Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Friends in Bahir Dar

Gondar's African castle long forgotten, we jumped on the minibus to Bahir Dar. Six hours and a numb bum later, we reached this delightful town. Lined with palm trees and at the foot of the tranquil Lake Tana, we were happy to be there and ready to rest. As soon as we stepped off the bus a new friend awaited us! Abebe was his name and he was to be our favourite character so far. He happened to work at the hotel we stayed at - a clean, restful place - and we liked him instantly.

Abebe showed us our hotel. We ate some traditional Ethiopian food (a large pancake, a pot of sauce), both of us sitting on the fence of whether we liked it or not. For me this fence was a pernament feature of Ethiopian cuisine - apart from its strong, bitter sometimes chocolately coffee. Breakfast the next day was wonderful dark coffee and an enormous doughnut. Ethiopian coffee after the Middle East's long trail of instant Nescafe is like cold water in the desert! My coffee desires are quenched! The doughnut, however, was the last in a long line of dense, white-bread food devoured and my stomach was fed up. I spent the morning in bouts of pain as everything inside me squidged together and refused to be deposited. Devouring a few bananas and some local laxatives, relief came.

In Gondar, when we had been giving out bread, we came across one boy who didn't have the use of his legs and we saw him crawling around with his face staring at the dirty pavement a few inches below. When I gave him some bread, he looked up and made a circular signal with his hands - I thought he was saying thanks, but our Ethiopian friend said he was asking for a wheelchair. It had been heartbreaking enough seeing him drag himself around, and now, knowing no better than to just ask, he looked to me to lift him up. As a westerner he obviously thought that I was able to do something about it where others couldn't. I had just smiled at him sadly, thinking that we only had an hour before the bus left & it was impossible, but it stayed with me. Now in Bahir Dar, I asked Abebe tentitively if it was possible to buy wheelchairs. We ended up spending the whole day, with Abebe as our constant companion, walking around asking people and waiting for meetings that got postponed. At the end of the day, we had a price, but it would only be available the next day & we were leaving early.

It turned out he was a childhood friend of the guy in Gondar & he offered to buy it and take it there on the bus himself and find the boy with his friend. So we decided to trust Abebe & gave him the money for the wheelchair, plus money for transportation & asked him to take photos of the boy once he had it. The ending to the story is bittersweet. The boy did get the wheelchair and we have many photos that show how joyful he is with it. It is wonderful to think of him being able to look people in the eye as he moves around town. The sad part is that Abebe's bus crashed on the way back - nothing fatal, but Abebe did get quite injured - enough to need hospital treatment that he can't afford. We are going to pay for his hospital fees and we are still working out how best to do this.

It is probably worth going back to the unpleasant details of my bowels, since they shape the rest of our time in Bahir Dar. For some the following will contain more detail than desired. If this is you, bear in mind that some of our friends would appreciate even more information on the matter than I will give. After a day's running around with Abebe, we sank into bed tired - me particularly, as the doughnut had exhausted me that morning. About 2am, I woke in incredible pain. It turns out the relief I had experienced was probably not the laxatives but the natural blessing of bananas. I say this because the laxatives kicked in now. My stomach was so cramped I was crying out in pain, and spent the following couple of hours running up and down the corridor visiting the loo. Not a highlight of the trip. The thought of getting up in two hours at 5am to catch our planned 12-hour bus to Addis Ababa brought me to tears. Nick - the man - was keen to catch it. A good amount of crying helped him see that perhaps I was not in agreement. Finally my stomach relented and I fell asleep.

And so another unplanned day in Bahir Dar. I felt as if all my energy had drained out of me and was not in a rush to return. As a treat we booked into the best hotel in town, an Ethiopian place on the banks of Lake Tana. It had spacious turquoise rooms and a bath. The garden led to the water and tropical golden birds fluttered between palm trees - we were slightly obsessed with them and took endless photos. We began to relax. A boat glided us towards an island, home of a 12th century monastery. Despite ancient art and a sweet priest, it was too dark to see much and most of it was deemed 'the holies of holies' - only for the priest to enter. Nick particularly found this heart-breaking, as we both are so excited about us all being wonderfully equal in Christ - all able to receive his amazing gifts! Much more invigorating was a coffee hut we stumbled upon. I saw the coffee tree, the beans being roasted, and then the crushed conclusion. We sipped the dark, rich coffee from little pots and it tasted wonderful. Incense floated into the air - in these common Ethiopian 'coffee ceremonies' incense and coffee seem to be interwoven. It was beautiful to see something I love being grown so sustainably. I am forever challenged on the worldwide circulation of coffee and it was a delight to drink it from a gentle little tree a few meters away!

Our guide - who I think was called Alex, we meet so many people - told us his story. He was a Christian with a living relationship with Jesus, which the Ethiopian's call 'protestants'. He explained that the 'Orthodox Christians' hate the 'protestants' and if he ever spoke out he would be persecuted. He also seemed to get a hard time from the other guides lurking around the water. When we had boarded, one guide had shouted at him in Aramaic for guiding us. As we debarked the boat at sunset, we paid him 100birr. We left him surrounded by the other guides for a moment, as we enjoyed the powerful blue grey clouds sweeping over the lake, an African eagle soaring over towering trees. He caught us up. After a bit of probing, he told us they bullied him. In his pocket he had only 40birr left. Because he was an orphan, he told us, he was vulnerable. He had no family to fight his battles. How can we help this young man? If we tell the hotel, the other guides will beat him. Giving him an abundance of money does not seem to be the answer. Another story, another set of new questions. I'm sure the answer is not to detach and close down our hearts. Creativity is needed - and many hearts, many hearts who will reach out to the poor with their own time and support them.

My tummy had healed and my exhuastion had healed. We set our alarm for 3.20am. The bus to Addis Ababa was on. We were ready for the road again... At least a little more ready.


  1. oh wow, you guys, I am in awe. i have just read all three of your recent posts and am so touched by your constant willingness to kneel and not harden to the needs around you. i love it. you guys are paving the way, breaking up the hard ground and bringing refreshment and life giving water wherever you go. yes, yes, yes, I can just see it. thank you so much for sharing all that you have. very blessed. loads of love, charl xxx

  2. Just brilliant you guys. I love reading these blogs! So great to hear that you are well, apart from a few digestion issues! Bless you for staying soft and having a heart of compassion. Keep Believing.
    Any news about Moz and Iris?
    Love you guys
    Rols xxx

  3. Absolutely every single aspect of life in these blogs I love it its just great! Hard questions too...thank you for asking them. Love Mum xxx

  4. Dear Lears,
    Thank goodness you finally got round to the amusing bowel stories. No one wants to hear about buses when there's bowels on offer.
    I hear you've had a bad time in Tanzania - or at least a bit of it was bad. On the plus side, I found that when I was having a bad time more people read my blog. So keep checking your hits.
    Cousinly love,