Working in Ethiopia, Pt. 1

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This last summer my wife and I figured, what the heck, let's go to Ethiopia! Ok, it wasn't that simple but I'd rather not bore you with mundane details. I split my days between helping at an English school a friend set up in the heart of Addis Ababa and wondering around the city taking photos. It was a blast. I met some great people, got to see some of the most breath taking sights I've ever laid eyes on, and duked it out in some epic games of Settlers of Catan with some great people in the evenings. If you'd like to see the photos bigger you can visit here.

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Most of our time was spent in the capital city, Addis Ababa. It's a massive place that's spread out like the largest suburbia you can imagine. There isn't a downtown or a city square. Transportation is tricky if you don't have a car. If you do have a car driving can either be thrilling or terrifying, depending on your personality. I found it thrilling, my wife not so much. Getting the opportunity to walk around and photograph at will can be freeing and intimidating, especially in Addis. I had originally brought some lighting equipment (7ft. stand, Q-Flash, & Photek Softlighter II) with the hopes of breaking it out for some street portraits. Unfortunately, due to the security situation in Addis and the suspicion I would have drawn from the authorities the gear sat in a closet the entire trip. While using my lighting would have been great we were there during rainy season and I can't complain about the light coming from the overcast sky.

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When I know I'm going to be in a city for an extended amount of time I like to walk around without my camera to get a feel for the place. Often times I'll make visual notes about who is where, what locations would make for a great spot to take a portrait, and people I might want to photograph later (specifically if they are a shop owner or resident, where I know they'll be in the same place every day). We were in a part of town frequented by Somalis and Ethiopians. After a lot of travel I've learned it's best to write down some key questions and phrases in the local language. People appreciate this, it's the polite thing to do, and when they laugh at you for butchering their language it creates an opportunity to connect. This trip made it interesting because I had to learn those phrases in both Somali and Amharic (the Ethiopian dialect). Then I had to figure out if the person I was talking to was Somali or Ethiopian. Some people were cool with me not knowing their nationality, others not so much. That's when you learn I'm very sorry in both dialects.

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Stay tuned for more posts in this series.