Monday 24 November 2008

7th November 08

Date: 7th November 08
Location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Weather: Patchy blue skies and clouds, rain on the drive. 24°c
Status: Off on a mission….and running over someone too!

The job for the day….to get the replacement parts we need to get Kees’s truck on the move again! We woke up as the sun came up and the rain was chucking down outside, it appeared that the storm which was flashing away in the distance overnight had deposited most of its contents on out campsite as the place was awash with the wet stuff.

Still packed up and had a quick bowl of cereal waiting around for Abiy, our new found English-speaking friend who Kees had befriended the evening previous, to arrive. The three of us got in the car and turned out of the campsite towards the capital 250kms away. The road was excellent, in fact one of the best in east Africa, and smooth tarmac took was through the lake filled lands of southern Ethiopia and towards the city.

We arrived at the outskirts and with Abiy’s help headed into the centre navigating our way towards his brother who was already searching out the required part for us on his day off!

We hit a section of new unsurfaced road and were crawling along in the traffic when all of a sudden the totally unavoidable happened. Now let me explain first, Ethiopia is THE country I have feared the most in terms of problems on the roads. Kids throw stones at you, adults play the shadow-chasing game and try to get out of the way the last minute, smiling at you once they’ve done it….and a Canadian couple we met a few years ago – Tom & Janet actually hit and killed a young boy here with horrible consequences and a long time trying to calm the baying mob!

I was in first gear following a minibus when a young lady stepped out in front of the Colonel looking totally the other way only a metre in front of the truck….I had nowhere to go at all, the wheels skidded for the two metres it took to bring the truck to a halt, the bull bar hit the lady and with her shopping in both hands she fell to the ground. I was totally shocked and in no way guilty but jumped out of the car to see she was ok. This all happened in near stand still traffic in the middle of a market area so instantly it was spotted and people came running, now I mean lots of people. Within seconds we had a group of maybe 40 individuals all shouting, gesturing and pushing us with no understanding of the language all we could think of was to get out of there as soon as possible and both Kees and I grabbed Abiy and got him into the car….we wanted to drive to the nearest police station as quickly as we could.

As we desperately tried to get away and drive through the traffic, which was impossible, all I could see were maybe 20 people chasing us down the street….there was whistling, the front runners easily caught the Colonel and were banging on the sides and we couldn’t get away, and then all of a sudden it was there, the Saris Police Station. We screeched to a halt, locked the doors and ran inside explaining the situation to the women police officer who was the first to greet us.

She tried to calm us down, sat me in her office and explained that we were safe with her and the Colonel was now being looked after by her truncheon and rifle holding colleagues!

Wow how it all exploded in such a short time!! After 10 minutes the I-didn’t-look-before-i-crossed-the-road lady arrived looking shocked herself. The last time I’d seen her she was being man-handled by the massed gang and didn’t show any signs of pain or problems, but now suddenly she started crying and clutched her arm….the white man has money, if I fake this I can get some of it!

Procedure here is to get the injured to the nearest doctor to see what the problem is and then deal with the financial side of things accordingly. So off Aviy and her trotted across the road to the hospital – sometimes there is one when you need one! I sat with the very kind police lady and we set about improving our language skills and understanding of each others countries, families, cultures, calendars, time system, working hours, etc etc! all very pleasant in the situation.

An hour an a half later Aviy, the lady and now her immediate family of 7 people returned to the station clutching an x-ray, prescription and the answer I was looking for….nothing was broken of even bruised! The doctor has said she had no problems and gave her a paracetamol for her headache, this meant I was in the clear both for the situation and for her medical bills. I offered to cover the cost of the x-ray and gave her a little sum of money for her clothes to be cleaned and for the shopping she’d lost…we all signed a very unofficial back of an envelope and went our own way. It was an awful mess to start off with but ended very amicably and thankfully peacefully and we were all in one piece!

With the little episode behind us and half the day gone we drove off to meet Aviy’s brother who’d managed to locate a replacement clutch for us….well the outside was ok but the centre was totally wrong with 4 teeth not 28, no matter at all. In Europe they have to order another complete unit and you’d have to come back a week later to collect it….not in africa, they took it to the local engineering shop, removed the heavy duty rivets and centre and replaced it with the one from the original…simple then!

While we were waiting Aviy took us on a tour of the capital, a very clean, well laid out place it is too. We stopped off at his recommendation for a coffee and bite of lunch….the Sheraton no less!! An immensely opulent English-style hotel with full bomb squad vehicle search, red BT phone boxes and security guards wearing London bobby style helmets, amazing!

We had a bite to eat, sampled the local coffee and headed back out to take to on the rush hour traffic and find our way home. Once we had got to the right exit on the ring road the darkness was total making driving interesting as we tried to make our way past the convoys of trucks all making the long 3 day haul to Djibouti and the port there, Ethiopia’s life line.

The road back was pretty uneventful until suddenly I spotted a pair of eyes on the side of the road…it was a full grown hyena, then there was another and this was only 5kms out of the city outskirts. They scavenge here and Aviy said they commonly are seen in town too, totally amazing.
Our road south took us through several large towns and by each one we spotted more of them until we hit Shashemene, 40kms from Awassa where we were aiming for and right in the centre of the nearly deserted town there was another down a side street.

This was enough to get our hearts racing so we took off after it keeping it in our lights only a few metres in front of the truck and followed it right up to a garden fence where it disappeared off into the darkness! What a superb end to the otherwise hectic day!

We arrived back at the camp around 11.30pm and set up camp finally for the night. An eventful but interesting day all the same.

End of day location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 570kms

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