Photo Credit: Selam Bedada
Traveler Story: 'Visiting Ethiopia Showed Me There Is No Right Way To Live'
Earlier this year, Selam Bedada spent three weeks exploring her homeland of Ethiopia. A 35-year-old Associate Director of Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity at George Washington University, she was born and raised in Ethiopia. She left after graduating from high school to pursue higher education in the United States.
With her passion lying at the intersection of health equity, immigration, and gender-based violence, Selam is also a co-founder of a women’s rights organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence among the Ethiopian population in the Washington D.C. area.
In March and April, she returned to Ethiopia to explore the country’s Eastern and Southern regions. In the Omo Valley, Selam visited five different tribes native to Ethiopia: the Dorze, Konso, Dessanech, Hamer, and Mursi peoples.
“I have always wanted to learn more about my country’s rich culture and people,” Selam told Travel Noire. “There are more than 80 ethnic groups in Ethiopia with their own cultures and languages. I wanted to dig deep to learn more about some of these tribes.”
“I have always been fascinated by the Hamer and Mursi tribes. I wanted to expand my view and perspective beyond my way of life. I also want to inspire other Ethiopian women to travel throughout their country to gain new knowledge and perspective about our people.”
As an Ethiopian woman, this journey was incredibly important to Selam. With her strong interest in helping women, it was important for her to meet, learn about, and hear the stories of the women of these tribes.
She typically spent a day or two engaging in activities with them in attempts to get a glimpse of their daily life. Selam says because she was exploring her homeland on this trip, it held so much more significance than past trips she has experienced.
“This trip was something that had been on my wish list for a long time. It had so much meaning and purpose. It has really opened my eyes to the fact that there is no one right way to live. The simple way these tribes live has made me reflect about the fast-paced nature of the life I know in the U.S.”
Selam engaged in many activities with the tribeswomen, from day-to-day tasks such as fetching water and having a traditional coffee ceremony, to dancing and singing, and enjoying a bonfire and BBQ under the moon.
“The Hamer tribes do a lot of singing together at night if there are any girls about to get married and leave for another village. They put red clay and butter in their hair, and they will try to style your hair if you want.”
“I had one of the most memorable times with a Hamer family. I stayed with them at their house and ate with them. The entire village was there for the moonlight BBQ and it was so special. Their generosity and simple way of living is so inspiring. I remember laying on the ground and looking at the sky, thinking I had never seen such beautiful stars in my entire life.”
While visiting the Dassanach tribe, which comprises less than 1% of the Ethiopian population, Selam learned that they are a people known to migrate a lot, especially during dry seasons. Known as ‘People of the Delta,’ they rely on cattle to carry their possessions, and within the village, it is the women and girls who build huts during migrations.
“The remote village of the Dorze people is surrounded by bamboo huts and colorful textiles. A woman from the Dorze tribe showed me how to prepare their local unique bread. The paste is kneaded into shape and flattened for baking on the open-fire frying pan. I was truly enchanted by the sense of community there.”
With agriculture being the foundation of Ethiopia, Selam says having a cup of coffee in the country is almost always accompanied with the traditional grain of barley. Barley is one of Ethiopia’s main food crops and is used in their most popular snack, kolo.
“Kolo is made from a combination of roasted grains like barley, chickpeas, and sunflower seeds. During coffee ceremonies and other special occasions, it’s served as a snack dish before our main meal. This indigenous food is healthy, delicious, and you likely can’t find it anywhere else in the world aside from in Ethiopia. One of my favorite parts of coming home is enjoying kolo.”
While there were many familiar favorites Selam was happy to experience once again, she also learned many new things about her motherland that only led her to love it that much more. In addition to an exploration of Ethiopia, her trip was also a journey of self-reflection and self-discovery.
“For me, when I travel, it’s about exploring and learning from all the ways of life this world has to offer. Travel expands our worldviews and allows us to see that there is no one right way to live. It’s also that each new experience brings a welcome change of scenery, which prompts a change in self, spirit, and routine. We find out about others as we travel, and in turn, we also find out about ourselves. “
You can follow Selam via Instagram at @selambedada.