Arba Minch, Ethiopia

Air travel is always more interesting when you fly in on a small plane.
Even if there is nothing in particularly memorable about the flight, the fact that you are in a commercial airplane that has propellers makes you think twice about where the heck you’re going.

IMG_1960After flying in from Addis Ababa, Stephen Bargatze and I were met by our hosts at the airport.  We traveled through the city of Arba Minch to an absolutely beautiful resort where we were staying and performing two shows.

Having recently been in the desert, we weren’t expecting beautiful 72 degree weather in, of all places, Ethiopia.

We checked into our rooms and were immediately briefed on how to best protect ourselves.  Apparently, we had to pay awfully close attention to our surroundings.  Each of our doors had a long, bean bag-like cushion looking thing.  These long cushions were laid on the ground and were designed to cover the gap between the bottom of the door and the ground.  For snakes…we were told.

The snakes didn’t really bother me all that much.  I figured I would just pay attention to everywhere I stepped and that I would use the flip flops that we had been given when I was in the room so I would be able to see that I wasn’t inserting my foot into a shoe that had a snake, scorpion, or other insect in it.

The thing that freaked me out was when they told us about the acid beetles.  Apparently in Ethiopia they have an insect whose insides are some form of acid.  So, if this beetle somehow crawls on you and you slap and crush it, the insides of the dead beetle will start to burn into your skin.  And almost everyone we met who lived there had a nice scar or two somewhere on their body from their encounter with an acid beetle.  Oh joy!

Just so you know…what they told us to do if we happened to have an insect anywhere on our body was to blow it off our skin, not slap it.  (See what you just learned there.  Don’t let anyone tell you these adventures aren’t educational.)  All that little bit of advice did for me was to force me to overreact every time I felt the slightest itch anywhere on my body.  I slept terribly while I was there because I couldn’t stop thinking about the darn acid beetles falling on me from the ceiling!

IMG_1923We ate lunch with our hosts at the resort and had the most incredible view of the local forest.  I actually wondered aloud if this was the same Ethiopia that we used to see on the news with all of the starving children.  As it turns out, it was.  The view certainly didn’t betray that fact, though.  It was stunning.

We had our first show that evening for a group of about 35 or so people and had a blast with them.  Having an intimate group nice and close to experience the sleight of hand is always fun for me.  And, of course, Stephen had them howling with his comedy and magic.

Later that night our host asked us if we wanted to take a trip out to see some of the wild animals that come out in the evening.  Heck yeah, we did!  So, we got in the back of a pickup truck and were driven around an area which was well known for having lots of animals out.   We saw (as best we could in the darkness) all sorts of stuff.  There were hyenas, little deer-like animals, hippos, and plenty more.  It was wild (literally).  We were especially careful not to get out of the truck since black mamba snakes were also sometimes seen out there.

The next morning we went on a humanitarian mission.  We met up with a local Catholic Priest, Father Paddy, and went into the poorest parts of the city.  We left the roads and traveled on dirt roads back into neighborhoods full of houses that don’t resemble anything we would call a house in the United States.



Father Paddy was delivering food, clothing, and medicine to several members of the community who were caring for sick family members.  While we were there we saw groups of kids who followed us around and wanted to look at us and ask us for money.

Most of the kids were wearing dirty clothes with no shoes.  It’s very sobering when you spend time in third world countries and see very real people living very real lives in very different communities from ours.  Anyone with any compassion would see the people living in these conditions and want to help.  Unfortunately, the moment that you give one child anything at all, you are putting yourself, the child, and all of the people with you in harm’s way.  We were told in very firm terms by our hosts not to give anyone, anything, for any reason.

While we were out visiting these folks we also made a stop at the local market.  It was a very large marketplace with all sorts of stuff.  We saw a lot of raw coffee beans, farmers selling their vegetables and grains, and all sorts of other stuff.  We actually purchased food at that market that we took to the families that we were serving.

We returned to the resort with very sober attitudes.  You can’t help but be affected by seeing something like that.  Of course a few hours will bring an all new adventure, and that’s exactly what happened to me.

Later that afternoon, Stephen and I decided to go to get a massage and visit the pool to relax and get ready for that evening’s show.

Let me just say right now that I’m not really a massage guy.  I can count the number of massages I’ve had on one hand.  Interestingly, I just realized that I’ve had more massages out of the country than I have back home.  Weird.

So, we go check in to our afternoon massages and are told to take a shower, and then go to the massage rooms.  So there I am laying on a towel on a massage bed with another towel covering me up.  The girl comes in and asks me if I want a hard massage or an easy massage.  Well, I had a sports massage for an injury one time and that thing was no fun at all.  So, I go for an easy massage.

I don’t know how this girl measures what an easy massage is like compared to a hard massage, but she proceeded to give me the hardest dang massage I’ve ever had.  She squeezed my calves and feet so hard that I almost came off that table.  The harder she pushed on my legs, the harder I held onto the table, grimacing.

At one point she was working on the back of my legs.  Suddenly she was massaging my butt.  Yep, this lady had her hands on my naked rear end.  You know, I heard somewhere that your gluteus maximus (read that as butt muscles) are the largest muscles in your body.  I have no idea if that is true, but I do know that I enjoyed that bum massage!

Our show that evening was also a hit.  Some of the folks from our first show had so much fun they returned to see us again.  And we had an even bigger turnout (maybe 50 or 60 people) than our first show because the word had spread.

That night our host took us into the city to eat.  We jumped into several crazy little motorcycle buggy things and were taken to a local pizza place that was run by an expat from Australia (I think).  Trying to figure out the menu was a little of an adventure, but I opted for the Pizza Special Gravy.  (Yeah, I know!)  But hey, unlike Stephen, I’m an adventurous eater.

The pizza was outstanding and the company was even better.  At one point during dinner all of the electricity went out everywhere.  We were sitting in this indoor/outdoor pizza place and all of the lights went completely out.  Fortunately the lights turned back on a few seconds later.  We were told that type of thing was normal because the local power grid just wasn’t very good. (!)

We left Arba Minch the next day for our next stop.  But as a follow up, I’d like to report that Stephen was so touched by what he saw in Ethiopia he has been following up regularly with Father Paddy and sending boxes of clothes back to be given to the neediest families and kids in the area.


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