Sunday, 11 December 2011

9th December 2011

Despite resting my head on what I can only describe as cement bags, I slept reasonably well. Having packed the bags into the car, I set about doing the usual checks on the car – making sure nothing was hanging off and getting the large stones out of the tyres. I was rather alarmed to find a large nail bent over but rammed firmly into the back tyre. So the next task was to change the wheel. I think it is possible to drive some distance with a nail in the tyre but I this might be a little foolish on the bumpy roads that lay ahead, where the uncovered roads are so bad that for much of the time you can only go 15-20 miles an hour. Besides, I could think of nothing worse than having to change a wheel on the dusty roads in the middle of the desert.
With the wheel changed, we now headed off, somewhat late, to the Ethiopian/Kenyan border. We sailed past a sleeping man on a chair, only to find when we got to the Kenyan border, that this man represented the Ethiopian border post. So despite being stamped into Kenya, we had to drive out again and back to the Ethiopian border, where we were met by a grumpy border policeman, who decided that he wanted to make his day a little more interesting and WE were his latest game. ‘Oh no’, he told us. ‘You can’t cross the border as there’s no electricity and so I can’t get your passport up on the computer’. As you will know from previous blogs, electricity goes off frequently and can be down for hours, if not days at a time. So I explained that we could not possibly stay in Ethiopia as we had a long drive ahead and needed to get there before it got dark as it would be dangerous for us to travel in the dark. This had little effect, other than to provoke yet another shrug and insistence that without electricity, he could not let us out of Ethiopia. His game was enhanced when two other ‘officials’ came into the room and they could all amuse over the situation, knowing that we were unlikely to understand a word they were saying. So I decided to throw in a few Oromo words. Well, this is the Oromo region and so I guessed they may be speaking the language. This impressed them….just a little as I couldn’t say very much. Nevertheless, it stopped the 2 laughing onlookers in their tracks.

I was getting a little irritated now but knew that I had to keep my cool. Jeremy was being more subservient than I could bear and so I mumbled at him to stop it as they would have even more fun at our expense. The trouble in Ethiopia is:
a)    People love power and when they get a little taste of it, they get more hungry
b)   People are bored as there isn’t very much to fill an otherwise dull day
c)    There is an element of contempt for faranjis – well, I think it is a love/hate relationship. They want us to help and even more, they want our money, but they don’t really like being the recipients of our help. They are proud people, although at times, I wonder what there is to be proud about.
d)   The answer is generally ‘no’ rather than, ‘let me see what I can do’. Anything that requires just a little more effort is really not going to happen.
e)    Rules is rules and no-one seems to find a way around the rules, which, by the way, are often illogical and impossible to implement. So for example, how can you have a border crossing reliant on electricity but not have a generator to deal with the frequent power-cuts?
f)     People aren’t encouraged to think of a solution but rather, they are encouraged to accept the system, simply because it is the system.

Contrast this with the experience at the Kenyan border where we were told:

a)    Welcome to our country, we hope that you have a fantastic stay.
b)   Here is my number – if you have any problems, phone me and I will try to help you.
c)    Take care on the roads – this area is not so good. Don’t befriend anyone; be cautious of strangers and stay safe.
d)   Please come again to our country, it is a pleasure to have you here
e)    So you want to keep your car here for 6 months, let me see what we can do. Then asks many people if it is possible, before saying that we can only have 3 months but here is what we do to extend this for a further 3 months
f)     So you are from England? That is lovely. England is a lovely country.

Etc etc etc.

Ok, rant over, but sometimes you can get just a little irritated by the attitude in Ethiopia. I heard it said that Ethiopia is ‘tribal’. This really isn’t what Ethiopia is about and it is wrong to characterise contemporary Ethiopia in this way. There’s a bit of historical conflict between the Amharics and Oromos but this is now largely a political influence and not a dominant feature of the behaviour. What really defines Ethiopians is the donor culture that is so ingrained into their everyday lives. Aid work IS a way of life. It underpins much of the economy and involves a large proportion of the population who benefit form the income that it brings.
Oops, ranting again – sorry.

Anyway, we got through both borders and paperwork for us and the car was completed satisfactorily. The next bit of the journey was horrendous. Well, I though it was until I experienced the following day’s journey. We bumped along in the car at little more than 2 miles an hour, avoiding enormous crevices, where the rain had eroded away great chunks of the road. The right side light then came flying out of the socket and we had to stick it back in with black tape as the fixtures had snapped. I am not convinced that this car is truly ‘Africanised’. The surrounding countryside was at least pretty, with luscious fields of fruit and vegetable crops – many bananas, pineapples, potatoes etc.

Going through a police road stop (which you really need to see as they have huge metal spikes across the road to stop you), we were asked to take a young girl of 14 and her father to Isiola, which was some 250km away. We agreed to this, thinking that it might be handy to have some locals in the car in case we needed some help with language. So we drove to their house, only to find that the father had been replaced by an armed middle aged Kenyan Reserve policeman, in a camouflage jacket and brandishing an AK47.  OK, I thought, this could be useful in case we come across any bandits along the way. When I looked more clearly into his eyes, however, I could see the white cataracts restricting at least 50% of his vision. Perhaps it’s the image of an armed policeman that counts? So off we go with the half blinded policeman, a 14 year old sick girl who needed to be taken to hospital and a 5 litre plastic container of goats milk for ‘the journey’.

We bumped our way slowly to Marsabit, where our passengers pointed out the best hotel in ‘town’ (it was a very small impoverished town, typical of the North of Kenya). The building had not yet been completed and there was scaffolding all around. I wondered whether there were any inhabitable rooms but was surprised to find that they had made great efforts to provide a comfortable room. We were cooked a meal of beef stew, vegetables and rice, which to be honest was very good indeed. We even had a hot shower, which was just as well as 2 days in a hot car was beginning to show.

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