April 18, 2008

Beyond Ethiopian Sand

April 18, 2008majkafinal3x5.jpg by guest blogger Majka Burhardt, climber and author of the new book Vertical Ethiopa (All photos courtesy of Gabe Rogel)

photo courtesy Gabe Rogel

Monday. It’s dusty in my van. I’ve 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. I’m 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 outcome—a 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, I’m 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.

photo courtesy Gabe Rogel

What I like the most are the stories other people share along the way. It’s 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 Selassie’s long velvet robes cascade down the streets of Addis Ababa in the 1950’s. A woman in Ft Lauderdale told me of her first and last visit to the northern part of the country—the same area my book is based on, the same area where the famine of the 1980’s made world headlines—where 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.

courtesy Gabe Rogel

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 adventure—climbing this time—in 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.