Ethiopia, Part 2: Life in Gorgora and Downtime at TimKim Village

1 – 7 July 2011

After being on the move since Cairo, I was enjoying my two weeks of downtime at Tim & Kim Village on the shores of Lake Tana, near the village of Gorgora. I spent the days working on construction projects and other miscellaneous tasks that Tim & Kim needed to get done at their eco-village. I also tagged along with Tim and went for a development board meeting that his foundation runs in the village and got a lunch invite to a professional gardener’s house.



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Sunrise from Tim & Kim Village on the shores of Lake Tana. It rained almost every night and the mornings were beautiful.


An old Italian ship, chugging along on Lake Tana. Ethiopia has the claim of never being colonized by a European power, except for a brief occupation by Italy from 1936 – 1941. It was a poor move by Fascist Italy and one reason for this occupation was revenge for Italy’s loss at a previous war with Ethiopia in 1896. Both countries were members of the League of Nations (precursor to the United Nations) and Italy’s aggression against a member country brought sanctions on them and drove Mussolini to seek alliance with Hitler, thereby setting the stage for World War II’s Axis and Ally countries.


Tim and Kim’s has become a waypoint for overland travelers and in my two weeks there, I met quite a few of them going in either direction (north to Sudan or south to Kenya). This is Jen and Don from Holland who are close to finishing up a 3 year round-the-world journey in their Land Rover Defender. They went from Europe down to India, SE Asia, then over to Australia where they took a 6 month break to work and redo their Landie, then shipped to South Africa and are heading north to home. We discussed some of the common issues amongst long-term travelers, such as keeping in touch with old friends and the anxiety about re-integration into society at the trip’s end.


Jen and Don getting back on the road and climbing out of the valley that Tim and Kim’s sits in. Most travelers used the time here to clean out their vehicle, sort through their belongings and just enjoy the space, which is quite rare actually when you’re wild camping or staying in small hotels as you can’t spread out all your belongings in those situations.


Yanou and Mariea continuing work on this school building that Tim had a vision for. Most of the cottages were complete and this would be the last building. Tim and Kim wanted to use this school as a place for holding classes for the villagers and also creating a museum of sorts to display artifacts and handicrafts from the area.


Mariea focusing on the water level to get the pillar as straight as possible. He was looking forward to the day when he wouldn’t have cement encrusted fingers and would instead be managing the front desk and bar.


Life in Gorgora: girls fetching water from the lake.


On a walk through the village one day, Tim ran into this old friend of his. He must’ve been born before or during the Italian occupation and I can only imagine the stories he has to tell.


A block of new store fronts going up, supported by a government initiative. Most of the buildings here are constructed with timber and then covered over in mud. The high use of timber for construction and rapid population growth has lead to a deforestation crisis in Ethiopia, where 98% of its forest cover has been removed in the past 50 years.


A wonderful smile from a beautiful girl in the village of Gorgora. She was balancing a reed basket on her head and couldn’t help giggling when we came across her and asked to take her photo.


Tim and I were on a photo-walk around Gorgora and we saw these children taking shelter from the sun under this big tree. I wonder if the heart carved in the tree belongs to these two…


A pair of Marabou Storks up in the tree.


A herd of cattle grazing just outside Gorgora…


…being watched over by these young cattle herders.


They use a whip to keep the cows in line and this boy enthusiastically demonstrated how to get the gun-shot like sound from the crack of the whip. It was quite hard to achieve but both Tim and I managed. It takes a big swing and a snap of the wrist to produce that sharp sound that travels far.


Walking towards the main entrance into Gorgora. ‘Watch for kids crossing’ and look, there’s a kid.


A signboard for a campaign to stop domestic beatings towards children. There might be a real issue of domestic violence but coming from India, where hard discipline (i.e. beatings) from your parents were the norm as a child, I would hope cultural norms were considered before implementing the program.


Coming across the weekly street market in Gorgora where ladies were selling all sort of items along the main road.


Dried fish (anchovies) and red chilies. Sounds like a good meal.


These two men were welding iron rods on the main street of Gorgora. The man on the right is using two bellows to direct compressed air into a chamber with fuel (charcoal) that has high-enough temperatures to melt steel. The Iron Age (1200 BC – 200 AD) didn’t get going around the world until the invention of the bellows and clearly it’s proven technology and still has a place in the 21st century. These men seem quite content in their methods and while I’m sure they’d appreciate a modern TIG welder, I don’t know if it’d be “appropriate” for the situation.


Having a drink in a bar on main street Gorgora with Yanou and Tim. Beers are fancy drinks, so they only had Pepsis, which was interesting considering the ubiquity of Coca-cola in Africa.


Wall decoration of a skinned rodent.


The hostess cutting up some potatoes in the back, preparing for the evening dinner rush.


I guess it’s progress that the restaurant has piped delivery of water from the village water tanks, but couldn’t the placement be a bit better, like back in the kitchen instead of right in the middle of the main dining room?


The bar doesn’t discriminate against the species of its patrons. These chickens looked like they were done with their drinks and time to get going.


A local religious elder who had quite a look. He was friendly but serious.


On one of the evenings, I was requested to make a curry at Tim and Kim’s and I gladly obliged. This is the kitchen with a great view of the lake.


Happy in my place by the stove.


There was no more goat, so I made a potato curry.


Dinner with Tim and Kim and two pairs of overland travelers. On my right are Peter and Jill, who are emigrating from the UK to South Africa and after shipping all their belongings, they’re making a 3 month trek in an old Defender down to their new home. Since they were heading to Nairobi, they agreed to carry a few heavy spare parts (chain and sprockets) that I didn’t need for now. Next to Tim are Arno and Andre from Holland who are overlanding in a Citro├źn 2CV variant (deux-chevaux).


The roof structure under the restaurant building that Tim designed and built himself.


Tim was invited for a Sunday lunch at Toklu’s house, who is a professional gardener and the source of all the plants at Tim and Kim’s. I tagged along and Toklu’s family has just served us some huge injera and a bowl of Doro Wat.


A bowl of delicious Doro Wat (chicken stew) served with a boiled egg. This is considered the most popular traditional food that is eaten with injera on special occasions or simply if you can afford it. Ethiopian wat is unique from other stews and curries because the onions are first slow cooked without any oil and only after most of the moisture is gone is oil added along with spices and the chicken.


After the meal, Toklu’s wife performed the coffee ceremony and is roasting fresh coffee beans with its aroma filling the room.


Being a gardener and an outdoors man, Toklu comes across wildlife and is showing Tim the pelt of a wild cat, probably a small leopard.


Toklu showing us the long, rolled-up skin of a python.


After lunch and the pelt showing, we went out back to check out Toklu’s garden and passed his curious cow.


Toklu in his garden and nursery from where he supplies all of Gorgora and its surroundings with plants.


A purple-spotted plant in Toklu’s collection.


A cactus-like plant, but without the thorns.


An old leaning garden chair where perhaps Toklu takes in his pride and joy.


Walking around Gorgora and I came across this old water tanker, showing Ethiopian vehicle plates. Note the chain holding the bonnet down on this old Bedford.


This is one of Tim’s development projects in Gorgora that was recently completed, where a water tank was laid in the ground to collect water from a small stream so that villagers had access to fresh water during the dry season. The tank acted as a small dam. There is piped water in the village, but it runs dry from time to time, so this acts as a back up.


A bunch of smiley Gorgora girls next to the water tank.


Tim holding a meeting of the Gorgora Development Board that he setup through the Tim and Kim Foundation that decides on how to spend the funds allocated to development projects here. The mayor is sitting at the desk with Yanou next to me, then a woman representative and a teacher from the local school. The mayor was pushing for an ambulance service, because the nearest hospital is in Gonder, which is at least an hour away by private car or longer by public means, but it would be too expensive to run and maintain. The board decided on creating a learning center for the youth to entice them to stick with education and see the opportunities it brings.


Back at Tim and Kim’s and Andre and I are doing some servicing on Tim’s classic Land Cruiser. They were going to make a trip to Addis and we rotated the tires, cleaned the air filter and adjusted the brakes. It was good to have greasy hands again and a nice change from cement in my skin.


Tim shot a portrait of me and sanDRina as I prepared to get going soon.


It was time for Arno and Andre to leave in their Deux Chevaux. Definitely an unconventional choice for overlanding through Africa. The car has only a 600 cc engine and it’s pulling two huge Dutch guys and their scant gear. They removed the rear seats and set the front seats back a bit to accommodate their long legs on their long journey to South Africa. They had met up and were traveling with Juren, also from Holland, on a KTM 990 Adventure. An odd couple.


They had quite a few pets on the compound and this here is Killey, who just gave birth to a litter of kittens in this nook in the roof. She was friendly most of the time, but I guess didn’t like her picture being taken now or privacy being invaded.


The Sultans of Gorgora, Tim and Kim’s 4 huge dogs who loved sleeping in the den of the restaurant. They would sleep on each other and on anybody that was sitting in their favorite spot. I’m more a dog-person than a cat-person and I enjoyed playing with these four during my time here. Tim and Kim tried to be cute by naming them all with B-names, from left to right are Butch, Blow, Bluff and Barry. It took a long time to learn all their names.


The youngest mutt, Blow, who can’t see in his left eye and thus just follows what the others in the pack are doing: sleeping, running, barking, etc.


If they weren’t lounging in the den, they were all perched on the restaurant wall, looking for any stray cows or locals who wandered onto the property. If that happened, a series of howls and barking ensued and maybe some chasing. The simple and fun lives of dogs.


A lamp shade that Kim made out of a huge calabash that they found by the lake with the bar in the background.


The evenings were spent sharing tall tales from travelers or dwelling into topics that ranged from development in Africa to the best tasting beers. The other couple here are Ferdi and Katie, from Germany, who’re traveling around Africa in a VW Syncro camper van. I was looking for a vehicle to convoy with on the Turkana route into Kenya as I need them to carry extra fuel for me and after preparing my chicken curry, Ferdi and Katie easily accepted my request. Plus, they were also looking for at least one other traveler for that section of the route, due to its remoteness.


Katie showing a huge, green insect that was calmly perched on her hand.


The wonderful setting of the den and its lighting by the calabash lantern.


The view, just before sunrise, from Tim and Kim’s cottage out across Lake Tana.


Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile and the largest lake in Ethiopia with an average depth of only 8 m (26 ft). It provides most of the water to the Nile that flows through Sudan and into Egypt. The fertile sediments that have nutured the desert people through the eons all flow from this lake.


The quartet of Butch, Barry, Bluff and Blow barking at something on the water’s edge.


Like that island out there, there are many such islands out on the lake with old Portuguese monasteries on them, which are a major tourist draw. However, tourism here is a far cry from that of Egypt or Kenya. Those rocks on the right were where Tim and I jumped in for our daily skinny dip. Most lakes in Africa are considered not safe for swimming due to the chance of getting Bilharzia (schistosomiasis), but Tim told me that the chance of getting it is greatly reduced if you swim only in deep areas (such as near those rocks) and if you are in and out and dry under 10 minutes, as it takes time for the parasitic worm to work its way under your skin. I believed him and I haven’t contracted the disease, so it’s a good plan for prevention while taking dips in Africa.


My last day there was also the day that Tim and Kim were leaving for Addis and a month off back in Holland, for fundraising and a small holiday meeting friends and family. The local staff were very emotional about their leaving and Kim said the girls in the kitchen fear that they won’t return, leaving them without jobs, but they always come back as this project is their baby. I thanked Tim and Kim for taking me in and giving me the chance to get to know one place better.


One last Dutch meal at Tim and Kim’s of a pancake with oranges and honey. From now on, it was going to be injera and more injera.


All ready to roll out and saying good-bye to Mariea and wishing him all the best with the future of Tim and Kim’s.

I was thankful for these two weeks at Tim and Kim’s for the chance to stay in one place for a long while as it allows time for relationships to develop. I got to know Tim by working with him and going on walks through the village and he also got to know more of this Indian on a motorcycle. I got to know Mariea and Yanou and the psyche of two driven rural Ethiopians. While I didn’t get to know any more of the villagers personally, walking through a few times made me a familiar face and allowed me to take photos of their lives, which I find difficult to do if I’m just in a place for a short time.

Next: Ethiopia, Part 3: Gondar and its Castles

Previous: Ethiopia, Part 1: Riding into Gorgora and TimKim Village