‘And there are amazing cave churches, carved out of rock…..’ Judy told me this. She’d just come back from Ethiopia. A seed nestled, ‘Wow’ I thought, ‘one day I’ll go there too.’ Over twenty five years later, I made it. I didn’t get to see the rock churches, and sadly, the lovely young Judy Faber never got to see them again either, because she died in a car crash soon after.
So a quarter of a century later when Sarah said ‘Don’t you want to come and do the Great Ethiopian Run’ – my first thought was of Judy. I’ll do it for her. ‘Yup’, I said, ‘count me in!’
It nearly didn’t happen. With just a few weeks to go, a State of Emergency was declared in the country. But having waited so long, I wasn’t about to back out now. And so we ran – BBC journalist Sarah, photographer Caroline and Ethiopian chef Tutu….
And so did Tutu’s dad, Melaku. Almost immobilised by a couple of strokes, UK based Tutu decided she’d that she’d help him fulfill a dream and push him on the 10km Run – in a wheelchair. Sarah Parfitt who through her son’s school in Cookham is fundraising for an Ethiopian rural village community called Gende Tesfa, brought over the wheelchair – as well school teddy mascot and her camera buddy Caroline to cover the event. Irresistibly this feisty trio called their joint venture ‘Tutu’s for Change’ – and dressed accordingly!
But before embarking on the Great Run – first there was the early morning-before warm up – though the traffic in Addis Ababa is quite hectic, one way or another….
We witnessed the city slowly coming to life with prayers, commerce, transport…. and waiting….
Tutu has a large and extended family at home in Addis, and many friends who she helps support – so when she comes back she celebrates with them. And very generously she invited us to join them all at a family wedding reception…what a privilege!
What started as a sedate event soon grew into a boisterous celebration – with dancing…..
Tutu, who owns a restaurant Tutu’s Ethiopian Table in the UK, went easy on the feast…but made sure her dad’s plate was filled – energy for the next days adventure!
Finally, the wedding party was over – and power cuts notwithstanding, a good time was truly had by all!
Next stop was the pre-race Pasta Party at the Hilton Hotel, for participating internationals….where we got to meet founder of the Great Ethiopian Run, legendary Olympic athlete himself Hailie Gebreselassie – of whom everybody wanted a piece….
At dawn next morning, us and two elite Kenyan athletes staying in the same hotel, head out for the Start of the Run in Meskel Square. The city’s streets are closed to make way for the event – but there are also State of Emergency-triggered road blocks
But we get there – and the crowds are already amped and warming up….
So are the police – so is Caroline…..
Slightly worrying is that there are 42,000 people on this Run – but only one loo….
But with a little encouragement from South African star runner Hendrik Ramaala – Team ‘Tutu’s for Change’ is ready to roll…..
And then we’re all off…..
Coupla moments along the way….
…and a couple more…..
Till finally – the Finish….
But a Run in Ethiopia is not over till the party is done….and up at Hailie’s Yaya Athletic Village in the mountains we get to eat, drink and dance some more with the man who inspires thousands to run….and have a welcome cup of coffee….
So worth the wait…..well and truly blessed!
The Great Ethiopian Wait – Part 2 to follow soon…..