One of the days that Cormac was in town we had lunch in the Hilton with some of the Connect delegates ( a rare treat), as I over indulged shamelessly in the free buffet we were joined by a very pleasant man who turned out to be Fr Paddy Moran based in a town called Dimeka in the Hamer, near to the Kenyan border. As we chatted Cormac and Paddy wondered would it be viable for Camara to send pc’s down there and then duly suggested that I go down, when I asked how long it would take to get there I was told it varies, alas not by hours but days!
On Sunday 7th December I set off on my first “Ethiopian only” Road trip – in that I was the only (faranje/foreigner), as is the norm we met in the local butchery and had a large plate of tibs and injera. I’m quite used to the local food at this stage and my stomach is not the weak western one it was in July but I still harboured fears at the back of my mind that I would slow the process considerably should I suddenly feel ill.
So 5 of us set off in the afternoon Feyissa CEO had taken time off his busy schedule, Eyob the Technical Director, Teka the Technical coordinator, myself and most importantly Abebaw our driver. The roads here are quite literally deadly and I have witnessed the aftermaths of many fatal car wrecks. Hence a good driver is imperative. Abebaw is an excellent driver and manages to keep good time in a safe manner.
The first journey took a mere 4 hours passing through the famed Shashemene, home of the Rasta Movement en route eventually arriving in Awassa. Awassa has a special place in my heart as it was my first teaching assignment in Ethiopia last July with the Volunteers. We checked into the Penna (old one to save a few birr) and had some dinner, we were then joined by one of last years pupils who also acted as translator and teacher Gaschay and headed to the best Nightclub in Ethiopia ,Yugovia, no hassle from bar girls and live music. I demonstrated my Ethiopian dance magnificently much to the laughter of the crowd.
Early the next morning we visited a school for an inspection and then proceeded on our travels. This is where the journey began in earnest as much of the remaining 700km would be on bad roads if not dirt track.
Before leaving Awassa my colleagues decided to get a cd I foolishly though it would be a simple task- 3 shops later we were ready to go, the music that was purchased can only have been bought form the bargain basement, I generally like Ethiopian music and my room rattles nightly with its beats and high pitched yelping from a local bar, but I’d never heard such awful stuff as this, as a result Teka was relegated to the back of the bus and I commandeered the cd player.
Afer a very long and arduous journey we arrived late at Arba Minch (40 springs) we checked into the Bekele Molla where I argued at been given a different rate to the locals. And after a quick bit of Injera we hit the beds.
Next morning we were up and on the road at 6am, we picked up our Guide “Berekert” had some injera and back in the van. This part of the country is hot around 35°C and so traveling in a big tin bus can be “fun”. Along this part of the journey we were treated to magnificent scenery and more brutal roads. Our driver Abebaw did well to hold his nerve he was driving every day from 6am in very hot conditions on dangerous roads and his co-pilot was a non amharic speaking faranje. We had to get out and push a couple of times my particular favourite was the time we approached a hill made of sand , with no visible track, as the van struggled to ascend it, we were putting stones under the wheels etc a local group of Hamer decorated in their traditional paint stood by the side of the road clapping in unison, as they clapped I was at the back of the van and pushed with all my might to try and free the van wheels I looked up to find the tour guide videoing me- in fairness it will probably fetch a pretty penny on some funny home videos site, although at the time I suggested in my best possible English that perhaps he may like to assist!
Eventually we got free and took some pictures with the locals. This was a very interesting experience and I have to say I took great pleasure in my friends from Adama not being able to communicate with the local Hamer and have to go through our guide, they were as I, a foreigner in this strange and beautiful land.
Afterwards we drove on some of the worst roads in the most remotest areas imaginable. At times we drove for ages without even seeing any sign of life. The thought did occur to me that if one wanted to rid themselves of a pesky faranje who had been too demanding in the hub regarding workloads etc this would be an ideal place to do it , not another human for miles and miles. Eventually we reached the town and after a slight delay found the priests residence it was rather funny to be greeted by a Raheny man. We had some lunch, I treated my bemused and captive audience to a display of hurling with Fr Paddys Hurley and ball, they nodded and smiled untill Feyissa eventually asked why I was doing it?
After a site inspection the Adama contingent decided to hit towards their Hotel in Tourmi 28km away, I said I’d hang on with Fr. Paddy and watch his class in the evening. The class was very impressive which is a great boost for us as if it can be achieved in this the most remotest of areas it can be done anywhere. Its testament to the fact that all you need is the right people in place and no matter what the obstacles they can be overcome.
After watching a display of touch typing and a few brief words about the role of Camara etc myself and Paddy left the class to it and headed for Tourmi. We arrived to find my friends had only reached the hostel shortly before us, the mini bus had got stuck in the sand in a bad stretch of road and had to be pulled out by a truck taking an hour to get free.
Everyone was completely exhausted but some of us stayed up for a nightcap!
After a well earned sleep in the cheapest rooms in Ethiopia (40 birr) we loaded the van and headed back. Along the way we met and photographed some local Hamer tribe they are a very remarkable people numbering about 50,000 in total and are described by lonely planet as “subsistence agropastoralists” meaning they cultivate crops as well as rear cattle and goats. The people are known particularly for their hairstyles where the women mix together ochre, water and a binding resin before rubbing it into their hair and twisting it, giving it a coppery coloured tresses known as goscha. They are also masters of body decoration both painting and jewelery (see pics).
We traveled through sweltering heat and treacherous winding roads only to come to a shuddering halt a few minutes from our destination Arba Minch , we had run out of petrol , we had tried to stop to get some but everywhere was out, and we had exhausted all our spare cannisters. To be honest I think everyone was happy of the break, we flagged down a passing 4×4 and dispatched Teka and Berekert for Petrol the Hamara lads took refuge in the shelter of the van and I stood topless in the blistering heat much to the delight of passing Izuzu trucks, packed to capacity with workers, who would rarely have seen such a sight in these parts.
The lads arrived back presently Berekert in a jeep with Petrol , Teka jogging on the road behind him ( when he arrived I playfully asked why he hadn’t just waited for us in town). We filled up our tanks and once again were back on our way. We arrived into town a short time later and this time rather than have the hastle of negotiate with me and given that my arm which had been fried out the open window was the colour of crimson and therefore I could not be considered white ,the hotel clerk took a long sigh through his eyes towards the heaven and no doubt thought of his happy place, for once I managed to get the local “Abashe” rate, another rarity. We went for a bite to eat, Feyissa went to track down some old girlfriends where he had worked as bright eyed youngster 20 years ago.
The next morning we performed another site visit for a potential Camara school and had a quick look at a nearby crocodile ranch. Then back on the road.Along the way we stopped to buy fruit from many of the young girls that sell mango,papaya and banana along the road,even unshaven, dirty, dusty and downright disheveled I received declarations of undying love as some of the girls grabbed my arm to touch the faranje and ask for birr :-).
We deposited a tearful Teka at Shashemene with orders to make his way to Awassa to fix camara pc’s in need of maintenance, and quickly hit the road for Adama.
Late that night a beleaguered and dusty Hamara bus rolled into Adama, as usual my Hotel had given away my room so it was into the old reliable Bekele Mola. I was wrecked and covered from head to toe in red dust, but I was starving I’d eaten tibs all week and although I liked it tonight I said I’d treat myself to something different. After a quick look at the menu that I know off by heart anyway I ordered the steak well done and chips at the same time on the same plate please. No problem said the waitress flashing a beautiful smile. ———- Half an hour later my dinner arrived tibs and injera. I rolled up my sleeves and tucked in.