Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Forced onto a bus

(photo above - Kibera Slum - largest slum in Nairobi)

Moyale Road in North Kenya is renowned for bandits - The Shifta Tribal group have a very bad name. I have heard many horror stories including recent activity. I met a guy in Khartoum who had been shot in the shoulder through the windscreen of a car last month. As Steve decided to take the Lake Turkana route my instinct assured me to get a public bus. As a cyclist you cannot cycle on a dodgy road, you are very vulnerable. If you are spotted every item can be stolen on the spot. After a lot of thought I knew it wouldn't be worth the risk.

Arriving in Kenya has made me realise how intense Ethiopia was. Now I have taken a step back from the changing people, places, actions, landscapes, I find myself easily reeling all of my thoughts. No one is shouting for my attention or making eye contact, nodding out of kindness and respect. I could never tell whether adults or children were going to test me / talk with high intense interest / feed from your curious surprised expressions / be casual in approach or scream to ask for some sort of donation. In Nairobi all you hear about and see is corruption and robbery; I did visit the second largest slum in Africa (Kibera) on my second day but my curiousity always gets the better of me! I am currently staying on the outskirts of Nairobi and wake up to Kenyan Christian choir music! It is beautiful. As I walk around I can hear a kids chorus of english education and friendly faces fill the undulating stone red sandy narrow pathways.
I continue to stay streetwise, have faith and explore AFRICA...

Ethiopia; a country I hate to love and love to hate

Outstanding Beauty
I would not be surprised if the band 'The Beautiful South' were cyclists and came from Ethiopia. The South of Ethiopia is completely different from the North. Less mountains, more hills. We even reached flat land and lakes. The temperature rose as we enjoyed the descent into fields of mango and banana trees. Cycling through many villages dispersed in 10km stretches there were ressinations of different phrases; so many different languages. 'Aba aba aba - Bona bona bona' - I assume they all mean white man/foreigner - 'Ferengi ferengi ferengi.'
The south was smooth sailing, no hill scared me, none of them were big enough to phase me compared to the North mountainous region of Ethiopia in which we came. I don't know if we were new and inexperienced in the North or struggled to communicate and ask the right questions in the right language. Maybe we perfected our sharp eye or knew what facilities to test out before handing over the money but even finding comfortable reasonable price hotels in the South was no problem. I soon realised how relaxed we had become about staying in very cheap hotels with hot showers; only in Ethiopia, this was all about to change. Maybe tourism is well catered for because of the stunning attractions everywhere to be seen; beach lodges, natural springs, colourful hand woven tradtional robes.

One morning We took a rowing boat out onto Lake Ziway to see some hippos. There were none to be seen but it was lovely to get up at sunrise and walk through a natural bird wildlife haven and ofcourse to seperate my bottom from the bike saddle.

I have never been 'on safari or nature tours' so I can honestly say Lake Abaya in Arba Minch was one of the best wildlife experiences I have ever had. There were hippos on all fours, eagles, pelicans, hundreds of crocodiles and even local fishermen catching fish metres from the crocodile assembly points. Four fisherman disappear every year on this lake.

The roads in the south were suddenly filled with 4X4's with ferengi's (white men /foreigners) in them. Steve and I wondered where they had all come from. The North was deserted or we were just lost in a maze of locals and confusion trying to deal with every situation or reaction before the moment bypassed. I could never tell whether I was winning or losing. I had some great advice from a fellow traveller. 'Never act interested in anything you would like to purchase.' Being white, people assume you have money. The Africans are great sellers, once they know you are interested and keen to buy an item they will raise the price to whatever they feel comfortable. We have no chance, everything is cheap so any amount seems reasonable, the game is won, the item purchased - the price was trippled, everybody is happy.

Kids Still Alive and Waiting - Mobbed!
After a beautiful stretch downhill the land always reimburses me with another one up. I was setting a good pace focusing, relieved and surprised my legs weren't in pain from cycling the thousands of km behind me. The daily routine had begun; a few children ran and shouted, 'Money, pen'. I thought I would have got used to it by now Steve was doing really well cracking jokes, putting his hand out for money, 'You give me money'. I was silent and really tried to ignore everything and stay focused. Sweat dripping down the side of my face I glanced around to see a kid trying to snatch my water bottle. 'Highland, highland' they had spotted them. Unfortunately our cooler bottle covers were not an obvious hide away solution with the bottle tops poking out of the rims. The kids progressed further into the fields we thought they might have had enough but next thing you know there were thousands; ok, but at least 100. The word had spread or maybe school had just ended we were swarmed and I still continued up the hill at the pace of a tortoise. One persistent kid running next to me had a machete knife in his hand 'Highland, highland'. We didn't know what to do we had never been so unfortunate; yes we had had groups of naughty children but not Lord of the flies. Suddenly out of nowhere like Indiana Jones a local bus full of young adults came up beside us. We stayed alongside the bus to cover at least one side of the bikes from the theiving mongrels. A few more km, my legs couldn't pedal any faster and sudddenly as expected one of the kids managed to snatched my water bottle out of the cover. The bus immediately halted everyone disembarked chasing the kids left right and centre. My water bottle was brought back to me, plodding along i smiled knowing the end was near; saved by the bus!

Feelings coming to a close
Shashemene is known for the Rasta community, 2km North. There was a movement from Jamaica and other parts of the Carribbean back to Africa in 1948. Emperor Haile Selasie donated 500 acres of his private land. He was a hero to the people. His original name was Rastafari so his followers became Rastafarians. The Rasta settlement was reported to exceed two hundred individuals in January 2007. People smoke and wish you peace, love and unity!Shashemene is a town frowned apon by every tourist we spoke to. My experiences were all good besides the ridiculously slow internet and power cuts at the most inappropriate times. This is another situation where technology has caused nothing but stress yet everyone, African cities are forced head first into this high technology developing world not realising the implications.I have seen too many communities of smiling faces, hard working societies, fresh healthy families eating what they grow and putting all efforts back into the soil for the next rainy season.

The final stop for me was Konso. This is an area where we walked for miles to find inward facing villages side by side all known to fight for their land. Strangely the remote villages comprised of circular huge stone walls for war defense mechanisms, controlling the tribal systems and family generations reminded me of The Battle of Hastings, 1066, 1000 years ago, UK. One main gateway followed down into stone escape routes; barracades for defending, hiding, escaping or killing the enemy!
In rural Africa I am in a different world; a world UK had a millenium ago. The cities of Africa are at the other end of the sprectrum, they are rapidly expanding. When I stay in some cities I find it very hard to imagine the remote villages I visited a few days back. In the western world you see the disasters and poverty of Africa. In Africa they see western TV soaps full of betrayal. I have met many different characters who think everyone gets divorced and that there is no trust in the western world. Others want to move to this world of advanced technology in search for a better life. I wonder what most people think of our society, whether they see all roses or dead leaves?

Konso was a peaceful town full of life and energy. The locals accepted us straight away, maybe we had become at peace within all the commotion and gave off different vibes as something was completely different. I felt I was one of the people.

We went for drinks with the locals every night, relaxed, danced, shared stories and adventures. I had definately learnt a small tip when appropriate goes a very long way. My friend; dance partner who I met on the last night gave me a tribal gold bracelet with scratched amharic lettering as a gift for making everyone tip her 1 birr (about 6 pence) each. She was so exstatic and continued serving everyone this beautiful honey wine with the biggest grin on her face. The honey was ofcourse fresh from the fields people make these articulate weaved circular baskets and put them in the trees for the bees to make their home. They then use smoke to remove the honey from the hive. People work with nature.
Goodbye Ethiopia I will miss you. For all of its strenuous painstaking problems and uplifting heartwarming solutions it is a country I hate and love.

Feeding the homeless in Addis Ababa

Young men flock
Decorate the streets like objects thrown at your feet
Rags covering all identity
Bodies underneath so scared
Once awoken unaware unprepared for the control
Authority to move or just stare
Eyes glazed holding hands up to welcome the gift
A small warm bag cupped into and held close
Fingers wrapped in grip
Stare back with fawning
Movements of mourning
Some never woken, just bones