It’s raining, but it shouldn’t be. For a couple of weeks now cloud and thunderstorms have been more common that the expected clear blue skies. Locals tell us it’s odd – the month of “Ginbot” (9th in the Ethiopian calendar) should be hot and sunny before the rainy season sets in, but this year the weather’s not behaving. While England basks in warm sunshine, we need umbrellas and coats. It’s all wrong – this is Africa after all.
“Give me all your money!” demanded the scruffy young boy, holding out his hand whilst flapping it in the way beggars here always do. This request came my way while we were out and about in the countryside several months ago – a common demand, although since being here I’ve not previously been asked quite so directly. He was clearly very poor, but I had to explain to him that I had no money on me (which I hadn’t) and he slunk off disconsolately. Usually the demand is just “Money! Money!”, and our white faces make us targets - often when in more remote areas; less so in Addis where being white is not quite so unusual.
The “International Sunday” service was in full swing. We’d sung in several languages; the Dutch choir had done their thing; over 50 nationalities had been counted. A hush fell over the buzzing auditorium as Pastor Jerry went to the stage to preach, but first, he said, there was something we needed to pray for.
“I’ll turn left here then,” Phil said as he manoeuvred the car down a narrow street. I consulted my instructions again. “There should be a hill, but this is flat,” I observed despondently. With no addresses in Addis, descriptions and landmarks are used to locate any specific point of interest that you want to visit. On this occasion it was a hairdresser that had been recommended to me, and I was keen to try.
“This is the complete opposite of Addis” observed Chris, as the Chobe river gurgled gently past the sides of our electrically powered boat. The young woman who was our guide for the next two days, endearingly named Slodge (I once accidentally called her “Splodge”), was skilfully navigating us towards a distant herd of elephants walking along the river bank.
He had a habit of doing this. Time management and planning ahead have different meanings in Ethiopia, and Dr Mesghina’s skills were finely honed. He jumped up at the end of one of our meetings last October, headed to the front and announced that our group would be having a weekend retreat before Christmas and that “Dr Phil will be doing the talks”. This was the first anyone – the group, the leadership and especially Dr Phil – had heard of this plan.
Georg Hegel, a German philosopher who died in 1831, 65 years before the events that shaped last week for us, once said “We learn from History that people learn nothing from History.” [i] I don’t think Italian governments and armed forces read much Hegel. In 1936 the Italians occupied Ethiopia, but were defeated and evicted from the country in 1941 by Ethiopian forces assisted by several other countries including the British, under General Orde Wingate.