familiarity. Once you are used to it, I would say mindfully try new things!
  • Only eat cooked food – no Kitfo (raw meat), no raw vegetables (I got myself in trouble with a raw jalapeno), and no raw fruit (unless you can peel it). Don’t drink tap water, or eat anything that has been in contact with tap water unless it was disinfected afterwards.
  • You are not being brave or strong putting your body in vulnerable situations. Do not try things that seem unsafe.
  • Once I was able to get acclimated to the difference in food, I ate lots of Ethiopian food wherever I was. Walk around your neighborhood and ask around for good places to eat! There are many, many hidden gems in Addis. I would list them, but I don’t remember their names, most of them were, “Hey want to go here” kind of places. Once you make friends, ask them too!
  • Bole is a good area if you are missing home and want western fusion food, but don’t make it a norm!
  1. Haggling
  • I’ve wrote a post about this called “The Price Westerners Pay”, so I would suggest you read it, but if you don’t want to read it I’ll sum it up. You, we, anyone traveling to and around Ethiopia have privilege. We have privilege being New School grad students (with or without loans – still privilege). We are westerners, and westerners, particularly Americans, carry political, social and economic privilege world-wide. BE MINDFUL OF THAT. I understand that most of us are students who make little to no money in the US, and are drowning in debt and loans; but still we have economic privilege. Be mindful of local prices, we shouldn’t be paying extravagant amounts, but come to terms with the idea that you shouldn’t pay local prices you should be paying more.
  • Make it a habit to buy whatever you can from local shops rather than chain stores. This is a great way to give back to the community that you are living in.
  1. MAKE FRIENDS
  • Your experience in Ethiopia will be exponentially better once you make friends that you can talk to and hang out with!!!!
  • There are several cool places where you can meet like-minded people that will engage you in great conversation and extend friendship! Like Ethiopia pages online, talk to co-workers, talk to local shop owners, talk to people on the minibus!
  • Don’t come into the country with a wall up separating you from locals; you have more in common than you think. People here are incredibly open to being friends, so be open back and receive friendship!
  • We also made it a point to get to know the local shop owners on our street. While walking down the street it was nice to be able to say hi to several people. It was also awesome having a watchful eye on you when you are out late at night and walking home (which they did look out for us)!
  1. Cat-Calling
  • This is for girls particularly. You will be cat-called, over and over. Most of the time it is harmless. I did not feel that the cat-calling is any more or less than what I face in New York. I will say though, here you may have a less control because you don’t know the language and you don’t know the cultural norms.
  • Be on your toes, as you would be in New York, but also know that the people around you have your back. One amazing thing about Ethiopia is the public shaming. Most people are extremely nice and respectful; when they see a woman in a dangerous situation, men around you will call your harasser out. Once on my way home a homeless man attempted to harass me, then attempted to hit me, and then attempted to follow me. When the people around me noticed, several men around me surrounded me, and protected me from the homeless man.
  • Of course there won’t be nice people around you all the time, and of course there are some relentless harassers, so stay aware at all times. A couple times men have followed me, attempted to grab me, or wouldn’t leave me alone; this is when your New York rules come in: walk fast, don’t make eye contact, be aggressive, seek crowds, light and familiar faces. If someone is bothering you, approach a store/shop, or let someone around you know.
  • Don’t walk somewhere alone. It helps to have a man with you. Don’t have an open bag. Don’t engage with cat-callers, or seemingly sketchy people.
  • Pick Pocketers: There are often little boys, maybe middle school-high school kids, who are always looking to pick-pocket you. They have lots of techniques and diversion tricks. Be aware!
  • Don’t keep your valuables in easy reach places like pockets or even in your hands.
  • When pick-pocketers are around you, hold your stuff close and tightly, walk fast, don’t engage, and also stand around a group of Ethiopian people because they will call these kids out for you.
  1. Entertainment and Nightlife
  • Ethiopia has a variety of nightlife. There are clubs similar to the ones seen in NYC (Jolly, H2O, CEO, etc.), and there are local, cultural and hole in the wall places (Fendika, Mama’s Kitchen, AfroJazz, there is a Jazz district that has cool spots etc.). Depending on what you are into and what you are in the mood for you can select accordingly.
  • I would suggest you go to the NYC-like places once in a while. You are coming from NYC, and (at least I think) you should push yourself out of your comfort zone and do things that are specific to Ethiopia.
  • Fendika is a great place, has a great history, and is where I met a lot of my Ethiopian friends. Places like Fendika allow you to learn more about Ethiopia’s history as well as its modern culture. And it is very fun! I have mentioned it in in my blog post titled: 6/3.
  • Through new friends I met here, I learned that throughout Addis there are several cultural and art events and experiences available FOR FREE! There is always something to do. Like Fendika’s page, other Ethiopian entertainment pages, and as I stated before be open to making friends at these places and asking around for fun activities!
  1. Travel!!
  • Ethiopia is beautiful and BIG! You will leave feeling like you didn’t see enough, so plan early and travel. If your budget allows you, fly into Ethiopia on Ethiopian Airways. If you have an international flight using Ethiopian Airways you get a 60% discount on all domestic flights. Though I didn’t flight Ethiopian Air, I happened to fly on an Ethiopian operated plane, and was able to get the discount. I would advise you to go the Ethiopian Airways offices when booking trips; they are very helpful and friendly, and who knows if you’re nice enough maybe they can help you out with a discount or some tips.
  • Research your trips because you can find great deals on amazing hotels. On my trip to Bahir Dar, I stayed in a great hotel (Ben Mas) for $16 a night. And the owner was extremely helpful, and assisted us in finding great deals on tours around the area.
  • Ask locals and your new friends where to travel. One of my new friends put me in contact with people as well as organizations when I informed her of the places I wanted to travel!
  • Don’t forget to travel around Addis as well. There are many day trips you can take (Managesha Forest, Debra Zeit, Kuriftu).
  1. Ferenji- That’s who you are
  • There is a term here called “Ferenji”, and it means foreigner. This is what a lot of people will call you. When you walk down the street you will be called this, in the minibus, and elsewhere. It is not an insult it is just a term.
  • To a lot of people seeing a Ferenji is out of the norm, so they comment. It is not a big deal!
  • Ethiopian people don’t expect Ferenji to immerse them in Ethiopian culture, nor do they expect Ferenji to show reverence for cultural and religious things. Speak Amharic when you can, pick up on cultural norms (clothing, how people speak, what is polite and what isn’t) and reciprocate them, don’t take up too much space, be mindful of yourself and your American Ferenji privilege and exude respect.

 

My biggest advice I can give is to think beyond yourself when you are in Ethiopia. There is more than what you know. There are more truths, more comforts, more lifestyles, more experiences than what you know. Be open to receiving all the nuances in Ethiopia and emanate good and positive energy and you will receive greater energy.

 

Things to Bring:

  • Flashlight
  • Bug Spray– bring bug spray that repels mosquitos, ticks, fleas, and lice! Many in the group got typhus, which is spread through little bugs such as fleas, ticks and lice. There are many animals around and diseases like this is prevalent.
  • **Important For girls: bring a bag that is more like a satchel, that zips and has a flap. This is VERY helpful in the midst of pick-pocketers
  • Sneakers, rain boots, sandals, kind-of professional shoes (flats, boat-shoes, something you can wear at work). Make sure they are all rain and mud friendly
  • Rain Jacket
  • Sweaters, scarves
  • It gets cold so bring appropriate clothes (I wore jeans, a t-shirt, sweater/sweatshirt, and scarf almost every day).
  • Work attire is pretty casual: jeans, shirt, cardigan/sweater
  • Bring nice clothes you can go out in (Women: nothing too short, or exposing too much skin)
  • Don’t bring your nicest clothes; the washing system is water, very strong detergent and rock, so clothes get worn out quickly
  • Money: bring your money in big bills, the exchange rate is better for bigger bills
  • Notebooks and pens; downloaded/printed research materials you will need
  • A journal
  • If you’re into music, download lots and bring speakers!
    • Sometimes it rains a lot and you want to stay in, that is OK. Download some movies before you head to Ethiopia so you can watch with your housemates
  • Health items:
    • Antibiotics – it is important that you bring some from the US. Your doctor can prescribe you some when you tell him you are traveling. Sometimes Ethiopian pharmacists do not have pure brand of antibiotics, and you will have to seek European brand antibiotics because otherwise it may be unsafe, or ineffective. I think it is safest to bring antibiotics with you from America. You most likely only need 1 round of Cipro, but maybe bring 2 just incase.
    • First-aid kit, pain and fever relievers, multi-vitamins and other supplements, Imodium
  • Chocolates or treats for the people that work at your house and for coworkers
  • A backpack you can bring when you travel