22 December 2007

get behind the wheel, stay in front of the storm.

While balanced precariously in the back of a gari (park bench on wheels pulled by a horse) with our mattresses, Candace and I noticed that the bells on the horse's harness made a pleasant jingly sound. To distract ourselves from the fact that I was slowly falling off the side of the cart, we sang "Jingle Bells" at the top of our lungs, since that was probably the closest we'd ever get to a one horse open sleigh. The neighbors stared, but they do anyway, so it wasn't new. And people thought I didn't have the Christmas spirit. We listen to Christmas carols all day when we're home and I'm starting to really like them. I even sing and dance. When no one else cares about your holiday, you're suddenly quite proud of it. Sinead's even going to draw a chalk tree on the wall for our party. Maybe even a fireplace.

Speaking of one horse open sleighs, transportation in Africa just might be what hell is like. We went into Adama on Tuesday to shop for kitchen supplies and the many foodstuffs that can't be had in Assela. Little did we know, but Wednesday was a major Muslim holiday (one with which I am not familiar, but Ethiopians don't skimp on holidays), hence the entire town of Assela had traveled to Adama to buy supplies for the festivities. Come 4 PM, we went to the bus stop to catch a ride back to Assela. So did the rest of the town, resulting in a 100+ person line-esque mob snaking through the parking lot. Ethiopians have no problems waiting in lines, but when the bus arrives, all hell breaks loose and they stampede the doors, much to the chagrin of the poor old man in the puff ball hat trying to maintain a semblance of order. After an hour of this mess, we were at the end of our rope. In the meantime, we watched a bus pull away with four goats (loosely) tied to the roof. They were swaying and stumbling around the top with a look of sheer terror on their faces. I suppose they have to get from town to town somehow, and better there than inside the bus. I wish I could have gotten a picture, but it's a common enough occurrence, so I'm sure I'll have another opportunity in the next two years.

When the next bus arrived, we were towards the front of the line, but when we got there, the bus was already full of line-cutters. Fortunately, the puff ball-hatted man runs a tight ship and reorganized the line, putting me, Candace, and the nine others who'd been screwed at the front. When the next bus came. a gang of men tried to bum rush it. Led by a feisty young Ethiopian woman, Candace and I (and the rest of the line, I might add) fought the revolution and scored a victory for the rule of law. Someone got a bag of metal pots to the family jewels. Whoops. Watching the woman lead us was great - for living a life as a second-class citizen, she certainly took nicely to her moment of glory, standing up to the men. Just outside of town, an old woman boarded with a chicken. An angry chicken (given that it was probably going to become dinner, I think its anger was justified). It got loose and ran around the dark bus for a while before her kid caught it and cradled it the rest of the way. TIA.

Thursday I went to Adama again to pick up some chairs so we could have a semblance of order in the house (still no tables, beds, etc, but it's the little things). I bought six bamboo chairs and paid a nice kid with a wheelbarrow to help me get them to the bus station. At the gate, a man accosted me and insisted he carry the chairs the twenty feet to the bus, only so I'd have to pay two people instead of just the kid. Irritating, but bearable. I paid twenty birr (it's ten birr per person for the bus) to have them tied to the roof, which is too much but I was in a "pick your battles" sort of mood, so I let it slide. When we got to Assela, a man tried to convince me he was owed 180 birr for getting the chairs down (they cost 150 birr for all six) while a horde of twenty men clamored for the opportunity to rip me off while carrying the chairs to the house. I may be white, but that doesn't mean I'm a stupid walking ATM who spits out money. I'm probbaly growing a bit bitter about the firenji treatment, but they say journaling and humor are good coping mechanisms, so just enjoy the tongue-in-cheek sarcastic renditions of transport adventures.

As I shooed them all off, a handful tried to be my "savior" by telling the others to leave, then plopping their happy asses into my chairs to claim the labor. Candace arrived just as I was ready to take a chair to the ringleader's head, and the two of us waddled out of the bus station laden with chairs to catch a gari. That proved more difficult than we thought, and the guy we finally found also decided to rip us off by demanding 20 birr for the ride (standard gari rides are 1 birr), even though we loaded and unloaded our own chairs. He called us thieves, we uttered some choice obscenities that he may or may not have understood, but I think our tone conveyed our meaning just fine. But Candace's landlord family son helped us dust them off and carry them into the house and didn't even ask for candy, so that was uplifting. And John, the compound dog, is starting to like us too, so that's even better. I think it's the food we're giving him, but I've never claimed to be above bribery.

Hellish transport experiences aside, the sight of a lone tree silhouetted against the sunset is consistently one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

Say what you want about the suburban-ization of America, but there's something to be said for the convenience of having everything you need in every town. Sure, you can drive to the coast for fresh shrimp or something and some fruits are seasonal, but it doesn't take three days and two towns to find something like baking soda. Still looking for brown sugar. TIA.

If your Christmas is white, I hope you enjoy it. Throw a snowball or two for me. Everyone else, revel in the pretty lights and desserts - try not to get caught up in the commercialism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will lend you a cup of brown sugar if you drop by. LOve you,Boo