The Lead Up
Around the sixth month of the twelfth year in the second millennium of our Gregorian calendar, the time had come for two things in my life: to visit Ethiopia, a country that fascinated me, I had extensively studied, and desperately wanted to experience, and to finally ensure that the girl of my dreams would not be able to run away in the middle of the night (or at least make it a bit more legally complex for her to do so). I had been thinking about the latter move for some time, as many of my previous excuses had run dry. I was now out of school, in a stable job, and attaining financial independence. I even had health insurance and a retirement plan. In other words, I was the ‘realest’ person I knew, so it seemed like the right time to become ever ‘realer.’
However, despite thinking about such moves for a short while, I hadn’t acted upon them. I wanted to do something special, despite it not really being my nature, as I assumed I would have to tell this story for the rest of my life (hence why I am writing this, to eliminate that necessity). You see, Christine and I had met many moons ago on a study abroad trip in South Africa. Following, we both did the Peace Corps in West Africa, I in Burkina Faso, she in Benin (Christine did a Fulbright in Burkina as well). So despite the fact that I wouldn’t necessarily say we are full-fledged Africa-philes for life (more just enjoy anything international), Africa has significantly defined our relationship. I thought it only logical for the next step to involve the continent as well. I had toyed with the idea of going back to our old college hangouts in Charlottesville and doing it there, but that was too normal. A nice restaurant in DC just seemed boring, and my dream of doing it on Mars was about 83 years premature (as patient as Christine is, even I doubted she would wait that long). Thus when I got word that I was going to be spending a week in Kenya taking a course for work, I started to scheme.
If I was going to Kenya, then I was going to neighboring Ethiopia as well (it was a package deal for me). I cashed in all my paltry vacation days to ensure I would have two full weeks to romp around (I was previously more accustomed to the frequent three month travel stints during my extensive time in the not-so ’real’ world). Now that that was done, arranging a trip to the country I had studied so much, and the region I want to focus a large part of my career on, I had to figure out how to get Christine there. That, unsurprisingly, was easy. You see, convincing Christine to take a trip abroad to a country she has never been to is a fairly easy enterprise (it happens to be a bit trickier if that country is a focal point in our generational ‘war on terror,’ a la Pakistan, but not impossible!). She also just so happens to work as a contractor for the World Bank, where she is ‘forced’ to take three months off a year. We should all be so lucky. So when I PROPOSED the idea that she come meet me in Ethiopia, about eleven minutes later she had a plane ticket.
These events took place around March or April of 2012. Now that I knew we were going to Ethiopia, I had to first of all ignore the constant pleas from everyone else around me to ‘lock her down before it’s too late,’ (I informed essentially no one of my plan) and figure out where/when to ask the proverbial question. Despite having studied Ethiopia’s external relations extensively, I knew very little about the country from a tourist’s perspective. After flipping through a Lonely Planet book a bit, we decided we would head north during our travels, visiting some old Christian churches hand carved completely from large stones in the ground (Lalibella – look it up), a small town on the shore of Lake Tana near many old monasteries and the Blue Nile Falls (Bahir Dar), and another city known for its medieval castles (Gonder). Those all sounded like awesome places, so it was hard to pick which one might be best for such an occasion. I initially thought Lalibella, but decided against it once I realized how touristy it might be (wasn’t as much as I had imagined, but a bit – like popping the question at your local TGIF, but on a Tuesday). I then thought Lake Tana might be a nice place. However that consists of a day-long boat trip around the massive lake visiting various monasteries, and Christine doesn’t do so well with boats. I wanted to avoid a situation where she would mistake the seasickness in her stomach for how she felt about the prospects of my offer. Thus, I felt the Blue Nile Falls might be the best option, but I resolved to more or less play it by ear once we got there, in case a more opportune situation arose.
Now that I had decided to go forward, found a location in Africa, and schemed to get Christine to that location, there remained a slight issue of obtaining a ring. I am not much of one to dole out a month’s salary for the blood of an African miner (sorry, little diamond editorial!), and the odds that I would be able to identify a ring suitable to Christine were perilously low. However, luckily I had another viable, and more meaningful, option. In my village in Burkina Faso, there was a man who used to make rings out of coins. One day when Christine was visiting me, we went and hung out with him for a bit. We watched as he made two rings out of CFA (Burkinabe coins) and gave them to us. It was pretty cool to see the coin, and then see him do the labor to turn it into something cheap machines at tourist traps do in America (in fact I told him if he ever wanted to come to America, he’d make a great machine). But then, as we were talking with him and admiring his handiwork, he unveiled an old gold coin from Ghana, likely from colonial times. It was awfully shiny and he said he had been saving it for a special occasion. Us hanging out at his little corner was apparently enough of a special occasion. I felt bad, but he insisted on using this coin he had been saving for so long, and turned it into a gold ring right before our very eyes. Though it didn’t look like anything overly special (and in fact it turns Christine’s fingers green), it meant a lot to us, and was pretty cool as we were an integral part of its formation. He gave it to me, ostensibly thinking I would know what to do with it, but rather it sat in my closet for over five years. Now was the perfect time to bring it out of the woodworks.