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Monday, August 24, 2015

Photo:Tim Hurley
“Safari” is one of the few African words to make it into the English language - it means “journey”, and “njema” means “‘good”. My contact in the Irish education charity Camara in Ethiopia wished me “safari njema”.
Having flown through the night it was amazing to touch down in Africa for the first time, just as the sun was dawning on a new day.
Driving from Addis Ababa Airport towards the city to the hotel, the contrasts were striking: old beaten up blue-and-white taxis, repainted by hand with grainy paint-brush strokes, mixed with a small few shiny new cars on a new main road to the city. There’s a lot of building going on, revealing a city working hard to drive itself into the modern world. Of course, it also has the wonderful all-year-round pleasant heat of a sub-tropical, high-altitude climate, which made for a pleasant change from the rain and sleet I left behind in Ireland.
My first trip to one of the schools that Camara works with was an amazing experience. Seid Kasim, a 15-year-old student had this to say: “We can now use computers to help with our homework and the applications help with our learning process. Before these computers we hadn’t worked with the internet, so it helps, for example, if we have projects or group work that we can now use these computers.”
Although the surroundings and environment that these children go to school in every day would be utterly unthinkable for us, they don’t see it that way. The grounds are comprised of solid, hard, dry earth and the smell of warm dust in the air is permanent. The run-down classroom walls - inside and out - would probably reject a lick of paint at this stage.
There was time for lunch too at a local, authentic Ethiopian restaurant with a wide array of tasty, mostly spicy vegetarian food. Afterwards, we had the best coffee I’ve ever tasted from their own charcoal coffee brewing pot. Every household in Ethiopia has one.
The Ethiopian people are inspiring: everyone I met had the same soft spoken, humble and good-natured way about them. They bring a new meaning to the word dignity.
Addis Ababa is almost 2,500m above sea level, twice the height of Ireland’s highest mountain Carrauntoohil, so the air is thin and sometimes you can feel short of breath. I wondered what the air in Kenya had in store as I departed on safari njema part two.
Madam Rose, the English teacher at Star of the Sea Primary School in Mombasa, told me proudly with a smile: “This is Kenya. This is my home. Home is always best.” Wonderful, softly-spoken, simple words of wisdom.
As an Irishman in Africa, it seems apt to blend some Irish and Swahili words together. I think “Safari njema abhaile” has a nice ring to it; the good journey home.
There were many heart-warming moments on this trip, and at the core of every one were the wonderful people I met. From the children of all ages whose universal language of laughter brought a smile to me every day, to the teachers and staff at the schools I went to visit. All were kind, humble, proud and honourable people, working hard to give the next generation of children a better chance to break the cycle of poverty through education.
Source: http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/travel/travel-writer-east-africa-the-people-were-kind-humble-proud-1.2320746