A glimpse from Ethiopia

An Ethiopian beauty

In the center of Addis Ababa, just off the main street we find a friendly Ethiopian, a happy owner of a timless Renault 4. He give us a ride to the bus station. This old car has a unique charm. Clutch is a manual handle, the gears transmission works vertically and on the dashboard you won’t see anything more than just a speedometer, a steering wheel and two indicator lights for turn signal. A genuine vintage vehicle. I get on the bus to Shashemene. Next to me sits Maseret, a young sports teacher from the capital city. Once in a while she makes some extra money as a sports masseur. Our talk begins with the mysterious containers hanging on a string along the road.

Soon I learn that ensira, the container, just pouched in a cover made of kacha plant acquires thermal properties and thereby serves as a natural conventional refrigerator. As Maseret keeps on passionately telling me about the Ethiopian culture the journey passes quickly.

Having reached Shashemenne after dark we simply stroll to come across a casual bar where the game is played. Today Brazil is going to kick Chile out of the World Cup. All guests are in a good mood and they keep on toasting with Benedel beer. In end of the evening the already befriended bartender puts us up on the premises.

In 1948, the emperor Haile Selassie I gave the Rastafarians a piece of land in the area of Shashemenne. So shortly after the Rasta community settled down here, to their believed Holy Land. These are mainly immigrants from Jamaica. I visit the museum dedicated to Haile Selassie and Bob Marley, the creator of the only music I can listen over and over. I am not a person easily associated with going to museums, but this one is exceptional. The custodian guides me around, telling intersting stories and when we are done with all the exhibits, we take a sit outside. Our conversation goes on and at some point it turnes into a Jamaican chill out.

Mohamed’s niece, Ziway

The journey continues, I hop on a makeshift trolley attached to a small donkey, which here serves as as bus station shuttle. There is a busy traffic on the road. Dozens of other donkeys quite happily moving around in the middle of the road, some shepherds, plenty running sheep and a herd of Watussi cows with loaded trucks, cars and plethora of other road-participants squeezing through (including my donkey cab).

I arrive to Wondogetnet, where I simply follow the gravel path uphill. A group of teenagers senselessly mistreat an already fatigued donkey who has no more strength to keep going uphill. The animal has a few fresh wounds from which a bloodshot muscles stick out. The kids deliberately hit with a stick just in those places. The truth is that the donkey does not know how to display his disaproval, nor has any chances of rebellion. Is it so hard to guess that the donkey is simply too tired just is too tired to increace the pace?

I pass women carrying brushwood for sale as fuel. It is one way of a few ways to make a living for their families. Every several hundred meters I pass small stands with young girls selling baked corn, avocado, sometimes roasted barley seeds, peppers or mango. That is how it looks like in rural areas.

Wondogotnet in Amharic means “a magnificent paradise”. I am going towards its hot springs. It turns out that the water naturally reaches here the temperature of 85ºC. Luckily the hot spring mixes with a stream of cold water to average a perfect bathing temperature. So I jump into the legendary Haile Selassie shower, exactly the same one at the same spot where the ruler of Ethiopia used to take during his visits to Wondogetnet.

The bar

The World Cup on the small screen

The recent weeks our planet has been dominated by the South Africa’s World Cup craze. With no doubt the vibes also reach Ethiopia, which is at least halfway from Europe to the spotlight.

A sit with a group of local guys in one of the two bars. During the game in one of  the crucial moments the power is cut off. The complete silence sets in. I wish I could say something, but I’m in shock. None of the twenty Ethiopians seems to be irritated. No one is cursing, or even bothers to comment the situation. The fans are happy, because they could see most of the first half of the game. Nobody assumed that he would be also able to see the second part of the match. That is a life lesson. Let’s enjoy what is given, not wasting the time longing for things which one might never posses.

Later in the evening the electricity comes back. Slightly dimmed, a not-so-popular Bob Marley’s song’s melody comes from the only speaker. I sit in a bar sipping my ice cold St. George’s beer pondering. The problems of today’s world, fortunately, did not reach a free soul hidden deeply in the Ethiopian bush among its residents. Recently I have been quite into such places.

Today it hasn’t rained during the day therefore I assume in the rainy season it has to rain. The uncertain situation concering the potential rainstorm makes me find a solution. For a  small tip on the top of my tab an easy-going bartender lets me pitch a tend under the wooden porch just outside the bar.

People of Abyssinia

Strong espresso with a touch of foamed milk prepared with a vintage Italian coffee maker serves as a powerful start of the day. In the cafe I meet two Ethiopian girls, Amel, having a distinctive Arab looks and slightly darker skin and Yordanos who has more kind of s beauty typical to equatorial Africa. Ethiopia, like other countries in the Horn of Africa (including Sudan) is characterized by ethnic, religious and even linguistic dichotomy. Despite the fact that Amharic is the official language, nearly one third of the population speaks Oromo. In spite of these differences, Ethiopians get along quite well (or well enough, as compared to other non-homogenous countries).

Residents of the former Abyssinia engage in breeding. Only occasionally I happen to see women or men with hoes or machetes, a common view in countries such as Rwanda or the Congo.

Shepherds breed cows, depending on the needs either Watussi cows for milk (the ones with large, wide-apart horns) or “normal” cows, here kept mainly for beef. It is not only in small towns and villages, where I meet lots of animals grazing on their own without a shepherd. Lonely sheep, goats and cows are a common thing to see even on the main national road.

Ziway

Southern Ethiopia is a region filled with lakes. Lake Ziway impresses me most even though its color does not encourage swimming. Along the way, I meet Mohamed, a fresh secondary school graduate. The place is a paradise for bird lovers. There is a lot of them, starting at little, innocent looking blue kingfishers to conclude at gigantic marabous feeding on fish.

A hare runs across the path and right away a great bird approaches it. Flapping its wings the bird effectively disturbs the silence, but the meal unfortunately is gone. The lake serves as a pasture for horses, donkeys and goats. This is truly a picturesque place and with all these animals the scenery looks like a genuine paradise. Still, Mohamed discourages me from pitch a tent hre. His straightforward answer ‘because a crocodile may disturb you‘ is clearly enough convincing. So I choose the other option, staying at Mohamed’s place.

Marabous at Lake Ziway

Hoteela Hara Dambal becomes my top bar in the town. For less than a dollar I eat a huge serving of injera and with absolutely no rush I continue drinking the cheapest beer in Africa. Large pint costs 5.5 birr which equals to exactly 40 cents.

I the evening together with Mohamed and his friend we go out for a pub crawl. There is plenty of places called khat house. In one of these establishments I get to know Abdel, an Ethiopian guy with a friendly smile showing well his yellowish teeth. Abdel sits here together with three of his friends and a sister named Beza. The party hangs out here switching between smoking sheshe and chewing khat, the psychotropic plant wrapped in banana leaves.

This place looks like each of those guys spent here a minimum of the last several hours still. So I join the party. It’s definitely a good decision. After a few hours it is quite difficult to get out of here. Abdela invites me to his wedding and wants me to marry his sister. Salam, the owner, smiles and tells me to necessarily come back tomorrow morning. That is what I do the following day.

On the way

I set out north to Addis. I am in good time, so the first part I simply walk. Walking always lets you see more. I encounter rural watermelon and onion vendors. Also I meet bikers. The most surprising  one is Igor Yamongulov, who also seems to be surprised by my presence. Igor is a Russian traveler who has been traveling across Africa, always on a bicycle since he left his hometown several months ago. He has had a lot of adventures and is just somewhere nearby the half-way point in Ethiopia of his journey to South Africa.

A moment later.

The genuine biblical character, on a  makeshift wagon pulled by a donkey stops to me a ride for the next few kilometers. The time spend with this Ethiopian and his family is great. I can not stop wondering how these people are friendly here. I found a free ride without even looking for it.

At some point I finally get on the overloaded minibus going towards Addis Ababa. I sit in front as a second passenger, next to a excessively obese black woman, who takes not only hers but also half of my seat. I feel dominated and not having the right to say anything to remedy this situation.

I realize that her role here is limited to serving khat leaves to our driver, so he does not fall asleep. This herb stimulates not only the condition of your body, as it does the same with your imagination. So I admire the acrobatic performance of overtaking at over 120 km/h speed, driving through the village and literally drifting between children, donkeys and goats. Often the driver violates the right of way so the car from the opposite direction has to slow down and hide in a shoulder. He has just nearly run over a group of people.

Quickly am convinced that this guy is a complete maniac who obeys only one rule. No respect for other road participants. In order not to be groundless I must mention that the driver constantly honks at the innocent pedestrians walking calmly along a shoulder, which happens to be the driver’s already assumed track to overtake the other car from the right side. And so it goes, like in a computer game with five lives left. Still, I trust this guy and I believe that an hour I’ll be in Addis.

July 2010

ethiopia