Davis, the young dreadlocked manager of Canaan International Hotel, had the brilliant suggestion that I should write up my barter offers and have it translated in the language of the country I was visiting.
“It would help people understand what you offer a lot better.”
I agreed and thanked him for his generosity as he gave the bell-boy the key to my room for the night – number 203. The room had a queen-sized bed, a hot-shower – something I had yet to experience in Ethiopia – and a wifi point that had me catch up on some work and a look at the map for the road to Axum. I skipped dinner but enjoyed the hot water shower and the fruit-scented soap. I was too tired to do anything but chill in the large, soft bed and after a movie I dozed off into a deep slumber.
I awoke refreshed with renewed energy. Showered and headed down for a breakfast of special omelette. It was fasting season due to the Lent coming up to Easter (celebrated in Ethiopia in May) so no animal products were allowed to be consumed.
This wasn’t a strict rule and in hotels that cater for foreigners, meat can still be found. I hadn’t had meat in three weeks so when the friendly waitress explained that the special omelette was basically a Spanish omelette with meat, I ordered it.
I was joined at the table by a man from Wales who was here to supervise the efficiency (or lack) of a pharmaceutical factory.
“Nice to see another Caucasian around,” he grinned at me.
When will we stop seeing each other as a colour and have that define for us whether we’re friendly towards the person? I’ve come to realise that if we can drop the labels of colour, religion and nationality, just see each other for the good that is within us, this world would be so much better for it.
After breakfast I thanked the staff and headed down the road to the turn-off to Axum. I hiked up the hill and set up shop in a shady area. A green, double-trailer truck crawled up the hill but didn’t stop. Behind it, a Landcruiser pulled over. Dawit, the driver, had the best set of sideburns I’d seen in a long time.
“In Australia we call them ‘chops’,” I explained.
His passenger was Te’ame (meaning, ‘Sweet’).
“We just have to go back to town and pick up two more passengers,” Dawit said, pulling a U-turn.
“So you just came up the hill to collect me?” I joked as he burst out laughing.
We picked up Desalegne (Desu for short, meaning ‘Happy’) and Berihu (meaning the light of the sunrise) and hit the road.
Dawit is a driver by profession. The other guys were members of the Tigray Arts Association and were on their way to a graduation ceremony of their students in Shire (pronounced, Shir-eh), about an hour and a half past Axum. About 40 minutes into the drive we came up behind some traffic that was at a standstill. The road was windy, hugging the mountain it was wrapped around, dropping off into a valley on the other side.
I saw the two tow trucks and the back end of the green double-trailer truck that had flown off the cliffside.
Jesus. I could have been in that truck if it had stopped.
Dawit steadily guided the Landcruiser through long expanses of smooth tarmac road, nestled between mountains shadowing arid lands of sparse vegetation and tiny, dusty villages. People walked around with umbrellas to protect themselves from the harsh sun that was beating down at least 40 degrees.
Four hours later I was let off in Axum.
“Call me after six,” Dawit insisted. “I want to hear your music.”
I wrote down his number and bid the guys farewell.
And prepared myself for the ‘tour guides’ that I could already see crossing the road.