June 03, 2004
Get A Room You Two
DAY 219: With everything set up in a tight itinerary, everything was all set on my week-long journey that would ultimate bring me to the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. In order for me to make it in my limited time, I didn't have much room for error -- which was a pretty dumb idea I discovered that day. Had I forgotten I was in Africa where, as a guide in Namibia told me, "Nothing comes easy?"
My first stop was the city of Bahir Dar, which involves a two-day bus journey, including a night stayover in a town halfway. The bus was to leave at 5 a.m. (11 a.m. Ethiopian) according to my ticket, which is why I was in a taxi by 4:30 (10:30 Ethiopian) to get to the bus station. En route through the dark Addis Ababa streets, I witnessed a fairly violent mugging in progress.
"Watch for hard thieves," the taxi driver told me. (As opposed to easy thieves?) He was telling me about what to expect at the crazy bus station which hadn't opened yet when we arrived at ten to five. He let me chill out in the taxi while waiting and led me to a station worker (designated by a quesetionable ID badge pinned to his jacket) when the gates opened. Still dark outside, I had to find bus #2135 in the rows upon rows of buses in no numerical order. Fortunately the station guy led me right to it by walking around and asking in Amharic for me. Needless to say, he asked for a hefty tip for doing so, which I guess I had no choice but to give him.
Two hours went by and we still hadn't left Addis Ababa. The sun had risen already and it seemed like every bus around ours had departed already. I watched people scrambing around for last-minute seats, including the heterosexual men walking customarily hand-in-hand. Amidst the chaos I noticed one white guy taking photos of it all, sticking out like a white sheep in a flock of black ones -- although "black" really isn't a color to describe the skin color of most of the Ethiopian people; most are a lighter shade of brown, like the color of Coffee with Milk, Two Sugars.
Clouds of carbon monoxide surrounded us as we finally departed a little passed seven in the morning. The 2135 bus headed north out of Addis towards the final destination of what I hoped was Bahir Dar -- I couldn't read the sign in the window because it was in Ge'ez. No one around me spoke English either and I didn't speak Amharic -- and trying to learn it with its 231 letters of the alphabet and weird inflections of voice would probably have taken more time than my actual stay in Ethiopia. I kept notice of the position of the sun to navigate our way; we were on track to Bahir Dar after all.
The 2135 left the city limits and up through the northern highlands. With many farming productions in sight, it was a completely different image than what I had seen in a Sally Struthers "feed the children" commercial. We drove in and out of little villages, which were very similar to the ones I'd seen all over Africa and South America, with corrugated tin roof shacks and shops to shelter the many villagers walking around dusty roads.
Behind my seat was a family, including a cute little girl who sang saongs in Amharic to pass thet ime. Across the aisle and two rows back were these two teenage guys that continued the notion that two guys could be ambiguously gay (in the eyes of a Westerner) and still be hetero.
Only two and a half hours had gone by when an all-too-familiar situation happened: the bus broke down, stranding us in the middle of a hill -- quite the damper on my tight schedule where there was little room for error. The driver and conductor tried to fill the radiators with bottled water, but nothing worked. We were stranded (picture above); the conductor hitched a ride on one of the few cards on the road going back to Addis to get another bus. If you can do the math, that's 2 1/2 hours to go back and 2 1/2 to return to us, which equals a pretty long time to wait in the sun. Of course I didn't know how long it'd be when I was waiting; it seemed like days and most people walked to a nearby village to chill out. I just hung out in and around the bus with my journal and book to read, which I finally got to finishing. (Funny, I had been complaining to myself that I had no time to read since all my spare time went to Blogging.) While waiting outside for a bit, I tried to start a conversation with an old holy man with hand gestures.
The two guys continued their seemingly gay tendencies as the bus continued on. I thought for a moment that maybe they were justvery affectionate brothers, but then realized they were behaving way beyond the boundaries of brotherly love -- at one point the younger guy was standing in between his brother's/lover's (or both) legs and then the guy sitting down leaned over and started kissing the other one's stomach.
Seriously, get a room you two.
The paved road turned into a bumpy road as it went through the rocky valley, around and over the bridge of the Blue Nile River, passed herders with their sticks on their shoulders and women carrying jugs of water on their backs and the unofficial-looking guys on the side of the road holding AK-47 assault rifles. I had read that armed robberies occurred in the countryside at night, which is why most buses stopped in a town to overnight in safety. However, our five-hour delay gave us no choice but to drive a couple of hours through the dark countryside.
We arrived in the mid-point town of Debra Markos safely, but the security ended when the bus stopped. I thought that since the bus company knew we'd all overnight in town, they'd make it easy and bring us to a recommended hotel or something, but boy did I forget that "nothing comes easy."
Having a new friend who knew Amharic made a difficult situation easier. The three of us walked to a decent hotel on the other side of town and checked into a single and a double -- the girl got the single, and I shared a room with Fred since it was bad form for an unmarried couple to share a room.
In the end, it was me that "got a room" with another man.
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