College trips are a little different here, they’re for the staff and not the students. It is a chance for the staff to go for “refreshment”, although it rather relies on the budget being released. This was done with about a month left in the financial year and so there was a mad rush to spend it all- as seems to happens in other countries with budgets, if you don’t spend it, you lose it. Consequently, and not unusually for Ethiopia a last minute plan somehow came into fruition and early one chilly morning the staff were standing at the entrance to the college compound waiting for the buses to come and collect them. Being a foreigner I had been given a start time half an hour later than everyone else – I am expected to turn up on time and not the local requisite 30mins to one hour later. I always feel for those colleagues here who actually turn up at the stated time- they must spend a lot of their lives waiting for the latecomers, but seem quite sanguine about it all – maybe it’s the chill of the early mornings that stops the blood running to hot, or perhaps just a more relaxed approach to life.
Naturally the buses arrive considerably later and it gives an indication of why many people here don’t tend to worry too much about hurrying to places. Nevertheless there is a tangible sense of excitement in the air, the like of which I had yet to experience here and I realised that the staff are actually really looking forward to a day out involving a considerable amount of travel, in a standard local bus. Perhaps not the height of comfort, but filled with camaraderie and that’s better than a cushioned seat any day.
The staff did seem to end up divided, with support staff on one bus and teaching on the other, which was a shame – it would have been good to have seen a bit more mixing, but it was pleasing that all staff were invited irrespective of status within the college. Loaded up, we pulled out of the college and onto the road, the adventure about to being, only to grind to a halt 10 metres down the road. A hurried conference of management was followed by large flags, one Ethiopian, one Oromo being attached to each of the buses. How close we came to forgetting this essential item I thought as a tried to keep underwraps the disappointment that there had been no effort to get the Sussex flag put up on the bus with the Ferenji. Next time I know to come prepared, although I may need to explain what and where Sussex is – that’s next year’s project sorted.
Our destination was Negele, the principal town of the Guji zone (think Chichester and West Sussex if you want a comparison) or more specifically a dam being built about an hour’s drive from Negele.
The thing about journeys in Ethiopia is that they cannot pass without the prerequisite stops every so many kilometres. There are a plethora of purpose behind these ranging from a horde of teaching a support staff running through a small village to find an Ethiopia delicacy particularly renowned in that area, to a toilet break (mostly just for the boys) to just stopping for the heck of it because the view is sort of nice. Based on the last idea I’d never get anywhere – this area really is stunningly beautiful. Nevertheless we finally made it to Negele where we stopped for breakfast.
Breakfast is one of my favourite meals in Ethiopia because they have this amazing dish called “full”. I was especially looking forward to this as the first time had had it was in Negele. The great horde of Adola College staff emerged from the buses and spread out to find food places; I attached myself to some of them and went with the flow into a place that served nothing but Tibs. Now don’t get me wrong I like Tibs, it’s a fantastic lunch or dinner option, but when you have spent the last three hours dreaming and having Full while being shaken and bounced on unsealed roads there is an avoidable feeling of disappointment when it is not available and a little piece of you starts to question if you can push your colleagues (who by this point are pretty hungry) to moving to a new place. I finally resolved myself to the Tibs, although I refrained from joining my colleagues in the customary accompanying beverage.
Breakfast done we returned to the buses and drove a little way through the town before stopping again while waiting for an official from the zonal office to join us. Enough time for a shoe shine and coffee before the ferenji was upgraded to the college car. In an awkward moment I felt great disloyalty to the colleagues with whom I had already travelled so far, but felt I could not refuse the courtesy proffered by the Dean of the college. My guilt dissipated rapidly as we drove down the country road to the dam significantly faster than the buses could travel and certainly in much more comfort, even with time to stop and enjoy the view from a hill looking toward the soon to be dammed river.
Don’t miss part II – to see if we actually make it to our destination!