Ethiopia - Days 8 & 9 Hawassa and Arba Minch
Uneventful flight last night and in fact it left 1/2 hour early as by then all passengers had checked in. It appears that we were the only flight from the airport that evening, so I think that everyone wanted to shut down and go home for dinner.
Very nice to be back in the Addis Sheraton, which seems to be the major hotel in the city for foreign dignitaries and business people, and in fact, we arrived on the eve of a meeting of the African Union which is headquartered in Addis and our hotel is apparently where many of the delegates are staying. As usual massive amounts of security, in the streets around the hotel and all the way to the airport there are armed military every 50 metres or so on both sides of the road and the luggage and personal checks at the hotel entrance were unusually thorough, turning up stuff in our luggage that airport security had not found or did not care about. Surprisingly for a Sheraton the hotel is large, marbled, impressive and expensive. However it has come to feel like home.
Good dinner and V managed a bowl of soup and so off to an early night since we are heading to the south of the country on our drive tomorrow. Even more excitingly, we are stopping at the airport on our drive out of Addis tomorrow since our travel agency has been working with the appropriate government departments and has a document authorizing customs to release my cameras, with the travel agency being required to take responsibility for their release in the event of any later problems. Lord knows what that means, but it was part of the process so that i is dotted. Because of the intricacies of bureaucracies and govt departments it was not a sure thing but I was very hopeful.
Our car was scheduled to pick us up at 8:30 but delayed because no cars were being allowed into the Sheraton grounds as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was arriving at the hotel from his official residence next door to the Sheraton at that time and the whole area was battened down. We waited on the hotel porch, saw him arrive and be greeted, great fun, and then when things cooled down a little our car arrived. Off to the airport through cordons of military. This is not intended to give a sense that Ethiopia is a particularly repressive or militaristic state, as far as we can determine, it is far from it. It is a democratic republic, stable for an emerging African nation, and while it has no shortage of problems, they seem to be working hard to move themselves forward. For the most part we have been vey impressed with what we have seen of local authority and with the way things work, and if they could only deal with cameras at customs……..
Not surprisingly, layers of bureaucracy at the airport and it took us over an hour as our piles of paper grew. We had our letter from the ministry as well as the receipt and inventory that I was given by customs on the night that I arrived. These were added to by additional forms each of which had to be stamped and counter-signed by the appropriate person and we shuttled from office to office getting signatures and stamps. At one point I thought all was lost since I had a carbon copy of the original customs inventory but nothing could be done without the original. Given that one was a carbon of the other with all the vital information I had assumed that it would work, but not so. Could not even remember what I had done with the original to safeguard it; this whole experience has been a series of self-inflicted wounds. Dug into my travel wallet and found it, much battered and folded, tucked into a corner of the wallet and hard stares were replaced by wide smiles, all was once again good. One last hiccup as the final customs gatekeeper refused to approve the cameras' release since an earlier official had signed on the wrong place on a form, on the left side rather than the right, but we found the erring officer and had him sign properly.
After an interminable discussion which fortunately I could not contribute to since it was all carried out in swift Amharic, I was reunited with my cameras and charged about the equivalent of $10 for warehousing and storage. At that point 10x as much would have been a small price to pay. Relief all round!
Into our car and off for our drive to Awassa, our first stop. Leaving Addis was a long process because all of the roads seem to be being built or re-built and are rough gravel with the lanes expanding to 2 in either direction and suddenly compressing to 1 without warning and people and animals darting between cars. Shoulders of the road are filled with people and animals, people selling things from blankets spread out on the ground and directly behind them and feet from traffic are rough wooden stalls and sheds selling anything that can be imagined. Great volumes of cars and trucks, weaving and jockeying for position but no signs of road rage, very calm and even-tempered while still being very assertive and dodging the streams of people and animals.
Country changed as we drove south and as we crossed over a series of mountains into the Great Rift Valley. I have capitalized the name because that is how I think of it from my high school geography lessons. In fact I had an utterly unrealistic mental image of the landscape. I knew rationally that it could not be as I imagined it, but the mental image overpowered the rational. In my imagination I saw, as in my geography diagrams, two straight-sided cliffs and between them a flat and even stretch of land that had suddenly dropped a thousand metres below the level of the two side land masses as if descending in an elevator. I imagined driving down the middle of the valley and seeing the two sheer cliffs, on one either hand, rising straight up into the sky. Of course nothing like that and once I got over my disappointment, really enjoyed the change in scenery.
Toward the middle of the day we began to see tukuls which seemed much neater than any we had noticed earlier in the day and characterized by painted designs around their outside walls. Eskadar told us that while we had entered a Muslim part of the region, there was no special significance to the nature or types of design, they were simply decorative and a way for householders to show off their homes.
We stopped the car at a very neat tukul set in surrounding farmed fields and he asked the homeowner if we could visit. A very stoic and prosperous farmer with a charming wife and 5 kids who proudly showed us around their home, their granary complete with cat to deal with the rats, and his fields.
We drove by one of the large rift valley lakes and as we approached Hawassa at the end of the day we drove through the town of Shashamane which is a settlement of the Rastafarian sect, built on land gifted to them by Haile Selassie in the 1940's. Rastafarianism incorporates sociopolitical views and teachings of Jamaican publicist, organizer, and black nationalist Marcus Garvey who was a keen proponent of the "back to Africa" movement in the 1920's, advocating that all people of the black races should return to their ancestral homeland of Africa, and worship the Creator "through the spectacles of Ethiopia". About 2,000 Jamaican Rastafarian followers took Haile Selassie up on his offer and immigrated but their number has dwindled to about 300. Drugs, including ganja, are illegal in Ethiopia but in the Shashamane area ganja is freely and legally grown and consumed as part of the religious practices of the Rastafarian residents of the town. We would have been interested in a walk through the town but Eskadar was reluctant since he felt that the area had become heavily populated with ganja hustlers and touts and not an easy walk for outsiders.
On to out hotel, the Haile Resort, built by a very well-know Ethiopian long distance runner named confusingly enough Haile Selassie, who has set world records and is using his prize money to invest in his country, this hotel being one of his projects. One of the nicer places we have stayed and the restaurant, very good. We did not want a buffet and ordered from the menu and all the dishes were western, usually the downfall of Ethiopian kitchens, and were very well prepared and showed a knowing and light hand at the stove.
Our experience of the Ethiopian people, as I have said before, is that they are a quiet and very gracious group and thus was really brought home to me at the Haile Resort. I was sitting in the very large and high-ceilinged lobby/bar surrounded by couples and groups of Ethiopians who made up the largest percentage of guests, and the only distinct voices to be heard were from scattered nasal, grating and penetrating North American conversations, carried on in the self-centred expectation that everyone in the room was interested in what they had to say. Or they just didn't give a damn, take your pick. The locals were chatting and there were lots of discussions but all were conducted with a sense of intimacy and quiet. That alone would be enough to make me want to move here.
Long drive today, from Hawassa to Arba Minch about 300k farther south. Our first stop before we left the city was to the fish market, never a favourite place but this was not as richly-scented as some and was therefore much more bearable.
Stopped in the afternoon to visit a village of the Dorze people who are very well known for their weaving tradition but disappointingly while there were a number of men at looms in the village weaving centre, the finished materials that were available for sale bore no resemblance to the fabric on the looms and had a very Chinese mass-produced feel to them. Possibly a very unfair view of the village, but it did feel somewhat like a stage set. The Dorze's main traditional food is produced from the false banana plant, which looks very much like a regular banana except that it bears no fruit. They scrape the flesh from cuttings from the concentric circle of fleshy leaf stems that form the central stem of the tree, it smells and looks like fibrous chopped cucumber, and then they wrap it in leaves and bury it for 3 months. After that time it smells exactly as you would imagine after sitting underground in the heat for that period of time. They then knead the resulting paste with water to make a kind of ripe-smelling dough and bake it as bread. We saw and tried it at the various stages, and while interesting, happy that I'm not a Dorze.
Arrived late at the Paradise Lodge in Arba Minch and a hasty dinner as an early start again tomorrow.