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January 16, 2008

Nazaret to Semera

The following is mostly just the stream of thoughts and info that I wrote in my journal as we drove along.

Before I got to it, though, we made a couple field trip stops for geology.

[A difficult place to be walking in sandals.]

[The science gang: Mohammed, Yaasin, Lorraine, Dr. Gezehegn, Tim, John, David, Talfan, Charlotte.]


Field trip stop two was not too far down the road. Eyaya said, basically, if we continue like this we'll never get there.

[Dr. G. explains.]

[Charlotte takes notes.]

[Yaasin and Mohammed document.]

I asked Yaasin [the undergraduate student along, who happens to be from Afar] if there is a road all the way to where he’s from. He answered by saying it is a plain; if you want to drive there is nothing to prevent you.

The plain here seems to go on forever, yellow in the sunlight and spotted with acacia, but at the end of forever there is a cut-out of layered blue mountains. Some of them are sharply peaked, like the huts of the Oromo. Occasionally, a volcano-mimicking black mound created by ants or termites. We are in Afar now.

Eyaya points out a bus packed with people and says to us, “You know what we call that one?” “What?” I ask. “Al Qaida.” I don’t say anything, or maybe just huh. I’m not sure what to think. He explains: “Because they kill so many people.” Got it. Note to self: Do not take the bus.

Finally, no signs of civilization, except the road and a very tidy series of electrical poles.

We are in Esa country—people from Somalia. There are conflicts between the Esa and Afari, so here no one grazes their cattle, no one lives, Eyaya explains. That is why the grass is so tall. That is why there is a lot of military along here (which I have not seen). There is a town here, Gadamaitu, which is contraband. The birds depicted on the 1 Birr note lives here; Eyaya pointed one out to us.

No more trees. Only bushes. Okay, the occasional tree.

Sometimes they kill a driver of a big truck on this road, and when the government asks the Esa, they say It was the Afar, and when they ask the Afar they say It was the Esa.

205 km to Mille.

Gadamaitu: Vegetable oil is very cheap, is stacked in yellow jerry cans, comes straight from Somalia. “There is also a lot of electronics.”

Back into volcanics; a cliff of columnar basalt not far off the road and, closer, a tank.

Coming up on a military base.

Small town (Felowha) of thatched huts—acacia trees locally referred to as guyani. Nothing else is grown with this tree. Cattle will not eat it. It is grown for charcoal. The government doesn’t want to grow this plant. Some palms mixed in with the huts to our right, dark volcanic hills. To our left, tall grasses along the Awash river. They cut the acacia, but it grows back.

Now we come to Amas Aburri. 20 km from Gewane. More thatched huts, and a good deal of permanent, multi-story buildings—there is an agricultural technical college. Also the domed huts of the Afari.

Looming ahead is Ayero. Tall mountain. Dark but glazed in yellow grasses. The trees are back—I assume because we are close to the Awash river.

And…back to scrubland. Tan termite mounds.

Cotton plantation down in the plain of the Awash. Lime green. Irrigation from the Awash.

Gewane. Man standing on the outskirts outside a thatched hut with a sheep under his arm.

Like Lorraine said, big sky.

At the town of Indifu, back in Esa territory. You can tell the difference between the two, said Eyaya. You can see it? No, I said. The Esa have long faces, said Eyaya, like in Somalia. The Afar is more round.

Passing lots of cell towers.


Not even any brush in this area, hardly—just dried grasses.


Adaitu = end of Esa. Stopped for a coffee.

Traditionally dressed herders. Women with bolts of bright red fabric, girls with beads hanging down the middle of their foreheads.

We are listening to a worn tape on the car radio: Tedi Afro = popular singer, concerts around the world. Says Dani: Like Michael Jackson! Lorraine and I hope that is the only way he is like Michael Jackson.

People begging alongside the roads, hand out, palm up.

Plain: Flat flat flat flat flat.

Birds perched at the very tops of trees and bushes.

Here, past Mille a bit, not even grasses. Silts, and some shrubs.

On the edge, layered basalts. Quite impressive.

Eyaya says the Awash dam is done and the area is now filled with water. So, the road has changed. Before it was cotton, now it is for sugar plantation.

Here we are—back in Semera. In the guest house.

My mosquito net was left partially down (usually they are bundled up into a hanging knot when not tucked around the bed) and open through the evening so that after I tucked it down around the mattress I shone my flashlight about and found a collection of mosquitoes assembled up in the corner. Enclose myself with mosquitoes or let them come and go freely? So I opened up the net and pulled my sheet completely over me.

Posted by beth at January 16, 2008 9:02 PM

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