Following Rimbaud In Harar, Ethiopia….

Ethiopia has desert, too...

Ethiopia has desert, too… 

May 2009

…Addis Ababa bus station at 5 a.m. ain’t pretty… bus already quite full when I arrive… suspect some of the riders have been there all night… looks pretty lived-in… taxi driver asks if he can help.  Does a bear sh*t in the woods?

Fortunately I have great faith in people’s goodness, especially those of the Book.  People were touched by the Book long before they ever had one thrown at them.  Still nothing cleans and scours the soul like fear, removing psychological debris and detritus long caked on and ground in, leaving you whiter if no brighter. 

Bus station in Ethiopia

Bus station in Ethiopia

…bus doesn’t actually leave at five of course, but at some signal in the vast subconscious, (a cock’s crow maybe, or the opening of a gate?) when they all, like a flock of birds ready to fly, position their jockeys and begin jockeying for position, trying to make a move for the exit at the same time.  This happens at every red light of course in microcosm.

…countryside goes down easier than the city for me and soon I’m making comparisons to Guatemala… there the colorful cloth is hand-woven on a back-strap loom and here it’s Chinese batik… seems like there are a lot of men sitting around doing nothing all day, while women are home doing the work…

…poverty in the countryside maintains some sense of dignity, indigenous people in their homes of birth, not crammed into sh*t-stained cities and left to hustle for crumbs.  They all come to me with hands out and mouths open, but where would I start and how would I finish?

Greek church in Ethiopia

Greek church in Ethiopia

Soon the bus is decreasing in altitude… landscape resembles the northern Sonora desert of Mexico and Arizona, lush with flora in its desert-ness.  There are nopales, cholla, paloverde, everything but the saguaro…  This is camel country, and they’re all over the road… elephants and hippos and lions and baboons and hyenas AND CAMELS all within a few hundred kilometers of each other…

…this is also qat country, the stimulating chew that inspires controversy throughout the region… not unlike coca in South America, though heavier and glossier, more like a yard shrub… several people on the bus stock up and begin chewing… looks like a lot of work.

…trucks to Djibouti have turned off the highway by now, so the drive becomes quite pleasant… highland Amharic courtesy seems to be replaced by a more aggressive style among the easterners… finally pull into Dire Dawa mid-afternoon, I immediately head for the train…  It looks deserted… I am not optimistic…

Gold Shop in Harar, Ethiopia

Gold Shop in Harar, Ethiopia

…hotels double as restaurants and bars and God knows what… dirt cheap, but far from the modern standard…coffee’s still good out back and I imagine a man could have a good time, though I decide to forego the late-night stroll when the rains start… maybe I’ll luck upon the Djibouti consulate here.  I do; it must be a sign.

…next morning they’re not open though, so I push on to Harar, the poet Rimbaud’s old haunt.  I can still either fly to Djibouti and get a visa-on-arrival or come back and get the visa for land entry another day.

Harar only an hour or so from Dire Dawa, but definitely a different world… Ethiopian Muslims predominate, though Christians co-exist peacefully.  Alcohol takes a back seat here though, and hotels DO NOT double as bars or anything else… more expensive, too, though hardly a need to complain… need to complain comes with the lack of water AND power.  TV without electricity?  …espresso machines don’t work, either and pumps can’t pump water…. But main problem in Harar is the prevalence of free-lance guides: very annoying. ..

034Watching the hyenas feeding in the evening is the big attraction, but I decide to forego it… find my enjoyment playing with the kids and wandering the streets… kids all want pens.  That’s encouraging, wish I had some to give… all in all Harar is a disappointment, dirty and obnoxious, not to mention the problems of water and light.  I don’t need more than a day.  Next stop is Hargeisa in Somaliland, but I’ll need to get lucky to connect straight through and not get stuck in Jijiga.  Another early morning looms ahead…