University

Dated: 26 APR 18

I’m a few days into Ethiopia now, taking it at a steady pace but it’s not a walk in the park. Ethiopia as populated by people as much as by hills. Wild camping is not an option nor is staying at a farm, for you close your tent and open it the next day to a wall of onlookers. I pop to the shop on my own, after paying up I turn to leave to be met by a horde of people; I cant even take a piss without someone eying me up! Its a strange thing having every sip of your coffee watched so acutely. Adults shoo them away or throw water at them so they leave me in piece but like flies on shit they quickly come back. Taking a leaf out of the liocals book when cycling if one such critter is looking mischievous with a stick or stone in hand I spray them with my water bottle, after all they are known to through stones and often try and slap you!

On the road I often have a tail just metres from me, they often follow for twenty minutes or so with their motor bikes engine spluttering on the hills as I am too slow. I don’t attack them with water though. I’m studied like I an elephant in the wild, mesmerised.

If I’m taken hostage at some point on this trip be it in the mountains of Tajikistan or along the drug traffic routes in Central America getting me to talk will be child’s play: bind me to a chair, place a set of ear defenders on a cold steel table in front of me, just out of reach and unleash a load of Ethiopian “you-ing” children. I will be singing within five minutes. I’m already looking forward to escaping Ethiopia just so I can have a moments peace and quiet to myself.

I’m in a city called Hawassa a few hundred kilometres south of the capital, it has a certain feel to it. Strolling along the shores of Lake Awasa I turn along a wide boulevard, the sun is sinking towards the horizon and the great domes of St Gabriel’s Church reflects a deep crimson gold in the distance.

I don’t know what it is about university cities but they all share a likeness. Throngs of people, bars, happy hours and music. Young women walking in groups, with their hair made up and faces on, laughing amongst themselves as they strut in search of cheap shots or maybe a sophisticated glass of vino (my monies on the shots); one unfortunate creature trips on her heels which are that inch or two too high. “Men” casually walk as they make their way to the bars perhaps conveniently behind a group of girls, shoving a mate who has clearly made a jest about a fancy in a short skirt, their hair a little too sculpted and shoes gleaming white (clean foot wear is a big thing out here, there are shoe shiners on most streets, its easy to get mucky)….what lads.

I take a pew on a small stool and get served up a plate of what the Ugandans would call “Irish Potatoes,” just potatoes. The Ethiopians know how to make a good chilli, they are served with red and green Seni chilli sauce  and considering it’s just a plate of spuds it tastes damn good. This spot is great for people watching and is rammed; punters sit close together knees touching about a large plates of this starchy food.

There is something nice about a shared meal, literally eating from the same plate as your friends. It’s intimate, a few stools across, two couples sit laughing and enjoying each others company. The evening light fades, headlights dimly light the street in streaks, the only other light comes from a dim bulb glowing a subtle orange adding to the ambiance; when one pronounces ambiance it must be done so in a thick husky French accent so as to truly depict such a scene of intimacy; for one girl often touches her head to a shoulder of her lover or her little finger interlocks with his as if they can’t bare not to be touching.

Two tuk-tuks are parked alongside the curb, their own private dinning booths, as the ladies bring the dish’s directly to them, I can see two people squeezed into the back of each carriage. I’m sure you could pay good money for such an uncomfortable dining experience at home. And of course they all in unison give the customary laugh when I order an entire plate to myself.

In the morning I am greeted by cheers and hoots, its six am and the sparrows haven’t even farted, what the hell is all this hullabaloo!!? Apparently the students like to turn the street into a football pitch on a Sunday morning. It was only the rowers who would be this keen back in the UK and not on the Sabbath, but all up the street people are playing football, running shuttles, striking some serious stretches and cycling. Reassuringly I do see one walk of shame as a tired and dishevelled looking chap saunters by.

The University cycle team have all the gear from pointy helmets to full body suits but unfortunately not the ergonomic bikes. They ride what I had when I was a kid though some have attached tri bars. Much to my frustration despite their somewhat retro bikes they well and truly put me in my place and leave me in the dust, I’m convinced I hear a few sniggers as they cruise past me. Later that Sunday morning however I find myself along side a cycling coach at the tip of a thirty strong peloton, Jaun takes this group of young lads out every Sunday to stretch their legs, fortunately for me we part ways after just a half hour and I can catch my breath.

Looking around, it is the demographic that makes any student town have that feeling to it, such young fresh faces! Although I have been putting student on my visa applications much to the bemusement or amusement of the border guards I certainly don’t look so fresh faced.

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