December 22nd

Today was the most difficult day Ive had so far this trip. In a country where sticks and stones speak louder than words, Arthur and I got some sticks to carry with us. I purchased my bamboo stick off a farmer and Arthur found his on the road. I had a number of people throw rocks at me. The first man I encountered before entering the town of Gebre Gurach, he was in his 20s. He picked up a large stone. I saw it in his arms and shook my head no. He smiled and threw it towards the back of my bike and thankfully missed me.  The second stone throwing encounter today occurred after summiting 3100m in elevation,  the highest elevation I’ve reached on bicycle so far this trip. A man on a hill was throwing large stones towards me on the highway.  I could see them flying through the air and watch as they hit the pavement and splintered into a bunch of pieces. I yelled angrily but he kept throwing them. I got off my bike as each shot was getting closer and I was worried a third shot might hit me. The man ran off. I have found that the Ethiopians act brave until you get off your bike and then you discover that most are cowards and run. I waved my stick several times and honked my horn to deter children and young adults from throwing stones throughout the day. I passed a school and had several dozen kids throw rocks all of them missed. I also had to stop to get one of my shoe cleats repaired. I didn’t have the right size, as the shoes use imperial size screws and I only carry a metric multi tool. Thankfully a nice man at a hardware shop in Degem Hambiso had the right size allen key and fixed my shoe free of charge. A large crowd formed around me as I was getting my shoes fixed. I had a hard time watching my bike and asked a local man to watch it for me. He was offended that I would suspect the town folk as potential thieves.  He pointed to a poster with a baby on it, then harassed me while continuing to point to the poster, insinuating I was a baby. Several other town folk jeered at me. When the nice mechanic was finished he kindly urged me to leave, I think he was concerned what the town people might do if I hung out too long. Just outside of town I had a bunch of children throw rocks. A few honks of my horn was effective in discouraging the children for long enough to distance myself from them. In Fiche, I met up with Tomas and Arthur and had vegetable and egg sandwiches for lunch. Thomas and Arthur had similar experiences over the day, I counted myself lucky to have avoided all the projectiles. Tomas was hit by one in the back.  The food was excellent. I was a bit frustrated but didnt have the energy to argue with the man when he charged me a price higher than the menu prices which he said were old.  While the day was difficult,   I did have a number of pleasant encounters with nice people. Upon climbing a hill a man stopped his pickup truck asked if I was o.k. and offered to take my bike in the back and drive me to Addis Ababa. This was my first encounter of this type with a truck driver in Ethiopia, it was a nice change. A nice kid also rode next to me on his bike through the town of Gebre Gurach in the morning. The prior two days had been pleasant with only one rock throwing incident and almost everyone waving and smiling. I was beginning to feel welcome. The sentiment changes very quickly from town to town. Its difficult for me to understand why teenagers and adults choose to throw rocks at us. It feels a bit like a power play as if they are saying you are at my mercy I have the ability to seriously hurt you. The children seem to think of it as a sort of game. With 40% of the population under 16 years old its sort of plays out like scenes from The Lord of the Flies. Children are largely unsupervised and need to find ways to entertain themselves. It also seems like the parents are largely outnumbered and enforce discipline by chasing the kids while wielding sticks or by threatening to throw rocks. This reinforces the behavior and turns the rock throwing into a sort of attention grabbing game for the children. As for the begging for money and pens … I have come to believe it is likely a behavior learned from NGOs that came in the 90s and introduced the idea that white people are here to give free handouts of food money or stationary items. Regardless, I’ve met a number of very nice people that wave and say welcome,  yet I cant help but observe the glares I receive and undercurrents of resentment and hatred towards me as an outsider. Today I felt unwelcome and at times unsafe. The day ended in Muketuri. Upon entering the town there was one last hurdle to face. A man was in the middle of the road waving a stick and obviously wanted me to stop. I’m not sure what he wanted as he was speaking in Amharic. He might have just wanted to say hello. However at this point I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I had some saddle sores that had been bothering me for the last few kilometers and I just wanted to finish the day. I grabbed my stick, which was readily available on my handlebars, and was fully ready to whack the man if he didn’t get out of my way. Thankfully he got the message and understood my intent. He moved out of my way and I made it to the hotel.


Leave a Reply