Well, the weekend we have had circled for weeks has finally come and gone. We were granted some reprieve from the weekly struggle of 44 hours of class time and limited free time. As ag/environment volunteers, we were taken to the Awash National Park. The park, one of the oldest national parks in Ethiopia, was instated under the rule of Haile Selassi in the 1960s. It was once home to a vast array of healthy wildlife communities. Many of Ethiopia's rare wildlife, the Ethiopian red wolf and the oryx for example, still have small colonies at Awash. We were lucky to see both. Now illegal grazing of the park, poaching, and a main highway that crosses the park have all contributed to the declines in wildlife populations. Ethiopia has started working with surrounding communities to help educate them about the benefits of the park and wildlife as well as vocational training to give the communities more park friendly sources of income.
The park was flat with lots of shrubs. Trees lined the river and there was a spectacular horseshoe waterfall. While there was a lodge and cabins to rent, we got to camp. Humorously, our tents were erected for us prior to our arrival. It was probably for the best; even though we all saw some irony in being ag/environment volunteers and being "taken care of", we did have a full schedule. We were treated to excellent food at the lodge and listened to talks about conservation efforts in the park and Ethiopia more broadly. The day concluded with some celebratory time. We've been in Ethiopia two months.
The following day we were to take a drive to backwoods hot springs, but the overnight rain made the dirt road impassable for our buses. Instead we were taken on a wildlife tour. At dusk we went to a spot overlooking a major hyena den. Probably a dozen or more hyenas made there way out of the cave before we had to leave for dinner. They are much bigger than given credit for, at least by my source: Disney's the Lion King. At dinner, the lodge put on a culture show with local dancers/singers. It was not overly extravagant, but still a nice addition to dinner service.
Today we simply drove back to Butajira. The weekend turned out to be most everything we had hoped. Lots of fun was had, and nobody was seriously hurt ;) The group as a whole was fun and inclusive. In Butajira we tend to hang out in smaller groups, so it was really nice to get to know some of the people in a new light. It seems strange that we only have a little more than two weeks left before we are split up and sent far and wide throughout Ethiopia.
As a very important side note, I must wish my parents a very happy anniversary! Thirty years ago today they wed and started a journey that has led me here. I could not imagine getting here without the massive support that they have given me. Thanks, I love you both!