University Guest House- My mini Ethiopia

The conclusion- but not The End.

There is a big difference between a home, a house and an “apartment I rent”.

For the past two months, I have been referring to the University of Gondar Guest House, as my home. As I see it, home is where you look forward to coming back at the end of a long day, you love being there and the people, neighbors and even the furnitures, windows and the doors- welcome you, wait for you, make you feel warm and desired. This guest house apartment, makes me feel exactly the same.

On our first encounter, I was obviously not geared enough to make a first impression. I had travelled a 30 hours journey- from States to Gondar- still in the same clothes, I had put on three days ago- sweaty, dirty and exhausted.

I was guided into one of the apartments by my colleagues, Rebekah and Gifti and I guess we both, like being humble. The apartment didn’t seem of making any compelling impressions too. It was dark, damp, moldy, broken door handles, years of mishandling and poor management written on the face, with BIG BOLD letters.

The following days, waking up early with call of prayers from the adjoining mosque, sitting on the balcony with a cup of coffee and working out through my emails/ SCOPE related work had to be my every day morning ritual.  As I made way through my days here, I switched into a better available space, mended locks, swapped rocking bed to a more stable one, hammered in few nails here and there, chose the driest and cleanliest appearing mattress, replaced brighter light bulbs, basically redesigned my conditions through the limitations. [resource] Limitations, as a matter of fact, is omnipotent, varying only in its forms and grades of severity. The key lies in adaptation!

My early morning workspace with a  Frenchpress coffee and a view.


As my days transited to weeks and now weeks into months, I have started to realize the life of the guest house. The slow life yet full of subtle complexities. So subtle, you have to wait, watch and ponder to realize.

Each apartment, every individuals living in it, every plants and each bird perching on the rooftop, light bulbs barely hanging the broken holder, even the flaky paints on the walls, have their own tales to tell. Combined together as a unit, they give the guest house a life.  They provide a breath, a soul and a character- very similar to the giant nation outside its walls. Complex, diverse and difficult, the life of the guest house, my Mini- Ethiopia.

The long and short term residents, the management staffs, cleaning ladies and occasional events at the hall, bring about the cultural and ethnic diversity in the guest house.

One of my neighbors, a permanent resident at the guest house is a Radiologist working at the University Hospital with his wife and their month old boy. Originally from Addis, he brings in the culture of a city grown man, drives around in a Toyota, a luxury in this part of world. Another neighbor, during my first few weeks of arrival, was a German medical student who had been here for past 3 months. He  shared me his understandings of the guest house, the hospital, Gondar and some Ethiopian society and culture- of course what he could see  through his German lenses.

Further more interestingly on learning individual perspectives, my time here also overlapped with another SCOPE fellow, Ethiopian-American girl, born and raised in USA from Ethiopian parents. She added a different angle to help my understanding,  painted through stories shared by her parents and relatives, may be at times across the dinner table, when they talked about their country of origin.

Coming back to my Mini-Ethiopia, the events and weddings, that  always follows by hours of loud music and dance live unto the Ethiopian music culture, which every Ethiopian is proud of!

The guest house has a multi purpose hall which can be rented for parties and events. The weddings are a sold out event! I invited myself into couple of them and tried their shoulder dance ( obviously after drinking couple of their free beers) !

Typical habesha dance comprises of complex shoulder movements,  matching to the beats of the music playing. Nothing like you have seen or done in the West. You have to see it, to understand. Human body is weird and is capable of unfathomable possibilities, but I would never have imagined that our shoulders could be moved in so many different patterns and speed.

Weddings are a common event in the guest house hall.


You will be called upon, often as a challenge for a dance by men and women alike, so be ready with your dancing shoes or may be dancing tops/shirt this time!

The guest house also houses variety of trees, flowering plants and the  birds living in them. I see them as a mini-representation of the rich  bio-diversity of this country.

The biggest tree right in the middle of a stretched alley  that divides the two main guest house buildings, is a giant Acacia tree. Acacia trees are probably one of the most important vegetation in this ecosystem. It is the only source of a cool shade, timber and oasis in the hot scorching desert sun. There is also an equally important Olive tree in the yard. Besides many of the other purposes a tree can serve, Ethiopians also use the smaller branches and shoots of this Olive tree as a tooth brush.

The green space right in the middle of the guest house.


On the darker side, the guest house also hosts stories of the violence,  insecurity and checkered past. There are security guards at the gates day and night, when they are visibly armed with their automatic Kalashnikov rifles. One of the guard I talked to, after realizing I was scared by the presence of a weapon, candidly handed me over his gun, and rolled over his pants with pride to show me his right calf which had a thick scar of a bullet injury he sustained in the battle against Eriteria.

He kept us safe (I don’t know from whom!), BUT with a smile!

Life inside the guest house also has shortages and adversities similar to what the country still faces. There are unannounced power cuts, water shortages. You share your apartment with rats and beds with bed bugs and fleas. There are broken locks, when you open a cabinet, the whole door can fall on top of you. The walls and roof leak. I somehow also managed to flood into the apartment right below mine. I devoted my scientific brain to identify the culprit faucet, only using one of them a day, for any purpose and asking for results. But it surely required more than my simple hit and trial method could decipher! I am left without conclusions even to this day and flooding in her apartment sadly, still persists.

Despite many adversities, the nestling birds on the rooftops, their chirps, the trees in the yard and their cool shade, chilly  early morning mountain breeze and laughter and care of the staffs make the guest house MY home.  The staffs no matter what time of the day, regardless of number of encounters in the same day, always greet you with a smile, followed by a word salamnu and a handshake with shoulder to shoulder touch, every time.


And I guess this is what living and surviving in adversities is. After a shout out when my taps run out of water, I receive a gift of two buckets of water on my door!

Today, I am putting a hold on my series of blogs on Ethiopia until my next visit. This is a conclusion but not the end!




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