Monday. Its dusty in my van. Ive had desert sand blown at and about me for three weeks straight. Fine grains nestle into my keyboard and make the space bar crunch. Across the chassis from me a friend flips through the pages of my book with chalky hands and blackened fingers. Im two months into my book tour, and still I am not used to this.When I was young, I thought writing was about pages and words. I thought of writing as the outcomea book. Now, I know it a reason to travel, a justification for months spent in a closed office in front of a computer screen, an evening spent with an Ethiopian family inside their rock hewn house, and finally, as a departure point of shared stories.Just over a year ago, I was approached by an Ethiopian publisher to write what is now Vertical Ethiopia: Climbing Toward Possibility in the Horn of Africa. Today, Im twelve events deep into a forty-show tour where I take myself and others away from the distended stomachs and spindly limbs of the Ethiopia of our imagination and ask where else we can go.
What I like the most are the stories other people share along the way. Its odd, this same impulse towards explanation is what created the book in the first place and is now what sustains me on this cross country journey. A man in Jackson Hole told me of being sixteen and watching Emporer Selassies long velvet robes cascade down the streets of Addis Ababa in the 1950s. A woman in Ft Lauderdale told me of her first and last visit to the northern part of the countrythe same area my book is based on, the same area where the famine of the 1980s made world headlineswhere she learned how to farm barley and found inspiration for her burgeoning organic farm in Iowa.Today is no different; the audience is just smaller. My climbing partner flips a page to a photo of a woman with beetroot-stained purple hands. This is Ethiopia? He asks.
And so we begin. Away from images of an aching population continually subject to drought and famine made worse by human hands. Toward something deeper. For me, this depth includes adventureclimbing this timein a landscape and culture that is known only for everything that is the opposite. I tell my story in the midst of the yucca and cholla and red rocks as the sand swirls around us here, and in Ethiopia, at the same time.To learn more about Vertical Ethiopia and Majka Burhardt visit www.majkaburhardt.com.