The first month of my trip was pretty much spent entirely in Addis. For July I planned two trips outside the city to visit running teams in different towns around Ethiopia. My first stop was Asella, a 3-1/2 hour, two-part bus ride from Addis. Freya decided to come with me to have a mini vacation.
So off we went. Luckily the road to Asella is paved, so the ride really wasn’t that bad, a little cramped, and filled with interesting people, animals, products and smells.
When we arrived we met with Abdulay, the Assistant Director of the Asella Athletics Program. He was really helpful and got us all set up in the Soljam Hotel. By the way if anyone is planning to go to Asella I suggest the Soljam Hotel. I could barely get Freya out of that place when we left, she loved it so much — great value for your money and really friendly staff. That’s my plug for the hotel… now back to the story.
Asella was an interesting town, filled with hotels named after famous Ethiopian runners that come from the area. For those who don’t know, Asella and its neighboring town Bekoji are the birthplaces of many of the famous Ethiopian runners. They are known to be hubs for running talent.
I was extremely lucky on my timing of visiting Asella. I got there in the middle of the Oromia Region Conference Competition. This meant that I had access to all of the coaches, athletes and directors of the Oromia Region in Ethiopia. I was able to interview 10 female athletes from different towns in the Oromia Region. Abdulay helped out with the translations.
In a strange but not so unexpected coincidence, Freya knew a coach at the competition. He went to school with her. Since Freya could have an engaging conversation with someone in a coma, her presence was extremely helpful in creating a friendship between me and the network of coaches and directors at the track. I got to interview the coach from Bekoji who trained several of the famous athletes known today.
I also happened to run into a British film crew making a documentary on the Ethiopian runners. I had heard word of a movie being created around this topic but hadn’t really looked into it. The film crew had been following four athletes from Bekoji since last year. They were filming the two girls and two boys racing in the competition that weekend.
Since the competition allowed me to interview a large group of people with minimal travel, I was able to leave earlier from the town than expected. Freya and I actually hitched a ride with the film crew back to Addis.
Sammy, one of the cameramen who lives in Addis, had some amazing connections with the running community. He also teaches a salsa class that I plan on dragging Nani to this week. He helped me get in touch with a journalist who does almost all of the writing on Ethiopian runners here. He has written for all kinds of big names like Runner’s World and the BBC. I was lucky to be able to interview him since he was leaving soon to go to an awards ceremony in South Africa. He had been nominated as Africa’s Journalist of the Year. Overall my time in Asella was a major success. I met some really wonderful people.