It’s 10:17pm and we’re speeding down a gravel road in a 1974 Datsun 510 with old tires. There is a power outage so it’s particularity dark. I know from buying some water here earlier that there are construction vehicles randomly parked on each side of the road. Huge back hoes and dump trucks clogging the new gravel roadway. It’s the same crew that cut the power to two square miles of downtown Addis Ababa. They fly by like a silent movie.
The movie here is short. What was a good idea a few seconds ago – might not be the thing I choose to do last.
Earlier in the week – my visit was going swimmingly.
“Just another fucking perfect African sunset, Charlie”
Sarah Miles, White Mischief
Sarah Miles, White Mischief
I get up late in the morning – just in time to catch the end of breakfast at the Residence Hotel. My server is one of five people who work in the restaurant night and day. All of them are friendly, attentive and truly kind, but this fellow is a candidate for the nicest person I’ve ever met. He is joyful and transparent and is genuinely happy to be of service. I can learn a lot here – and I tell him so. He smiles and nods – but doesn’t understand. He doesn’t speak English. I ask him if I can take his picture – he smiles and nods.
The next few days I try to practice what I ask others to practice. This community is several thousand years old and I am fascinated by how that shows up today. I hire a driver.
I want very much to go.
I also met David. He’s nine. He just kind of came up to me and started asking me questions. He walked with me for 2 miles. We talked easily and surprised ourselves. When we got back to the hotel and I offered him some money. He asked for more. He said if I gave him more he could get better shoes. Sure enough, while his football jersey was new, his shoes were weak. I gave him more money. He thanked me and said, ‘Say nice things about me!”
“That won’t be a problem. You have to say nice things about me too.”
“I’ll start today.”
Earlier, a participant from Ottawa who was happy to find out I was a Canadian, told me about a Canadian restaurant across town in Addis. The owner was a Senators fan and opened a place to satellite the games. She said the Canada/Ethiopia connection was deep and fond. Canadians were getting together tomorrow night and I was invited.
I went to a tourism trade show at the Hilton hotel and The Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum.
I had long lunches with my drivers and walked.
The power goes out again. This time, it didn’t come back and wouldn’t for the last 40 hours of my trip.
Tonight is the party at the Canada place. Getting there was going to be an ordeal – not going was the safer, wiser choice. The power outage was thorough. Phones, power, internet, ATM’s – gone as far as the eye can see. My credit card won’t work, I can’t get cash except from a teller. I cannot email, call or fax my fellow Canadians and they cannot contact me. I should stay home.
I went out.
A dark, wild cab ride and some street wandering – a generator and some light. I find the venue empty. The staff is surprised to see me. The bar is open and I use it. Sure enough, there are posters of Marrion Hossa and Daniel Alfredsson and two big screen TV’s. I hang around for an hour just in case – then I book.
I walk to a hotel near by and tell a driver I need the Residence Hotel. He says, 750 Birr ($35.00 US) – for a 2 mile ride. It’s a black out.
“Just like LaGuardia.” I say
He smiles and says, “LaGuardia”
We get in the cab and take off.
My driver speeds in the dark, dangerously familiar. This is the weak link for high volume travel. Airplanes are pretty safe these days but ground transportation hasn’t improved much over the decades and by some margin still the most likely place a traveler will see harm. Harm is imminent as we fly down Africa Avenue and scream up the exit towards Deluxe Furniture and the Residence Hotel.
There is no breeze tonight and the fumes are thick, my window right is over the generator.
A spotty sleep, a good breakfast and the hunt for a functioning bank machine. I need to float two more meals, my hotel bill and a ride to the airport.
I zone in under this stress. I had a problem to solve and I dove into it. Looking back – it’s ironic that I wasn’t really open to new information.
I take care of business. I get the cash from a machine – about 5 miles there and back. The next morning I pay, eat and ride. My driver from Tuesday takes me. I ask him what he want to do and he says, “Chickens”. He’s thought it through and farming a couple of hundred chickens is good business. He’s saving for a piece of land he knows. When he drops me off, I give him the rest of my local cash and he is grateful.
I’m out, up and away –
Come on. A school for laughter.