31 December 2009

3. - 31 DEC: Addis Abeba to Dessie

Early start from Addis and we hit the road with our van. The road out of the city is in pretty good shape, brand new asphalt just built by the Chinese in exchange for concessione to extract raw materials. I can see some Chinese team leaders directing the work of Ethiopian workers at several road contruction sites. Looks like this is the first time since the Italian occupation someone is doing something to the roads.

In fact the road we are taking is still called "la strada degli italiani" (the Italians' road) and it is the only one connecting the major cities of the haut plateau, a huge ring all the way to the Eritrean border at Axum. At one point we enter a tunnel, neatly dug in the mountain and to my surprise, when we get out of it at the other end, there is still there, majestically, the name "Mussolini" carved on the top. The famous "Mussolini tunnel", to this day the only one built to shorten the treacherous route up and down the steep slopes of the mountains.

Along the way we stop at various road markets. Pretty much every staple is for sale, with a large presence of coal traders, clearly the fuel of choice for the better off locals who can do away with dung and wood. Lots of chicken, onions, khat, and a local liquor sold in fuel tanks (or by the bottle, or by the glass, or whatever vessel one can produce). Uncharacteristically for a Christian population, most women have their heads covered.

At one point we run into a school right at the time when classed end and the children go home. They, of course, take great interest in my camera and rush to pose! It takes some effort to keep them at a good distance to start shooting! The school's infrastructure looks fairly basic, but all children have a proper uniform and seem to be rather clean and in quite good health. Good to see...

In another village we are welcome to visit  a tukul, the typical Ethiopian mud brick house where everything happens every day. A farmer is threshing weat with the help of a couple of oxen, while the ladies are tending the laundry an a few children (these ones, it seems, do not go to school) are playing around. Piles of dung bricks lie around waiting to be burned for cooking and heating.

It's a busy road, and the most commong means of transportation is a small cart with fat tires and pulled by a single horse. Dromedaries are used mostly for  carrying goods, we passed a large convoy of the animals transporting cotton on the highway.

We start climbing up the mountain and the temperature drops. Various ambas can be seen in the distance and the valleys are sometimes covered by thick clouds. Come sunset we pass by a family tending to their grazing sheep, the girls mind the animals while armed men stand guard. They are all friendly and don't mind posing for me, in fact they seem to like it. I just made sure before I started clicking away at men with AK-47s around their shoulders!

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