Ethiopia – A country with two faces
Ethiopia was in front of me and I hadn’t heard anything positive about it from cyclists. They only talked about kids who threw stones. After my experiences in Rwanda, I wasn’t keen on that. But I couldn’t skip Ethiopia. How did I manage?
It was Sunday lunchtime when I crossed the border. I was surprised how the faces changed immediately. People looked more Arab than African. Older men had white hair and henna-colored beards. The women were pretty with long hair. They were all quite a bit shorter than the tall nomads in the north of Kenya.
When I finally reached Immigration there was a power cut. Without electricity they couldn’t scan my passport. I had to wait and wrote my diary. After an hour, the immigration official was fed up and stamped my passport without scanning it.
By now it was too late to continue. They next town which had accommodation was 100 kilometers away. I had heard only bad things about Ethiopia and therefore didn’t want to stealth camp.
There was a lot of police and military in the border town of Moyales. I couldn’t find out why there was such a big presence. Perhaps it was always like this? A soldier threw stones at a man on a moped. Maybe throwing stones was a way to communicate. It goes down the hierarchy: soldier at man, man at kid, kid at animal – or cyclist.
At last, I found a hotel that was supposed to have Wi-Fi. It had internet but it didn’t work. That would happen regularly.
Well rested, I tackled Ethiopia the next day.
It was a very surprising and a wonderful day. I cycled in peace and quiet through the sparsely populated bush country.
At the end of the day, there were clouds and mountains.
Today I wasn’t so lucky.
Before I reached Mega, I had to climb 300 meters and it rained heavily. The water flung itself at me and quickly I was soaked. There was no shelter.
Also, not when I reached the town. Everything was fenced off. Finally, there was an open gate! Behind it was a B&B. They quickly unlocked a room and I went inside it with my bike. It was quite usual for doors to open outward. In a few minutes, I stood under a hot shower. What luxury!
There was supposed to be Wi-Fi but again it didn’t work. (I’d repeat this sentence often).
Next day, I continued to climb and then there was a fantastic descent.
The scenery in Ethiopia was spectacular and very diverse. The weather, except for the rain last night, and the good and empty roads were well suited for cycling. Once again there were no children to bother me.
What I found more challenging were the many people who crowded around me in the towns.
They called out “You, you, you” and it sounded like a battle cry when they ran towards me.
Young men on mopeds were also present outside the towns. When they got too annoying, I waved at a car driver, pointed at the young guys, and they immediately disappeared.
It was on the third day at lunchtime that I had my first unpleasant encounter with the kids. Of course, I met them on a steep hill where it was easy for them to throw stones at me and run after me yelling.
Once again, I stopped a couple of cars, including police cars. Not so much because they could help me but to tell them about conditions in the country.
First was a vehicle from USAid. They must know what was going on in Ethiopia. But in their big white jeeps they were insulated.
Then there was a big convoy from the World Food Project. Why? So much food could be grown here. Perhaps they were on their way to a refugee camp.
Fortunately, there was water and electricity along the road but not everyone had access.
Before the town of Hagere Mariyam the population and therefore the traffic increased. Traffic was mainly young guys on mopeds who didn’t have anything better to do than drive next to me and ask “You, you, you where are you go?”
These were questions which I no longer answered. If you hear them for a long time several hundred times, you’re fed up. Most of the time, they didn’t care about the answer. It was the only question they could ask in English.
It was really bad when they had music.
Before the town, it started to rain again. The road wasn’t paved but sandy.
The city was much larger than expected and fortunately I quickly found a hotel.
At least the population didn’t suffer from a lack of water after it rained.
I wondered what they did with the dirty water from the puddles. I didn’t want to imagine how bad things were if you had to use such dirty water.
I was happy that the roads were so good because I could escape the kids even when it was flat. But then it changed.
There was only mud. Streams ran across what used to be a road. Trucks stopped and offered me a lift because they thought it was too dangerous.
I continued to climb and was at 2,550 meters. The next town was at 1,500 meters. I didn’t want to miss the descent.
I asked how much further the road would be in such terrible condition. I didn’t like the answer at all: until I reached Dilla, which was 50 kilometers away.
When the road condition improved, the moped drivers returned.
They didn’t like it when I took their pictures but when there was no car, it was sometimes the only way to get rid of them.
Dilla was my first larger city. For the first time in a long while, the different roles of men and women were evident. Women carried heavy bags from the market, including firewood. Otherwise they were invisible. The men hung out in bars and cafés.
There was only one internet and mobile carrier: Ethio Telecom. Of course, state owned. Without competition there was no need for advertising. And it didn’t matter, if it worked or not, the people didn’t have a choice.
In Dilla I managed to buy a SIM card, which I needed to register. An ID wasn’t sufficient, I needed my passport. They said, it’d take 24 hours for the registration to go through. Good for them and I had left town by then.
My hotel had internet which worked on and off. It was just enough to receive messages and to send a few.
The next day didn’t start well and got worse. First it was only uphill but with beautiful scenery.
Once again, I was accompanied by kids and guys on moped. It helped with the children, when I aimed my camera at them.
I tried to simply ignore them and didn’t even look at them. Any reaction from me, encouraged them to continue.
The road was supposed to get better after Dilla. It improved but was still far from being good. In the beginning it was tarred, then mainly gravel, mud appeared only occasionally.
The kids regaled me with their full repertoire. “You, you, you” was the tamest. I had to laugh about “Fuck you, fuck you” which sometimes mutated to “Fuck me”. Where did the little guys learn it?
I really didn’t care and only wanted to get through and reach Hawassa. Because of the bad roads, it took longer than I thought and I was completely exhausted.
There was a public water point before the city. Once again, I asked myself what Africa would do without the yellow jerry cans.
In Hawassa I treated myself to a slightly better hotel. Again, the internet didn’t work. I was so exhausted that I didn’t care and only wanted to sleep. For the first time, I met two “Whites”. Geologists from Prague who tested soil conditions for a road project. They were accompanied by an Ethiopian geologist. Finally, someone whom I could interview.
With his long education, he only made 2,000 Birr, about Euro 61, working for the government. Hardly enough to feed a family.
He also didn’t understand why USAid distributed food because agriculture was okay in this area. There was good infrastructure for health and education but nothing worked. It didn’t surprise me, given how little money government workers get.
It turned into a long evening.
Next day I forgot my stick at the hotel. That wasn’t a problem because I wanted to find a better one. But where to look?
Not a problem because a herd boy threw his stick at me which landed right next to me. I quickly stopped, picked it up, thanked him, and cycled away. He threw a few stones at me but they all missed. I was very happy about that great stick.
That was the only incidence for today.
It was Sunday. In Shashemene everyone was dressed in the white garb of the Ethiopian orthodox church. I didn’t know about the Rastafarian village and didn’t see anything. Apparently, it attracted by far fewer Rastafarians than I had thought.
There were greenhouses before I reached Zuway. I couldn’t see from the road what they were used for and therefore went closer. Immediately I was surrounded by heavily armed security. But I only wanted to know what grew in those hothouses. They pretended not to understand English. Then one of them asked me in good English what was in my panniers. If he wouldn’t tell me what was grown there, I didn’t need to tell him the content of my bags. I continued.
After a few kilometers, I saw advertising for flowers and roses. They didn’t need to grow food which they could get from the World Food Project and USAid.
Later I learned that the land for the greenhouses had been taken away from the locals and given to European flower growers. A short while ago they had been attacked which explained the heavy security.
I didn’t see much of the lakes in this area. In Zuway, I had time to look around.
I had already seen examples of the many kinds of birds.
I thought I hadn’t missed much when I got to the lake. The water didn’t look inviting enough to swim in it.
A young man who ran boat tours for tourists made 2,000 Birr, as much as a geologist or a teacher.
At the lake was one of the colorful and richly decorated Ethiopian orthodox churches.
There was a mosque in the village.
And a market. They sold potatoes, onions, and tomatoes. The only fruit were bananas. Everything was arranged on the ground, next to it was garbage and cows wandered about. It wasn’t very hygienic.
There were greenhouses after Zuway. Here it was easier to see what they were used for and who was behind it.
I continued to Mojo and then to Addis Abeba.
I hadn’t had a rest day since I left Masabit in Kenya and I really felt it.
Now I had plenty of “rest days” in Addis because I needed to get visa for the last African countries, Sudan and Egypt. That took more time than I had expected.
The longer I stayed, the more I liked it.
It was relatively easy to bike but these cycle paths were only about 100 meters long.
There was supposed to be a memorial for Bob Marley in Addis. On Sunday I biked the area where it was supposed to be.
Instead of seeing Bob Marley at the center and cars around him, there was only a large intersection.
Next to the intersection was a hotel and I asked them. They laughed and explained that there used to be a memorial but so many people came and blocked the traffic that Bob Marley was moved.
The friendly woman didn’t know where they had taken him. No memorial but a nice ride through the city.
On my way back, I visited the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
The crypt of Heile Selassis was in the cathedral.
It was one of the most important Ethiopian orthodox churches which was also the residence of the archbishop.
By now my friends “Les Doudz” had arrived who were also headed north. We shared the happiness and the sorrow of the visa process.
In between we had time for excursions. We went to visit Lucy, which used to be the oldest skeleton with 3.2 million years.
It had earned Ethiopia the distinction of being the cradle of humankind.
From “homo erectus” to “homo sedens”.
A day in a museum can be exhausting.
I moved twice while I was in Addis Abeba. My last accommodation was the best one: high above the city on the roof of the Taitu Hotel.
I stayed for another five days and went from one embassy to the next.
And then we had managed.
We had two new visas in our passports and could finally leave the city.
Once again, we had to say good-bye but we were certain to meet again.
Next time you can read about my trip in the north of Ethiopia.