Sunday, May 3, 2009

Happy Endings

Arba Minch was a strange rest day. We had none of the amenities we needed to do our regular chores - no water, power was sporadic, and internet was questionable. Skype is illegal in Ethiopia, and the only connections are dial-up. When it works. When there was water, we ran to it and poured as much as we could into buckets to try to get as many errands done as possible. When there was no water, we ran into the town to buy snacks and juices - I did mention the layered avocado, mango, guava, papaya smoothies, right? - and eat up as much of the local fish as we could. Claire, Erin and I headed off to do a yoga session, and then Claire and I went off for some injera. While we were out, the power went out, and we walked the potholed streets in darkness. The little shack grocery stores were lit up with candles, and people were filling them buying batteries for their flashlights, or more candles. We went for the gingersnaps and headed back to camp - cookies and pineapple slices have become an important commodity for desert camps. The pineapple provides you with a bit of juice, and the cookies - well I don't think ants could crave sugar more than we do. The water has been getting worse, too, which is part of why we crave the juice. It is now brown in colour, and tastes heavily of chlorine. It never quenches the thirst.

In the morning we left for Konso. Even after a rest day my mood towards the kids was unaffected. At the screams of "You, you, you", or "give me money", I responded with "piss off". I was in a terrible mood, and the mornings rocks, sticks and slaps weren't helping. At the lunch stop I caught up with Alex and we decided to ride ahead until the lunch truck caught up with us. I am thinking of riding less in Ethiopia because the kids are really getting to me. Today while getting on my bike they crowded me so intensely I couldn't get my leg over without kicking one. And then I realized that I didn't feel bad about it. I really need a break.

On the up side, the local dress has become a beautiful sight. The women mostly wear dresses that have a cut that remind me of the eighties acid-wash double-layered shirts, only with a rainbow-striped material. Other women wear traditional peasant dresses - thick white cotton gauze, all bulked up to emphasize a heavy bosom and child-bearing hips. They have beautiful multi-coloured embroidery around the neck and down the chest, and sometimes also on the rest of the edging. Women have also started to wear jewelry - thick silvers and beads, even some dangling from their foreheads.

When Alex and I rode, I fell while racing around a rocky corner that turned into sand - not a serious fall, but others fell there too, and Lone even sprained her ankle there. Then we were bullied by some kids and their bulls.

We camped along the Omo River. It's meant to be the longest in Ethiopia, but at this time of year it was merely a trickle. In all actuality, we camped where the river should have been, and then we joked about the possibility of flash floods - creating the sort of dreams Larium thrives on. I walked down the bed, through lush banana trees and tropical scrub, and made my way to the small trickle for a bit of relief from the heat. Splashing small handfuls over my head and my clothes made everything more bearable.

The next morning we woke up and headed off down the gravel road to Yabello. It was hard riding - my bike kicked up constantly. I shook so much I could barely walk straight when I got off of my bike. As I rode I passed the bodies of those who had given up along the way. Hinchy and Princess Anna were on the side of the road and had decided to hitch. Then I passed Mike who was also laying under a tree waiting for a rescue. I rode on to tell the lunch truck about where they were.

The most exciting thing about this part was that it was where we might start seeing animals. I saw nothing except beautiful birds. And cows. There may have been animals, but I couldn't take my eyes off the road for long enough to find out.

I rode on, and when the van passed I gave it directions to find the others. And when it passed me again on the way back I was feeling so sunstroked I could barely tell them I was okay to ride on. And five minutes after they passed me, I got a flat. I was so out of it by that point that it took me forty minutes to change it. I just kept getting confused.

Shortly thereafter the lunch truck came back for me and another who had succumbed to the heat. Though sun temperatures are never accurate, one person metered in at 47 Celsius.

I ate some food, drank water, and fell asleep on the bus. Finally we arrived in camp - it was a hotel! It had cold drinks and showers! The sick people all took rooms. I had a shower, did my laundry, set up my tent, and then ran to get my first nice cold beer in days. And then cold mineral water, and then a pop, and then another beer. It was deluxe. That night I even got to speak to Rob on the satellite phone - they bought too many minutes, and so now they are selling them off. It was so wonderful to hear his voice.

And once again the people have changed and started to look more Kenyan. They wear layers of sarongs - the men have them draped across their shoulders and another wrapped around their waists; the women pile on the cloths. The men are also now carrying spears. Their faces are significantly darker, more aquiline. The area we are in has also changed - it's now a scrub-filled desert. And the children have stopped attacking us. This is the Ethiopia I dreamed of.

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