I came to Ethiopia with a single objective: sure, it was a new vacation destination for my family and me, but the main goal of this trip for me was running. No, it wasn’t running away from the hippos, hyenas or gelada baboons endemic to Ethiopia. Rather, it was running as a sport; running to compete, running to see nature, or just running to clear out the mind. Now that you know about my passion for the sport, you are probably asking: why Ethiopia? For those of you unfamiliar with the history and tradition of distance running, Ethiopia, along with the rest of East Africa, is a distance running mecca. Every year, Ethiopia churns out Olympic gold medalists and world record holders and this is the reason why after two long-haul transcontinental flights and nearly 48 hours of travel I have found myself at a high-altitude (8000 ft) training camp for Ethiopian runners in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. I came here to learn training secrets from Ethiopian athletes and become a better runner. Little did I know that I would leave Ethiopia not just a better runner but also a better person with greater values and a greater appreciation of life as a whole.
Being your typical teenager who thinks he has it all figured out, I was initially repulsed by the gritty and chaotic reality of Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia; its poverty, chaos, and smog. Back home, I enjoy and am quite attached to the standard American amenities, which is quite ironic since I consider myself a seasoned traveler. Here in Ethiopia, my family and I chose to rough it (at least by my standards), which meant lack of reliable indoor plumbing, frequent power outages and basically camp-like conditions. Still, I was here to run and not stare at my own reflection.
Immediately upon my arrival, I was welcomed by my Ethiopian hosts who greeted me with warmth and conversation and within one day I almost forgot about the camp’s tough conditions; that’s because the runners made up for it! The runners at the camp, and the Ethiopians in general, are possibly the kindest and most welcoming people you will ever meet; even if I tried I wouldn’t be able to match their generosity.
After spending nearly three weeks training with the Ethiopian runners at the camp, I realized that Gandhi had it right when he said the path to fulfillment only happens when one has abstained from the use of material goods. My path up to this point has been too compromised as far as technology goes and, even though I eventually would be going back to the States, I feel like the simple way of living makes one the happiest.
Any visitor to Addis Ababa, I’m sure, would agree with the following statement: when you come here, Addis will dish you out a slice of un-sugarcoated reality on a not-so-pristine platter. What I mean is that Addis Ababa has it all: the wealthy and the poor, the young and the old, the dressed and the naked, the sober and the drunk, health and famine, sunny weather and rainy weather, clean air and smog, cow pies and donkey dung. If you need a wake-up call from life or just need a slap on your self-absorbed face, come to Addis. You’ll leave Ethiopia like me, a better person, I promise.
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