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Working my way through the alphabet, one country at a time


There are 80 languages in Ethiopia and over 200 dialects, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I delivered my well-rehearsed “selam tena jistilign” (hello) and the young woman shook her head that she didn’t understand. But the welcoming ceremony from the village of Yerer had made up for my disappointment. They were so excited to see us!  The children sang for us–they are dynamic singers–and gave us each a rose.

Expedition members alternate between doing construction work and teaching the children. In recent years, Engage Now Africa has realized it’s more cost-effective to build cement block schools and then paint the classrooms and put together desks.

Teaching the the children is an absolute joy although it takes awhile to get into the rhythm of using a translator. Each day we teach simple concepts followed with an activity so we can interact with the children.  Of course, hygiene is an important topic to teach.  Yesterday we taught a hygiene activity using different colors of glitter, and as the children shook hands and touched their faces they could see how easily germs spread.

They LOVE to have their picture taken. They are shy, but when coaxed into a smile they melt your hearts.

The countryside is beautiful. Deforestation created problems several decades ago so fast growing eucalyptus trees were planted in abundance. The villagers earn their living by farming. The countryside is dotted with farmers plowing fields by hand.

One of their major crops is teff, which is a grain used to make injera. Injera looks like an enormous crepe, but is spongy and made from sourdough. They use injera to scrape up the food and eat it, without utensils.

We have a genius among us named Larry Bingham.  He has constructed a toilet for us out of corrugated cardboard so we don’t have to squat over a hole.   The base is a triangle (Larry’s research suggested a triangle is sturdier than a square) with a side pocket to hold reading material.  A biodegradable sack is placed over the toilet seat (duct taped to the base) before we do our business  then we remove the sack, tie it in a knot so it doesn’t stink or attract flies, and dump it in the nearby hole.  You can’t make yourself too comfortable however, because the sack dissolves in 30 minutes!

This is a most excellent adventure! I can’t wait to tell you more.

Rhonda Sarantis

Rhonda Sarantis

"She's crazy and loud but she loves you!" That's what they tell my infant granddaughter to prepare her for my visit, so I thought it would be a great way to prepare you. And while I may not always be crazy or loud, one thing is always true: I LOVE people. That's at the heart of my passion for travel. I love getting to know people from different cultures who speak different languages, eat different food, have different ideas and opinions. I'm endlessly curious and make a point of reading about the countries I visit. Instead of saying "that's not how WE do it," I enjoy identifying strengths in diverse cultures, and learning about their way of life. I LOVE road trips! I have great memories of monthlong vacations growing up. Dad always had a van--before they were popular--and invited anybody who wanted to join us. My road trips within the United States will be featured in "The Lower Case Travelogs." Be sure to buckle your seat belt. I execute illegal u-turns if a bakery or estate sale is spotted!

Lalibela, Ethiopia

Ethiopian Orthodox Church

The Queen of Sheba

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Debre Zyet, Ethiopia

Yerer, Ethiopia


  • Kyle Smith

    Look like you’re having so much fun. I love the expiration on the toilet bag. I could just imagine the stress of working against the clock.

    June 9, 2016 at 3:57 pm
  • Ali

    I am loving all of this! The bashful girls in their blue school uniforms make me think of Grandma Pope. What an adventure!

    June 9, 2016 at 4:13 pm
  • Aaron G.

    This whole trip is an awesome and fulfilling adventure! Thanks for taking us along. 🙂

    June 9, 2016 at 4:49 pm
  • Ami

    I love this!! What an incredible experience. More! More!

    June 9, 2016 at 5:36 pm
  • Cindy

    Remarkable experience. Love this first enutty! Look forward to more of this journey. You will come back enriched and changed for the better forever. Love you.

    June 9, 2016 at 7:14 pm
  • Cindy


    June 9, 2016 at 7:14 pm
  • Suzanne

    I love hearing about this wonderful experience!

    June 9, 2016 at 8:59 pm