Road Assistance or Road Entertainment ?

From Bahar Dar to Gonder
To explore some parts of Ethiopia where tourists normally don’t go we have decided to take the west route around Lake Tana going north.
Lake Tana

One of the highlights of this part of Ethiopia are of course the Blue Nile falls.
Blue Nile Falls

Bahar Dar is a few hours behind us and we still have a couple of hours to drive before we reach Gonder.
During our drive we pass some very small villages and in between we see a few people from time to time walking with animal skins on their backs heading to a nearby market place where they will trade them in return for some goods.
At one of these markets we stop to walk around a bit.  As we get out of the car all of a sudden everybody stops their activity and men, women and children come towards us. Nobody looks hostile so we carry on calmly and start greeting the curious looking people.

Local Market

In less than a minute we are literarily surrounded by a crowd and nobody talks but the silence says a lot.  Eyes stare at us and all we can assume is that it may not be very often that they see white faces. The crowd follows every step we make and when we start to stretch out our hands to greet after some reluctance one hand reaches back and we make contact. Now everybody wants to shake hands and people start to talk again. I will never forget these few moments of almost absolute silence being surrounded by staring faces.
We are followed around and people try to sell us their goods that they exhibited on cloths in front of them.
Two women who are standing side by side look at us and when I pass by one touches my arm and wants to feel my skin. They look at each other again and start giggling.

We go back to our car and the crowd sees us off and keep waving at us until it can’t see us anymore.

At another village we decide to walk through it. The village has two entry points and the small huts and houses are built in a half circle with only one path leading through it. Children come out of the houses and follow us. We are the attraction of the day again. When I reach out my hands to greet them I have a hand at each finger and the children are cheerful and smiling. When we reach the end of the village just before we want to get back into the car that is waiting for us a man comes running towards me and asks me if I am a doctor. His wife is in labor and struggling and he looks desperate. He begs me to help.
A woman comes and enters the hut, the man follows and he steps out of the hut for a moment to tell us that she will help.
We offer to transport his wife to a clinic if there is one nearby but the woman tells us that it would not be safe to move the lady at this point.
The water has broken already and it would put her and the baby in danger. I apologize and regret not to have followed the wish of my father who wanted me to become a doctor when I was a young boy. How useless can one feel at these moments.

When we continue our road we say goodbye to the children who are still hanging on to us and the little hands don’t want to let go.
Looking back from the car the hands wave and wave while some of the faces show disappointment because we did not stay.
Waving children

We are in the middle of nowhere in the North West of Ethiopia still on our way to Gonder.  For as far as the eye can reach there is nothing in sight.
A slightly hilly mix of dry savanna and steppe is the landscape that surrounds us. Our driver stops, gets out of the car and tells us that we have a  flat tire. He gets his tools and starts to unscrew the damaged wheel.
Than he gets under the car to release the spare wheel and finds that the screw that holds the wheel in place is broken and there is no way that we can get it unscrewed.

We look at our driver who does not show any sign of excitement nor panic. Instead he takes the wheel and tells us that he is going to find a place to repair it and will be back. Like children who play with a stick and a tire, he finds himself a stick and starts to roll the wheel alongside himself and disappears around
the turn of the road.

We look at ourselves puzzled and wonder where on earth our driver will find the repair shop because we have not seen anything that looked even close to a village for the last hour that we have been on the road.

We sit down in shade and as we are waiting for our driver to come back, some children come towards us. They must have seen us long before we saw them and when they see the car without the wheel they come and stand in front of us and start to sing a song and clap their hands.
The average age of the children must be around 10 years. They carry bags on their backs and they have finished school for the day and are on their way back home.
These children only speak Amharic and we have to use signs to communicate but we manage and it is kind of fun to try and get some messages across.
Time passes and the children hang around and keep singing songs to cheer us up it seems. Finally our driver appears and mounts the wheel. We say good buy to our hosts and continue our journey to Gonder.

smiling faces

We reach the town late in the evening and after a shower we share our thoughts of the day between ourselves over dinner and conclude that we have learned a lot again about human kindness and uncompromised friendliness of people to complete strangers.
It comes from within and it starts at very young age.
We have discovered yet another amazing place….

© Desi Lopez Fafié

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April 2009

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