Big Cats and Public Holidays
Unlike many African countries Ethiopia doesn’t have a lot in the way of big animals to see. There are some elephants and giraffe if you go looking but nowhere near Addis and not in great numbers. We’ve come across monkeys and baboons quite often, and the city attracts some hyenas (reputed to bite people sleeping on the streets in the night). But last weekend we were privileged to see a pair of Abyssinian lions. These magnificent beasts, with much darker manes than those sported by the lions we saw in Kenya, were rescued from very poor conditions by the Born Free Foundation (I bet at least some of you reading this just burst into song…) that has a base 20 km out of the city conveniently over on our side. So when Daniel came and told us he had arranged to go to visit “Born Free” and would we like to go with him we jumped at the chance. Accompanied by a Networking Security Expert from a US military base in Djibouti (don’t ask) the four of us headed off in my little Toyota confident we didn’t need a four wheel drive vehicle as “Born Free” is by the road just out west from here. A couple of kilometres past the town of Menagesha we found it. The entrance gate (and armed guards) were a short drive off the road – across a ditch and up a steep rocky bank. I was hugely tempted to give it a go, but the possibility of severely embarrassing myself (not to mention damaging my Toyota) with a Networking Security Expert from a US military base in Djibouti in the back was just too much to handle, so I continued up the road another kilometre when we found a road we could actually drive down. I say road – it was pretty rocky in places and at one point I thought I’d done something awful to the underneath of my little Toyota as there was a horrible crunch. Fortunately little Toyotas (or is it “Toyotae…?) are made of strong stuff and we survived to drive another day. The rescued animals are kept in good conditions in large enclosures scattered throughout some lovely countryside on a hillside with great views (in case you haven’t realised it yet, Addis is surrounded by mountains). This is not a place you can just turn up, pay an entrance fee, and prowl around on your own. Daniel had pre-arranged it and we were only allowed to number four people. We were met by a young enthusiastic keeper who spoke excellent English and guided us around. There was no entrance fee, and there were very few people to be seen at all – mostly the Ethiopian staff who work there. Cheetahs, baboons, some other monkeys and several lions were on show. The two Abyssinian lion twins were the highlight. Wild animals are encouraged to live in the large sprawling compound, and we saw a small herd of warthogs through the trees. I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t all stick their tails in the air like radio aerials as they ran off. Daniel was slightly disappointed not to have been able to give the cheetahs a scratch like the keeper chappie did – see the short video. It was a great visit, and I’ve been humming the “Born Free” tune ever since.
There are 13 public holidays each year in Ethiopia. Sometimes when they occur depends on the phases of the moon; sometimes they are fixed. Sometimes people don’t seem to know when they are or why. Last Thursday (May 1st) was Labour Day and both the school and clinic closed. In the absence of Internet and running water at Bingham Chris and I headed off to the little island of western peace that is the Hilton Hotel where we planned to swim, shower and get some Internet, as well as a decent burger. Back to work on Friday but it was still unclear if anyone knew what “Patriot’s Victory Day” was that was supposed to be another public holiday on Monday May 5th. In the course of Friday my staff eventually decided Monday was definitely a holiday (although none can tell me why), so the appointments booked for that day were slowly cancelled and rearranged. Wikipedia tells me (so it must be right) that this is commemorating the folks who resisted the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941. So every year we are here Chris’s birthday is a public holiday. The next holiday this year is May 28th which is the “Downfall of the Derg” day. If you want to know what that’s all about Wikipedia will tell you – it’s about communism.
We keep meeting extraordinary people. At church the other week Chris and I met Alula. Alula is a cheerful, chatty elderly Ethiopian who attends the same Bible Study as us, between the morning services on Sundays. He told us his story. For most of his life Alula had no real Christian faith, although he went through the motions at the Orthodox Church. Alula’s wife was a Christian, and she prayed for Alula faithfully and consistently for 27 years. Four years ago to his wife’s great joy he found his own faith and began attending IEC. Two years later she died. We expressed sorrow – after all she’d prayed for him for 27 years and had only survived with him for two years after he came to faith. With a big smile Alula said to us, “Why should I be sad? She’s with Jesus now. Mission accomplished”.