It is Sunday afternoon, and I am sitting in the living room of my new Ethiopian house in Debremarkos. KB is napping, our supervisors have gone home for the day, the stores are closed, and my landlady insists that I must not go walking on my own…so I will take this time to recount yesterday’s travels, a task that was far too daunting last night in my wearied state.
We arrived at the bus station in
Eventually, we heard our call: “MarkosMarkosMarkos!” At that cue, the three supervisors sprang into action, rushing in the direction of the beckoning voice. Shoving, grabbing, and all other manner of minor scuffling broke out as people fought for position in the semblance of a line that began to form. Our prizefighter, my towering giant, was sent into the fray. After an initial push to breach the perimeter, the scrambling mass swallowed him. For some time, we caught only glimpses of the silvery top of his head, but then our champion emerged victorious with six tickets. Having finally secured the right to enter the bus, we began the next ordeal of actually boarding. Our supervisors entered into heated negotiations with the luggage men over the fee for loading our mountain of unwieldy baggage. Not for the first time, I wondered if our future colleagues were beginning to thing that this whole Peace Corps volunteer thing was proving more trouble than it was worth. After a lengthy exchange – our supervisors repeatedly lifting my metal box (containing a pillow and an empty plastic bucket) to demonstrate its lightness, and the luggage men thumping KB’s (packed full) to indicate its cumbersome weight – the price was settled at 120 Ethiopian birr (about US$13). One by one, our massive bags and boxes ascended the metal ladder to the roof of the bus, perched precariously (and, I regret to say, probably rather painfully) on the neck and shoulders of the luggage men.
Once we were all seated on the bus – three Ch/Kristens to one bench seat – a new uproar arose when the passengers, having now had time to examine their tickets more closely, realized that they had each been overcharged by 15 birr. The whole crowded bus erupted into noise. Indignant passengers demanded change. The hassled ticket taker fetched some sort of managing authority figure, and arguments commenced in earnest. The engine was turned off. The power of the angry mob eventually prevailed, though, and the green-jacketted money man was forced to make his way slowly down the aisle, distributing birr to each of the bus’s 60 passengers.
The engines were restarted, and the bus finally lurched forward, leaving a cloud of rancid black exhaust in its wake. Passengers bought newspapers, tissues, and snacks through the windows from vendors running alongside the moving vehicle. We maneuvered our way through a now greatly depleted sea of waiting people, to the station gate, and out onto the main road. We were on our way.
The trip to Debremarkos was long and trying. We had laughed when the bus made its first pit stop just outside Addis, about 20 minutes into its journey. We were no longer laughing when, three hours later, bladders full and stomachs empty, we were told that the second stop would not be made until after we had passed through the Blue Nile Gorge stretching in front of us – a feat which, in and of itself, takes two to three hours by public bus. The Blue Nile Gorge is beautiful, cutting through the rugged Ethiopian terrain like a wide and verdant
Our large public bus, with its 60 passengers and our 240 pounds of luggage, rattled its way safely across the bridge and began its ascent out of the gorge. If the way down was slow, the way up was excruciating. Once out, though, the bus made its way without incident. We finally made our long-sought stop in the town of