I shifted uncomfortable on the straw mat, trying not to disturb the young child with her arm wrapped around me. Her small thin body was warm in the evening wind. I looked across the mat at Oli who similarly had two small Ethiopian children snuggling up to him. We exchanged smiles. This wasn’t the traditional homestay we had imagined, but boy was it an experience.
Earlier that day we had been in the back of a pickup, riding along the dusty, deserted roads of the Southern Ethiopia in anticipation of what the end of the road held. We had met travelling companions in this unlikely place and they travelled alongside us, equally intrigued of what we would find when our journey came to an end. It had been a long, far from easy journey through this part of Ethiopia and so far it had been beyond anything we could have expected.
We had visited a traditional market, seen men with braided hair and bracelets carrying Kalashnikovs, met a chief whose three wives’ homes we had drank ‘tea’ in and spent many, many hours sat on the side of the road waiting for transportation that may potentially never arrive- it had been amazing, it had been surreal and it certainly wasn’t over just yet.
On arrival we were taken to a small make-shift restaurant where we ordered cans of coke while women in traditional dress were paraded on front of us. We politely declined paying them money to take their photo, still unsure whether this was the right or wrong way to promote tourism in an area so confused by its place in the modern world.
The town didn’t hold much promise of a hotel so we inquired about staying with a local family. And when a woman wearing more jewellery than clothes was introduced to us as our host half an hour later, we knew we had made a good choice- this was going to be interesting to say the least.
Her home was not far from the main drag, through a neighbourhood of wooden huts and large fenced gardens. As we walked, more and more children surrounded us, holding our hands and staring up intently at our faces. They didn’t leave us all night and we were never really sure who they belonged to!
We spent the evening drinking the homemade tea, which sadly tasted like it was made of tree bark, and communicating, without words, with the children. Our naked momma sat in the shadows outside her hut, watching us from afar. It was hard to tell whether she was curious about us or just plain disapproving!
The kids sure loved us though, and I will never forget the feelings of freedom I felt at that moment. The freedom with which we had travelled independently with no known plan or route, the freedom with which this women had, happy about it or not, given up part of her home to let us sleep, and the freedom with which these kids showed their affection. There was a pang of guilt there too, that my freedom had allowed me to leave my privileged life to travel all this way to experience this, while these children had little more than the clothes on their backs, and full bellies at least. But with that knowledge I felt thankful too, that I had the privilege and freedom to learn about a culture and a people so very different from my own.
And yet, not so different. We all just want somewhere to rest our head, something warm to drink and a loving arm to warm us and to keep us company.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jade House is a 22 year old travel addict from England. Currently studying Psychology, she plans to move to South Korea and teach English after graduation and then… To travel! Her previous adventures have taken her to South America, South East Asia, East Africa, China and Australia which she blogs about at journeycount.wordpress.com. She wants to make India her next big adventure and she also would love to visit Jordan.