Dated: 24 APR 18
I usually hark on about he feel of a new country as you cross that imaginary line that constitutes one of mans borders. Ethiopia is no different from clean cut plastic banning Kenya I am greeted with dirty streets, strewn with an inordinate amount of plastics, goats running amok, packs of dogs having a riot of a time, crumbling pavements and even crumblier buildings. But I will reserve my supreme judgement for later down the line as border towns are notoriously dive like.
This time however I have a pre-existing impression of the people. Everyone I had spoken to about cycling in Ethiopia talks of stone throwing’s and confrontations with an apparently aggressive people. I have been told to hold my ground and be abrupt in return, then they will soften. It doesn’t disappoint, at the border post I am yelled at and a man strides over in my direction instructing me to move my bicycle in the medium of shouting. So I concede and move it approximately three feet, apparently this is sufficient. Then once on the street the first child shouts “f**k you,” but on the bright side he wasn’t asking for money. I take a breath and hold my judgement.
Ethiopia, day one, not a stone thrower insight though I am convinced that the kids are out to kill me. Through exhaustion that is, running and waving their little limbs wildly like a war cry they yell, “you, you, you, you, u, u, u, uUuuuuu!” I like to think I am good with children but how teachers have the energy to cope with a bundle of them I don’t know. They are just as inquisitive, energetic and happy as all children from across the continent and I don’t think there is such a thing as a shy Ethiopian child. After a coffee this morning I had to spend a few minutes high fiving a queue of kids which lasted a suspicious long time, I’ve sure a few went round again for seconds or even thirds.
Lunch however was a different story, my hostess was all smiles and roses but behind the facade she was a shark. It always happens when you entre a new country as you have no clue as to the price of fish. The cost of my lunch was grossly inflated, the shark smelt me coming. I wont say how many lunches I paid for but coffee here should cost just a mere 3 Birr which is less than 10p and I paid more than three times that. Looking past the bill the coffee was fantastic, Ethiopians are proud of their coffee which as we all know grows in abundance here. I believe its one of their biggest exports.
To pay for this fanatically priced lunch I pop to get cash out, a trivial matter. I’m stopped for a frisking and a sweep with a hand held metal detector. Apparently they are worried I might hold the bank up and make off with the loot stuffed in my panniers. I decide to take it as a compliment for it can only mean that the security guard after looking me up and down thinks that I might have a concealed weapon within my lycra.
I was told to expect culinary delights when I reached Ethiopia and to be fair the Ethiopian street food is amazing, in the UK. I am yet to sit back after a meal and contently rub my belly. Goat seems to be the only thing on the menu, there isn’t a legume to be seen. When ever I have paused near a cafe or stopped for a cup of that rich bitter coffee I have been gestured to share someone’s meal or a piece of bread, so much for my preconceptions. Coffee is a treat, often the beans are roasted on the spot, darkening they slowly roast, the girl blows away the husks as they flake from the beans stirring to reveal a rich even deep brown. There are more coffee stalls here than Viennese coffee houses. To taste they offer sugar or like a Scot with his porridge, salt. A small ceramic char coal smoker is placed at the table in the evenings, mixed leaves and spices like incense issue sweet smoke through the air and keep the flies at bay.
Another night in another suspect establishment; I know few people who would stay in the pits that I have been resting my head, with the occasional cockroach some would make your skin crawl. I suspect there is a strumpet or two here for I pull the cord to turn on my light and it glows red. I sure know how to pick a palace, its that or all lodges are those sorts of establishments. On the plus side I get upgraded to the room next door it even as a white light. I am chaperoned in by a lady with whom I can not communicate, she points at the bed with a smile and starts fluffing the pillows, I stand against the wall stiff as a plank, not a chance (oh and readers with a crude mind get you head out of the gutter). She scoops up the pillows shaking her head, they just wont do and off she totters to return with a pair of clean pillow cases, what a treat. It would seem that the sheets are up to standard or that clean sheets are reserved for the likes of royalty.
A few hours later an she pops her head in again, I’ve been upgraded again and to an en suite no less; she places a plastic bowl in the corner, I furrow my brow in response. She then proceeds to slightly squat over it in briefly in a mock wee, but realising that I am a man and squatting means a No2, she turns into the corner to face the wall….its a chamber pot.