After a whirlwind morning in the blazing heat of an Ethiopian winter, we stopped for lunch in an unpainted, cow-dung building. I blinked rapidly until my eyes adjusted to the dark interior and then flopped onto a straight-backed chair. My aching body enjoyed the coolness of the room.
Red-lentil stew and spiced cabbage was served for lunch, which I eagerly scooped up with injera, the local flatbread that is used like a spoon. My bowl was barely scraped clean when our guide told us it was time to go.
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.
My skin radiated the sun's heat and dust billowed around my feet as I trudged up the hill. My GPS indicated that I had gone maybe 200 meters, all upward. My mouth was dry and my back was damp. I was hiking to see a capped spring. I had no idea what it looked like.
"How far is it?" I called.
"Fifteen minutes," said our guide, his white teeth contrasting his dark face. He was more than 10 meters above me, and his skin was still dry, unlike mine. I became aware of local people, mostly children, following us. They emerged from huts and garden patches, two or three at a time, and skipped along beside us.
I stood in a small Ethiopian village, an open field to my left and a rectangular building with dried cow dung walls to my right. The walls had once been plastered and painted blue, but much of the plaster had worn away, and the cow dung was now visible along the bottom three feet of the building. An overhanging metal roof offered shade to the concrete pad beneath it.
I filled my lungs with the sweet scent of eucalyptus that wafted in the open windows of the Land Cruiser. Rain had fallen overnight, dampening the dust on the roads, making it easier to breathe today. Our destination was a clean water project in the community of Kashaso, which was high up in the Ethiopian Highlands. Construction on the spring cap and reservoir had begun two weeks ago.