Leaving for Ethiopia, with Piles of Cash

09/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I leave tomorrow for Ethiopia. One of the things I love most about going somewhere new is the anticipation and excitement the night before. And the ignorance. No matter how much you read about a place, you have no idea what it will feel like until you arrive.

And given that I have done a lot of reading about maternal health for my trip, and very little (OK -- none) about tourism in Ethiopia, I have no clue what to expect. (Mental note -- Add "buy Lonely Planet Ethiopia" to the to-do list.) In many ways, though, the not knowing will make the arrival all the better. What will the airport in Addis Ababa look like? Will it basically be one large, dusty room, like in Rangoon? Presumably minus the soldiers and men in longyis grabbing your suitcase and then demanding "tea money." Will it be modern like in Bangkok, where you can buy a Starbucks after collecting your luggage?

The Addis-based communications consultant at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which is sponsoring my trip, told me that I should bring plenty of cash. I will be arriving on the weekend, and ATMs might be out of money.

She also told me Addis will be cold, and I should bring a warm jacket. Oops. I guess I can remove the bikini from my suitcase. Wishful thinking.

I will spend about nine days traveling around Ethiopia with the UNFPA, visiting their maternal health sites and then writing about my trip for the HuffPost. We are going to look at how UNFPA is training community health officers to do surgeries because of the country's lack of doctors. (Only 6 percent of pregnant women in Ethiopia have access to skilled birthing attendants, including midwives.) We are also going to visit a fistula hospital, meet women who have faced gender based violence, and chat with girls who have been victims of early marriage and are trying to rebuild their lives.

Plus, I hope to eat a lot of delicious Ethiopian food -- with my fingers, enjoy the Addis nightlife and meet women who have gone through great hardship but are surviving. Hopefully some will even be thriving.

No matter what lies ahead, the trip is bound to be fascinating. I can't wait to arrive and be overwhelmed by culture shock, and so inspired and in awe of this new place that I want nothing but to snap photos and write stories home.