Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Getting to Mota

Bahir Dar Airport
After over 24 hours of jet travel and transit lounges I finally emerged into the Ethiopian sunlight at Bahir Dar  on Friday 30th September. The international airport in Addis Ababa was like a huge empty shed by comparison with the massively crowded and glitteringly gross terminal at Dubai, but from the outside at least it looked quite impressive. Bahir Dar airport on the other hand looked like a wreck even on the outside with three quarters of it fenced off with vertical sheets of rusty corrugated iron, and the other quarter propped up with poles and rickety scaffolding made of long thin tree trunks. Our bags weren’t taken inside, just dumped into a rocky dirt roadway, along which I then dragged my two bags and back pack toward a waiting throng of Hotel touts, Drivers and family. One smiling  black face came close - “Dr David?”- it was Birhanu, my contact in Bahir Dar , and he took me to the Ethiopie Star Hotel, room 301.He had planned to take me to a different Hotel but discovered they had no water that day. He was most helpful and friendly and suggested where I might go for dinner, and a couple of sights to see in the morning before he would come back to get me at 7 and organize my transport the last 120 km , to Mota. I objected –could we make it 9? “OK, OK, No problem” I decided to lie down for a rest before dinner, and when I awoke it was after !

Baggage Claim

So in the morning I had breakfast in the Hotel restaurant, and not having a watch or mobile phone I asked for the time at the front desk. “A quarter to one” she said, and then, noticing my stunned reaction “Oh that’s Ethiopian, you want Global time? Its quarter to 7” And that was how I discovered they count the hours differently here, so our lunch time is 6am, and I have since discovered their calendar is different so its only February 2007 or something – still have to sort that one out!. Later, wandering along a busy road and watching the street life I suddenly remembered Birhanus “” which I made him change to 9 – was this really ? He was so polite he didn’t enlighten me…so now we were going to be really late getting to Mota and they were supposed to be picking someone up and bringing them back . But I went back to the Star a bit after just in case, and there he was! I was relieved I hadn’t stuffed it up after all.

Praying and touching the wall around the Orthodox Church
Flying north to Bahir Dar the day before I had been quite surprise at how green the entire countryside was. News of famine nearby and a general impression of Ethiopia as a rocky dry harsh environment had not led me to expect such an incredibly densely cultivated place, every possible piece of land was broken up into numerous small coloured patches, mostly dark or light green, but also black and yellow, and many with a small shed or maybe a dwelling with a tin roof flashing up at me. The entire countryside seemed to be in production. Now, driving to Mota through this , it was even more wonderful to see as there were huge steep escarpments with river flats between and and amazing views from elevated rolling plateaus of distant horizons and the road snaking away below. The unsealed road itself was horrendously rough and rocky, and 40km/hr was probably top speed. The other remarkable thing about the road was the traffic on it – a constant mostly high density stream, not of cars , or motorbikes or 4WDs – there were none at all – but of people, many in the company of overloaded donkeys and mules, or goats with floppy ears  or sheep, many barefooted, all dusty and scruffy and ragged, often carrying a stick  across their shoulders that they hooked their arms over, they were like refugees carrying their belongings but  they were heading to or from markets in Bahir Darr or the many small villages we passed through on the way. 

A quiet stretch of road

On the Mota Road

I had been shocked at the number of Beggars I came across in Bahir Darr, and now, seeing all these people walking miles along rocky dusty roads I started to realize how poor they really are. In India last year I saw many very poor people but there were many poor who cold at least afford a bicycle or even a small motorscooter  but here, no-one seemed to be able to afford even those . Not one! And all that cultivated land, all those plantings and reaping and harvesting  and tilling of the soil – all of it by hand, not a single modern machine to be seen anywhere. I started to realize that they were also incredibly tough.

I will write about my first days in Mota next time

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