With Heather in SimiensA gallery of friendship moments from 2013. Human contact is woven into life here in a way that would likely be considered “different” or uncomfortable at home. It starts with infants being carried on the backs of mothers, or when, mothers are occupied, the backs of older siblings. Boys and girls alike hold hands and even adults (including soldiers on public patrol) out for a stroll hold hands. So putting one’s arm around the shoulder of a friend and affirming, “you are my friend” (guar-dane-ya in Amharic) is an every day occurrence.

I go most places by foot, although a 3 wheeled bajaj (better known as tuk tuks in India where they’re manufactured) is handy for longer trips into Gondar’s main square (the piazza) where North American staples like corn flakes and Snickers bars can be purchased. As a pedestrian I encounter many of the same shop keepers, school children, and people on the street every day. I’m hailed as John on my morning trek to the university and respond with a bow, a smile, a wave, a salute to guards at the bank, or, often, a handshake. For several weeks I’d meet an Ethiopian who’s greeting was an exagerrated With guide and scout on Simiens trek“Good morning America”. A genuine hoot. It’s fun and sparks a warmth of spirit I sense with regret I sometimes failed to bring to work in North America. Simple lesson for the future: walking and talking is good; driving and brooding not so good.

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