Secure in the knowledge that Ethiopia is one of the safest African countries for a woman to travel independently, I’d mentally prepared to spend the rest of the fortnight travelling on my own. But I’m glad I didn’t; I couldn’t have wished for better travelling companions and, to be honest, there was no escaping the Hashers anyway! No sooner had we said goodbye to one group than we bumped into another.
And so Wailer, Mekdes ‘Madness,’ (Love and) Desire and I set off for Gonder on public transport. I‘d have loved to have sat next to Wailer for a few hours but not in the front of a minibus without a seat belt. The decision was quickly confirmed when a middle aged businessman sat down next to me and a rival ‘conductor’ leapt through the gap in the seats (where I’d have been sitting) and punched the driver several times. Words were said – and he punched him again, the crime seemingly that the driver had ‘stolen’ the wealthy-looking passenger.
A hand pushed open the window next to me to demand money. I quickly slammed it shut and turned to feel his hand reaching through the window behind me – this was going to be an eventful journey!
Things settled down as we left town and we overtook donkeys laden with enormous heavy sacks, horses and carts, kids walking home from school carrying satchels hand stitched from grain sacks. Vehicles were few and far between. A toothless man in his 50s climbed in, crook in hand, and a wooden cross at his neck. The smell of animals clung to his many layered dirty shawls, slowly intensifying as the taxi heated up. A sweating carrier bag of onions added an extra edge to the atmosphere.
Gonder – They came, they saw, they played table football (Veni, vidi, vinci) with apologies to Julius Caesar
Five hours later, we arrived in Gonder. I loved the 1950s style Italian coffee shops (I felt a pang of homesickness for Europe!) and the fabulous ‘nasfiq’ breakfast of spicy tomato lentils, with scrambled eggs and a dollop of yoghurt, served with crusty bread (at the Telesatellite Club below the Post Office).
I love Ethiopian food! Espris or a ‘Spritzer’ is 100% juice: layers of freshly pureed fruit – mango, avocado and paw paw, served with a twist of lime – in a tall ‘knickerbocker glory’ glass and a long spoon. Heaven.
Top on Gonder’s tourist itinerary is the 17th Century Royal Enclosure, a UNESCO heritage site of castles, halls and even an enclosure for the king’s lions! Uganda has little architecture and I lapped up the history. (Funny the things you don’t realise you miss until you see them again). Read my review of Fasil Ghebbi (the Royal Enclosure) on TripAdvisor.
Later that afternoon I followed fellow Hasher Jesus into the church of Debre Burhan Selassie – how many people can say that? – to admire the beautiful hand painted walls and ceilings, bedecked with cherubs, one of the more familiar images of Ethiopia. The priest was welcoming and didn’t seem to mind us floating in and out and taking photos.
Traditional Ethiopian dancing, two nights in a row, with our lovely friend and de facto guide Madness, was a riot. The painted plaster walls, traditional musical instruments and goatskin paintings created an inviting and intimate atmosphere for our evenings of shoulder shimmying at Belago and Ansari Bet. The singer worked the room; teasing and entertaining us with poems created for each person in the room, accompanied by a man playing the masenqo a potent mix of string and percussion. She stuck the proffered notes first on her forehead then in her bra. The superb range of her voice was only spoiled by the stink of the latrines. Ethiopia, you need to sort your toilets out.
The masenqo is a single-string violin common in the musical traditions of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The square-shaped resonator is normally covered with parchment or rawhide. [Image courtesy of Abesha Bunna Bet, a really cool English language web site about all things Ethiopian).
Next morning, in the Ethiopian Airlines office (for the umpteenth time), the Man Who Would Not Go Home deliberated about where to travel next. Desire had changed his flight back to Nairobi twice already. When offered the option to get an open return, he’d said no (a decision he was to regret at least two more times).
A very nice man made our flight reservations to Lalibela. We couldn’t believe it when the same man checked us in at Gondar airport. “Are you flying the plane too?” “Yes, I will be on the plane” he said.
Wow, that’s some personal service.
A recap of Africa Hash 2011
Thank you! Amaseganalu
Thanks to the Africa Hash main sponsor St. George beer. Africa Hash served as the launch event for their mobile draught beer bar – I can safely say we gave it the baptism it deserves.
Hashing has given me the opportunity to travel abroad with my Ugandan friends, reconnect with English friends I met at Africa Hash 2009 in Kampala, and make friends in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania friends. Mombasa May 2012 is booked (I can’t wait to party with Nairobi Hashers again) and Africa Hash 2013 in Ghana pencilled in…
Special thanks to Addis Hash for inviting us to your fabulous country. I’ve wanted to visit for years but you provided the opportunity, gave us a fantastic welcome, an awesome party and continued to enchant me even after the official festivities were over. I WILL BE BACK!