Tag Archives: Ethiopia

The Beautiful Diversity of Being. Perspectives and (Analog) Nostalgia.

It’s all about perspective. If you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It is yellowed and crispy. It does not move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Air is vibrating in the heat adding shifting patterns to the sky.  And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe.

Traditional dancers in Zimbabwe early 1990s

If you sit up your perspective changes. You see a thick wall of dry grass. Covered in dust it is still standing, proudly reaching for the skies. More out of habit than anything else. Elephant herds have not yet passed by here, and the sun has not yet completely broken its back. But it knows from experience that not a drop of water will come down for a long time.

An elephant family crossing the Luangwa river, Zambia,  late 1980s

If you stand up in the midst of the dry grass your perspective will change yet again. You will see the river flowing by. Its speed has slowed down since the rainy season and its banks are higher now. But it still transports the lifesaving elixir to all in need, people and wildlife alike. 

Luangwa River, Zambia,  late 1980s

Beyond the river you can see an acacia tree silhouetted against the sky. And a lone giraffe seeking shelter from the burning sun. Still months to go before the heavens will open, making the rivers overflow their banks and bringing the savannah to life again. It will get worse before it gets better.

Giraffe in Kenya early 1990s

These are but a few perspectives on Africa. As seen from a small patch of tall elephant grass.

Before experiencing Africa in the late 1980s to mid 1990s I had no idea how much this continent would adjust my perspectives on life. And of those sharing my journey.

Fresh from the plane. Our first day in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) late 1980s

I embarked on this journey to widen my horizons, and to add to my perspectives on life. I hoped to gain a better understanding of the human experience through immersing in cultures and traditions so different from mine. I wanted to experience the wild. And hopefully to do some good along the way, however insignificant.

Attending a traditional coffee ceremony in Ethiopia in 1990
Performing Lingala songs in Kampala, Uganda mid 1990s

Those were my hopes and expectations, but I had no idea of how much the rest of my life would be influenced by Africa. That I would feel the passions and pains of its people in my bones. Develop a lifelong love of the wild creatures roaming its savannahs. And come to embrace, at least partially, the differences and similarities of lives lived under the same sun in various corners of our precious earth.

A young dancer in Livingstone, Zambia, late 1980s

What I learned gave me a firm respect for life, and overlapping perspectives to observe it from.


Life is about following your path. Sometimes it may mean leaving behind the safe and familiar to experience the pulse of something new and different. To leap into the unknown in order to contribute, to learn, to discover and respect other perspectives than those one was born with. To see the beautiful diversity of being. aulikki-and-dylan-birthday-2016

Last week I grew a year older. An excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been. Thinking back to this meaningful passage in my life, I feel nostalgia. And tremendous gratitude for having had the privilege to peek into life on this old continent over several years in several countries. Despite some hazards and heartaches, my eight years in Africa rise to the surface among the good things that have enriched  my life experience. I appreciate the hardships and the blessings. Africa captured my heart.

On my birthday I found nostalgia right there in my lap, together with Dylan. And went to try on my Ethiopian national dress. It still fits.


My Muse is on the Loose. Weekly Photo Challenge (13 Images)

To tell you the truth, she’s actually wild. Or maybe I should say she always wants me to shoot in the wild. Take time off from everyday grind. And buy better equipment. Had she a full say, I’d spend months every year on the African savannah or an a secluded bird island in the middle of the ocean shooting pictures of life in the wild. Looking at the natural world through a high quality super telephoto lens.

great egret honeymoon island Florida
A Great Egret on Honeymoon Island, Florida

But like most everyone else, my Muse has to adapt to life’s circumstances. And to my mini-sized wallet. So now she reluctantly allows me to shoot whatever wildish crosses my path. Which is mostly birds. Like this year’s Osprey chicks getting their fish delivery from Papa Osprey. And learning to fly.

papa ospreys fish delivery Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Fish delivery by Papa Osprey.
osprey chick returns to nest Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
The middle chick learns to fly.

Or Mama Osprey defending the nest in a preemptive strike against one particular Great Blue Heron, who’d attempted to raid her home several times previously.

mama osprey prevents attack by blue heron Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Mama Osprey prevents the Great Blue Heron from attacking the nest.

Or it could be Bottlenose Dolphins playing in the calm ocean waters early in the morning.

bottlenose dolphins at caladesi island Dunedin Florida
Bottlenose Dolphins play in the water.

While my Muse still occasionally gets to shoot on wild islands, she’s not giving up on returning to the savannah.

fresh water pond on caladesi island Dunedin Florida
In the wilderness on Caladesi Island.

She constantly nags me about it. Opens old photo albums and makes me scan pictures. Reminds me of the giraffes and elephants I spotted on my first safari ever in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Gosh, she says, that was over 25 years ago.

giraffes South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Giraffes on the savannah in Zambia.
elephants in South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Elephant mom with teenagers in the bush, Zambia.

And pokes me about the hippo we encountered on one beautiful New Year’s Eve in Queen Elizabeth’s National Park in Uganda. Remember that pink hippo, who wanted to crash the party on the lodge verandah?

A hippo in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
The hippo who liked to party, Uganda.

Or the baboon, who taught you about food hygiene? She asks these detailed, leading questions to refresh my memory.

baboon mom with her child in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
Baboon mom with her kid, Uganda.

She remembers all the wild adventures of the past. From the hyena, who came to our camp in Awash desert in Ethiopia to the lions we encountered just before nightfall in Kenya.

Hyena awash Ethiopia
A hyena makes herself at home in our camp, Ethiopia
two lions in Kenya
Two female lions prepare for their hunt at nightfall, Kenya

My Muse is definitely on the loose. Who knows where she’ll take me in months and years to come. But she’d better have a good plan for taking care of all I need to take care of. And provide a generous budget. Cheers to that, my Muse ~

You can find other replies to this week’s photo challenge, Muse, here.

Roasted. It’s good for you.

Good Friday morning! Have you ever woken up to the finest fragrance of coffee being roasted? That smells morning! Almost as good as the actual liquid you’ll be able to enjoy just a bit later. When we lived in Ethiopia, that’s how I often knew it was time to get up. I am not a morning person, but the thought of newly roasted strong coffee was a great motivator to get up.

Roasting Coffee/tiny lessonsblog

In addition to waking me up, moderate coffee drinking may actually be good for me. Research has recently almost agreed on that. I’m not talking about those who drink 4 or more cups per day, but just having a couple of cups to improve my mood, make my thoughts run faster, jump-start my fat burning machinery, lower my risk for liver diseases and dementia, and maybe even lower my risk to die prematurely. What’s there not to love?

While in Ethiopia, I learned to appreciate the ceremonial, more soulful side of coffee drinking as well. A traditional “coffee ceremony”, where the coffee was prepared from scratch in front of the guests, was often performed at special work related occasions and when visiting the homes of Ethiopian friends. Below one such festive occasion where I wore the Ethiopian national dress – and high heels.

Later, when I frequently traveled to Turkey for work, I got the taste for their strong coffee too. It was served in the morning at breakfast, and then throughout the day in the office. Often with a glass of water. Too much of that dark goodness could easily keep one up the whole night. I can tell. I used to joke that the coffee was so strong one could leave the spoon standing straight up in the cup. But good it was.

My most decadent cup of coffee, however, was enjoyed in Paris one rainy and unseasonably cold September night four years ago.  When it “pours cats and dogs” in Paris, one can take some liberties. So the weather conditions were an excellent excuse to enjoy this rich coffee….as well as the cup.

You can see that the cup where this coffee dessert was served was not made of fine china, but of dark milk chocolate. Yummy.

My most surprising cup of coffee was served on my second visit to Egypt about six years ago. It was not so much the strong Egyptian coffee that I’d had already enjoyed on my first trip, but the condiment it came with. A striking view of the Khafre pyramid just after sunrise right in front of my breakfast table. That was good coffee. And I enjoyed it without hurry.

Tomorrow morning I expect my favorite coffee to be brewed for me and brought to my bedside. No fancy condiments or chocolates – I’m not expecting a pyramid view or to wake up in Paris.  No need for anyone to run to Starbucks. Just my own cup full of freshly brewed black Gevalia coffee.

Have you already enjoyed your morning elixir, coffee or otherwise? Have a wonderful weekend everyone.  -Tiny

Ps. If you liked this post you may also enjoy my first story about coffee. You’ll find it here.

Outdoors Weekends…in ኢትዮጵያ

This fairly rainy July weekend I wanted to “relive” our outdoor adventures in beautiful Ethiopia: the Rift Valley lakes, rivers, mountains and hot springs. You are welcome to join me on this virtual journey!

When we lived in Addis Ababa, we used to get out of the city for weekend explorations of the natural beauty of the country at least once every month. The north of the country being an unsecure area at the time (1990s), we usually headed south from the capital to destinations like Lake Langano, Awash National Park or Wondo Genet, a resort town famous for its hot baths.

On our way to Lake Langano in the south, we would often stop for some hiking, bird watching and snacks at lake Koka which is the first large lake south of Addis, near the town of Nazret, or at lake Ziway a little bit further south.

These two lakes offered some hiking trails, beautiful views of the surrounding terrain and quite a variety of birds. However, these two lakes were not considered safe to swim in due to bilharzia risk, so we did not camp there overnight.

A bit further south, about 200km from Addis, is Lake Langano, which is the third large lake in the Ethiopian Rift Valley. It’s a volcanic lake with brown, very alkaline water, which is safe to swim in.  After our first visit,  this lake quickly became our favorite “beach” destination in landlocked Ethiopia.

At the time there was only one old, very modest lodge at the lake, but if you brought all the necessities, it offered safe accommodations for the weekend. We loved to come there quite often just to swim (check out the early 90s swim trunk fashion!), sunbathe and relax with friends. Although there was a small cafeteria at the lodge, we used to catch much of our fresh food from the lake with nets that the guys would take into the deep water by swimming. The catfish we caught was so delicious when cooked in foil packages on the open fire! Sometimes we would be invited to boating trips on this large lake by friendly local fishermen.

These were wonderful, simple outdoor weekends in the nature – days in and around the water and evenings around the campfire under the starry skies. Today this area has become more of a resort, offering a choice of lodging options, restaurants and even some water sports.

Other times, we would turn eastward at the town of Nazret and head to the Awash National Park. This area has a lot of wildlife and sometimes, unfortunately,  there would be a road kill. The highway was swiftly tidied up, however, by the large and effective cleaning crews of vultures.

We loved the rugged and wild mountains surrounding the Awash River Valley. At the time, there was no lodge in the National Park. We would stay in an old, very “tired” RV parked close to a small eatery, where we could get breakfast and dinner,  or just camp in the open around the fire.

Every morning we would drive down to the river and try to spot some wildlife on the way.

ethiopia lakes 11 ed

There was a large variety of antelopes, apes, African wild dogs, hyenas and hundreds of species of birds in the national park. Since the park was very large with only a few trails, the animals were fairly hard to spot. Trying to find them became a new adventure every day.

Once we witnessed a long chase by a pack of African Wild Dogs, you can read about that here. One evening we also had a close encounter with a huge hyena.  She came to our camp and suddenly stood face to face with our son who was about the same hight at the time. Luckily, his dad was quick to scare the “beast” away.

The Awash River also has a few waterfalls and it became a tradition for us to view them both up-stream and down stream on every visit. There is something very relaxing in watching and listening to the water rushing down….

At the end of the day, it was wonderful to dive into the large hot spring, situated in an oasis on the north side of the park, and wash out the dust!

Our third favorite excursion was to the resort town of Wondo Genet situated further south from Lake Langano. My employer had a forestry project in the area and there was a small house employees could use over the weekend for a nominal “cleaning fee”.

The whole area was beautiful and very relaxing. There was a lush forest where we could hike in, but the highlight was definitely the hot springs and the baths where the warm water flowing in the river was caught in natural cliff showers and a deep pool – a hot tub provided by nature!

I think I will stay at these hot springs for a while…hope you too enjoyed this virtual outing. Have a wonderful weekend.

A Different Kind of Easter Weekend

Many years ago when we lived in Ethiopia, one of our favorite outdoor activities was to drive to Awash National Park which is situated about 140 miles (225 km) South-East of  Addis Ababa. It was a wonderful break from work and activities in the city and provided true closeness to nature. We spent one memorable Easter weekend camping there so I thought I’d share a few memories at this time.

The landscape in the park was a fascinating mix of dry grasslands, acacia forests, mountains, hot springs and the Awash River with its spectacular waterfalls. The river is about 745 miles (1200 km) long and a part of it runs along the southern border of the national park. It connects several lakes and provides much-needed water to a wide variety of inhabitants in the park and much beyond.

It is interesting to note that, based on archeological findings, the Awash Valley has been inhabited by humans very early on, almost since the beginning of our existence. Much of the valley has been and still is the traditional home of the Afar people who are pastoralists, raising cattle, sheep and goats in the desert.

We met Afar people several times in the northern part of the park during our visits. They were often herding their cattle, just like this young boy.

Various species of antelopes (Oryx, Kudu, Gazelle and others) dominated the park’s wildlife which was concentrated in the southern part of the park, although we did also spot African wild dogs, hyenas and different kinds of baboons.

In addition, Awash is a bird watchers’ paradise with about 350 species of native birds, ranging from the great ostrich to Secretary Birds and Hornbills. During dinners on the terrace of the park’s small eatery, we would sometimes listen to groups of enthusiastic ornithologists exchange information on this and the other rare bird they had spotted that day.

The amount of water carried in the Awash River varies widely depending on the season. This is apparent not only in the huge variations of the river’s breath and water depth but also at the waterfalls, one of which is situated only a short drive from the camp grounds.

Ethiopia Awash River falls

While most of the wildlife was to be found in the southern part of the park, that is divided by the Addis Ababa – Dire Dawa highway, the northern part was famous for its hot springs.

Driving through very dry savannah one suddenly came upon a fresh, green oasis with bushes, palms and a variety of other tall trees.This was a beautiful place, nature at its best. But it was a particularly welcome sight also for another, more practical reason: there were no shower or other washing facilities at the camp grounds, and the Awash River was not considered safe to swim in.

After a hot and dusty day on the savannah and walking along the river, it was wonderful to jump into the clear blue warm water and actually swim! Seeing the hot springs again on these photos makes me want to jump right in!

This particular Easter weekend in the 1990s was celebrated in the temple of untouched nature – without any modern distractions or conveniences.  With this somewhat nostalgic trip down the Easter-time memory lane I wish all blogging friends, followers and visitors who celebrate Easter a very happy one! Peace.

Just a Cup of Coffee

Just made myself a cup of coffee. It’s a reward for cleaning the house today. Less dust mites. Nowadays I only have a cup of black coffee in the morning, so an extra one in the afternoon is always a reward. I asked my husband if he also wanted one, but he said you know I don’t drink coffee, I just have espresso. Hmm. He always says that and I kind of enjoy hearing it because it’s so funny. So here I am enjoying my black coffee that is not espresso. I associate coffee with many experiences I’ve had, most of them pleasant. So let me take the first sip.

When I was little, coffee always signified a festive situation. Someone came to visit, we went some place nice or it was a family event, like a wedding or a big birthday. I would play with my cousins and other kids, there was good food, and the adults would have coffee. The coffee itself remained a mystery to me for a long time. Does it taste good, like soda or ice cream, do you have it with sugar or salt? I always saw sugar on the table, but my grandma had it with salt. She was born 1892 and had her coffee with salt. She often drank it from the saucer. When I asked why she didn’t have coffee with sugar and drink it from a cup, she said that it would last longer taken her way. When she was younger coffee was an expensive luxury item, one could only drink it a few times a year and it had to last long. That made sense. So for the first time I tasted coffee, it was with salt as I took a sip of this mysterious hot drink from my grandma’s saucer. But I always wondered why almost everyone seemed to like it. I would find out.

When I went to attend college in the big city, I soon became a coffee drinker. My room-mate made at least three big pots a day, so I tried it too. It was not too bad with loads of sugar and cream. And it woke me up in the morning and kept me up late at night. My favorite time for study was starting just before midnight. I used to study until the wee hours of morning sitting in the small (half) bathtub in our tiny studio apartment, with tons of pillows for comfort and a cup of creamy coffee on the ledge. I was convinced coffee helped me through college.

A bit later on, when life got really busy and the working hours got longer and longer, coffee was my steady companion. Coffee breaks represented the only time in a work day when it was possible to think, calm down and have a pleasant, informal conversation with colleagues. That brings me to the time I learned to manage stress and pressure. The association with coffee is not obvious, but hear me out. I was in my early 30s and in my first management job. The job was extremely stressful, there was never time to get everything done properly, I was needed in too many places at once, or so it seemed. One such crazy afternoon, I went to see one of my teams located on a different floor to discuss the next Board report. I was running down the stairs when I suddenly felt I might faint, the pressure was about to take over. I managed to get downstairs and, as usual, my team handed me a mug of coffee. It was a brown Arabia stoneware mug and I was about to drop it in my lap. My hands were shaking and I felt I could not hold the cup, I couldn’t breathe. I can still see that situation clearly. That cup of coffee kicked off an important change in the way I managed myself, my life, my stress and my coffee. I realized that if I didn’t learn to manage my stress, I might not see my 35th birthday. So I changed my relationship to work and stress – and also had less coffee. Learned to let the pressure pass over my head, not get into it, and not let it into my core. I gradually learned to stay calm in the eye of the storm, take one thing at the time. That was my most remarkable cup of coffee, and the learning from that incident has helped me until today.

A couple of years after this significant brown mug of coffee, we started our journeys in the world, and I got familiar with so many different types of coffee, grown in various parts of the world. From the weak coffee in the US (unless you have espresso) to the very strong in Ethiopia and Turkey. In Ethiopia, coffee is enjoyed in an elaborate coffee ceremony,  a strong social and cultural ritual and tradition. It’s an honor to be invited to attend one, and it can last for hours. Everything is beautifully prepared right there in front of the guests – the roasting of coffee beans, the grinding by mortar and the cooking. It is an art, and it is believed that the spirit transforms in the course of completing three rounds of servings, the Abol,  the Tona and the Baraka. Mine was transformed many times in different homes, and I am happy to say these were my most beautiful cups of coffee.

I had my most striking cup of coffee quite recently in Paris. After a nice dinner with two friends, I said no to the desert offerings, as I usually do. My Parisian friend, however, did not want to hear about that so I agreed to have a cup of cappuccino, house style. And style it was. The cappuccino came in a nicely designed cup – of dark chocolate! With all bells and whistles, like a tiny chocolate spoon,  ice cream topper, etcetera.  A high note at the end of a cool spring day.

Now I have enjoyed my reward. My cup is empty, but pleasant thoughts of the coffees I have enjoyed still linger in my mind. But after dinner tonight, I’ll probably just have a cup of green tea…

Lycaon Pictus – The Hunt

I recently prepared some talking points for a seminar on effective teams and while searching my archives for illustrations,  came across notes I had made almost 20 years ago about a remarkable hunt I witnessed in Ethiopia. In all its cruelty (I always feel for the prey), I think this true story offers a few tiny lessons.

It was a really hot afternoon in the Awash National Park, one could feel and see the air vibrating in the heat.  We decided to take a trip down to the Awash river, more to escape the heat at the camp site in the air-conditioned comfort of our truck than expecting to see any animals in the mid afternoon blaze. So much for knowing what the future will bring.

Even before reaching the river, we saw a large herd of impalas grazing peacefully on the dry savannah, not far from the tracks we were traveling. The next thing we observed was a pack of African wild dogs, probably more than 10, in the distance. They stood completely quiet, watching the antelopes, big ears pointing up, listening intently. No one moved. We didn’t either.

The next few minutes were tense, the hunters observing the prey and (I’m sure) making plans, while the impalas yet had to pick up the scent of danger. Then suddenly the hunt started. Watch that speed of the two leading alpha dogs! And the resulting confusion in the impalas herd when all of them instantaneously realized the present danger. They darted away, seemingly in many different directions. The dogs were communicating loudly to coordinate their movements and the dust filled the air. The wild chaos lasted only a few minutes until two adult antelopes were separated from the herd, running far out in the opposite direction. The hunting strategy seemed to work so far.

We drove into the terrain to follow the wild hunt a bit closer. I remember secretly hoping that this would be one of the rare 10-15% of hunts that fail for these wild dogs. For a while it seemed that the two impalas might have a slim chance, but soon it was evident that only one of them would.  The chase was intense and high-speed.  The dogs vocalized their messages to each other all the time, and the coordination of their circling and zigzagging was absolutely fascinating. When the leading dog got tired out, another dog took over. And so it went on for close to an hour, until they got their prey.

I have to say I was very impressed by the collaboration exhibited by these wild dogs, Africa’s best hunters without comparison. In the course of this chase, they communicated continuously, coordinated their actions, helped each other out, and showed extraordinary understanding, commitment and endurance to reach their goal. Maybe something there to learn from.