04 January 2010

7. - 4 JAN: Mek'ele to Adigrat

Another early start from the hotel, with a new structure being built just at its side. Cane scaffolding hides what is probably a new annex, this bustling city, the largest in Northern Ethiopia, is obviously growing fast and attracting international business.

As we head out of town the sun rises over the brand new road that winds up the ambas. La strada degli italiani has already been re-done here, by the Chinese! We stop at a lively roadside market. Plenty of vegetables and live animals are on sale as well as lots of salt. I get the impression of a thriving economic life. I am invited by some young kids to play pool in a brick building. They are playing the 5-pin "Italian" game and have a jolly good time! As I leave before I have time to finish a game, I buy some tasty roasted peanuts from a kid by the road.

After a while we stop at Abraha Atsbeha church, with its magnificent frescoes. A very serene place. A young priest is rather cooperative and poses for me in different locations, holding various items of religious paraphernalia in his hands. Impressive paintings have been restored, sometimes a bit haphazardly.

As we leave we pass by one of many farms along the road, with two sets of four cows threshing barley in a circle. It's a sunny, dry and pleasant afternoon.

A few kilometers down the road to Adigrat we stop at a roadside elementary school by the town of Wukro. Like much of what We have encountered in this trip, the school is fairly poor but organized in its own way and rather clean. It actually looks smart.  On the outside walls some graffiti explain the human body. Another, rather funny one, shows the various phases of a worm's metamorphosis into a butterfly. Inside, pupils, much like pupils everywhere, take turns at the blackboard as the teacher asks her questions. Copybooks are full of notes and drawings. Some classes are singing and one actually greets me in English, with all students chanting "hello how are you?" in unison.

In the evening, just before sunset, we stop at a roadside cafe for a drink. The low sun disk projects on the sleek road tarmac the long warm long shadows of adolescent students walking home after school. Inside, no Ethiopian coffee ceremony today, but an Italian espresso machine.

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