My pre-existing knowledge of Ethiopia was limited to not much more than common associations of poverty, famine and Bob Geldof. I did have faint memories from 5th Form history class with Mr King at Palmy Boys, learning about the western worlds inaction via the League of Nations to come to the assistance of what was then known as Abyssinia as Italy invaded it in the mid 1930s during the so called Abyssinian Crisis. This pattern of appeasement would continue to allow fascism to spread and ultimately lead to WWII. Aside from these few years of occupation which finished with Britain invading Ethiopia, allowing it to return to independent rule, Ethiopia remained the only country in Africa other than Liberia (which had a quazi-American government) to never be under colonial rule.
On telling friends and family I was off to Ethiopia, I was met with a range of responses. Those that had been there raved about the hidden gem of Africa, whilst James, a flatmate for the last few years and normal carefree traveller was a bit more concerned. “Bro, that’s the Horn of Africa. There’s been heaps of shit going down there recently eh. I wouldn’t go there if I was you.” Slightly perturbed by the fact James wouldn’t go somewhere I didn’t previously have reservations about, I did a bit more research and talked to classmates on the course who had been there. A couple of them had been in the region with MSF and they seemed to think it was pretty safe. However, they had been working on the Somali border and in South Sudan so maybe safety is relative…
The clincher was one of the course icons. Sir Eldryd Parry who, now in his 80s had been practicing medicine since the time of the advent of antibiotics, was a regular visitor to Ethiopia to teach and share his enormous experience. If he could do it, so could I.