Of hippos and tarmac

Sunset over Lake AwasaThe long, arduous journey on a local bus travelling mainly on an unpaved road was worth it to get to Awasa. My journey started at 5am (11:00 Ethiopian time) when the Guard who lives next door but one to me had offered to take me to the bus. There was a false start, when he woke me at 1am (Ferenji time) by shouting through the door “Is it time?” We made our way across the slippery mud road, in the rain, to one of the gates of the bus station – but most people were at the other gate! He said he would ask the Guard to open up for me, but I am always uncomfortable about getting “white” treatment. I need not have worried – as soon as the gate was opened a few centimetres, there was a surge of people and I was left behind.

Getting on the bus was quite an experience. We found the correct bus, then waited while the boy who sleeps on it, got dressed. I sat in the seat by the front door – a good move as it meant that later in the journey I could stretch my legs out. People push Early morning boat to see the Hipposand shove to get on the bus, then half of them realise it is the wrong bus and push and shove to get off. We set off at 6.30 am (12.30 Ethiopian time).

The suspension on the bus was as bad as I thought it would be, and the road as bad as I remembered. Armed soldiers stopped us at a checkpoint and we had to get off the bus – a good chance to stretch legs. The soldiers started to throw bags off the bus, seemingly at random, and some burst open spilling their contents into the mud. Two soldiers were also on the roof going through bags there. Two Ethiopians standing by me asked if I was scared. “No”, I replied, “but I will be very angry if they throw my bag, containing my binoculars and camera, off the bus!” Luckily (for them!) they didn’t.

People in Ethiopia are, generally, very helpful. It turned out that the person sitting next to me was student going to Awasa University. When we got to Shashemene, he made sure that I got on the correct minibus to Awasa. I finally arrived at the Post Rendezvous Café (where we had Real Hipposarranged to meet at whatever time we got there) at 3pm. I was the last to arrive. It was so good meeting up with other VSO volunteers.

Awasa is lovely! The roads are paved, it didn’t rain (only threatened to once), it is not too dusty, there are places to socialise, supermarkets to buy tinned goods and chocolate and the Internet works!! On Sunday morning we got up very early to take a boat on Lake Awasa to see hippos! Real-life, in-the-wild hippos! They were incredible.

Monday was a public holiday, for the end of Ramadan, which meant that we had the whole of Sunday and could travel back on Monday – to Robe, Arba Minch, Adama and Addis Ababa. I felt very emotional saying goodbye, and really didn’t want to go back to my life in Robe. The journey on that road soon knocks any sentimentality out of you!

Near Dinsho, as well as warthog, there were baboons on the grass. As we approached Robe, it became apparent that there had been even more rain than usual over the weekend. The ditch by the side of the main road through town was a veritable river.
Chip butties
I was so tired, as it had been yet another early start to get a minibus to Shashemene in time to get the 6.30 bus to Robe so I was in my pyjamas by 5pm! And wouldn’t you know it – I had my first social call – which made me realise that I need more than one mug, just in case I get visitors. Salaam, a local nurse who had called in at my office the previous week, came to invite me out to see the celebrations in town. Given the paucity of my social life, I soon changed and we headed off to the Fountain Café in the centre of Robe. Speaking to Nadia later, she told me that Addis came to a standstill, with music and horns blaring. The celebrations in Robe were slightly more restrained – 4 people did climb on the fountain though.

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