15 December 2007

Early this morning, we boarded our respective contract buses – some going north to Amhara, some going south to Oromiya – and headed out to our sites. As I have already written at length about the incredible ordeal of Ethiopian transportation, there is no need to relive those experiences here and now. As an exercise in laughing at myself, though, I feel I have to recount one incident from this most recent trip.

I was sitting on the next to last row of our Addis-to-Gonder bus, the last row being filled with our bags and miscellaneous items purchased from the capital. As we began the infamous descent into the Blue Nile Gorge and left the asphalt paving for the rough and painfully long stretch of gravel, a large shopping bag of mine, sitting on the seat behind me, toppled over in the consequent jostling. I turned around, kneeling on my seat, and leaned over the seat back to try to right the overturned bag and restore its contents. As I was in the process of doing so, however, the bus rolled over a particularly punishing patch of gravel. The back of the bus bounced wildly as the wheels hurtled over the rocks, and I bounced wildly with it. I was tossed upward, the back of my head slammed into the luggage rack above me, and then my face crashed into the back of my seat upon my landing. Blood poured from my nose. My head pounded, and my eyes watered from the pain and shock of the impact. After a cursory inspection found my nose unbroken and my skill still intact, though, it was the sort of thing I could only laugh at. My fellow PCVs sprang to my assistance, shoving precious toilet paper in my direction. (It was also a blessed coincidence that the row in front of me contained the three people on our bus with clinical experience.) Some offered to take pictures to capture the moment, but I politely declined. I knew the true extent my friends' love for me when the girls, half-jokingly, began offering tampons – an extremely rare commodity in Ethiopia – to stop the torrent of blood flowing from my nostrils. In the end, there was no permanent damage (apart from blood stains on my jeans that will hopefully come out with some vigorous scrubbing), and I earned a bit of Peace Corps immortality by being written into the chronicle we had been keeping of our ride:

7:42 AM – Departure from the hotel

7:53 AM – First stop

8:05 AM – Wrong turn in Addis Ababa Saturday morning merkato traffic

8:15 AM – Second stop

8:19 AM – Sideswiped a donkey

9:40 AM – Pulled over. Driver ticketed 40 birr for neglecting to wear a seatbelt.

9:42, 10:27, 10:58, and 11:16 AM – More stops. Reasons unknown.

11:27 AM – Entry into the gorge

11:49 AM – Violent bump in the unpaved road results in Smith's bloody nose. The gorge claims another victim.

The rest of the trip passed without major incident or injury until we arrived in Debremarkos, where the driver dropped KB and I at a random point along the road toward Bahirdar. The luggage men climbed up on top of the bus and began pointing out bags one-by-one in the large pile amassed from the 16 of us, asking if they belonged to KB and me. Growing tired of this tediously inefficient system, I climbed to the roof of the bus myself and began handing things down. Quite a crowd gathered to see the little blonde American girl throwing luggage around on top of an Ethiopian bus. By the time I got back down on the ground, at least twenty young Ethiopian men were waiting to offer their assistance in carrying things to my house – and to overcharge us afterward. At that point, KB's World Learning counterpart had arrived on the scene to help us, and he began excited negotiations with the gathered pack of males. I was so fed up with the traveling process and so ready to finally be settled in my house, that I strapped on my hiking backpack, shouldered a duffel on each side, picked up some shopping bags in my free hands, and began walking. We ended up shoving our luggage with KB in a bajaj (a little three-wheeled taxi, always painted blue) and sending it home, while I pedaled after on my sweet new ride: a bright green, Chinese-imported, Addis-purchased, 18-speed Alpine bicycle (wearing, of course, my required Peace Corps issued helmet). It was quite a homecoming.

No comments: