A Travellerspoint blog

Day 209 - Ironwork and Funerals

18th April 2012


To say we woke to our alarm at 5am would be a lie. We hadn’t really slept. We had a long day in the making and it would likely get longer. It had been a freezing night and even then, as we climbed out of bed, we were shivering. My numb fingers were dead claws as I pawed at the tent trying to pack it away. The sky above us was crystal clear and a million bright twinkles helped illuminate our early morning fumblings. Crisp acidic curses broke a crisper ice riddled air. The back door lock was playing up again, we’d, or rather I’d, already broken the window once and as I cursed the lock I tried to close it without jeopardising our hard found replacement glass. Bang, thud, smash and the twinkling explosion of a thousand shards of glass all dancing around each other towards the floor as my heart broke and our itinerary had a new item; replace back window.

We taped a sack over the empty frame and Gazpacho rocked up looking awkward when he saw our new air conditioning solution. I had a scarf under my hooded sweater, hood up, and was huddled over the steering wheel as we bumped back towards town. Somers was still dressed for the slopes of Val D’Isere and was keenly looking out of the windows for the moguls. Mr Soup-soup was back on his perch, cuddling his gun. The circus was indeed on its way to town and our sack billowed out of the back window and our car, broken shock and all, um-pah-pah’d and tinkled its way back out of the mountains as the sun finally rose to ask why we were leaving so soon.

Entering Debark two hours later, we passed yet another funeral cortege with yet another undersized body on its wooden frame. We dropped Gazpacho off and dropped in at the tourism office to see if they knew where we could buy sheet metal for the window. The chap pointed us to the petrol station where another chap pointed us to what appeared to be a cafe. From the cafe a chap emerged with a drum of diesel and a metal pouring jug. Something had been lost in translation. We found the nearest piece of metal, on a neighbouring cafes fence, and frantically drew rectangles with our fingers and then pointed at the rear window.

The local metal worker wanted 500Birr for a piece of tinfoil. That wouldn’t work and it was shame as it appeared he was bullied into overcharging by the now ten or so hangers on that all wanted to profit. Ethiopians could make Jews look generous. So, leaving our metal worker we decided it was time to move on. Gonder was the destination and was a far bigger town than Debark. We’d find our metal there. But, the new ‘man in charge of the hangers-on’ had one more idea. He guided us to a hardware store that had thick sheets of steel for sale. Fantastic we thought, until we realised that, for a reason that completely evaded us, the shop owner could only apologise and reiterate that he couldn’t sell it to us; a shop that wouldn’t sell its wares. In the confusion we were led a little further along the road to what appeared to be a disused house.

Inside the shack our man looked around and eventually came up with a steel tray. It wasn’t big enough, but, amidst the noise and cries of some women in the cafe next door, he mimed that we could bash the edges down and unfold the lip and it would measure 59 centimetres. A perfect fit. The background wailing was still going on and getting a little rowdy, as our team found a lump hammer and a chisel and began panel beating the tray into a new back window. The twelve year old hanger on was a bit of a metal working prodigy as he showed the leaders easier ways of achieving their end. We emerged from the building and into the sunlight ready to begin measuring and cutting. It was only then that I looked to my left to see what the noise and crying was all about. The group of women were dressed in white, tears flowing down their cheeks and wailing like banshees, all were crouched over something that was obscured form my vision due to the low dividing fence. Two steps closer and the top line of a muslin wrapped corpse came into view. The same corpse we’d passed on the way in. I was just about to feel awful for all the noise we’d been making when the recommencement of the hammering began and I almost jumped out of my skin. It appeared that we all had things to do that morning.

With some carful measurements I drew and outline for the cut on the now flattened sheet of metal. The guy cut it fairly coarsely using what was essentially a ground anchored guillotine and then he whipped out the angle grinder. If the banging had been unnecessary for the funeral rites then the grinder was going to be a joy.

The window was fitted and then removed and re-ground a little here and then a little there before finally, fitting like a fine leather glove we thanked the team, handed over some Birr and departed for Gonder. The women still wailed; it was time for us to leave.

The road to Gonder was 100 kilomtres long. It was tarred and then it wasn’t, it was diverted and then it was restored. We reminded ourselves that some tar was better than none as we were suddenly distracted by a small boy spitting at Redvers as we passed. Things all appeared a little slow motion as we stared at him in the wing mirrors and the sudden realisation hit us. We stopped and turned, the boy had cattle, he couldn’t go far; I was going to brain him. I slipped the flip-flops off and popped the runners on and jumped out of the car sprinting across the ploughed field in pursuit of a small child. His screams of terror were joy to my ears as suddenly I realised some facts about the situation: the first was that I’d been sat in a car for the previous six months and was horrifically unfit, the second came moments later as I started wheezing, we were still at 2700 metres. The third and final nail in my already slowing coffin was that Ethiopians are born runners; I was out of my league.

Still he ran, still he squealed and still I slowed. As I reached the huts I was at a walk, hoping I appeared stately and composed rather than sweaty and screwed. I marched from bright daylight into the first pitch black hut, my initiative was lost as I was forced to say “Hello, is anyone there?” as my eyes adjusted and I saw a family staring at a crazed and sweaty Faranji. The boy must have run through the village, no one there understood English, and my mimes of stone throwing and spitting rendered only confused looks on the faces of my audience. I jogged back to the car, trying to look fit, and we sped away.

We arrived in Gonder and washed the filth from our bodies, fitted our new rear window and cleaned out seventeen kilograms of dust from the car locks. The castles of Gonder were our afternoon objective and we wandered over, acquired a guide and were shown around some very impressive castles that had been damaged first by the Italian invaders who on using them a s war rooms replastered them all and secondly by the British who decided to bomb the aforementioned Italians whilst they carried out their maintenance during the Second World War. It turned into a very relaxed afternoon, and we ate a kilo of shakla tibbs, (fried beef) a couple of cakes, a couple of freshly pressed juices, a pizza and a salad as well as having another Faranji/Habesha price discussion with our waitress. It was late when we returned but we’d need a good night’s rest, the following day we’d be entering Sudan.

Posted by ibeamish 00:43 Archived in Ethiopia

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