Week 9:
Ciao for Now

Cornell Fellow in Botanical Conservation

Gullele Botanic Garden | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

April 12, 2019

I hate goodbyes. I’m so bad at them, maybe it’s the Irish in me. This sounds dramatic (and it is), but whenever I feel a goodbye coming, I immediately want to vanish into thin air. That’s the Irish Goodbye anyways, right? Disappearing without a trace?

Ethiopian goodbyes are the opposite of Irish goodbyes.

Goodbye for me started about a week ago, when my co-worker asked me when my departure date was. From there, the long goodbyes started as news of me leaving soon spread, and unfortunately for the Irish in me, the goodbyes didn’t stop until the end of my last day on GBG.

On my last day, I was sitting at my desk typing up notes to myself about the rest of the bushbuck report that I would have to finish back in the U.S. As I did, grass was laid out in our office. A coffee set followed, and a charcoal stove. Bowls of popcorn appeared, alongside a huge slab of bread. My co-workers filtered in and I set aside the work to watch the traditional coffee ceremony unfold. Together, we all took bread, and coffee, and popcorn and chatted for a while, before the goodbye speeches went around. It was completely lovely, but also sad, because I didn’t really want to say goodbye. The research on the bushbuck showed me that there’s always so much more to learn in an area, and you could do dozens of studies before really understanding how a singular ecosystem or species work. I didn’t want to leave so many unanswered questions behind, and alongside that, I didn’t want to leave GBG behind. My co-workers had always been so kind to me, and I was going to miss their career advice and joking around.

Traditional coffee ceremony.

Goodbyes for me never hit until I’ve already gone, and as I write this blog on the plane, I can say that it’s hitting me now. I’m so grateful for everyone at GBG, and for being able to spend two months in Ethiopia, where I’ve gained professional skills and learned more about myself on a personal level too. While I could fill up this post with all the things I’ve learned, I instead want to turn it over to the people that I’ll miss:

Dr. Birhanu: You were a really awesome site advisor and I feel so lucky to have worked alongside you. Your constant positive attitude, critical thinking skills, and passion for conservation are unparalleled and inspiring for me. I hope one day we can work together again.

Dr. Birhanu and I.

Wibalem and Abaibatch: Thanks for the Amharic lessons, constant cheer, snacks of bread and tea, and kindness–you two really made me feel at home and I’m going to miss seeing your smiling faces everyday so much. From protecting me from hot chilis to making sure I knew spinach from kosta (local cabbage), you really helped me integrate into Ethiopia and make the most of my time.

Ergua: Thank you so much for getting excited about bushbuck with me despite camera trap troubles, juniper branches to the face, and windy imagery. Your kindness, and calmness is something I really admire and I hope one day I can be as fashionable in fieldwork as you are.

Research Department (Debula, Wondye, Sisaye, Taye, Zelalim and Ergua): Thank you all so much for your patience with me and my Amharic and your advice with research troubles, career paths, and my cultural confusions. Your positivity, jokes, and smarts are something that makes GBG such an incredible organization and I hope I can work with you all in the future again.

All GBG staff: Thanks for keeping me on my toes with the Amharic vocab quizzes–sorry my pronunciation is still so bad! I’ll miss your jokes, positivity, and sun-bathing breaks and will forever remember your kindness.

Kabe: Thank you for being such a sweet neighbor and for always making sure I was feeding myself properly–you are one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met and I’m really going to miss you!

And finally, Ethiopia: As a country, I didn’t know quite what to expect about you, but looking back I can say that you’ve helped me grow so much from getting over my fear of cities to teaching me what true fresh bread tastes like. I’ll miss you and your coffee, and the fierta, and the surprise herds of goats in your streets.

The Irish in me isn’t quite ready to vanish from Ethiopia forever yet so all I’m left to say is ciao… for now.

Ergua identifies plants while I take notes.

Talitha McGuire '19

Talitha is a religion and biology major from Flagstaff, Arizona.