Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ethiopia 2017 - Day 7. Woldiya to Mek’ele

Woldiya is at the edge of the Rift Valley, so it is warmer than the mountains. My choice room included a small balcony, which I had left open to let the night breeze in. I actually slept very soundly, but was awaken around 4 am by the sound of heavy trucks milling around. Of course my hotel had to be adjacent to the big traffic circle where trucks from Addis or Mek’ele take to the mountains, with much rumbling and crashing of gears. I enjoyed the symphony until about 5 am, got up, and by 6 am was loading the car and getting ready to go. I asked a young woman sitting in the veranda what was the way to Mek’ele, and after a moment reflection she showed me the way and asked me if I could give her a lift to Alamata, which was about half way to Mek’ele. “Sure. Hop in.”

And so I met Frehiwot, who totally reminds me of Mma Makutsi from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels. She had come from Bahir Dar the night before (must have been an 8 hour bus ride), and now was heading to Alamata to an interview with some sort of non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO). She was dressed in nice jeans and leather jacket, and new bright red shows (if you know Mma Makutsi you might remember her love affair with colorful shoes), but had as her only luggage her laptop case.

Frehiwot has functional English, and pretty soon we were chatting away, half understanding each other. I thus learned that she had a degree in Psychology (97% ?) and had worked her way through different NGO’s from data analyst to Project Coordinator. Unfortunately her last NGO had finished its job in Ethiopia and she was now unemployed and looking for a new job. What a funny parallel with Mma Makutsi.

On the way we saw dromedary camels. Lots and lots of camels. Herds of as many as 30 camels, including four or five babies. We also saw strings of working camels, loaded with empty water canisters, and camels dragging poles. Camels standing under the shade of Grar trees (acacias or camel-back trees), or cavorting among the maize plants. I learned from Frehiwot that a camel may cost up to US$ 250 and must say I am really tempted.

The presence of the camels is yet another reminder that we are now driving along the shoulder of the Rift Valley. It is hot and dusty here, and the main ag product seems to be maize. All dry agriculture, even though every few kilometers we cross the gravel-filled valley of a braided river. I see with some satisfaction that the banks are protected from erosion by gabion walls, just as I had recommended 17 years ago!

Once we reached Alamata, Frehiwot and I had breakfast and coffee together and said goodbye, but she expressed concern about letting this clueless ferengi (foreigner) go alone on his way (all Ethiopians are convinced I am certifiably insane for traveling by myself), and insisted on getting my phone number so she could check on me. And she did, twice, until I was able to tell her I had made it to my hotel without incident.

But I lied. I had a small incident. In one of the million swerves to avoid rocks on the pavement I ended stepping on a sharp rock, and punctured a tire. Fortunately I noticed right away, so I pulled off the road in a convenient spot, pulled out the jack and spare tire, and got down to business. 10 seconds later I had a small crowd around me, all trying to take the swivel of the jack from me, and 30 seconds later a minibus stopped, a few dozen people poured out, and the minibus driver took over the changing of the tire. No big deal, and 5 minutes later the changing of the tire was over (as I was worried about how I was to tip such a big crowd). The driver shook his hands, gave me a big smile and waving went back to his minibus without giving me a chance of offering a tip, his passengers miraculously all fitted back in, and they were gone! Yet another demonstration that Ethiopians are super helpful people J

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