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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Statistics

I fancy myself to be an amateur travel blogger. While I am not travelling full-time, I still feel as though I managed to rack up an impressive amount of statistics this year. Here goes!

2013 in Statistics

Continents Visited: 4

North America, Asia (the Middle East), Africa, Europe

Countries Visited: 7 

Canada, United States, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Ethiopia, Egypt, England

Number of Flights Taken: 24!

(4 to Iowa, 2 to Toronto, 5 to California, 3 to Dubai, 2 to Ethiopia, 4 to Egypt, 4 to England)

Number of Visas Acquired

2 Entry Visas to Egypt and Ethiopia and 1 Residency Visa for the U.A.E.

Number of Places Lived: 2

Brandon, Manitoba, Canada and Dubai, United Arab Emirates - over 11,000 kms apart! 

The Burj al Arab :)

Those are all of my statistics for now! Are there any other statistics that people would like to know? Leave a comment!

2013 - The Biggest Year of My Life

2013 was by far the most significant year of my life - from getting my first teaching job, graduating university, moving out, moving across the world, starting my first teaching job, and to travelling the world whenever I can - it's been an absolutely amazing year.

If you're on Facebook, you'll know that Facebook has been promoting you to click on your "Year in Review", which compiles your 20 Biggest Moments from 2013. Here is a look at my list of my 20 Biggest Moments of 2013, with suggestions from Facebook. The list is chronological!

1. New Year's Eve

I spent a lovely New Year's Eve with a combination of Brandon and IMC friends. It was a fantastic way to kick off 2013! We each had to write down one New Year's Resolution. Mine was to get a teaching job, preferably overseas. Achieved!

2. Attending the Overseas Recruiting Job fair at the University of Northern Iowa and ACCEPTING MY JOB!

This was probably the most important weekend of all. This was my first time planning a solo trip, and I'm so glad Hannah was there with me throughout the weekend. The weekend was full of stress, preparing, interviews, note cards, running around hotels and the conference center, socializing, networking, skyping, and eventually accepting job offers!! Hannah ended up in Hong Kong and I ended up in Dubai - not bad for two brand-new college/university grads! :) 

3. Graduating piano recital

Throughout my five years of university, I always wanted to give a graduating piano recital. As a music education major, I never had to give recitals, but I really wanted to give a performance that helped culminate my time at BU. As it turned out, this recital ended up giving thanks to my entire life in Brandon and at Brandon University, since I knew I would be moving in August. I was very happy that my 3 piano teachers, friends, and family were able to attend, and my mom threw an amazing reception!

4. Final student teaching placement

I completed my final student teaching placement in Oakbank, Manitoba - a small town outside of Winnipeg. This was my first middle-school band placement, and I really enjoyed it! I loved my co-operating teacher and learned a ton. I "passed" my final placement and with that, I was officially done all of my requirements for graduating! I'm not sure if seven weeks counts as a "moment" - but that's okay!

Thank you gifts :)

5. Visiting Toronto

I decided to take a solo trip to Toronto during Spring Break. I visited my brother and his girlfriend, and met up with lots of friends who previously attended BU. We ate, laughed, watched terrible movies, shopped, and had a ton of fun. It was a fantastic trip, although a bit short! 

6. Graduating from Brandon University

This was an incredibly big deal to me. After 5 years, I graduated with two degrees - a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Education. Brandon University will always hold a special place in my heart. I grew up in the School of Music, and being able to extend my time there by 5 years was the best decision I ever made. 

Graduation day itself was a lot of fun. I organized a fancy dinner at my workplace for all of the music ed grads and their families, complete with decorations, gifts, a set menu, and a slideshow. It was a total success! 

I was also very honoured to win 2 awards at graduation - the Brandon University Gold Medal in Music Education (awarded to the highest GPA in Music Education) and the Governor-General Silver Medal, awarded to the highest undergraduate GPA. I was extremely happy and proud that my hard work over the past 5 years was honoured in such a way :) 

7. Left my serving job

Facebook thinks this was one of my top moments, and I'm inclined to agree. I worked at Remington's Seafood and Steakhouse for all 5 years of my degree. I was a hostess for about six months, and served the other 4.5 years. It was absolutely the best job to have, as they were more than willing to schedule me around my crazy life schedule (concerts, student teaching placements, summers at camp, etc). I actually only worked 3 days in 2013 (Agricultural days and Valentine's Day!), but I officially handed in my uniform and said good-bye in June. I have very fond memories of Remington's, and I'm very glad I was able to have my graduation dinner there!

Working on New Year's a few years ago - I don't have a picture in my tie!

8. My Mom Retired

After 34 years of teaching in the Brandon School Division, my mom retired! I was very glad I was able to attend the BSD Retirement Dinner, and my dad and I were attend her school's Family BBQ where she was honoured in front of everyone! My mom had an amazing teaching career and continues to substitute teach in Brandon.

9. Travelling to Lake Tahoe, CA for IB Music Training

My school paid for me to attend a training session to be able to teach International Baccalaureate Music. This was my first time attending an all-expenses paid conference, and it was pretty cool! My flights were an absolute mess both there and back (Reno - Phoenix - Vegas - Winnipeg, anyone?), but I can't complain too much since they were free.

The conference itself was awesome - I met excellent educators all over the world and am still in touch with some of them today. We socialized quite a bit, including one night where we simply stayed up late sharing choral music resources!

The IB Music program is very open and flexible, but I felt as though I got a lot of resources and information out of this conference. Lake Tahoe itself was simply gorgeous. I took tons of photos of the mountains and stunning scenery. I was staying in an adorable hotel in Squaw Village. Other than the physical travelling, it was an amazing trip! 

Rainy Squaw Valley :)

IB Music Colleagues overlooking Emerald Bay

10. David and Devon's Wedding

Two of my music education classmates were married in the summer. It was such a happy day, and the last time that our whole graduating class was together before we started our new jobs as music educators / went to grad school!

11. I Sold My Car

I bought my car in February 2012 and I absolutely loved it. I did not have intentions of teaching overseas when I bought it. When I got my job, I realized that selling it made the most sense, since it still had a few years of warranty left on it. I was able to sell it to a friend who was just coming back from teaching in Korea for a year! I'm very glad with how it all worked out, and I think the international teacher buying the car from the future international teacher is a great sign!


From here on in, the recaps get a lot shorter, since I have already blogged about most of the experiences! I had lived in the same house for my entire life. I can't even begin to explain how much STUFF I had accumulated, especially in terms of clothing, toiletries, and schoolwork. I spent hundreds of hours trying to go through everything. Here's an example of my packing: 

Yet somehow, after tears of frustration and sacrifices (a certain neon green hoodie comes to mind...), I was able to fit everything into three suitcases, a carry-on, and a backpack. Not too bad!

Read more about my journey here!

13. Living on my own 

I had never lived on my own before. I had always lived at home or with families for student teaching placements in Winnipeg. I am independent, but it just made financial sense to still live at home while attending university in my hometown. The transition to living on my own hasn't been too hard at all. It was strange at first, but everything felt strange! 

The biggest surprise to me (and my parents!) was how much I am enjoying cooking. There is a huge delivery culture here in Dubai, and lots of people order food in quite frequently. I try to save ordering food for when I'm extremely tired or have nothing in the fridge. My colleagues were all confused and impressed when they realized that I was bringing my lunch to school every day with homemade food.  

My one complaint? Our oven only cooks from the top, so it's extremely hard to bake. I've perfected a muffin technique though, where I cook them for awhile in muffin tins, then take them out and cook them upside-down on a baking sheet to cook the underside. True story.

2 hours of meal prep = all of this food!

14. Receiving my first grown-up salary... in CASH!

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I had only been in Dubai for 2 weeks, and receiving my first full salary was pretty welcome, especially since it was in cash! Needless to say, this salary was spent pretty quickly as I bought new things. 

15. First day of school

Again, self-explanatory. The first day was a mess of confusion and stress. I didn't feel prepared enough, but I managed to make it through!

Read a very detailed description here!

16. Ethiopia

I went to Ethiopia for Eid on a group tour, and really enjoyed it! My highlight was either shimmeying onstage in front of a packed restaurant, or the day we ended up at an old bridge, chasing baboons, and playing in the water. 

17. Becoming a PADI certified open-water diver

Scuba diving is something I have always wanted to get into, but being from Manitoba, I have never really had the opportunity. I was very excited to have the opportunity this fall to complete a PADI Open-Water Diver course with one of the teachers from our sister school. I'm excited to see where diving might take me around the world! 

I haven't actually dived since being certified - I'm hoping to squeeze a day in before we go back to school on the 5th. 

18. First concert 

I had my first official concert in November! Both of the grade 10 classes combined and gave their first performance. I was happy that my curriculum leader and administrators were in the audience, but disappointed with the audience turn-out in general. It was a bit of a mess organizing the lights and sound, and I ended up spending 14 hours with the students over the two days before their concert. These hours were unpaid, of course, and this was one of my first moments where I really felt like a "real" music teacher! I don't have any photos of this event at home.

19. Egypt

Oh, Egypt. Travelling to Luxor was one of the best trips I have ever taken. I promise I will recap it properly in the New Year. Here is another picture to tide you over until then.

Massive pillars at the Temple of Karnak!

20. England

I went to England for Christmas! I really wanted to visit my family and go somewhere with colder weather for Christmas without travelling all the way back home. I do need to get some work done in the New Year before school starts, which I know wouldn't have happened back home!

I will be devoting one or two blog posts to England soon, but again, here's a picture for now!

The first time that I have been with all 4 of these cousins since 2001!

20+. Many more...

There are so many more experiences from 2013 that I could include in here, such as the Big Band Dance, library study parties, seeing Rajaton perform, seeing the Mnozil Brass perform, working at IMC, snorkelling in Oman, a day trip to Abu Dhabi, report cards, the first grade 7 band concert, all of the support and networking through my Personal Learning Networks, etc. 

It was an absolutely wonderful and amazing year! Stay tuned for my stats report! :)

A Quick Update!

Happy Holidays!!!

I hope everyone has been enjoying their Christmas Break. I realize that I haven't updated my blog in almost a month - I'm sorry. Several events have occurred since my last blog post, and I just didn't find the time to write about them.  After speaking to my family on Christmas, I found out that some people actually read my blog and are waiting for an update (Hi, Grandma!).

I have a set idea in my head of the blog posts I want to publish in the immediate future. I have six more days of Christmas Vacation, so hopefully I can work on at least one post a day!

Here are the posts you can look forward to, and I will link to the posts when they are created:

  • 20 Biggest Moments in 2013
  • 2013 Statistics
  • New Year's Resolutions (hint: blogging more is one of mine!!!)
  • Luxor blog posts! (East Bank, West Bank, hot air balloon rides, temples, oh my!)
  • London blog posts (I just got back from England yesterday!)
  • First concert experiences?
  • International teaching - my story
  • And many, many others once school begins again.

Stay tuned, because a few of these posts should be up today!

Here is one of my favourite pictures from my trip to Luxor, Egypt to keep you placated while you wait for the full recaps and photo essays. 

This photo was taken with an iPhone 5 at the Temple of Karnak during the Light and Sound show. 

Click to expand!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Moderating #MBEdChat

I had a new life experience last Thursday - co-moderating an education chat on Twitter! I know a lot of my readers (aka, my family) don't understand Twitter or how a "chat" works, so here's an abridged version:

A group of people "chat" together on Twitter. They mark their Tweets, or thoughts, with a specified "hashtag". This hashtag organizes all of these related Tweets into one searchable place. You can follow along by searching the hashtag and reading all of the Tweets that pop up. It's basically as though everyone was posting their thoughts to a central document - in this case, it's Twitter! Educators tend to be very active during these type of chats. 

I regularly participate in two chats: #MBEdChat (Manitoba’s Education Chat) and #IBDPchat (International Baccalaureate Diploma Program chat). I would participate in more (especially #ntchat – New Teacher chat!) but they often occur at a bad time for me (ex. 7:00 pm Central Time = 5:00 am for me).

Manitoba's Ed Chat

The #MBEdChat initiative only started a couple of months ago. I've participated in a few of the chats, as they happen later in Manitoba than other chats which means I'm actually awake! The chat occurs from 9 - 10 pm in Manitoba, which is 7:00 - 8:00 am for me. This timing is still a bit strange, since I get on my bus at 7:00, get to school around 7:25, and have students for first period at 8:00 am.

About 2 weeks ago, the Twitter page for Manitoba's Ed Chat tweeted that they needed a co-moderator, as their regular co-moderator would be away next Wednesday. I thought to myself, "Why not?" and arranged with a colleague to come into school earlier (leaving at 5:45 am!) so I could Tweet from 7:00 – 8:00 am without being interrupted.

However, school on Thursday was cancelled due to Dubai winning the bid for the World Expo in 2020. I still got out of bed and enjoying co-moderating the chat from my living room couch in my pajamas – much better than leaving my apartment at 5:45 am!
As one of the co-moderators, I was in charge of Tweeting out a few of the pre-determined questions and help maintain the flow of conversation. I replied to more to individuals then I normally would while participating during a chat. This week's chat topic was on strategies for teaching EAL students. I have several EAL (or ELL, English Language Learners) students in my classes in Dubai, so I felt as though this chat was very relevant. In fact, English is actually not the first language of most of my students.

Moderating the chat was a lot of fun! I was more engaged in the chat than when I simply participate. It was a bit of a slow night with maybe only 15 – 20 educators chatting, but I learned a lot about teaching EAL students and gained some ideas to implement into my classroom.

Keeping in Touch with my Manitoban Roots

I was determined to stay in touch in Manitoba when I moved overseas. I want to come back home and teach one day, and I want to still have my foot in the door. Little things such as maintaining my Manitoba Band Association membership and having a good Twitter relationship with the Manitoba Teacher's Society and their president keep me connected and relevant (I hope!). I follow several teachers and administrators throughout Manitoba on Twitter, and several follow me as well. These connections help me to remember my roots and my home. Co-moderating this Twitter chat is a perfect example of networking with potential future colleagues back home.

I am glad that I had the opportunity to co-moderate #MBedchat, even though I had to get up early on a day of school that had been called off the night before. I happened to miss this morning's Twitter chat, so I typed this blog post up instead. I will look through the archives soon, and I hope to moderate again in the future if they need a guest moderator! 

Monday, December 02, 2013

Dubai Expo 2020

(or, Why My Second Day of Parent-Teacher Conferences Was Cancelled)

This post is a continuation of the previous post about my first day of parent-teacher conferences.

I went out with a few colleagues for a post-conference dinner. We went for dinner at a local cafe overlooking the Dubai Creek and the downtown skyline in the distance. While we were out for dinner, the vote for the 2020 World Exhibition occurred. Here's a link to information on World Exhibitions if you would like to learn more!

The average person would have no idea the vote to hold the 2020 World Expo was occurring that day. For us Dubaians, however, we had been visually assaulted with media campaigns all over the city for the past few months (P.S. I don't actually know what the nomenclature is for people from Dubai - and I've been trying to find out!). There were large electric billboards counting down the days until the vote for the past few weeks. 

The vote was between Dubai, U.A.E.; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Yekaterinburg, Russia; and Izmir, Turkey. Both Brazil and Russia are hosting major world events next year (the FIFA World Cup and the Winter Olympics, respectively), and Turkey has had a fair amount of negative press lately. Most people thought Dubai was the clear choice, and I was in favour! I looked through a few promotional videos and I agreed with the main motto that Dubai proposed: "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future". You can watch a promotional video featuring a young boy named Ali at this link.

These banners were ALL over the city.

The now iconic logo!
Throughout dinner, I kept refreshing Twitter and updating my colleagues on the vote (I LOVE using Twitter for live events - there's nothing faster!). There were three rounds of voting, and the lowest country was eliminated each round. We easily won the first and second round of voting, and we were all on the edge of our seats as the third round of votes was completed. We had heard that fireworks were going to be shot off the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest free-standing building, if Dubai won the Expo bid. I clicked refresh one more time and I saw that Dubai had won. "We won!" I exclaimed to my table. "Dubai won the bid!" Our table starting cheering, clapping, and yelling "Dubai 2020!". The other restaurant-goers were confused, but a few started cheering once they realized why we were cheering. Then, suddenly, there was a burst of colour in the sky - fireworks were being shot off of the Burj Khalifa!  The whole restaurant began cheering, finally realizing was going on. The live musician started to play Queen's "We are the Champions" - how appropriate! I was most excited about the fireworks, although we were too far away for a good look.

Our view of the fireworks!

Thanks to the internet, I found some impressive pictures of the celebratory fireworks. The Burj Khalifa stayed illuminated in a blue light after the fireworks in honour of the Dubai Expo 2020 logo.  


There had been rumours swirling for the past week about what would happen if Dubai won the Expo 2020 bid. We might get another day off school. We might get an entire week! We already had a long weekend scheduled, since the U.A.E.'s national day is today, Tuesday, December 2nd. Students across Dubai had at least a 4 day weekend. Due to parent-teacher conferences, our students had a 5.5 day weekend and the teachers had a 4.5 day weekend. 

All ears were peeled on Wednesday night - would we have school tomorrow? Then Sheikh Mohammed made his big proclomation - "all educational institutions would be cancelled tomorrow to celebrate Dubai win of the Expo 2020 bid!" There was much rejoicing throughout the desert. However, one lingering question remained: would the teachers still have to go into school to meet with the parents? My colleagues and I were all on Facebook, commenting back and forth on each other's statuses, waiting for a text or email from our school. Finally, one teacher posted that she had heard directly from our principal that school was cancelled. Woo! The next hour was a blur of people updating and/or complaining about their communication from the school, or lack thereof. I was one of the people complaining - I never dd receive a text from the school, and our school didn't issue an email stating that school and interivews were cancelled until 11:51 pm (at least, that's the time I received it in my inbox, and I was consistently refreshing the page). School was cancelled - let the 5 day weekend commence!

In retrospect, I would have actually rather gone to school and finished up the interviews because I don't know how or when we are going to re-schedule. However, I took the opportunity to pack for Egypt and relax a little bit at home. November went by in such a blur, so taking a morning off to relax was well-deserved! I still have no idea when these interviews will be re-scheduled. 

Victory lights! Photo credit to Andy in Oman (click to visit the blog post!)

The Middle East still surprises me every day. The fact that the Sheikh can declare that all schools are closed with only 10 hours of notice staggers me. I highly doubt that I will be still be living in Dubai for the Expo 2020, but maybe the Expo will provide me with a reason to come back!

Reflecting on Parent-Teacher Conferences

Being on the other side of the table for parent-teacher conferences is strange. I have had the opportunity to sit in on parent-teacher conferences during student teaching, but they were for a Grade 6 General Classroom and Grade 9-12 Band and Choir. My grade 7 - 11 general music interviews are a bit different than the ones I observed, and since I'm at a private international school, things are even more different.


I am the person who organizes to the extreme. I had trouble sleeping the night before parent-teacher conferences because I was trying to figure out the best way to arrange my room for the interviews. I was also wondering how I was going to back-up and support my grades, if parents asked and/or demanded. I have all of the students' grades  written down in my grade book - both on the computer and in a hard copy, but I wasn't sure whether parents would want to see a more detailed mark. I also didn't want to show parents their child's grades in my mark book because they would then be able to see other grades around their student's marks. I came up with what I considered a very creative and easy approach to showing parents the exact break-down of marks. I need to come up with a term for my solution, and I'll complete another post on it at a later time! 

My organization station - grade 9 music projects on display in the back


Being in a private international school, a lot of the logistical work was done for me. For example, my schedule was created and given to me - I didn't have to do anything with my schedule except to block off a few times for breaks. All of the secondary interviews were scheduled for 10 minutes in length. Parents signed up for interviews times through Synergetic, our all-encompassing attendence/markbook/student maitenance/parent-teacher conference tool. I like Synergetic, but I don't think it's the most user-friendly program. Regardless, my schedule was created, I received a copy in my mailbox, and a copy was taped to my door. I was ready to go! 

The First Conferences

The first day of interviews was a half-day of school for students, and our interviews occured from 1:00 - 6:00 pm. As it turned out, the two conferences about which I was most nervous occured at the very beginning of the first day of interviews. Although I was nervous, I think I was able to make meaningful progress with both sets of parents. 

Looking back, the whole day was a blur. I talked to several sets of parents and a few students who attended as well. I did have a few blank spots in my interview schedule and so I often found myself sitting at my conference table, playing on my iPad, waiting for the next set of parents. Parents were also often late as they had to walk all the way over to my building (the joys of the Multi-Purpose Hall!).  

I think that I was able to communicate with the parents quite well, although there were a few times I wish I had been more declamatory with my statements. For example, "Johnny must more attention in class" instead of "Johnny should pay attention in class". I feel as though the comments might have "stuck" a bit more if I was a bit more assertive with my suggestions for student improvement. I will work on this balance next time - combining assertiveness with politeness.

Age and Respect

In general, I felt as though most of the parents respected me as an adult and a teacher. There were a few awkward moments while shaking hands, etc., but in general, I was really happy with how the parents treated me. No one came to the conference overly angry, and I feel as though I was able to explain to the confused parents how and why their student got their mark. A few parents, however, were slightly more difficult to deal with. One parent in particular seemed fairly distraught to find out that her son's music class lasted all year, rather than only one semester. Another parent was surprised that our school doesn't have a class on learning how to play the drum set. Can you imagine the logistics in that...? 

My final interview of the day, however, was a bit of a strange situation. The mom originally looked into my room and left, thinking I was a student. She eventually made her way into my room and we began the interview. I was just beginning to speak about her son when she interrupted me, asking "How old are you?! 22? 23?" I was taken aback, and answered "23". I didn't know what else to say. A line such as "I would prefer not to disclose my age" seemed out-of-place and would have made the situation even more awkward. I tried to move the interview along, but she still continued to look at me in a funny way for the rest of the interview.

I left school that day feeling exhausted, yet proud of myself. There have been several moments this year where I have thought, "Wow. I'm actually a real teacher", and this was one of them. I was ready for my next half-day of conferences - scheduled from 8:00 am - noon, and then I was flying off to Luxor, Egypt for the long weekend!

However, the second day of conferences did not happen as planned. Stay tuned to find out why!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blogging Updates

Hello, everyone!

I am slowly but surely trying to make this blog grow and became more than an journal entry every few days. I want to share with you a few ways that my blog has grown over the past few weeks!

First and foremost:

  • One of my recent blog posts, Report Cards, was a post about the stress I felt while doing my first set of report cards. This blog post received a fair amount of attention after I tweeted the link with the new teacher hashtag, #ntchat. The #ntchat moderator, Lisa Dabbs (@teachingwithsoul), saw my tweet and retweeted the link to her 23,000+ followers! A few different educators left me comments on the blog and/or tweeted support. It was pretty awesome! This support and feedback from fellow educators reminded me of why I started to blog - to connect with other educators. I have been following, reading, and commenting on several educational blogs lately, so I'm glad people are returning the favour. I'm thankful for my PLN (professional learning network!)

  • I have been tweaking things here and there with the blog, trying to make it look more visually appealing and professional. This includes all of the widgets I have been adding - the new header, the search button, the Twitter button, ClustrMap widgets, "Where I've Been" map, blog archive, and labels! I'm not completely happy with my header yet, but it encapsulates the "Emma in Dubai" title. I'm hoping to replace the spliced together photo with a real photo of me with Dubai in the background soon!

  • I completed my first series of travel recaps about my trip to Ethiopia. My blog is both educational and personal, and I really wanted to capture my trip through writing, supported by pictures. I put up several photos on Facebook and captioned them, but it's different. I am also really picky about who I am friends with on Facebook because it's so personal, so I figured that my blog would be a great way for people to read about my trip. I also have tons of friends and family who aren't on Facebook! I know I will be taking several more trips in the near future (I'm going to another new country in a few weeks!), and I hope to continue the recaps. I will, however, try to fit my new trip in only one or two posts, rather than a separate post for each day!
These are three of the ways my blog has grown lately. I know I would get a lot more views if I constantly shared my posts through Facebook, but I'm often annoyed when people share every single update via Facebook. I do share all posts on Twitter and some on Google+, but I think those are most appropriate venues. I do hope to blog more frequently about school-related things. I often have good ideas for a blog post but simply don't write a complete post. Here's to blogging more frequently. Thank you for following along on my journey! 

I leave you with a photo from last weekend when I spent the entire two days at school writing report cards. I had my shade pulled down, the AC circulating, and movie soundtracks blasting. I will be more prepared for the next round! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Amazing Race-Worthy Cab Experience in Addis Ababa

This is my final recap for my trip to Ethiopia over the Eid Break in October 2013. I know these recaps took awhile to post and they became quite lengthy. Thank you to those of you whose stuck with me!

I awoke on my last day in Ethiopia to the gentle sounds of children calling. I looked outside, and saw that there was a soccer game in full swing behind our hotel. The children were playing on flat dirt, and they had a full set-up with a referree, jerseys, and spectators. I watched them play for a few minutes, and the kids were good (side note: I attended a few FIFA Under-17 Soccer Matches in Dubai over the past month - these young kids were just as skilled!).

I met up with some of my new friends and we left to explore Addis, knowing that we had to be back at the hotel to catch the airport shuttle by 1:30 pm. After the complicated process of checking out and storing our luggage, we set off to find a cab. My friends had decided they wanted to find three things to take home from Addis: coffee, music, and honey. I agreed with this quest, and agreed to go on the hunt. "Coffee, music, honey" became our mantra of the day.

We had heard of an excellent coffee shop where you could buy coffee to take home with you, so we tried to get our cab driver to take us there. Seven of us piled in a taxi van, and it took off! We weren't exactly sure where we were going, and the guys driving weren't really sure where we wanted to go. Once we got out of the cab, we asked a few people if they knew where we could find "Tacomah", the coffee shop. We were met with blank looks. We eventually found a coffee shop where we could sit down and enjoy a coffee while we planned our next steps.

 Throughout this trip, stopping for a quick cofee was a common occurence. According to the coffee drinkers, Ethiopian coffee is absolutely delicious. It has a smooth and high-quality taste that beats out any other type of coffee. I quickly became addicted to the generic "Addis tea", which I would order in lieu of coffee. It tasted like a cinnamon-flavoured black tea to me - delicious with a bit of added sugar! This high-quality coffee was also incredibly cheap - we ordered 1 tea, 4 single coffees, and 2 double coffees at this shop, and it ended up costing approximately $3 USD.

After enjoying our coffee, our group split into two - one group wanted to go back to the Mercato market, while the rest of us decided to carry on in the hopes of finding the elusive "Tacomah" coffee shop.

Walking around Addis Ababa was the first time I felt like I was experiencing authentic Ethiopian cultuer. Yes, we were a target for beggars and salesmen. People were constantly coming up to us and trying to sell us something or ask for money. Children would walk closely beside us for blocks at a time, trying to engage us in a conversation so we would buy their products.  The mothers holding their babies were heart-breaking, but I have read enough on beggars and the cycle of poverty to know that handing over a few dollars here or there will not make a long-term difference. I also didn't want to become even more of a target because I was willing to give money, like my friend Rory, who kept getting swarmed by salesmen after he bought one map from one of them. I never once felt threatened in Addis - just slightly hasseled a few times. I had a strong grip on my purse at all times, yet I still felt safe enough to take my camera out and take a few pictures when we stopped walking.

We briefly stopped at the Taitu hotel, the place where we had eaten dinner and gone to the jazz club a few nights before. After asking several people along the way, we finally found the elusive Tacomah, only to realize that the shop is actually named "Tamoca!" No wonder no one knew what we were talking about! One gentlemen told us that Tamoca is the best coffee in all of Ethiopian (and therefore, the world!), and we believed him! We had another coffee (and tea!) here and bought coffee to take back with us.

A map of the coffee regions of Ethiopia on the wall of Tamoca! Coffee: acquired.

After this, we set out on our next quest: to find music. My friend Iulia wanted to buy some traditional Ethiopian music, similar to what we had heard on our first night. I agreed, thinking that it would be great to have an actual CD of traditional Ethiopian music. We finally found some music stores, but it turns out that no where sells traditional Ethiopian music. The stores kept trying to sell us Ethiopian "pop" music. I'm not exactly sure why this is. We finally made it to one music store where the gentleman was very nice and understood what we wanted. He told us that you can't buy traditional music on CD, because it would be so difficult to get everyone together to record it. I'm not how much truth there is to this. He let us listen to one of his CDs before we purchased it, which was very kind of him. It is sort of traditional music, but uses synthesized instruments, rather than actual traditional instruments. We decided that with our limited time, this music would be good enough and we bought it! Music: acquired!

A shot from the streets of Addis Ababa. We bought our CDs somewhere in this vicinity.

Our last and final goal of the day was to buy Ethiopian honey. We finally found a supermarket, but they only had 2 jars of reasonably priced honey left, and there were three of us who wanted it! I didn't buy it, but I was a little sad. We therefore decided to find one more grocery store, and I was able to find some! I had to wait in line for a very long time and got some strange looks from the people in the store - I was shopping at a legimiate grocery store, and I'm assuming they didn't get very many tourists in there! Honey: acquired.

When I finally came out of the store, it was nearing 1:00 pm, our goal time to leave this area and head back to the hotel. I realized that our group was having a problem - none of the cab drivers claimed to know our hotel. My friends had been asking the entire time I was in the grocery store. What happened next could have been straight off an episode of The Amazing Race.

We began to frantically walk around the streets, asking several cabs if they knew where the Addis Regency hotel was. We knew the name of the local roundabout, but still, no one knew. We asked people on the street. A few of the cab drivers tried to call people to get directions. We were watching the time, and slowly freaking out. What if we missed the arranged shuttle to the airport? How were we going to get there? I have never felt like a contestant on the Amazing Race so much in my life.

Eventually, we asked one driver to take us to the Taitu hotel. We had caught a cab back to our hotel from the jazz club a few nights earlier, so we figured that the cab drivers there would know the place. We slowly weaved through the packed traffic, still ever-conscious of the time.

Cab driver number one!

When we got to the Taitu Hotel, the girls jumped out, leaving our friend Rory to sort out our money with the cab. I ran to the nearest cab, and anxiously asked him if he knew where the Addis Regency hotel was. He nodded. "Are you sure?" I demanded. "Yes, yes" he reassured me, and we jumped in the cab. We barely negotiated a price, because we just wanted to get there. I'm still not exactly sure what happened, but Rory was still arguing with the other cab driver. I think the original driver had figured out where we wanted to go and wanted to take us back to the hotel, but we had already moved on. Rory eventually got in, and we sped off! We encouraged the driver to go "fast, fast!" and he certainly did. Our driver was weaved in and out of traffic and making his own lanes. He took us on a "shortcut", and we arrived back at our hotel with ten minutes to spare! We burst into the hotel lobby, keyed up and ready to grab our bags. The rest of our group was calmly sitting, eating lunch, and politely asked, "what happened to you guys?". We could only laugh, and tried to explain the situation. The irony of the whole situation is that we ended up waiting for the shuttle for over half an hour at the hotel. When in Addis!

The rest of the day was spent travelling back to Dubai. It was the first time I've been away from Dubai for longer than 2 days, and the first time flying back on an airplane. I was surprised to find myself really excited to be heading back home to Dubai. It really sunk in that Dubai is now my home, not just my "home away home". Although part of my heart will always be in Manitoba, my heart has also settled in Dubai (corny, I know!).

My trip to Ethiopia was eye-opening. I experienced a new culture in a new country while on a new continent. I saw gorgeous scenery. I saw the human's oldest ancestor. I saw poverty-stricken people. I watched live music and dance. I danced with an Ethiopian dancer on stage. I ate local food. I embraced the bus. I did not try the coffee. I peed on the side of the road over a dozen times, often in a group setting. But most of all, I grew as a person.

I hope you have enjoyed my photos and recaps - they will be close to my heart for a long time.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Discovering the Beauty of Wenchi Crater Lake - Ethiopia

I finally finished my report cards yesterday! It took several late nights at school and several hours out of my weekend to finish grading, assigning marks, and writing comments, but I finally feel more relaxed! I went and pampered myself with a pedicure yesterday to celebrate. My next challenge will be to plan for the new quarter - but not today!

I was doing so well on my Ethiopia recaps - so now I need to finish them! I can't wait to re-read these posts in a few years and remember my trip. These recaps will also help me down the road when I do these pages in my photo albums. I'm currently six years behind, so it might be awhile!

Without further ado - my recap from my third day in Ethiopia!

We woke up bright and early and left our hotel at 6 a.m. Our bus from the previous two days had to be switched out for a smaller bus to help us over the rough terrain. That's never promising! I felt incredibly sick as we drove out of Addis, but I felt better when we got to the highway. A few hours later we stopped Ambo to find coffee, washrooms, and snacks. The snack debacle was one of the frustrating parts of this trip for me, as our trip information clearly stated to bring snacks for the long days in the bus. My roommate and I stocked up on snacks the night before leaving Dubai. After walking around the streets of Ambo for awhile, people eventually found something to eat and we could move on.

The next hour or so took place on the worst road I have ever experienced in my life.

Here's a picture of the road. I honestly felt like I was in a video game - it felt like Frogger as our driver swerved and drove all over the road and avoid the crazy divots. I took a video of the experience! This is my first time uploading a video to my blog... not sure how it's going to turn out!

A video of the rough, rough terrain.

Several members of our group felt extremely nauseous. I was very grateful I had taken anti-nausea pills.

We finally arrived at our destination, Wenchi Crater Lake! It's only 155 km west of Addis Ababa, but with the stops and terrain it took 4 hours to get there. The crater is an extinct volcano and contains a large lake, hot mineral springs, waterfalls, and beautiful valleys and farmland. There is an old monastery with a church situated on one of the lake islands. Approximately 4000 people live within the crater.  It was absolutely stunning.

The view from the top - taken with an iPhone 5. Click to expand the beauty!

Based on the original trip itinerary, I knew that there was an option to ride on horseback at the lake. I was not interested. I have ridden on horses before and not enjoyed it one bit. They are big, uncontrollable, and uncomfortable. There was one other man who didn't want to ride the horses since he is allergic. We were going to hike. Little did I know how physically exhausting this day would be!

Our starting altitude was about 3300 meters above sea level. Both Brandon and Dubai are practically at sea level, so I really struggle with exertion at high altitudes. We managed to keep a pretty good pace coming down the crater. The rest of our group was following behind on the horses. The horses were actually quite small, and each horse had a guide with them. None of the horses were going faster than a simple walk. I thought to myself, "this isn't very scary horseback riding", but I continued to trek down the crater.

Local guides walked down with us. One little boy, Maasai, gave me a walking stick to use. His brother, whose name I forget, carried our lunches down the entire crater on his shoulder.

Eventually, the crater actually got too steep for the horses to walk down with people on their backs. Everyone in our group had to hike down. It was actually quite precarious - you really had to watch where you were walking, which was sometimes difficult because the beautiful scenery would distract you. The locals were literally running down the paths with minimal protection on their feet.

We finally got to the bottom of the crater and my group members were reunited with their horses and guides. As you can see from the following picture, the bottom of the crater is full of small bodies of water and mud. All of our guides were wearing shoes that they didn't mind getting wet and muddy, but most of us were wearing pristine running shoes!

The bottom of the crater. I'm probably walking somewhere on the far left.

While everyone was riding their horse across the bottom, I was still walking alongside the edge of the crater. It was incredibly difficult, and my foot was completely submerged in mud. Eventually, one of the guides told me I should get on a horse to cross one part of the river. I was frustrated - it was either face my fears and get on a horse, or have my new white and pink running shoes be completely covered in mud. I begrudgingly got up on the horse, uttering a small scream in the process.

It wasn't actually that bad. The horse was quite small. Look at how close my feet are to the ground! The guide in the red also stayed with me the entire time, his hand clamped around the back of my knee to push the horse forward.

After a few minutes, I actually found myself beginning to enjoy the experience. We saw locals doing their laundry in natural mineral hot springs, which were a vibrant shade of orange.

Hot springs

We saw a type of water mill system that reminded me of pioneers.

We saw tons of animals, both being lead by locals or roaming free. I heard a goat yelling like a human, and I couldn't stop smiling.

Goats in the way! 

We eventually got off of our horses, ate lunch, and continued to hike. We were hiking right alongside the lake. I twisted my ankle at one point which caused me to curse, quite loudly, and startle a few of my group members. I walked it off, and it was fine for a few hours.

We took a boat ride across the lake to visit the island lake with the monastery. We didn't think we would all fit in the boat, but we did. Four local guys were paddling. The lake is apparently extremely deep, so we were all a little bit nervous while on the boat.

Our reliable, safe boat :)

We had to climb all the way to the top of the island to see the monastery. We weren't actually allowed to go in, so we just listened to one of the guys talk about the monastery and religion. Most of us tuned out, since we had just seen a monastery the previous day. For me, seeing the outside of the monastery was not worth hiking up and down that island. I was seriously feeling the altitude at this point and was breathing very heavily.

The outside of the Monastery - not worth the exertion!

One notable memory is that I kept slipping on something while hiking down the island. It was some type of plant like a pinecone. Dan was holding my hand at some point when I just slipped, and I just kept sliding until I was basically doing the splits. One of the guides was pretty concerned and took my other hand, so I was helped down by two guys! I hadn't been slipping while hiking all day, so that was pretty strange.

We took another boat right back to the other side of the crater. There was absolutely no way I could hike back up the crater, so I jumped back on the horse. The ride up was still gorgeous, but we were all exhausted by this point. I didn't take any pictures, but here are few from my friend Sarah as we rode up:

Donkey! :)

Riding up the crater

Look at all of the green colours!
The bus ride back to our hotel in Addis was long. Apparently people who do the Wenchi Crater Lake trip often stay in Ambo overnight. I would definitely recommend this!! Most of us managed to get some sleep on the bus. There had been talk about going back to the jazz club earlier in the day but by the time we got back, we were just too tired. We ate a nice dinner in the hotel and I went to bed. A few people stayed up and had a few drinks, but I just needed sleep.

It was an absolutely exhausting day, but I saw some of the most stunning scenery in my life and overcame a significant fear (although it barely counted as real horseback riding!).

My fourth and final recap will cover our "free" day in Addis Ababa where we finally got to go into the heart of the city. I also had a moment where I felt like an Amazing Race contestant - all I needed was the cameraman! Stay tuned :)