Waking up in Maji on that first morning, the birds’ song wafting through my open window, I popped out of bed to see the view. The air was thin, like the mountain air that it was, and carried the strong smell of eucalyptus.
We had arrived in darkness the night before leaving us, with an air of suspense. Was it as I remembered?
The sky was lighting up, and I grabbed my art supplies and headed out to paint. This was a habit that stayed with me throughout the trip. An African sky never disappoints, be it sunrise, sunset or midday. I was there for it all. The view was as magnificent as I remembered.
This was my second trip to this remote part of Ethiopia: My friends, Jane and Caroline Kurtz, brought me here three years ago. They were raised on this lush, magnificent mountain, overlooking a breathtaking valley that rolled on into the next.
On our last visit, we had to stay in Tum, about 25 minutes outside of Maji. This time we were able to stay in Maji, where we could simply roll out of bed and paint. In any direction, there was something beautiful to inspire.
Every trip is a little different, and this time, things were low key in terms of our plans and goals. Only two of us painters were along with four writers. My goal was simply to make art and share it with all of you and fundraise for my friend Jane’s “Ready Set Go” books, which are being distributed as early readers in local languages throughout Ethiopia. It’s such an important part of early childhood development. I also wanted to raise awareness — and hopefully some cash — for my friend Caroline, who is doing exceptional work in Maji involving solar energy, clean water and — near to my heart — woman’s empowerment.
But I myself had no big projects, and I enjoyed this reprieve, this opportunity to just make art along side my extremely talented friend Nahosenay Negussie.
The two of us, plus our driver, Orion, bumped along in that truck, finding so many stunning painting locations, it was hard to choose. We laughed and enjoyed this rural life, where all of us were outsiders. Orion and Nahosenay, being big city boys, had more in common with me, a white American of Dutch decent, than the rural Ethiopians (or so the studies say). I don’t know, they looked very comfortable and at home talking with the locals. Still, I could see they were absorbing something new as well. Whatever the truth, we were all experiencing this exotic land with wonder. We absorbed the beauty and experiences, and these images and memories piled up.
I’m home now looking at the art I made, finding it unworthy of the locations we saw. I’m still jet lagged only four days out. Things seem foggy. I’m sure in the end, the art will be beautiful. It’s just all an awfully lot to take in. The sounds of cow bells coming down the road and children laughing and jumping all about, speaking languages I can’t understand, and it’s all swirling in my head. The images of the people, always with a smile burning in my mind. The sights of the mountains and valleys and oh, those skies! Those beautiful, magnificent African skies.
Stay tuned as I process and unpack the memories and grapple with making the art that comes out of them!