Yoga Journal Pose of the Day

Sunday, December 14, 2008

diary, part 3

more excerpts from my diary:

17/11/08: Gorgeous sunny day, but it's still very cool this early in the morning, I'm guessing 12 or 13 degrees C. After doing my morning yoga practice, I'm watching Ethiopian tv in between watching the construction behind my hotel. Done completely with manual labour at this point with manual tools. At another construction site nearby, where the building is farther along, I hear power tools being used. Beyond is the "Lucy School".

I go to Kaldi's again with Kassahun for breakfast and my tall macchiatto (aaaah!). Kaldi's appears to be a pretty direct knock-off of Starbucks. Ethiopia does not have or does not respect international laws of intellectual property rights. J. back home would be amused to have a Kaldi's mug instead, as Starbucks is not to be found in Addis. Starbucks and Ethiopia had their dispute re brand-naming Ethiopian coffee. No conflict or discrepancy in principles here, eh?

Kassahun has work to do and I tag along, people-watching, while he goes in and out of various offices re his business appointments.

I have no idea where I am in this huge city, it's mixed up spider-web of streets leaving me quite disoriented. Only the morning or afternoon shadows give me some clue as to whether I'm facing n s e or w -- that's something!

I'm observing the loose, easy strides of the pedestrians going by. The posture of most people is beautiful, straight and tall. Almost everyone seems capable of walking long istances, although I'm noticing also many obviously middle-class Addis citizens, as they drive up and park near me, are developing the Western middle paunch!

Nobody seems to be in a hurry, although quite purposeful. I suppose if you have to submit to the long line-ups of any official business in Ethiopia, you might as well relax. Getting hostile isn't going to speed things along.

I ponder how my friends N and B asked me about how in Canada we do everything with the aid of some machine. Yes, I had to answer, I usually wash my clothes with a machine. But what a disaster it is when the power goes out, as it did for days in Canada during the SARS epidemic, and also along the whole eastern seaboard of North America. We don't know how to cope. In Africa, where you often cook with charcoal and do so many things by hand -- no problem. N was preparing peppers yesterday using the traditional method of grinding them in a large wooden mortar and pestle. No daily advertisements to buy a "new" machine with "new" features -- no, this is the same kind of mortar and pestle I remember being used 50 years ago when I lived in Debre Tabor.

I spent several hours in the afternoon trying to access my email without any luck. Seems the "international gateway" was down.

Very tired. Had supper of Italian in town with Kassahun. Not very tasty. What is it that I miss in Ethiopia's versions of Italian cuisine? Can't figure it out.

I retire to my hotel. I'm freezing again. It cools down immediately at sunset but I'm also tired, which always makes me feel chilled anyway!

Kassahun tells me he expects to have difficulty finding fuel for our trip to Debre Tabor. There is a shortage of fuel and the speculation is that the gov't is short of the foreign currency it needs to buy oil (the next day I find out that Kassahun spent hours driving around the city trying to scrounge up fuel, not sure we'd be able to find some along the way).

18/11/08: Yoga practice warms me up this morning and I again am grateful for the hot water. Not sure what our trip to Debre Tabor will bring.

My travel companions today will be my friend Kassahun and his friend, Fehim. Fehim turns out to be funny, very engaging, with a mischievous boyish smile. He notices things and is good at being the thoughful, chivalrous gentleman.

Long line-ups at gas-stations where there is fuel. Many gas-stations have already waved us away -- out of fuel. A cab driver ahead of us shuts off his engine, hops out, walks up to the gas station to check things out. The line ahead starts to move. We are too close behind the cab to get by. We lose our place in line. The cab driver returns and finds he too has lost his place in line. Horns honk, hands gesture, a little heated verbal exchange. Fehim takes one of our jerry cans to fill it up, then comes with it back to our vehicle. We get back into the line somehow. We get more fuel (hurray). I see two soldiers in blue uniforms. They are armed. I am told the government has posted two soldiers at every gas-station to keep order. I shudder!

Along the way, laying in a supply of jerry cans of extra fuel becomes one of our constant preoccupations. Just in case. We see fuel-tanker trucks driving north. Maybe there will be enough fuel in Bahar Dar when we get there.

We drive nearly non-stop for Bahar Dar today.

We go north over Entoto and at the city limits on the mountain, I'm surprised to find a "border" with an armed patrol. We are entering Oromo territory.

Kassahun and Fehim are friends from the days when they worked together on the construction of this road north out of Addis. They point out places where the camps used to be, where there was a crushing plant (for the gravel), where various adventures and misadventures took place, sharing memories.

(click on the photos to see a larger version)

About 50 km north of Addis Ababa, near Chancho, we come to a look-out point over the Muger River Gorge. It is a popular spot for spotting wild-life and as we stop to stretch our legs, indeed a couple of birders -- European tourists -- stop to take in the view as well.

The Ethiopian highlands are a patchwork quilt of cultivated fields. At an average elevation of 1800 to 2400 m, this central plateau is vast and beautiful. I am so glad that I asked Kassahun to drive us to Bahar Dar vs making the trip by air.

Around 200 km from Addis, we start a part of the trip I've been anticipating! The first glimpse of the Blue Nile in the Gorge below makes me so excited. The descent, about 1000m, is spectacular, back and forth down typical hairpin turns. Looking up at one point, I see a tractor trailor hanging on the side of a cliff where it landed after leaving the road. The scale is so huge that the tractor trailor looks like a toy. It has been there for quite some time, I'm told, the job of retreaving it too difficult and/or expensive.

Near the bottom, we encounter road work. A Japanese firm has been contracted to upgrade this portion of the road into the gorge (which is locally called the Abbay Gorge). Kassahun and Fehim are excited to keep encountering former cohorts among the road crews working on the construction of the road and the new bridge over the Blue Nile.

I had read prior to this trip, and Kassahan again repeated the warning, that photographing the bridge was strictly prohibited by the government. The idea seemed ridiculous in this day and age of satellites circling the globe, of easy internet access to tools like Google World, where I had already tried to guess if my memories of Debre Tabor were accurate (they turned out to be very accurate, in fact!). However, one of the friends among the road crews that Kassahun and Fehim met along the way, said it is now quite okay to photograph the bridge. So we did.
I did experience some trepidation, seeing the ever-present armed soldiers near the bridge. I still felt I had to be discreet about taking photos, not wanting to be all cheeky about it. So I was sneaky about it. It will always weird me out, as it always has, to see the soldiers all over Ethiopia. At strategic points over-looking the road or the gorge or the bridge, their brush-lean-to shelters are not obtrusive, almost camaflouged, but they are there nevertheless.

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