Paradise Lodge by Rikki Patterson

Paradise Lodge by Rikki Patterson

From the patio of Paradise Lodge, I looked over Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley. I watched the sun creep above the horizon illuminating pink and orange clouds and my eye followed the mountain ridge locally called the Bridge of God. It bridged Abaya Lake that had a slight red tinge to Chamo Lake, reputed to be rift with wildlife.


Jetlag and sleep depravation from three days in the air kept my mind dull, unable to process the view before me. The most exotic place I’d ever seen in my 32 years of living was an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. Now I was in Arba Minch, in southern Ethiopia. That was exotic.


I hadn't planned to come here. I had won the trip through a fundraising campaign at work and initially I was hesitant to claim my prize. But once I learned that two of my co-workers would also be on the trip, I agreed to join them. We three from Prince George, BC joined five others from Vancouver and Sherwood Park and flew via London to Addis Ababa.



Hope International Development Agency was the sponsor. They offered a one-week tour of their clean water projects in Ethiopia hoping to illustrate how something as simple as clean water could dramatically change lives.


I joined the group in the dining hall for a platter of sliced watermelon, a plate of scrambled eggs and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. But we were told to hurry because the weather, now dry and sunny threatened to change. Rain was forecast for the next few days which would make the roads to Tsayte, our destination, non-passable.


I gulped the last drop of juice and we jumped into the rented Land Rovers, driven by locals who knew the roads. We travelled in convoy over the winding, gravel tracks dotted with potholes. I coughed from the dust and bounced from the uneven road and I thought about the back roads of northern Canada, which by comparison felt like smooth pavement.


“Today, roads very scary,” said our driver. “Tomorrow road easy.”


I chose to believe him as the Rover labored up the mountain beside cliffs that fell into an abyss on one side while the walls on the other displayed previous landslides that threatened to release rocks that would bury us. But from this vantage point in the back of the Rover I could better see the lakes I’d seen from my patio early this morning. Now the water glistened like dancing diamonds in the sun.


I was jerked forward as the driver swerved on a curve to miss a herd of goats being herded by a woman carrying a stick in one hand and a load of twigs on her back. Two men followed laden with gunnysacks full of treasures I assumed were either flour or corn. A half kilometer farther along we slowed to navigate another curve and were met by a makeshift log bridge over a raging creek. Our driver honked and shouted in Amharic, the local dialect, at a driver in a truck ahead who had started tipping off the logs and toward the creek. We backed up so the truck driver had room to correct his problem. He did this skillfully and then threw the vehicle into first gear and gunned the truck across the logs. I held my breath while we crossed.


Around another corner and down a slight hill, we came to the village of Tsayte and parked near a concrete reservoir that was enclosed with a stick fence to keep animals out. The village had received clean water a year before and the reservoir was our introduction to some of the infrastructure needed to complete any water project.


The next stop on our day’s agenda was to see the source of the water, a spring on the hillside that had been capped. We walked as a group up the hill, past round mud huts topped with pointed straw roofs.


“Ferenge!” whispered one little girl dressed in a cotton dress with one shoulder missing. She pointed at me, placed her hand to her mouth and giggled. Yes, I was foreign – a foreigner as she had said. I hauled out my camera and clicked until the gathering children, now at least ten, turned away. I showed one little girl what she looked like in the display screen of the camera. Soon the camera was engulfed in a circle of black heads. They pointed and made comments I didn’t understand but I could understand the universal language of laughter.