An Ethiopian Odyssey: Day 10

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The whole team, together! An extraordinary group! Thank you to Vast Ethiopia Tours for providing such great drivers — and the best cook ever, Micky (far left).

Bump, bump, bump in the truck we go. It’s a two day drive back to the airport in Jimma. Stop one is Mizan, but this is a day that is about the journey: The magic all happened on the road.

The four painters all travel together, as we can then stop for an “art moment” spotted on the road anytime. Our motto is: “Art First.”

We start out a bit sad, having left our magical little paradise. But it’s not long before Mr. DJ (Yacob) puts on some tunes, and we call for a truck dance party. We have many of these along the way to keep our spirits and energy high. And at the end of the day, if this journey is not fun and filled with joy, we have done something wrong.

Our first stop is to buy pineapples off the side of the road. Or, actually, in the middle of the road. Always an adventure. Those pineapples turned out to be the juiciest, tastiest pineapples I’ve ever had!

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How many pineapples? 11? How sweet and delicious they were!

Soon we are stopping at a little grass area where our fabulous cook, Micky, cooks us our last meal. It is delicious, but we have an audience. You’re never alone in Ethiopia.  Many children and teenagers carrying huge bundles of wood are passing by.

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Firewood carriers. That should never be anyone’s reality — that’s it, that is all, never.

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A much needed rest. Too young for so heavy a burden, in more ways than one.

The contrast of beauty and heartbreak are never far apart, and there is no part of me that wishes to romanticize poverty, something that photos can easily do. It’s a hard life, make no mistake. Yet, there is profound beauty, simplicity and joy — a balancing act, for sure.

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We try to pick up these huge bundles the children are carrying. I cannot, and the men can barely pick them up. They are heavy, my friends, and life is not fair. Let us all do all we can to try to make it a bit more fair if we can.  And that, after all, is what this is all about. Education and literacy. Supporting Ethiopia Reads and the wonderful work they have been doing: four schools and a library in every region.

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Portraits from the road.

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We spend the night in Mizan, too tired to do more than laugh and tell stories over dinner — and connect. Yes, that kind of connect; we have wi-fi, and we laugh at the downside of having our faces buried in our phones. But we do, each of one of us, reconnect with our world, our loved ones, Facebook. And so it goes…

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Yacob Bizuneh’s piece based on or addiction to technology seems to fit as we all sit around the table with our faces buried in our phones.

About Stephanie Schlatter Art

Stephanie Schlatter is an Artist who draws from the world for inspiration. While she calls Grand Rapids, Michigan, home she’s often off on new adventures. For more than a decade, her journeys have taken her across the globe. She has studied art both locally and abroad, including time in Mexico, where she decided to shift her focus from photography to painting. Stephanie's travels led her to found Absolutely Art: A Project for Change in 2006. Through this non-profit organization, she brings art instruction to the children of Ethiopia while supporting their education. Stephanie's work reflects an expression influenced by other cultures which resonates a variety of influences that have given her work direction.

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