The big fasting season in Ethiopia begins on Monday, 12th February. To the Ethiopian Orthodox Hudadi is the longest fast they undergo and involves a vigorous schedule of prayers and penitence. It is a test of spiritual strength and resolve. If it is properly observed it is believed to nullify any sins committed during the rest of the year.
“Confusion Junction” was one of the highlights of our first foray into Addis Ababa in 2007. An area the size of a football pitch covered in rubble, craters and an old railway line and fed by half a dozen major roads, you and hundreds of others simply had to drive into the middle and try to work out which exit you needed. Fortunately the line of 43 huge grain silos built in 1954 (but out of use for the last 23 years) form a notable local landmark, and, as confusing as it was, getting lost was a rarity. It changed constantly, as major construction was underway.
This is the second time I have had my finger prints taken since I’ve been in Ethiopia and I don’t think it will be the last (apparently one needs them done again for a final exit visa – yes, they want your fingerprints before letting you out of Ethiopia permanently). This time it is because my work permit is now managed directly by Bingham rather than SIM.
A relatively basic vehicle is a bonus when driving in Addis - fewer things to go wrong and be unrepairable. My basic brown (sorry, “Sahara Gold”) Ford Ranger is ideal, but is still a bit advanced by Ethiopian standards – it has central locking and air conditioning. Other than that, it’s entirely manual. Which is why when I arrive at the Sixt car hire depot in Heathrow airport and they give me an “upgrade”, this time to a 2017 Jaguar XE saloon, working out how to drive the thing is such a struggle. Just moving the driver’s seat forward needed an instruction book.
It was all very dull and uninteresting. In fact the most interesting thing was this big blue sign that faced me as I struggled up the stairs to the seventh floor of the offices of the “Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority of Ethiopia”. Fikre had picked me up from HQ that morning, we had parked in all the chaos outside, and we were in here again to try to renew my clinic licence for another year. It really doesn’t feel like a year ago that we last did this. As on previous occasions, I was anticipating much bloggable fun.
My stomach is feeling full as I write this post. Phil and I have just returned from visiting Lemma who owns ‘Big Home Academy’ - a school outside Addis in Oromia. In the middle of the afternoon he had kindly entertained us to a meal of white rice and grated carrot accompanied by bread and a bottle of Sprite. We had been to see for ourselves the progress that has been made with his ‘Well Project’, as we had heard that already they are drawing clean water.
“I’ll help you renew your driver’s licence” announced Haile, as we bounced through some pot-holes on our way home last week. A motorcyclist wearing a tee-shirt and no helmet with a traffic policeman riding pillion also with no helmet snaked past us through the progressively more congested traffic. We were soon stationary at the infamous Tor Hailoch roundabout. I handed Haile my licence. “Hmm” he mused, “not for five weeks. We will go after three weeks.”
The joy expressed by our four young girls, new to Y’tesfa Birhan this year, is palpable. They ooze excitement and anticipation as soon as the school gate is opened, and they have a seemingly unending capacity for spending time on our Grade Two playground. The dynamic of the whole group of 25 girls has evolved as older girls have left and five and six-year olds have joined. This week their eyes widened as they were invited to choose a pair of donated shoes and a water bottle and they were soon involved in a careful selection process.
Co-habiting with a lot of insects and creepy-crawlies is a fact of life in the tropics, even up here in Addis at a height of 2,300 metres. Judging by our comparative bug-bite number, I’m a tastier morsel than Chris as far as mosquitoes are concerned, and it is one such evil black mosquito that’s currently “zizzing” around my left ear in the middle of the night.