Friday, April 17, 2009

The Children of the Sorghum

A little fyi - These emails are getting harder to get through, due to very basic dial-up in Ethiopia mixed with frequent power outages. In four days I'll be in Addis. It's not meant to be any better there. Then four more days to the next rest stop, with more crappy internet, and then 8 straight days of riding through southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya, where our main concern will be getting water and food for the trek, so likely no internet. So you'll hear from me, but slowly.

From the border town of Matema to a mountain camp, I was on the bus. Matema had Bob Marley playing over the loudspeakers to greet the morning. Kids and people were everywhere. Women were sitting in front of their little shops selling tea, men were carrying heavy things hither and thither. And from everywhere, left right and centre, all you could hear was "You you you you you you you". The kids shout this at you all the time. They say it, scream it, holler it, and sing it.

We jumped out for lunch - injera (fermented flatbread ) with choro and salad. It was Wednesday, and Wednesday and Friday are fasting days, when only vegetarian food is available. Choro is a spicy chickpea paste that tastes like an awakening of your tongue. The food is served on the bread which looks like a bubbly crepe and is the size of a platter. You rip pieces of the bread off and use it to pick up your food. Right hand only.

The roads were terrible. Rocky and awful. Occasionally a river had taken over the road. And hills. The mountainous beauty of Ethiopia comes at the cost of having to ride steep, gravely inclines. But even in the month since the truck had last been through new roads had been built. Apparently the Koreans are financing this venture. The first racer actually beat the truck. Everyone came in covered in mud. It was a rough day. I wish I had been on it.

Allan came in first, put down his bike and said: "Miranda, do you know how to cut hair?"
"I've never tried."
"That's good enough for me!"
He pulled out some barber scissors and I went to town. I get a nervous giggle cutting people's hair. And the answer to his question - No. I don't cut people's hair. I butcher it. He would have been luckier to have gramma and a bowl. But he loved it because most of it was gone and it made the heat less intense.

Kids were all over our camp. Erin and I did yoga, and they watched. They stand a couple of feet away from you and just watch. Everything you do is interesting. You fly in on crazy bikes, build your homes in minutes, and then start contorting yourself. We are the circus for these folk.

Erin showed them a few poses, and then taught them how to somersault. They weren't quite willing to try the cartwheel. They were adorable. Word from the road was that there were not too many stones thrown that day. We had been so worried for so long. Maybe Ethiopia's threat to cyclists was exaggerated.

Then we woke up the next day to the hardest day on tour. An 1100m elevation gain over 10km on a gravel road. Slow but steady was the only way to take it. And sometimes even a bunch of walking. I walked quite a ways with Lloyd. After the climb there were bits of pavement. Such a wonderful surprise. We went through a school village with children who surrounded us with questions like "What's your name?, Where are you from?, where are you going?" and the constant, unending "Give me Money!" youyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyouyou! And as we passed them, the stones started. One girl grabbed onto my back rack. One girl grabbed my handle bars "Give me Money!" "I don't have any" "That is false!" And a few seconds later a rock went whizzing past my head.

Something I didn't mention, that morning I was actually suffering from the plague that is going around our camp. I had been stopping frequently, and then was stuck going through these villages with no escape. Finally Lloyd and I got out of range of people, I told him to ride on, and in one move I somehow managed to unclip my peddles, jump off my bike, grab it, jump a massive ditch, run through the sparse eucalyptus trees and make it in time to find a nice spot in the field. When I headed back I realized I was in trouble because without the adrenaline it was going to be very hard to get back across that ditch with my bike.

Finally I made the lunch truck. It was after three. I was starving. I had a sandwich and some oranges and let the truck go back to do the sweep. If I hadn't made it yet they would pick me up on the way. It was then that I went through the valley of the Children of the Sorghum. They came out of the fields carrying their sticks and picking up stones. The questions started flying. I answered them all, and as soon as I passed, the rocks started flying. One kid hit me across the back with his stick. There were patches of these kids for as far as the eye could see. I jumped off my bike at one point and the kids scattered. They ran into the field and from over a hundred yards were able to pitch a rock with deadly accuracy. I decided to pitch one back. Eight feet. Peels of laughter and more rocks came my way. Now if I need to I only pick up the rock in threat, so that my shameful secret won't leave me exposed. After being absolutely stoned by the little bastards, I made my way up one last hill where two were waiting for me. I sped up. They ran. Those kids can run 12km/h barefoot without breaking a sweat. I'm not exaggerating. Then came a rock the size of my head. It slammed into my shoulder and I cried out in pain. Two adults saw it and chased the kids into the field with their canes swinging. Shortly after that the truck came by and wild horses couldn't have kept me off.

It took me 9 hours to ride 70km that day. I was a broken mess after that. We drove to the hotel and I checked into a room with Evelyn. I showered, dressed up and got myself a gin and tonic from the bar. I didn't even want to think about bicycling that night. We were in Gandor. The following day was a rest day. That was exactly what I needed.


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