Will you join me for a beer?
It was the night of the first day in country and us 40 or so new volunteers had spent the day sampling the sights, sounds and atmosphere of the new and exciting African metropolis of Addis Ababa.
We had visited Shola market, tried the outrageously strong coffee at a buna bet cafe, visited our new HQ for two years – the VSO programme office – and met Patricia, the Director for our ‘Welcome to Africa’. Come early evening we trooped off in search of “typical” Ethiopian food and ended up in the haunt of all Addis volunteers – the Pride Bar – huddled round small white plastic tables getting our fingers covered in shiro and injera and sipping pints of ice-cold St George draught beer.
Tired from our late arrival on the red-eye 5am flight from London we headed back to our respective hotels with a lot of information to process. Back at the Yonas, Sara headed off to bed shattered while little groups said their goodnights and wearily climbed the stairs to their rooms.
Soon all that was left in the reception were a few volunteers, overtired with the buzz of this amazing new continent, when over walked Dave, sat down with a smile, cleared his throat and asked “will you join me for a beer?”.
We had exchanged words throughout the day as individuals in new group of people do – the usual “where are you from?”, “how long are you here for”, “where is your placement” and so on, but now with time on our hands and a willing barman the few of us left properly opened up and it became clear that David (or Dave as he had decided he would be called, with a grin) was one of those Good Guys.
Happy, positive, funny, well mannered and generous. A keen welsh rugby fan he was as interested as I to find out the score from the previous day’s England vs Wales 6 Nations clash (he was subsequently delighted but never crowed about the Welsh victory). A gentle man.
We talked and drank into the early hours and over the next few days of In Country Training a little post-training drinking club formed at the bar of the Yonas. Long after the majority were in bed a few of us would stay up and as fellow strangers in a strange land we would ruminate on and digest the new events and experiences of the day. What we actually talked about? I cannot remember. I just knew that I really enjoyed these little after-hours debriefs with Dave, Wendy, Gordon and whoever chose to join us.
ICT finished and we all went our separate ways. We went to Assosa, some people like Gordon stayed in Addis, Wendy was recalled to the UK and Dave went to Adama (Nazareth), two hours south east of Addis.
The next time we saw Dave was back in Addis in late May for the HIV & AIDS workshop. A bunch of us went out for beers and I confess to ducking out early, much to Dave’s humourous disgust, as after 4 months in Assosa he claimed “I could no longer take my beer”.
Our week in Addis became three as all the Assosa volunteers were recalled and with the summer rugby internationals about to start, Gordon invited us to join him and Dave, who would travel back on the bus for the occasion, as well as Amy, Pam and Allan for the first SA vs Wales test at a French bar in the ‘Kasanchies’ suburb of Addis. It was highly recommended as a good rugby viewing venue as a group of volunteers had watched the climax of the 6 Nations there; the only problem was that everyone was so drunk at the time that no one could remember how to get there again!
Saturday came and the merry rugby posse got together and dived into a line taxi to kasanchies. We totally relied on random memories resurfacing “oh, I remember that big building on the left, we need to get off here” and “it looks like a house but is actually a pub, somewhere past this turning”. More by luck than judgement we found the place, apparently shut, though the French owner keen to open up and do business but with his DSTV satellite card requiring recharging he assured us that ‘his man’ was on the case and would arrive with the recharged card shortly.
After a brief hiatus, an aborted trip to the “other” French bar and a healthy number of jambos we finally settled down to view the second half of South Africa giving Wales the ‘good news’, much to Amy’s delight and Dave’s displeasure.
Via a disjointed wander, basket shopping diversion and a split up line taxi trip we ended up together again in the Comet building Pizza house for more beer, pizza and more beer. We talked about the following week’s game – the French bar owner having promised us all a full English breakfast as well as distant plans to make it down to South Africa for the Lions tour next summer. We left Dave and his recently purchased wicker baskets, with full bellies and some sadness that we would miss the following weekend’s game as VSO were sending us back to Assosa to report and we would not be back in Addis until Sunday; but we agreed we would try and make it to Adama for Dave’s birthday party in July.
The following weekend (last weekend) Dave, Gordon, Amy, Pam, Oscar, Holly and the guys headed back to the French bar for the promised full English and three rugby games on the bounce. The results were predictable. The Kiwis stuffed England, the Aussies (no doubt to Pam’s enjoyment) beat Ireland and the South Africans beat an improved Welsh team. But a good time was had and apparently, although late, the breakfast delivered all it had promised.
That evening a bus driven by a drunk driver crashed into four of the volunteers as they walked home from a final post-match pint at the Pride bar. Pam, Holly and Oscar were seriously injured and airlifted to Nairobi for emergency treatment.
Dave was killed.
Here it gets really difficult.
Dave. It’s not fair.
It’s really, really not fair.
You didn’t deserve this.
I wish I could write the words to do you justice.
All I know is that that you will have gone to wherever the good guys get to go…
And if, in time and god willing, I get to go there myself one day?
Then, hell, yes, Dave; I’d be delighted to join you for a beer…