Sidi Bou Said

A couple of the teachers living on my compound in Riyadh had worked in Tunisia before coming to Saudi Arabia to earn better money. They helped me pick locations that I should visit while I was in and around Tunis. One of them was Sidi Bou Said. It's an artsy area north east of Tunis along the Mediterranean Sea cliffs. It looks a lot like Oia, Santorini for those familiar with the Greek Isle. Normally, this location is filled with tourists. I think I came to Tunisia at the right time -- the middle of October. While still hot, it has cooled down significantly from the highs during the summer peak and most of the tourists have gone home. I've really had free run of the city and sites. Local laws mandate that these buildings cannot be painted in colors other than the whitewash and blue doors and trim. Makes for nice visual effect.

So, after traipsing up the hill to the end of the main street in Sidi Bou Said, I discover the popular cafe that is featured on many YouTube videos. It's charming and its terraces climb down the cliff for a bit.

I was parched from a long day in Carthage and now this climb. I finally flagged down a waiter to take my order. He didn't approach my table, but wanted me to yell out across two terraces of tables what I wanted. I yelled that I wanted a Celtia (a locally brewed beer, and not too bad!). He looked puzzled and disgusted at the same time. My driver heard him mumble some damned thing and he politely translated what the waiter had said. Something to the effect that I obviously was an uncultured heathen foreigner who didn't understand the local culture. Yeah, so what. Where was the beer? Well, the cafe didn't serve beer, only juice and water. More Islamic crap. I'd have to wait to get back to the hotel to get a serving or three of Celtia. I ordered juice and looked for the exit once I guzzled it down.

The juice was...outstanding! I had ordered a mix of who knows what, but after stirring it up for a bit, it tasted delicious and refreshed me. Not like three beers would have, mind you. I paid up and left. Won't be back.

A Walk in the Woods

On Day 3 in Ethiopia, I had arranged a day trip out of Addis. I headed south of the capital at 0530 hours with two guides and drove a little more than 100 kilometers before we arrived at our destination. On well groomed highways we could have made the trip in one hour. Our trip instead took three hours. We left early to avoid the notoriously overcrowded, single four-lane road headed south to Djibouti. After one and a half hours south, we left the pavement and proceeded to drive over bone jarring, country roads that had previously been washed out in the rains.

It was great to see Ethiopian countryside and the local animal life. My guides excitedly pointed out a herd of camels. A camel was the last thing I wanted to see.

On the country road leading to the mountain climb.

After an hour and a half of rough, off-road driving, we arrived at a small village at the base of Mount Zuquala. I'm not sure if the mountain is itself sacred, but this is a place of pilgrimage once a year where thousands climb up the trail and pray at the three monasteries that are spaced along the trail.   

We arrive at the small village at the base of the mountain.

We arrive at the small village at the base of the mountain.

We parked our car and spoke to the villagers. A young kid from the village joined our little band of ill-prepared hikers. I thought we were going to drive up the mountain. After arriving, I'm told, no, we're going to hike for three hours up to the monastery. I knew then this little foray into the wilderness was going to end badly for me, but, like a dumb-ass tourist, I trudged up the hill in my street shoes and the only pair of trousers I brought on the trip. Did I mention that we also had no water or power snacks?

After an hour and a half of hiking up some very scenic mountain terrain, we arrived at the first monastery. These little churches dot nearly every mountain top and hillside across the country. These country churches are small, circular, and have one to two monks living on the compound. In my next post, I will discuss the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the predominant faith of the Ethiopian population.

The trail up to the monastery had water flowing down it, so we hopped from rock to rock as we ascended. I looked down at my pants and I noticed that I'm beginning to get covered in mud. My shoes already were caked with sticky mud I collected from slipping off the rocks and into the mud channel. My interest in continuing the climb faded. I'm sure the rest of the mountain would have been nice, but next time I'll take a helicopter to the top.

We began our descent back to the village.

About midway down, a little kid appeared on the trail. He was mired in the mud. My hiking companions went to the rescue, freed him from the mud hole he was in, recovered his lost shoe, and dusted him off. Then one of the guys surprised me by bending down and kissing the young boy on the head before sending him on his way. The kid seemed fascinated by the old, white guy standing before him in muddy clothes. I'm sure he hadn't seen too many of them crossing his path.

We made it down the mountain and began the bumpy ride back to the main road to Addis. I wish I had more time to explore other areas of Ethiopia, but this one-day trip would have to do until I return someday.

Lucy, I'm Home!

As a former Stones & Bones student (archaeology, paleoanthropology, ancient history, and geology), seeing the pre-human fossil finds from the Rift Valley was one of my primary interests while visiting Ethiopia. The day after I arrived, I made a beeline to the National Museum to go visit the hominid finds on display. I previously was told that Lucy, one of the oldest (3.2 million years) and near complete finds (40% of a female Australopithecus afarensis), was in the US on a six-year tour of the large museums there. I was bummed. On arriving at the National Museum, I was surprised and excited to discover that she was back in country and available for visitors.

Lucy (AL 288-1) back in her case in the National Museum, Addis Ababa

I was pressed for time and had to move through all the exhibits as quickly as I could. I bypassed all the usual folk art and ethnic exhibits to maximize my time in the paleoanthropological section. I took hurried photos of the displays to analyze further some day down the road, and then left for another attraction in Addis. 

A recreation of the entire skeleton of Lucy. She would have stood 3' 6", was bipedal, but was still capable of moving through the trees.

Five months ago, I submitted a saliva sample to 23andMe for a DNA analysis and a good run down on my heredity. The results were interesting. My haplogroup identification is J1c3I1. My maternal line is J1c3 and my paternal line is I1. Haplogroup J originated about 45,000 years ago on the Arabian Peninsula not long after modern humans expanded out of Africa and onto the Eurasian continent. About 7,000 years ago the expansion of farming carried daughter lineages of J, including J1, into Europe. Today the haplogroup extends as far west as Britain and as far east as Central Asia. 

Haplogroup I1 can be found at levels of 10% and higher in many parts of Europe, due to its expansion with men who migrated northward after the end of the Ice Age about 12,000 years ago. It reaches its highest levels in Denmark and the southern parts of Sweden and Norway. 

The map below shows a depiction of the path of human migration out of Africa, through the Arabian Peninsula, and from there throughout the world. In my case, both my maternal and paternal lines headed to Europe and then recently to North America. 

Paths of human migrations out of Africa..

Paths of human migrations out of Africa..

Looking down at Lucy in that case, I realized that I had returned home, in one sense. I had "migrated" from the US to Europe and Central Asia (where I lived for four years), to Saudi Arabia where I currently reside, and finally to Ethiopia where I glanced down upon this one potential ancestor who was discovered some miles from where I was standing. I had completed a reverse migration, of sorts, and had returned to the source and locality of human development on Earth. 

The Continuance of Slavery

Before I deployed for Saudi Arabia to work a project there, I watched a variety of YouTube videos about Saudi Arabia. I hit on a slew of videos about the treatment of foreign laborers, especially housemaids. These women from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sudan, and elsewhere have a long, sad history of poor and sometimes violent treatment by their employers in Saudi. One video was a professional documentary about three or four Filipinas who essentially were held as slaves. Their passports were confiscated by their employers who also withheld payments. Whenever these women complained about nonpayment, they were handed over to other Saudi women who became their new employers. After three years working for no salary in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Philippine government finally repatriated these ladies and an entire plane-load of women like them. The documentary film captured their reaction as the plane touched-down in Manila. All of the passengers erupted into applause and cheers -- and tears -- as the sense of relief of being home and out of the hellhole flowed through them.


I was wondering why nearly every passenger on the Saudi Air flight I was taking to Addis Ababa was a young, Ethiopian woman. There were almost no men on board. I was caught off-guard when, upon touching down in Addis, these young women broke out into laughter, cheers, tears, prayers of thanks, and that strange sound African women make when they utter high-pitched tones with their tongues oscillating in their mouths. When we were taxiing to the terminal, one young lady turned round to me and asked me in good English who I was and where I was going. I told her the little I was willing to offer, but asked her if she had worked in Saudi. She replied yes, she had been there for a year working as a housemaid and servant. I inquired about her treatment. She clammed-up a bit, but replied “troubling.” And then she wanted to give me her phone number. Another foreigner intending to come to the US.


Slavery is alive and well in the world, especially in Saudi Arabia. The worst of the slaveholders are Saudi women who are so repressed emotionally and physically that they lash-out against whoever they feel empowered to enslave and mistreat for their own sick purposes. JFK forced Saudi to outlaw slavery in 1962. While it doesn’t exist anymore as an institution, it exists every day behind tall walls of the Saudi homes.

Finally ... 7th Continent Down

We all have goals. Since I was a young boy studying Geography in the 2nd Grade, I was fascinated by the photos of African tribesmen with loops in their ears, plates stretching their lips out like a platypus, Pygmies, Tutus, Zulus, and of course all of the wild animals. Those photos never left my memory and I knew that I wanted to travel the world to see all of that. Then life intervened.

 A European trip as a young man whetted my appetite for more travel and wanderlust. I joined the Army. Lived in Panama, Germany, and Korea and visited the other countries in the regions as I had time. Retired from the Army and worked in Antarctica for six years. Visited Australia (my 6th continent) back in 1998 with my wife, Suzanne. And it's taken this long since then to hit my 7th, and last continent. The weight of that omission burdened me for years. I had tried to get to various parts of Africa over the years but never managed it.

Now, I'm here -- in Ethiopia, and wondering why I didn't get here earlier. Work. It's always work that prevents me from taking time for myself, and I'm sick of it. I finally took the time while working in Riyadh to get here. I'm coming back to Africa. Maybe not Ethiopia, but a good sample of countries that will provide me the knowledge and experience of the various regions of Africa in order to honestly experience the entire continent. 

Poverty. This is what defines Africa. It's also what defines Ethiopia, to a certain extent. That, and the beautiful women here. This place is distinct and so different from the rest of Africa. And for that, I'm privileged to finally be here and to accomplish one of my travel goals. 

Weight is lifted. Now I have the freedom to come and go as I please and experience all that Africa has to offer me. And I never will mention all this bullshit about visiting 7 continents again. Fait accompli. 

Planning For a Trip to Ethiopia three weeks I'll be visiting my first country on the African continent. It's taken way too long for me to pay Africa a visit. My flight is booked and I am making arrangements for lodging and touring.

I've tried multiple times to fly to Africa. Back in 1989 during a trip to Malta, I tried to fly to Tunisia for a quick visit. The airlines had no problem getting me there but they couldn't guarantee that I could leave within three weeks of my required return. The Army would have taken a dim view of me going AWOL. In January 2011, while I was working in Kuwait following 13 months in Afghanistan, I tried to fly to Egypt to visit some historical sites. And then this little thing called The Arab Spring erupted throughout the region. That killed any plans to visit North Africa for two to three years. 

Now, I'm working in Riyadh, just a puddle jump across the Red Sea from Africa. This is my last chance to visit a number of African countries without flying long hours from Colorado. I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity before I go home for good. The Arab Spring and its after effects still are a problem. Egypt may or may not be totally safe right now. So I've opted to go to Ethiopia first, visit the incredible historical sites there, and get blasted by the terrible poverty that exists outside of Addis Ababa. 

I will visit other African countries later. I'm saving a trip to South Africa in order to share that with my wife, Suzanne. One can't see Africa by visiting one country; there's too many varied regions and cultures in Africa. There will be places I don't go and have absolutely no desire to go -- South Sudan being one of them. Add the Congo to that list. But I'm excited to be finally going somewhere on the continent, the seventh (and last) for me.