26th March 2012
25.03.2012 - 26.03.2012 32 °C
The sweet tones of our ten dollar mobile phone rang a pre-dawn chorus and roused us all too suddenly from what had been a fair night’s slumber. It was five thirty and it was still very dark.
There was a chill in the air that we hadn’t been used to around those parts and we chose not to shower. This decision was reinforced by the fact that when my forehead had accidentally touched the shower head the previous evening, my vision had shot rapid pages of white then black as the alternating current fiddled with my synapses. By six o’clock it was still dark but the sky had begun to lighten as we bade farewell to Clare and readied ourselves for the trip to the border.
The canvas covered vinyl seats creaked beneath our bottoms as we nestled in to them and the day slowly began to arrive above the hills surrounding Marsabit. The ignition key clicked once and the current began silently flowing, warming the glow plugs and readying Redvers. Two more clicks and that ‘ole deep throat grumble came to life. White knuckles gripped the cold steering wheel as Redvers slipped through the gates of a sleepy hotel in a waking town. Out on the road the wheels began what would be a relentless and fruitless search for forgiving ground having to force every inch forward through a wall of gravel and corrugations; no inch would be easy. The gears slipped smoothly from first into second as the grumble lightened and Redvers began to stride. Up into third and the wheels began to rise from the gravel, into forth and Redvers himself rose, no longer forcing his way through the gravel, now only sailing; three and a half metric tonnes of metal, hippo and human flesh floating over the abrasive river of stone beneath them. On the stereo, Bill Withers was holding onto notes indefinitely as we glided past craters with seas of green at their depth. The orange sun had broached the hills in the east and was casting its warm glow on the cold earth. Men wearing rifles and very little else cowered as they walked, shielding their faces from the dust with what little cloth they wore. There would be no time for pleasantries, no respectful slowing as we passed pedestrians, no stopping to say hello; only a brief wave before Redvers and his trail of dust engulfed any who walked the same road. And so it continued for five hours. We passed caravans of camels, endless rows of cattle and huge herds of goats; there were many armed individuals, none of which cared more than to wave a friendly hello or send a half hearted request for water in our direction. The dry scrubland passed by us and the sun climbed high; cold turned to hot as kilometre after kilometre flashed by.
Redvers had dealt with the road admirably; the road surface had improved dramatically during the second half of our day. We were only forty kilometres from the border as we slowed a little on entering a small Burana village. Redvers shimmied and we felt bumps that weren’t there. We broke hard as the back end suddenly dropped down. A harsh grinding noise rose up and a wheel, our wheel, went flying past the passenger window, bouncing off the ground and careering into the a thick acacia bush. We came to a stop.
We got out of the car and saw a thirty metre excoriation in the red earth where Redvers had dug his wheel-less brake disc into the ground. I picked my way through the scrub to retrieve the stray wheel that had become lodged firmly amongst the thorns. The tyre was good; the wheel was superficially damaged but seemed OK.
How the hell had it happened? It was the same wheel I’d so anally tightened the nuts on one day previous. If I hadn’t have been so pernickety about the correct torque setting I’d have called myself an idiot for not tightening the damned things. Anyway the wheels were actually falling off this was definitely another notch up the problem ladder. We needed another plan. With wheels flying into bushes and white men chasing after them through the thorns wearing only flip-flops and shorts we’d generated a fair amount of attention. The customary crowds were beginning to mass as we set up the jack to inspect the damage. The ground had worn a hole through the steel of the brake disc guard and the remaining metal had wrapped itself tightly around the disc. The disc itself had only superficial damage. The shock, oh another damned shock, had bent a little whilst trying to stop a three tonne vehicle literally in its tracks and the wheel bolts seemed fine but the nuts were nowhere to be seen. The crowd had already formed around us and with our rural location, there wasn’t a lot of English to be spoken. Laura hauled out the tools and as I tried to use them they were swiped from my hands. But it was no Mozambique; it was to be a lesson in kind heartedness. Every man had something to say, each trying to communicate with us even though language was lacking (on our part more than theirs.) I wasn’t allowed to jack, the hammer to beat the brake guard back into shape was taken from me. The guys didn’t just want to help, they were going to help. Eventually, with a ‘two heads are better than one’ approach we worked out how to remove the mangled brake guard, we took off the bent shock and hammered it back into shape. Whilst we finished off refitting a new wheel and a re-worked shock, Laura went for a walk with a local teacher, who spoke excellent English, in search of the missing nuts. They found four of the five and each had their outer most threads sheared inside them. We were still confused but a post mortem could take place later. As thoughts of reward passed through our heads, we recalled Mozambique and the problems that had resulted from attempted generosity in a crowd. Handshakes, heartfelt thanks and smiles besotted with eyes full of warm friendship would be the reward. The smiles that came back to us told us that would be all that was needed. Yet again we were back on the move.
We made Moyale not long after two o’clock. We found a cafe for a late lunch and after a short wait passed through Kenyan customs. The Ethiopian customs involved sitting in a large fairly empty room whilst a huge man dressed immaculately in smart suit trousers, highly polished loafers and a pristine, perfectly ironed, high collared white shirt unbuttoned from the neck to a point half way between his nipples and his belly button, switched leads between several computers and generally appeared a little confused at what was happening. Eventually he squared us away and we crossed the road to customs. They issued a vehicle permission form, for no charge, and it only took half a look through the back door to realise that Redvers wasn’t worth a full inspection. Goodbye Kenya, hello Ethiopia.
We pulled into the Koket Borena hotel and I began to have another look at the damage whilst I was still filthy. The shock still needed a little more attention and so I started to work. I would be assisted again, by a short Ethiopian chap who was generally a complete hindrance. He spoke no English, he took my tools from me and then made the situation worse, repeatedly endangering us both beneath a car supported only by two jacks. Biting my tongue I avoided losing my patience until finally, with the job done I offered him a beer as compensation. He didn’t want beer though. He pointed at his dirty clothes, at his dirty hands and mimicked the international ‘rubbing together of fingers’ sign for money. He’d been useless for 90 percent of the time but I did feel sorry for him and so I gave him 50birr (two quid.) He got angry and asked for more. I got angry and told him that I was grateful for his help but it was now definitely time for him to piss off.
Whilst I’d been beneath Redvers, I’d noticed, as boyfriends are prone to, a well dressed man speaking to Laura. His name was Biruk and he was a tour guide. The fact that he was only approaching us an hour and a half after we’d entered meant he was a clever one at that; he’d waited until we’d settled in.
He was offering guided tours of South West Ethiopia. We were on a budget but more important we were busy. He suggested that he should return later, or, if we liked, he would have us over for a traditional coffee at his house and if we approved of that he could serve us dinner. We accepted and arranged to meet him at six.
With the car finished for now, we settled in to a Saint George beer before Biruk collected us and escorted us to his home. We met his wife briefly as she left for church and for the next hour and a half we drank some fantastic coffee, met his daughters Elsa and Hannah, both of whom were truly adorable, but Hannah especially so; she climbed over us, giggling softly and toying with our Faranji (Ethiopian for Mazungu or white man) hair whilst we looked through photos of Biruk’s previous tourist trips. We liked Biruk, he seemed honest; we also liked what we saw but were busy trying to work out whether or not visiting the tribes of South Omo would actually be a pleasurable experience. Our guide book had laid out the terms of engagement for us with tourist fees per tribe, village fees, ceremony fees and fees per photograph when photographing tribesmen and women. It would be an interesting trip but would probably be painful a one. We agreed that we didn’t want to miss it and we arranged to leave the following morning,
We chose to walk back through town, it was dark but it was nice to be soaking up the atmosphere of another culture. A culture that failed to shine through the voice of a young boy sat with his friends across the road; they were sat beneath a shady tree on an already dark night and his voice rang clear, “Fuck you, you sons of a bitch!”