I was going to go to Bahar Dar by bus, leaving Gilgel Beles at 0600. At the last minute, Friday afternoon, a couple of academics at the college said they were going to Addis, and the college car would take me to Kosober (Injibara) in the morning. I asked what time, and I eventually managed to get that it would be sometime between 0900 and 1000. Where, I asked, shall I come to the front of the college? Well if you're not there, we will come to your house. I confirmed all this a number of times with a couple of people. Sost se-at (or 03.00 Ethiopian Time or 0900).
So, this morning at 1:30 ET (07:30) the car arrived, me in my pyjamas having breakfast. Great! Anyway I rushed everything, including emptying all thewater, checking I hadn't left any food to go rotten or attract ants while I was away and was ready by about 0800ish when we left. At first it was a real squash, four people like kippers in the back seat. Gradually they got out at different places and from Chagni to Kosober (or Injibara – the old name before the government gave it a new name or something - I had reasonable room in the back. Good views again of the country, but in places the road was terrible - you get bounced out of your seat!!!
Anyway, arrived at Kosober at 10.10, and got straight into a Minibus bound for Bahar Dar for only 18 birr. There were two people who spoke reasonable English who I chatted to. After waiting to fill up the bus (they wait until they are full, then go) I left at 10.40 and had a reasonably fast and interesting journey on the asphalt road to Bahar Dar. The most interesting(and RSPCA moment) was when about 30 chickens tied by the feet in bundles were loaded onto the roof – still alive! I got to Bahar Dar at 12.35 and wheeled my suitcase the 500m or so to the hotel. I impressed myself by identifying it by the Amharic sign and checked in. It was 125 birr a night and had a shower (which was cold) and flushing toilet!!!! I had Satellite TV (I watched BBC World) and they even provided towels and soft (toilet paper)!!! Luxury. I could even see Lake Tana from my window and there was a terrace overlooking the lake where you can get drinks or eat!
After doing a quick sort, I went back to town where I had seen a photo lab to get some prints of the training I had done in the primary school – I said I would give them copies. On the way I bumped into a VSO Volunteer who had been in Addis with me 6 weeks ago. We talked a bit then agreed to meet up for a late lunch. I continued to the photo lab and found they printed them as I waited. It took about 5 minutes and they were really good quality!!
Then I met the volunteer again and we ate on a second floor, outside terrace restaurant. I had a gently spicy fish dish (one of the only places you can get fish - being near the lake) and rice. It was very nice. I was talking a lot, very fast, as, other than telephone calls from home, I hadn't had the chance to do that for about 6 weeks!
Next I walked around the town getting a few bits. Went through the large market, managed to find some bars of chocolate in one shop, picked up several trailing young Ethiopians - you wonder how long it will be until they ask for money. I stopped in a café and talked to some Ethiopian teachers and had a coffee, then down to the lake front and had a Pepsi while watching pelicans. Next, I walked past the hotel to a riverside path which I walked round and took some photos. Very pleasant. Back in the hotel I met two French people and practised my language – my French was better than their English. Down at the terrace I overheard some more French speakers – they were actually Belgian and I sat and talked to them for a while. Their English was better than my French (so we stuck to English). I keep thinking numbers and other words in Amharic now – even when talking French. Finally, I went back to my room to watch a bit of TV and eat the food I had managed to get including muz (bananas) some bread and a sambusa (semosa-type thing).
Sunday, 25th November, 2007
I got packed and ready for a 07.00 departure by the free shuttle to the airport. The other VSO volunteer had asked if he could go with me for free (he is staying in another hotel) and was told OK last night as he had eaten at my hotel and taken a couple of tours. This morning they asked for 20 birr! He was really bitter as he had spent the last few days doing touristy things and had been ripped off a number of times. Tourist places really attract the kind of Ethiopian out to make as much money as possible, usually by quoting one price and later it becomes more (lying basically.) Anyway, at the airport we had a coffee and during this, I was summoned to the security area as they wanted me to open my case. It was the batteries! The flight was reasonably on time. I noticed how everything wasn't as green as it had been six weeks ago. In Addis, we managed to talk a taxi down from about 80 birr to the expected 40 birr. At the end of the ride, he tried it on and asked for 50, but we got away with 40. We were at the hotel before checkout time of 12.00 so the rooms weren't ready. Also there was an overbooking problem and at one point it looked like I might be sharing a room. I met up with lots of volunteers and we walked up to two older volunteers' house. We sort of regard them as our Ethiopian Mum and Dad. "Dad" was the one who sent me the rescue box of food a couple of weeks ago. We walked to their house and had nice crusty tuna and egg rolls. Some of us went shopping after, then we met up with more volunteers who had been at "In country training." I became very whingey and moany as I hadn't had anyone to gripe to for 6 weeks! One thing that's really good in Addis, (and Ethiopia) at the moment, is that there is not a sign that Christmas is on the way. I'm going to escape all the advertising and shameless financial exploitation in the UK this year!!!
We ate with a group – I had a burger, then back to the hotel where I had a treat, a shower! It was my first hot shower for 6 weeks. Not only that, but also it was powerful. After washing, I just stood under it, luxuriating for a few minutes. The temperature was great in Addis. Sunny, in the low to mid twenties and at night, nice and cool in the room (about 20).
Monday, 26th November 2007
Biscuits for breakfast, then the 10min walk to the VSO office. I got my official government residents permit. This is good as it enables meto get cheaper prices in hotels and on flights. We were taken to the country director's house (which is big) for the training sessions. It was OK and we learnt some new things, but I had flashbacks to "Harborne Hall" and some of it was a little tiring. Still, it was good to meet up with everyone. We were taken back to VSO around 17.00, and I walked the couple of kilometres to a supermarket near Meskel Square. Someone tried the old "do you remember me from this morning, I've changed my clothes?" scam on me, but I got rid of him when I told him I'd been here for two months. I got a few things inc. sweets and biscuits, then walked all the way back via another supermarket. It was quite late and dark when I got back to the hotel. It's quite a long walk. Some others were just finishing their dinner in the hotel. I had another burger, before having another shower!!!
Tuesday, 27th November 2007
More training, same routine as yesterday. We got back a little later, and I got a few more bits from a supermarket near the hotel, impressing them with my Amharic (mainly as it was numbers and food nouns!) Then a group of us at the hotel decided to go to a pizza restaurant above one of the supermarkets (Get Fam.) It was a pretty decent pizza, and I had an amazing fruit drink with three layers of different puréed juices. I followed this with a tiramisu for pud, then a coffee. All this for about 50 birr! My last decent ferengi meal for a while!
Wednesday, 28th November 2007
I had the morning to do more shopping. First I got a line taxi to Meskel Square and walked up to the Hilton to get some more money. My Visa card didn't work, and one of the banks refused to cash a traveller's cheque without the purchasing receipt! Luckily the other bank in the Hilton cashed it. Then I walked across the road, fending off a couple of map sellers, taxi touts and beggars to the mapping office. I managed to get an A2-sized 1:50000 map of the area around Gilgel Beles for just under 14 birr. The survey is about 20 years old, but it has the course of the river and contour lines of the land. I had to go to one room to choose the map and get an order form, then up to the next floor to the sales room where they got the map from the store and filled out a payment form, then I went three floors down to actually pay for it and get a receipt, which I then took back to the sales room and collected my map. On the exit door, the guard asked to see the receipt and check that I hadn't nicked the map!
After that, I walked back to a supermarket and got one of my best purchases: a nice soft pillow (the one VSO gave me was basically filled with foam off-cuts and was full of lumps. I also managed to get some small clocks for my room and kitchen. They were the only ones I had seen and were not exactly what I wanted. One was a tacky dog clock with a tail that wags! I also went to Bambis (the expensive ferengi supermarket) and got some more bed sheets. Finally, after taking a line taxi back to Higher Hulet (where VSO is) I got some plastic for my ceiling to stop the termite dust, then went to VSO to get a few bits – including an XP Pro disc (see virus entry previously), with no luck. Then it was back to the hotel to cram everything into my suitcase and new bag (I got this to put the extra supplies in), checked out, and got a taxi to the airport. Amazingly I was not charged excess baggage! The flight was a touch late, but I got to Bahar Dar around 16.00 and was told the "free" shuttle to the hotel was full, so I had to go with another hotel shuttle and pay 20 birr!
I walked along the edge of the lake again, then to a new bit of town with lots of electrical shops. I also found the bus station. Along the way, I met Tail - a boy in Grade 7 at school. I was practising my Amharic on him, and he, his English. He invited me back to his house to meet his mother for coffee. It was one of the wood frame with mud-fill-in type houses. His sister was there as well as a neighbour who was 21 and was very interested in writing to me to practise his English. I think that he thinks I might be able to get him a place at GB college. They followed me back to the hotel, but didn't ask for money. I ate on the veranda overlooking the lake, and the younger boy climbed a tree outside and kept pointing to his bare feet and was obviously asking for some money to buy some shoes. He eventually went away!
After eating I managed to have a hot shower from a boiler with the most dodgy wiring you have ever seen – actually, the most dodgy wiring was on the lights by the bed which were bare twisted together ends!
Thursday, 29th November 2007
Today had me a little worried. I had to get back to Gilgel Beles on my own with a very heavy (full of food cans etc) suitcase, a bag and a backpack. I had been told of a bus at 06.00 or 07.00, but to be honest I didn't want to get up that early and find there wasn't one, so I didn't actually check out until about 09.00. I walked to the bus station wheeling my case (attracting a few offers of help… for money) and when I got there I was immediately set upon by over ten people trying to get money from me through various scams. The young man from yesterday showed up (he had probably been waiting for me since 0600 knowing I was going on a bus) and helped somewhat. I had found a bus going to Kosober, but the person trying to take 15 birr from me with a pad in his hand seemed a little suspicious and unsure as to when it would leave. I tried to give the ticket back but he said I had touched it so had to pay. I walked away and headed for the minibuses (with some help from the young man.) There, I got a place on a minibus for 18 birr, which you don't pay until you're moving. It left fairly quickly and it wasn't until I saw in the reflection of a window my case on the roof, that I was happy. I was in the front and it was a very quick journey with very few stops as the minibus was full and everyone seemed to be going to Kosober. There was no-one to talk to this time, but I was quite tired and it wasn't a problem. I used my GPS to keep track of where I was.
When I got to Kosober someone took my bag and led me to a bus. There wasn't one going straight to Gigel Beles, but there was one going to Chagni. It was 10 birr, and the person who carried my case asked for 10 birr. I gave him one birr – he didn't seem happy, but the conductor on the bus said that's all I should pay and shooed them off, which was nice.
The journey was slow, bumpy and cramped (I was sitting sideways on what I think was the cover above the gearbox.) At least it was mostly downhill (after it reached the peak over 2600m.) When I got to Chagni, the whole "taking your suitcase and putting it on the roof of another bus" happened again. The guy wanted 10 birr (the bus ride was only going to cost 7 birr) and I offered 1 birr. He was not happy. All the Ethiopians on the bus were watching with amusement. I put my birr away and he was shooed off as the bus was about to leave. He swore at me through the window.
I did worry that he might try and take my case off, and it wasn't until about half way to Gilgel Beles when the bus stopped at a region crossing point and we all got out for five mins, that I saw my case strapped to the roof and was happy.
It was a relief to reach GB at last. It was around 1430. My case was taken down and one guy from the bus refused the birr I offered. A boy (probably from the school) asked to take my case for a birr and wheeled it to the college entrance. I gave him 1.5 birr which at first he refused to take.
Next, back to my house – what I relief. I hadn't drunk during the journey and now re-hydrated myself with a bottle of water and, shortly afterwards, an ice-cold Marinda (fizzy orange) at the college café (which was full of strangers from somewhere else who gave me the ferengi stare.) I chatted to a couple of them and eased the tension. Next I went to the Post Office where I had quite a few letters and the first big package to arrive from home. I went back home, via another Marinda and coffee at the best café in town.
The evening was spent sorting out all the stuff I had bought, and my suitcase (which had become covered in chicken or goat poo – there were both on the roof with my case!) The birds in the nest outside my room have hatched. One of the babies was perched on the washing line in the centre of the house and it let me go up and stroke it – several times! Later, I was invited to another coffee ceremony with the family where I had my first hold of the baby. It reminded me of holding my nephew and niece when they were young.