The long and bumpy road

The Ethiopian giant slalom

(Reis) Riding in our 4×4 vehicles on the crazy, bumpy roads of Ethiopia had no shortage of wild and well… bumpy experiences. Important to understanding our long pilgrimages to and from villages is that most of the roads in this country are made of dirt, a substance quite susceptible to the elements. The displacement of rocks and gravel by water and wind litter the road in the form of potholes, divots, and bumps. This makes for a jolting, jarring, jouncing ride. And justified with that, we learned to cherish the solace of paved roads. Paved roads are impervious to the water that can easily make a solid dirt path a squelching mud pit. One day, we were driving to a museum in the dirty city of Jinka, when we found ourselves faced with a challenge. A large fuel tanker was sprawled diagonally across the road, stuck in the mud trying to get up a steep hill, and restricting our access to the museum. We ended up turning around and taking the less direct and bumpier road to our destination. The bumpy and high-risk dirt roads endeared us more to their flat and frankly easier cousin, the pavement.

Under construction, but still in use

But nonetheless, as we rolled along, troops of kids would run after the car, screaming “Allo! Allo! Allo!” or just stringing together long stretches of incomprehensible vowels in consonants. Some of the kids barraging our cars would, much to our chagrin, beg for “Soap! Money! T-shir! Watuh! Pen! Shoe!” in warped English. While others still would timidly wave more reservedly from a safe distance, but grin shyly as the “forengi” (foreigners) smiled and waved back. Many times we would reach a roadblock of dozens of cows or goats being led by their carefree herders, and the kids would catch up, screaming and giggling, vying for our attention and smiles. Sometimes they would catch-up, palms-up, and vie for our goods.

Dump truck mistake

On the excursions through the Ethiopian countryside, we would often glimpse some spectacular African wildlife, and slow the van to admire (and rubberneck to look at) what was spotted. Though, many times, it was a goat half-hidden by the thick African brush, to which was enthusiastically exclaimed, “What’s that?!?” One certainly memorable and crazy thing that happened to us is, as we tried earlier to reach the museum during our day in Jinka, we found a huge pile of stripped eucalyptus trees covering the entire road. We discovered that they had been haphazardly placed into the back of a truck, but had protruded out the back, so the rear door was not closed. When the truck attempted to go up a hill, the luggage in the back slid out of the truck’s carriage, onto the road, thus blocking our passage to our destination. We ended up turning around and trying again two hours later, only to find as referenced earlier, a diagonally facing truck blocking us on a very similar hill. The Fates did not want us to get to that museum.

Overall, although some of us dreaded these long drives, many of us learned to love the giggling children, and the unexpected (usually bovine) challenges and experiences thrown at us along the way. You may know the phrase “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”; it was tossed around a lot on our trip. Although most of our Ethiopian adventure was about the destination (seeing the villages, greeting the people), the journeys added a sense of fun and mystery when driving to and from these unique and wonderful places. It was a pleasant, and bumpier, version of the monotonous US highways and roads, on which millions of people travel each and every day.

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