by Jenny Makepeace

coffee pickingYabelo is 400k from the Kenyan border and a centre for contraband – electronics, medicine and clothes.

We walked a few hundred yards to another place where it took an hour to get a bowl of soup and a pile of tasteless rice with carrots.

There were many gun toting locals in the tribal areas, the guns of the old breech loading type probably left over from the Italian occupation.

They sort out their own disputes and pay retribution with a cow or two.  Several of the dancers wore bullet belts as decoration. There’s a night bird here with a high pitched call like a reversing bleep.

We wonder what possible future there is for Ethiopia, apart from coffee there are no exports; the population is exploding; all these vast new roads being built by foreign construction companies.

Yet there is virtually no traffic – just the odd local bus, a few lorries, Aid vehicles and tourist Toyotas. We saw one private car in 100k today.  The government levy a heavy tax on imported vehicles – 50% and more on second hand ones.

The agriculture is archaic, no machinery, bullocks pulling single wooden plough shares, men with mattocks hacking at  dusty soil. Largely terraced again in the South Omo.

Only the extensive cotton fields and some coffee plantations hint at larger scale agriculture, otherwise its subsistence.

Morning arrives with huge relief. This is one of those places where you would rather be outside and not hear the cockroaches clicking or rise to find the large boiler with its copious amounts of hot water.

That cannot even emit enough to wash the foam off a flea’s back – shower and bidet are both hopeless and a nauseous smell of sewer rises from the basin’s plughole.

There is no loo paper. (we have our own, but this sort of grot always prevents ones system working anyway).  John had rearranged the bed to provide sheet only and whilst he had his small traveling blanket.

I resorted to my thin coat which ended up in a tangle in the middle.  One is inclined to strangle the useless, utterly careless management.  Think pioneering is not my thing any longer.

Out of Yabelo by 9 am after a long wait for breakfast, entertained by watching the elegant Italians looking clean and tidy.

My linen trousers are filthy again, crawled all over by little dirty children and sticky hands – no complaints really, the kids are a joy. Red soil in a barren landscape, no grazing whatever.

Coffee stop at Hagere-mariam, which seems to have a monoploly on rubber galoshes and wellie boots.  Enormous quantities of quat are being loaded on to lorries.

There was an horrendous crash – a bus and a lorry collided, the bus on its side with a totally crushed cab, the lorry also on its side.

We gave a bottle of water to a lad.  Must have happened a while ago and are being guarded by a man with gun. One wonders how the injured  were taken away and where the nearest hospital might be.

Dead dog, dead goat – this is rare, mainly because there is so little traffic and most of the stock are pretty streetwise. Our driver Habtamu, is brilliant and avoids all hazards with supreme expertise.

Yerga-chefe is on the edge of the Rift Valley, it is hot with high rainfall and the centre of the coffee production.

The mud huts have flowers around them – a good sign that the people have enough time and leisure to do more than subsist, daturas, amaryllis, roses and hibiscus.

In Chuko or Cukkote I was almost moved to tears by the plight of the ponies, nearly all lame, thin as skeletons, overladen or pulling kalesh wagons, hanging their heads with pain to one side or another, open sores, dreadful ‘tack’.

Their mouths wounded and slack, dribbling, their eyes half closed and dejected beyond endurance.  Must talk to the Brook.

There was an hilarious moment when we stopped to buy a pineapple, they were bundled up in fives and tied with green strips of vegetation.

The boys did not want to split them – we were invaded on all sides, pineapples being thrust through every window, other boys with baskets of avocados and bunches of bananas surrounded us.

Habtamu drove off in frustration and pulled up further on where John bought one pineapple on his side of the vehicle and Habtamu another on his side.

(These – or one of them – was later enjoyed in out hotel bathroom, where we cut them open with our penknife and ate them standing half naked over the basin – delicious.)

Jenny’s great article on her Ethiopian experience will continue.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

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