Solo budget traveler/backpacker and international trade compliance specialist Auzzi Aiken recently spent two months in Ethiopia, including spending Easter in Lalibela. Originally from Jamaica, the 31-year-old grew up in both Kingston and Miami.
Based in Kingston for the past five years, Auzzi is now living the nomadic life; he sold everything he owned to become a true minimalist and complete his goal of visiting every country.
During his two months in Ethiopia, Auzzi completely immersed himself in the culture, doing and seeing as much as he could. He hung out with the locals, and made lifelong friends. He visited people’s homes, ate and drank like a local, and even participated in the nightly cultural dance shows.
“The Ethiopian people are nice and, for the most part, it’s a very safe country. I stayed in the villages in the Omo Valley with different tribes that still live a hunter-gatherer nomadic lifestyle. Raw meat was offered every weekend; I ate it (and paid the iron price for it) and I drank the local tea wine made from honey, called tej. I laughed, ate, and got sick. And I would do it all again.”
Auzzi also spent some of his nights at the Black-owned Andromeda Boutique Hotel in Addis Ababa. The hotel is owned by an Ethiopian American father and daughter who moved back from Boston to create something in their homeland.
“The hotel is within 1.1 km of Matti Multiplex Theatre and 1.1 km of Edna Mall. It feels like a home away from home and the aunties that run the hotel always make sure you’re comfortable and well-fed.”
While in Addis Ababa, Auzzi visited the beautiful and fairly new Friendship Park, which he considers the best city park in Africa. The park is adjacent to Unity Park, and together, the two parks offer a host of cultural attractions, including a small museum, a grand banquet hall, and the former palace complex of Emperor Menelik II.
There’s also a small zoo that contains rare black-maned lions, which were once common across Ethiopia. The parks are set high on a hill in the center of the city, offering sweeping panoramic views of Addis Ababa.
“Traveling in Africa, green spaces are limited because, as we know, economic development takes center stage. This was also true in Ethiopia until 2019 when Unity Park was opened and then Friendship Park. The park is huge and helps with pollution. It’s so peaceful on the grounds, a sanctuary away from the chaos of the bustling city.”
Visiting Addis Ababa’s Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum, Auzzi learned about a horrific genocide by a communist regime that occurred in Ethiopia in the 1970s.
A series of adverse events and a hostile political climate set the scene for the tragedy: famine, recurring drought, failed harvests, conflict that prevented aid from reaching people in the occupied territory, and government policies that relocated families and routed relief to certain areas.
“‘As if I bore them all in one night, they slew them in a single night.’ This is a famous quote from a mother who lost her children. Many locals don’t like to talk about it. Most didn’t want to visit the memorial with me. It was a bone-chilling feeling. I was the only person there when I walked in. It was dark with barely any light. I wondered if it was on purpose. It felt like a place of contemplation; a place of remembrance and warning.”
“The Wall of Death is all that’s left. The victims lives are forever immortalized in the museum. It’s hard to fathom that this genocide occurred just over 40 years ago. The people look like me and the pictures are graphic. Many women and children were killed. It was a sad moment for Africa and Black history overall. Worst of all, many of the guilty parties were not convicted of their crimes until the 2000s. In fact, two senior regime officials were just granted parole in 2020.”
The highlight of Auzzi’s trip was undoubtedly Easter Sunday in Lalibela, an experience he says was magical, though he almost missed out on it. With the roads from Addis Ababa blocked due to protests and domestic direct flights sold out, Auzzi found himself with limited options. He ended up having to fly to Gondar and charter a van to get to Lalibela a few hours before.
“It cost me a ridiculous amount, but it was worth it. Visiting Lalibela was like going back in the past. A story of light and darkness, history and mystery, faith, devotion, celebration, sacredness, and reverence. It’s a place you must experience for yourself.”
Although Auzzi has been traveling for many years now, and has seen hundreds of churches and mosques, he says the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are one of the most impressive religious sites he has ever been to. It is not only their incredible architecture and privileged location that makes them so special, but also the fact that the churches still fulfill the purpose they were built for.
In Lalibela, Auzzi witnessed devoted Christians engaged in deep prayers and chants that made him feel like he was living in biblical times. The only problem he had was with the numerous depictions of white Jesus. A priest explained that this was due to them not being able to find Black Jesus photos anywhere.
“I sat in a corner and enjoyed the rhythms and heavenly scent of what smelled like sandalwood and frankincense. In the distance, I could hear faint singing…more like a hymn followed by prayer. I decided to seek out the voice. As I came down from the mountain top, I saw a woman and a child dressed in all white. They did not move or give notice to my presence. She continued to pray, sing, and focus on her faith.”
As with the previous 67 countries Auzzi has traveled to, visiting Ethiopia was an amazing cultural and historical learning experience. However, there was one new and very important lesson he learned on this trip:
“Don’t move so fast that you miss out on the present.”
“I’m usually moving through countries and cities at a fast pace. I never know what day it is. I’m usually over-stimulated. Everything is happening at one time. Sounds, tastes, sights, and how I feel; I’m experiencing it all at once. Even as a seasoned traveler that has seen so much of the world, I’m learning to enjoy the present more.”
Auzzi plans to continue traveling for the foreseeable future. His upcoming destinations include Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, and Jordan before heading back home to Jamaica for a wedding. Afterwards, he’ll be going to Colombia and Italy, and then returning to his solo travels around Eastern Europe and the Middle East in the fall. You can follow Auzzi’s travels via YouTube and Instagram.