by Jenny Makepeace

Last night whilst we were walking back to bed in the dark, an Italian woman was tottering along in her heels, dressed as though for a party.  Quite wonderful how stylish these Italians are, even under such difficult conditions, always immaculate with earrings and elegance.

We drove through a low pass of peaked hills, crossing dry river beds, or driving along them – most have rocky beds, though one is mud and impassable after rain.

We came to a flat plain surrounded by hills home to the Arbore tribe.  Their painted faces are rather sinister, one can imagine them with spears frightening off others.

As we neared the Weito River the land becomes more fertile.  The Tsemai tribes grow huge acreages of cotton which is irrigated and hand harvested. One big double trailer lorry was  a Farm Africa supply vehicle.  We saw signs of this organization in Turmi.

We are back at Strawberry Fields – since our excellent map went missing we have depended upon a very poor Ethiopian one bought in a tourist outlet up North. So I am completely confused about the route which is sad.

So arriving back here came as a big surprise. Tomato and sardine salad was absolutely delicious. I have a numb bum, despite improvising a cushion from my gilet. John says its his brain which is numb!

Eskinder has just phoned to check on us, awful weather continues in Britain, jokingly suggested we stayed on – E said we’d been everywhere.  Not to the Bale Mountains nor the Danikil Desert yet.

Wilfred Thesiger crossed this desert in the 50’s, needed huge support from guides and camel men and permissions for his safe passage from the powers that be.

Runners went ahead to check the friendliness or otherwise of the tribes through the lands he wanted to travel.  He was heading for the last lake which is a vast salt lake in the North.

Kids on the mountain sides came running with little things they’d made – notably bundles of dolls representing families, little whistles, stools and knob kerries.  They seem to appear from nowhere.

200 k so far on reasonable roads.  Many beehives – 12” diameter, 3ft long tubes suspended high in the acacia trees, often in groups of four or five.  Weaver bird nests every where.

Reached YABELO at 4.30.  A grotty room in a roadside motel, where even a cup of tea is unavailable. The last few kilometers were, at times, stunning, the reddish soil predominates, with acacia trees and towering termite mounds giving the area the nickname of Konso New York.  Some large herds of camels.

The flat lands gave way to a short stretch of upland juniper forest – the biggest juniper we’ve yet seen.

The church doors are sometimes hewn from this and have marvelous textures, in the North it was difficult to imagine where the timber came from, but maybe before deforestation there were trees of this size everywhere.

Before leaving Konso we went to an off the beaten track village, quite unlike any other we’ve seen.  It was surrounded by boulder walls about four feet high, within which was a narrow path, a thorn hedge protected the tukals from incursion.

The path led to a magnificent central building of fine big timbers both as supports and the ceiling with floor above; open sided with skins on the floor and a stone bench running around the inside.  Its where the older boys sleep to protect the village.

We sat there happily playing games with the children – mainly of the hand clapping type.  It’s a settlement of about 2000 people, each family have 7 or 8 children and land is scarce.

Many children gathered around us and ran along the tops of the red hot wall, barefooted and in an assortment of filthy clothes, but with big smiles and great sense of fun. Only about  25% of the children go to school.  When the village is short of food they get Aid.

There were stone columns – very ancient and whilst I’m not sure what they were for, think its something to do with memorials of the dead.  It was fascinating and quite different from anything else we saw.

As I sit on the veranda with a mass of geraniums, a guard with a gun watches TV in the central ‘reception’.

Jenny’s article on her Ethiopian experience will continue. 

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