A Personal Essay by Andrea Borrelli '11
Diplomacy undergraduate student Andrea Borrelli traveled to Ethiopia this summer to participate in a study tour of the African Union, sponsored by the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Andrea shares her story of the experiences, large and small, that made her ten-day trip so memorable.
Landing in Ethiopia was like landing in a field of grounded stars. It was pitch black outside except for the twinkling lights of the capital city, Addis Ababa. Prior to our departure, everyone I spoke with had said this would be a trip of a lifetime for our group. For me, this trip may have started my life. My parents agreed to support my interest in participating in the African Union Seminar so that I could see first-hand if working for a non-governmental organization in Africa was what I really wanted to pursue post-college. I’ll never be able to thank them enough for that decision.
"Prior to our departure, everyone I spoke with had said this would be a trip of a lifetime for our group. For me, this trip may have started my life."
I was personally very interested in learning more about the Somali militia’s cross border recruitment of child soldiers. I asked some of the University of Addis Ababa professors for information and was shocked to hear that Ethiopians often feel powerless in protecting their border with Somalia. When we returned to Addis at the end of our tour, I asked African Union and non-governmental organization representatives about the situation and their responses were surprising as well; the recruitment of child soldiers largely appeared to be an issue in need of attention.
Following our first few days in Addis we traveled to Gondar, the home of the Emperors and their castles, Lalibela, and the holy city of Axum. While these locations were increasingly more rural than Addis, each of the visits provided at least one experience that I will never forget. One particular experience that meant a lot to me took place in Lalibela. Within this eighth wonder of the world, we toured the famous collection of churches carved into the mountains. They were, in a word, incredible, and at times my fellow travelers and I felt like Indiana Jones because of the steep and dark tunnels we had to walk through.
"We want to give back to the country that in a mere ten days taught us more than we ever imagined."
As we were leaving our last church, a few nearby children started yelling “Obama!” as we passed. We instantly realized that it was their way of greeting us, and I struck up a conversation with a young boy who had begun to follow our group. I asked him what grade he was in and he replied, “Fourth.” A moment later, a second little boy ran up to us and told me he was in the sixth grade. This sixth grader was a chatter box. He excitedly showed me a clipping of his favorite soccer, or “football” team, which he then kissed and held tightly in his hand. That little magazine clipping meant the world to him. He then started to list the teams he knew in the World Cup, so I joined in. Following this exchange, he derailed to listing other things he liked including John Cena, which I found quite hilarious. I then asked both boys what they wanted to be when they grow up. The first boy, the fourth grader, responded to the question by saying, “English”. I asked if he meant that he wanted to learn English and he nodded in agreement. The sixth grader responded, “Biology Amerik”, which I translated to “study biology in America.” I received a nod for this as well. I’ve never met such sincere children.
The two walked me all the way back to the bus, watching out for me every step of the way to make sure I didn’t trip. Before boarding our bus, I asked them to take a picture with me and they happily agreed without asking for anything in return. Filled with gratitude, I gave them each pencils which they immediately hid to prevent other children from running up to me with requests. Our short exchange has definitely left an unforgettable impression on my life. I could continue sharing anecdotes for hours. I’d be certain to speak about the people we met in Gondar and the spiritual simplicity of the five o’clock AM religious ceremony we attended in Axum. Each and every day was a different experience with a different set of lessons.
As cliché as it may sound, while I learned a lot on this trip about Ethiopia and the AU, I learned about myself as well. I saw how I respond to new situations and confirmed my conviction in my future career goals. I, however, was far from the only one affected by our experience in Ethiopia. This trip made such an impression on the delegates that some of us have decided to start an on-campus organization to provide aid for one of the schools we visited in Lalibela. Our eyes have been opened, and we want to do our part to ensure that the children of this region, like the little boys I met, can reach their own goals. We want to give back to the country that in a mere ten days taught us more than we ever imagined.