Maeva Clement - General Journalism Projects in Ethiopia
When I first discovered Projects Abroad on the Internet and then decided to commit myself, I knew I wanted to work in an English-speaking country, and more precisely in an African country. Yet I hesitated almost an entire month whether to go to South Africa or Ethiopia to complete a journalism internship.
I never regretted my choice to go to Ethiopia. First, I think it is the safest sub-Saharan country. There are no thefts and as a woman you can travel around without any problem. Sure, people look at you all the time because there are not a lot of white people in the area and especially when you are a young woman. You are often asked for money, mostly by kids, but also just for a conversation.
Since foreigners are rare, people want to hear their stories, learn about other cities, far away in the north. Yet, as I said, I felt really safe in Addis, even walking in the city in the evening. For instance, I travelled alone to the famous city of Lalibela (Northern Ethiopia). People were sometimes surprised; others just indifferent and I simply enjoyed my time visiting the most beautiful Christian orthodox (the religion of the majority of Ethiopian people) churches I have ever seen.
I flew to Ethiopia in September, which turned out to be the perfect month to discover the country: the rainy season was almost over (mid-September) and the dry season did not yet begin. The country was all green and beautiful and the temperature remained average. September is also a great month to discover the Ethiopian culture and way of life because people celebrate New Year (11th of September) and Meskal (the finding of the true cross in the orthodox religion), which are the two major highlights of the Ethiopian life. I enjoyed celebrating with my host family and friends. The simple display of affection from my new family touched me profoundly.
I also got to be part of the New Year dinner which was followed by the burning of bonfires (chibos) and the whole family sang traditional songs with passion, even the children with their crystalline voices. I also learned the traditional dance of iskista, when I went to a local club with my colleagues. This was a pure moment of joy – especially because I was a catastrophe at the beginning - and I am thankful they wanted to share New Year and its symbolic meaning with me.
I have also learned a lot from the other volunteers, some were working in care, others like me in journalism. We exchanged our experiences, travelled together, and made shared memories for life.
I interned at The Reporter, an independent Ethiopian newspaper, for a month. I would have enjoyed staying longer. To fully appreciate the benefit of the placement you may want to arrange for two months at least. For instance, I wrote for the Life and Art section of the newspaper and I was aiming at writing an article on the African Union's new turn towards a more independent politics regarding conflict prevention. Yet by the time I could have got the interview I had to depart!
I mostly wrote with humour about my experience in Addis Ababa and in the north of the country, since I went to Bahir Dar (near Lake Tana, which is so vast it almost looks like an ocean!) and Lalibela. Three days before flying back to France I went to the Friendship Centre to withdraw money so as to buy a contingent of Ethiopia's delicious coffee to prepare for returning to France’s tasteless coffee. In front of me stood a German foreigner who could not withdraw money – the machine was indeed out of service. We began to laugh because no machine seemed to work that day in the area. He suddenly asked me if I was the French journalist who wrote an article on her experience as a ferenji (foreigner) in Ethiopia. I was puzzled: I did not even say my name nor my nationality! When he told me that he loved my columns, my humour and that he debated my articles' topics with an Ethiopian friend of his, I could not help thinking that my internship was really rewarding, just for that one person who told me the articles inspired him.
The Ethiopian people are amazing, and the landscapes are just breathtaking. I enjoyed my time with the other volunteers with whom I am still in contact five months later, and my internship was an instructive experience because my colleagues were helpful, communicative and gave me a lot of freedom to write my articles. I also want to thank the Ethiopian Projects Abroad team for its support and all the great laughter we shared!
Ethiopia is really 'betam conjo'!