Square ONE: Educating myself about Africa


Image credit: National Geographic

I don’t know which language is spoken in Ethiopia.

I can only identify the location of about four or five countries in Africa, and that’s because my son studied geography last year. He can identify almost all of them.

I don’t know who my congressional representative is. This is relevant because when I hear the best way to support a cause I care about is to write to my congressperson, I don’t know how to do that.

* * *

In six weeks, I board a plane to Ethiopia to learn and share stories about the remarkable partnership between Ethiopian community leaders and the advocacy organization ONE. I’m heading into the experience with very little knowledge about the political process, international aid, the history and culture of Ethiopia, or its modern struggles and triumphs.

I’m not proud of my ignorance. But I’m telling you about it for three reasons.

I want you to know what you’ll be getting as I share this adventure with ONEMoms.

I’m no expert in policy, health, ecology, education, photography or medicine. I’ve traveled internationally, and even once to Africa (Cape Town, South Africa), but otherwise this will all be new. You’ll be getting the impressions and interpretations of someone who’s starting at Square One.

I don’t want you to feel bad or embarassed about your lack of knowledge.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the world’s big problems? Poverty? Hunger? AIDS? Have you ever felt that even learning about these problems feels overwhelming? I have. I still feel that way. But my desire to do this storytelling job justice is motivating me to set aside the overwhelm; to educate myself about the country and the people I will have the privilege to visit in October. To widen my perspective so that I can place this trip into something larger than my own experience.

I can’t begin to understand Africa, or even Ethiopia. But I can at least begin to learn.

I want you to come with me.

I want to bring you on this journey that begins in my living room, at my local library, and in my doctor’s office. (I will admit to an irrational level of fear about the shots required for this trip…so much that my nine year-old daughter patted my arm and said “Don’t worry. I’ll go with you to hold your hand.”)

Will you go with me, too? 

* * *

The official language of Ethiopia is Amharic, but it’s spoken by only about a third of the population. Ethiopian children also learn English in school. This is what Amharic sounds like.

Ethiopia is located in eastern Africa. The capital is Addis Ababa. Here’s a map of Ethiopia.

My congressional representative is Earl Blumenauer. Here’s how to find out yours.

Come to Ethiopia with me and ONE. Let’s do this together. (I’ll take one for the team and get the shots.)

I’ve just finished reading the novel Cutting For Stone (set in Ethiopia), and I’m now reading Native Stranger (on Jennifer Margulis’s suggestion). Any books or sites you think I should read? Travel wisdom to share?

* * *

I’m traveling to Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign (one.org). We aim to report back to you how lives are being improved or saved by American-supported programs. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease by pressing political leaders to support smart programs that save lives.  ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice.

The idea behind the ONEMoms partnership is simple: the connection we share as parents extends around the world. When we recognize that connection and come together, we can make real change.

By joining ONE, you add your voice to millions who want to make a difference in the fight against poverty. ONE membership gives you access to information. ONE will never ask for donations and will keep your contact details confidential. I hope you’ll join.

Follow along with ONEMoms happenings on the ONEMoms website, Twitter (search for the hashtag #ONEMoms) and Facebook.

More: Posts about ONEMoms


  1. Tim Pieraccini says

    For a balance of entertainment and insight, I would recommend Helen Fielding’s ‘Cause Celeb’ – it starts out appearing to be a chick-lit novel, but develops into much more; I read it at work with tears streaminmg down my face, and not from laughter.

    And if it’s readily available in the U.S., also recommend Bob Geldof’s TV series on Africa.

    Good luck!

  2. MiaJ says

    Thanks for doing this- I’m looking forward to learning with you!

    I have a weird tip about managing anxiety over shots for international travel. For me it is the sight/ smell (needles and alcohol wipes) of the injection prep that starts the physical anxiety reaction which can lead to fainting.

    So whenever I am scheduled to get multiple shots, I wear a light cardigan, jacket, or scarf and spritz it with my favorite perfume. When I get to the clinic- I explain that I need to cover my face with the scented article to prevent myself from passing out. Then I retreat behind my grown-up blankie while they do their thing.

    And for travel- take a soft rubber sink stopper (shaped like a pancake) and you can do rinse out anything in your hotel room.

  3. says

    Tim: Fantastic recommendations, thank you!

    Miaj: I so appreciate this comment. Intellectually I know the anticipation is 100 times worse than the actual event, but I could really use practical advice just like this. I’m not kidding, I may take one of my daughter’s stuffed animals and hug it while I get my shots.

  4. says

    Michelle! So glad you dropped by! I loved meeting you today (my first Google+ Hangout), and I can’t wait to hear more about you, your travels, and all. Folks: Michelle is a mother and blogger based in the UK; she’ll be on the trip with me! Please drop by to say hello.

  5. says

    Oh, you’re going to love it!!! I spent about a month traveling to Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Togo and Ghana before being place in South Africa for 6 months and I have to truly say that Addis Ababa was one of my favorite places to visit. The people there are just so proud of their heritage and it was the only country I visited in North Africa that had trash cans on the side of the road rather than ppl just throwing stuff on the ground. We stayed with the family of a friend from back here in the states and it was lovely learning about the culture and the food. The history museum is great and there’s a little cafe right next door that is a must see! The best part of the trip, for me, however, was the worst part for my then 3yo son–he was like a celebrity walking around everywhere. Ppl would snap photos of him and the kids would just crowd around him wanting to touch him. They had never seen a white, red headed boy before! I’m sure they’d seen plenty of white adults, but a lot of the ppl I talked to were amazed by him. I just thought it was funny. The best part was Robbie playing with a little boy in the cafe that I mentioned above. He was about 2 or 3 and it was like they had no differences–what if we all saw the world like little kids? Anyway, I will be anxiously awaiting your updates to see how it goes. I’m sure you will have a blast!!

  6. says

    Anita B: I can just hear the energy and excitement in your voice! Thanks for sharing. I loved hearing about the reaction to your son — sounds like the reaction my husband got when we visited my father’s hometown in India. (I think he enjoyed the attention.)

  7. says

    Hi Asha,
    Just be you- that’s my travel wisdom. The you that wrote this beautifully, open-hearted and honest blog.
    In a recent TED talk, Brene Brown said vulnerability is our path back to each other. We don’t have to know it all, and do everything perfectly. Just offer yourself- that’s all that’s needed.
    I so look forward to reading about your travels.
    Many, many blessings on the journey!

  8. Penguinlady says

    Ethiopia is a fascinating place. They has one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world, and also one of the oldest forms of Christianity in practice. I would love very much to go. We met a lady from there, who now runs a fabulous Ethiopian restaurant in our city, and she has really opened my eyes to a wonderful culture (and delicious cuisine!).

  9. says

    I do use pacifier clips as key chain! So I can clip the keys to my trousers whe I carry around baby, bags etc. and do not have to fumble around with only one hand, when arrived at the door / car etc !