Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ethiopia Day Four-- Jumping the Fire

The medical clinics in Bora were completed the prior day, and my night's sleep had come without a massive throbbing headache like I'd awakened to the prior morning -- I guess making an improvised pillow out of my camp and airplane travel pillows worked.

We rose a little later this morning, knowing we had a taxing walk back to Chencha. Then the worst news of the day -- though we would drive through Arba Minch that day, there would be no showers.

This is a good opportunity to comment on bathroom arrangements, in general. As you might suspect, the ferengi (foreigners) could not have anything to do with locally sourced water. Most water used by the people of Bora came out of streams, which were contaminated by feces both animal and human. Water was the perfect source for parasites and other potential infective agents. So we used bottled water brought to Bora from Addis Ababa. There could be no showers, despite the hard labor and sweat of climbing up and down the side of the mountains. The best I could manage was a partial wipe-down using a bandana and a little bottled water inside my dirt-floored hut. Similarly, toothbrushing required light use of bottled water.

Toileting was a completely separate matter. There was a pit dug for bathroom needs behind the church (horrific smell!), or there was the false banana grove, which was a B-Y-O-TP affair. All of us had to figure out a way to come to grips with this primitive aspect of the trip, as holding it for three days, particularly given the physical nature of the hikes, wasn't an option.

After tearful goodbyes at the chief's hut, we climbed the mountain back to the church. From here, we first walked to the future medical clinic's site, and then another half mile further along the spine of the mountain. There, opening up before us, was a view of the Great Rift Valley -- both Abeyo and Chamo lakes in the distance, separated by a strip of land known as "God's bridge". It was beautiful and a fitting goodbye for Bora. After a few minutes watching, we returned to the church and began the long march back to Chencha.

The hike out was difficult, but the net elevation change was down, and it wasn't as tough as getting there three days ago had been. At one point one of my companions, laboring to trudge up a long slope, looked over to see a young girl laughing at him. She then proceeded to press a handful of beans into his hand, as if saying: "you need these more than I do". It might have been the only thing she had to eat that morning, or perhaps even all day. The incident just brought home again the generosity of these people -- they had almost nothing, yet they readily shared that little with a stranger.

Once we reached Chencha, I sat on a terrace with about half the hikers, drinking a coke while we waited for the slower team members. An old man kept trying to approach, and the proprietor of the shop became increasingly aggressive in his attempts to send the old beggar on his way. I'd found the hard-scrabbled aspect to Chencha I'd missed when we'd been here three days earlier. By the time we were loaded into the vans, we'd attracted an uncomfortable crowd of people. But before anything could happen, we were on the road to Arba Minch.

If I'd hoped to linger in Arba Minch, I was to be disappointed. We simply picked up a local guide, and then proceeded to Lake Chamo. Our team loaded into two steel-hulled boats with 15 and 25 horsepower outboards, and we motored out into the lake to see Hippos and Crocodiles. The viewing of the animals was incredible. Although we kept a respectful distance from the Hippos, there was more than one occasion where I could have reached over the side of the boat and touched the back of one of the Crocs. The highlight of the tour was seeing one particularly huge crocodile lounging on the shore with his jaws agape -- I thought it's head looked like that of a T-Rex. The guide said this one was about 23 feet long, but there was a 34 foot monster they encountered sometimes!

Back from the boats, we again headed into the mountains to the village of Dhorze, and night at its "cultural village" -- the tourist version of the real experience we'd just had at Bora. The cultural village was a collection of two bed huts (with real beds and everything) run by two partners who were Rastafarians. I won't even try to describe the Rasta movement/religion other than to say it includes dreads and Bob Marley music. I kept hearing "Rasta-man never die!" and various other calls and chants all the time we were there. We all congregated in the main building where I was introduced to Tej (Ethiopian honeyed wine), and we had a large dinner.

Soon after eating, we went outside with our chairs to a large bonfire, where we were entertained by native dances and music. First the dance troop performed for us, and then eventually dragged each of us out around the fire, put a leopard "skin" around on necks and handed us a spear. Then we danced. I hope there is no permanent record of my dancing efforts!

After dancing came the fire jumping -- the dancers first built up the fire, then dramatically leaped it's flames. One Rasta-man who appeared to have over-enjoyed his Tej, was particularly animated. When he jumped the fire and staggered into the wall of the compound of the far side, I thought he should have considered himself lucky. But instead, he backed up for another attempt and...landed directly in the fire! After an instant, he sprang out of the embers, slapping his clothes and hair. Apparently he suffered no injury, other than a hole in his shirt and the smoldering dreads.

"Rasta-man never die! But sometimes he gets burned a little," Dan shouted. It was the funniest thing I'd heard all day.

Soon afterward, I turned in -- allegedly, we had a long day ahead of us the next day (compared to what?, I wondered), and I wanted to start fairly well rested. I thought about the four different worlds I'd experienced just that day -- beautiful Bora, hard-scrabbled Chencha, the lake leviathans, and the wierd Rasta hybrid of Dhorze. I was finally starting to get this country, and that had me a little concerned.

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