Though we love Chicago and very much came to consider it our home, probably the single greatest thing that we missed while living in Chicago was any kind of landscape beauty. True Chicago has some beautiful parks, some great architecture and the fabulous lakefront, but Chicago is built on boring marshland and prairie. It’s pretty sorry when “Cricket Hill” off of Wilson Ave. is considered “elevation” (my old cross-country team used to hate that little piece of Chicago “elevation”). So on those days when I’ve missed things about Chicago, one thing that sustains me here in Wolaita-Soddo is the beautiful landscape just out our backdoor.
The CCC Children’s Home where we live and work is situated on the side of a steep hill that descends southwestly coming out of the Soddo town. Because the home is built out of the side hill, the front of the home (facing the road) is one story, while the rear of the home is two stories. When we step out our door at the back of the building, we’re standing on a second floor balcony facing out over a fairly steep embankment. Looking slightly to the left, which is south, this embankment descends to a rainy-season stream and then up a hill on the other side, on the top of which is an Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its typical round design and its 6am loud-speaker prayers. Looking slightly to the right, which is southwest, the embankment descends several hundred meters to a large valley, which spreads out to the southwest and the west until it hits a rise of mountains in the distance. According to an old missionary book that I found left in our room, these mountains to the west across the valley are called the Kwoibo Mountains (these Kwoibo Mountains are actually a southwestern extension of an escarpment rising from the Rift Valley a little further north of Soddo). Though we can’t see it, just on the other side of these mountains is the Omo River gorge. At clear moments (which are a little rare right now during krempt, or rainy season) more mountains can be seen even further to the west beyond the Omo River and to the southwest, towards to the Gofa and Gamo regions.
Soddo town itself sits at about 2,100 meters atop part of the escarpment that rises on the west side of the Great Rift Valley. Just behind the town (to the north… on the opposite side of town as the CCC home) rises a beautiful mountain called Mt. Otona. Though we haven’t attempted it yet, the Bradt guide book says that there are some good views of Lake Abaya from atop Mt. Otona. Lake Abaya is the largest of the Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes (by surface area) and lies about 30km south-southeast of Soddo.
The Great Rift Valley runs through Ethiopia in a southwesterly direction from the Eritrean border in the northeast to the Kenyan border in the southwest. The Great Rift Valley has been created by the drifting apart of two tectonic plates, the African Plate on the west side of the Rift Valley and the Somali Plate on the east side. In the U.S., most discussion of tectonic activity has to do with California and the Pacific Ring of Fire. The reason for high earthquake activity in California and earthquake / volcanic activity along the Pacific Rim has do to with the pressure of tectonic plates moving and pushing against each other. The Rift Valley is quite different in that its existence has to do with tectonic plates pulling apart from each other.
At its northeast end, the Rift Valley appears like a large funnel or triangle and when looking at satellite views of the landscape, one can see how the African Plate, the Somali Plate and the Arabian Plate all once joined at this point. This northeast end of the Rift Valley is considered one of the most inhospitable places on earth. It maintains average temperatures that are considered the highest on the planet and at one place in the Danakil Depression, the landscape dips to 116 meters below sea level. This part of the Rift Valley is also spotted with a number of active volcanoes.
As it runs through southern Ethiopia, however, the Rift Valley is much narrower across (only about 30km from western to eastern escarpments at Lake Abaya) and even within the valley, the elevation is still about 1000 meters above sea level (except for at Lake Shala, about 75km northeast of Soddo, which is made from a sunken volcanic caldera; Lake Shala is the deepest of the Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes with an impressive depth of 266 meters).
So while Chicago has skyscrapers, busy streets, Lake Michigan, sidewalk restaurant seating, Saturday morning brunch, diverse neighborhoods, burritos, summer music festivals, mojitos, and lots of other things that I miss, Wolaita-Soddo has the Rift Valley and the rugged highlands that rise on either side from it. True, “Cricket Hill” offered a pretty good view of the Loop, but it’s got nothing on the beautiful landscape out our backdoor.
P.S. I’ve always suspected that Cricket Hill is really just a large landfill that was seeded over at some point in the past. Does anyone know anything about this?