Crossing back into Ethiopia from Somaliland yesterday, it marked the start of an epic, tumultuous, spectacular, and nerve-testing journey. When I crossed the border back into Ethiopia I was relieved (semi-relieved would be slightly more accurate), as I barely got across before the border closed for the evening. I got on a bus to Jijiga before an official got on the bus and did a passport check. The landscape out here is flat, treeless, and sand- and twister-filled. Sitting all the way back I was thinking it'd be possible to get all the way back to Addis in an unbroken stretch but unlike most border crossings there aren't scores of big-rigs waiting to cross and drive to Addis. A half-hour later I was in Jijiga and there was a bus going to Dire Dawa. Knowing I could get off at the turnoff to Addis I opted for that and put my bag on the roof. It was pitch-black out and I was very tired; hell, I was up since 5 AM. The fare collector received everyone's fare but the driver told him not to collect mine, and he tried to charge me 500 birr (about $27) but I told him I didn't have it. I tried to get him to let me out there but he wouldn't, and I couldn't just jump out because my pack was on the roof. He then lowered the fare to 200 birr but everyone else was paying 40 birr. I was being charged extra simply for being a foreigner, even though on the advice of Lizzie (in Maychew) I told him I was a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) with a $125 monthly stipend. From Jijiga to Addis is a 700 km journey, and I was going roughly 130 km or so but giving him 200 birr would put me at almost no money. My only option the next morning would be to hitchhike back to Addis and hope I don't get charged for the ride. I was ballistic and the driver told me I "wasn't a good person" and wouldn't let me get my pack off the roof until I paid up. It was past 9 PM and I walked a ways and ended up in a makeshift shelter where I got a cup of tea. I would have been content with rolling out my sleeping bag on the floor and spending the night with an Ethiopian family. A friend of theirs dropped by and when I asked where I could pitch my tent he said it's ill-advised due to hyenas in the area. I think the main problem with camping in Ethiopia is that 85% of the population lives in rural areas, therefore it's extremely difficult to get away from people regardless of where you are. If someone sees a foreigner pitching a tent they're suddenly the focus of attention. It's difficult enough during the day with the constant chants of "you, you, you, you" and "faranji, faranji, faranji." After a few cups of tea I walked with the friend but he was taking me to a hotel and I didn't want to stay at a hotel, I wanted to either camp or try to get further toward Addis. Suddenly the police showed up and I was nervous; although I happened to be right outside the local police station. Reluctantly I agreed to go to a hotel because I'm not sure about the police out here. I don't know if they were suspicious of me, worried about me, or whatever. When I got my key I immediately got inside and deadbolted the door. The room was a typical Ethiopian hotel room: not particularly clean, an iffy shower, a shit bet for a toilet, and pretty bland. Luckily it only set me about 80 birr and the bed was comfortable. I had a blissful feeling as I kept warm beneath my comforter and played solitaire on my phone. Addis was still 500 km away but I had the opportunity to rest up and start fresh in the morning.
As I woke up early this morning I seized the opportunity, washed up, packed all my gear and began walking toward Addis. Now, I didn't have enough money for the bus so my only choice was to hitchhike back to Addis. I barely ate at all yesterday and as I walked this morning I stopped at the same hut I was at last night for tea and a couple of donuts. After that it was a fair bit of walking; continuous walking with constant calling and begging by both children and adults. It's difficult hitchhiking when there's a heap of people following you. As I walked I kept thinking the turnoff was only a short distance ahead but when I was finally picked up by a large truck I found out it was several kilometres ahead. I was bombarded as soon as I was dropped off but I marched on undeterred. After waiting only a few minutes I was picked up by a UN vehicle. They told me they were only going about 70 km ahead but I was fine with that. They wondered what I was doing in Ethiopia, but to anyone who picks me up I'm a PCV, not a tourist. And I'm here for two years as an English teacher. I know it's not good to lie but sometimes I have to. When I was dropped off in the town of Kulubi I had a mob of children following me and it got to the point where I had to blow my whistle at them. Everyone asks me if I'm the traffic police because they use the kind of whistle that I have, so that's one thing I can use to my advantage. A company-owned ute stopped and they were driving all the way to Addis. I felt like it was my lucky day. Whilst I wanted to sit in the back they had me sit in the cab. We chatted for a good while and listened to Bob Marley. "Every little thing is gonna be alright" I told myself. The drive seemed endless; I fell asleep a few times, played solitaire, chatted, gazed out the window, chatted some more, fell asleep again, and showed appreciation for Ethiopia and its people. I said last month "If I can compare Ethiopia to anything, it'd be like a wife; no matter how much she gets on my nerves and pisses me off I still love her with all my heart." It was extremely hot out and thankfully the ute has air-conditioning. If I sat in the back I would have had to lather on the sunscreen and keep my head covered. When we stopped for a break I got an Ambo and the two guys shared their beyanetu with me. Until tonight I had barely eaten for two days so my stomach was churning at this point. By this time we had been on the road for more than eight hours and once the traffic got heavier I knew we were closing in on Addis. I called Laketa and told her I'd be in Addis in around an hour and that she'd pick me up if need be but I hoped I could have the driver drop me off right in Bole. After fighting traffic for awhile we drove past Bole Airport, which would have been an OK spot to drop me off because I could have walked the rest of the way but the driver wanted to drop off his friend first. When we did that, I helped carry stuff into his home; we had stopped several times to pick up charcoal, potatoes, onions, and the whole lot. Right when we got back in the ute the driver asked if I could pay him 600 birr but I was like "honestly, I have almost no money on me...I have like 30 birr." He responded by asking "don't you have money at your hotel?" (I had asked to be dropped off in front of a hotel). I had told him earlier that I was taking care of paperwork in Addis and then picking up my stipend in Mekele in a couple of days. He got very annoyed and said "Ethiopians run this like a business, OK just get out here." He pointed me in the wrong direction of Bole and drove off. I can't believe he suddenly acted like that; we rode in the same vehicle together for 12 hours and had a good time and then was rude all of a sudden. I've always been the kind of person who's afraid to say "no" when it comes to someone asking for money, even if I don't actually have it. I wasn't too far from Bole but I had no idea where I was, but a couple of minibuses later I was in front of the Oh Canada Cafe. All I could think of was an "Avril Lavigne" after eating almost nothing the past couple of days. The owner of the cafe is an Ethiopian woman who lived in Canada for many years; we chatted for a bit and we both agree that Ethiopians have to stop expecting tips for every little thing. If I ask for directions, they want a tip. If I ask which bus to take to such and such a place, they want a tip. If I ask someone to go pick me up a drink at a store across the street, they want a tip. If I don't have money to tip, they get angry. Ethiopia can really test the nerves of even the most experienced of travellers! A long time ago I learned the concept of a good deed; Ethiopians will be a lot better of if they learn that as well. Feasting on pizza with a cup of tea and a glass of white wine, I was content after covering almost 1000 km in about 36 hours. Envision Ethiopia as a giant compass with Addis in the centre, and whether you head north, south, east, or west, you invariably have to come back to the capital. For the road- and injera-weary it's a great place to come back to: you can get a massage, a pedicure, a good pizza, Chinese food, or whatever. I guess I'm exhausted and I'm just rambling on and on, but tonight I faced another dilemma. Mei can't host me tonight because she's hosting another CSer and her roommate doesn't like the idea of her hosting more than one person at a time. As helpful as she is, she called up a friend who put me up for the night. As much as I've been frustrated at the people, there are loads and loads of good people.
After the rigours of yesterday and today, I'm glad to be back in Addis! These past couple of days really show that I have nerves of steel when it comes to adventure and travel.