017 – Something Incomprehensible
I took another long ride around Addis the next morning. I retraced the route Sisay and I took to the Lion Park and then kept on going. Occasionally I’d turn off onto little side streets, more paths than streets, and arrow a little deeper into Addis. On one of these paths, I was doubly overwhelmed. First was the smell of human shit. I was right beside a set of squatter shacks next to a stream. They were made largely of branches and leaves. The smell hit me like a wall, and I vainly twisted and turned my head to get away. Then as more and more people noticed me the cry of “ferenji ferenji” started and then climbed up the hills from structure to structure till it seemed to fill the skies. I was hit with the total absurdity of my presence there on the bicycle. I laughed aloud and a group of children broke into delighted smiles to hear such a sound coming from me.
After regaining the main road, I was astonished to find myself at the Piazza near City Hall. I could now find my way from the Tiru Gondar to the City Hall area two different ways, but I still could find neither on my map.
I chose a north-easterly direction this time and rode out of the city. The more little jaunts like this I took, the more confident I was in my bike’s abilities and the more eager I was to set off.
The roads were extremely narrow and continually went either up or down depending on if you were heading towards a river or just leaving one behind. The biggest danger continued to be pedestrians. I could see the cars, trucks and buses in my rear view mirror. Even if I couldn’t, I could at least hear them blasting horns. Plus they were at least watching the roads. Pedestrians on the other hand continued to stroll out in front of me totally oblivious. Ironically, I did have a bell on the bike, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it. The last thing I wanted to do was add to the crescendo of noise.
The most amusing danger were the mule trains. There weren’t many of them, but when a mule gets up a good head of steam it charges along without a care for anything in its way. Ears back, eyes forward, they trot along like an army on the move and I didn’t have the slightest doubt they’d roll right over me and not miss a step.
I found the UK embassy on this road, though at first I didn’t know what it was. All I saw was an immense wall. My first thought was of some military exercise area. The compound went on and on and the land it enclosed was covered in greenery and stretched up the hill out of sight. It exuded power and purpose. When I finally came to the heavily guarded gate, I couldn’t help but reflect that here was something just as out of place as I was. I’m from the west and faced with that structure I thought, “Now, here is something incomprehensible.” I can only imagine what the Ethiopians feel.
On my return into the city, I passed directly by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). If the UK embassy was from another planet, then this place was from another universe. It cost over one hundred million dollars to build (though Dereje said the actual cost was probably less once all the government members took their cut) and in keeping with the scale, it was surrounded by the wall to end all walls. The complex was so vast and so obviously purring with hot and cold running water and cleanliness that it occupied a world apart. It was so different in style and tone it couldn’t exist without that wall. If it touched the city the forces would tear it apart like matter meeting anti-matter.
As I rode by, I saw through the vast front gate a single woman with long flowing hair. She was white and crisply attired in a power suit. Briefcase in hand she clipped along on her high heels, busy about the business of improving Africa’s economies. One of the ubiquitous white Toyota Land Cruisers cut her off from view, then she was gone. A mirage.