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January 22, 2008

Shortcut to DA45

Got up and had breakfast, tossed some things in Belay’s car and headed off to Finto with Tim and Abdu (‘diplomat’) and guard Mohammed Unda (Mohammed #3, I believe?) from town to show us the way. He said there were two ways to get there. We took the northern one, since we were coming from the north.

Lots of wildlife today—gazelles and lots of seguri (Afar for dik-diks or something similar—tiny deer), which were barely bigger than hares… my first time really seeing them (might have caught a glimpse of one last trip, but not sure)… baboons including two different groups up in trees, perched like birds’ nests.

[Didn't mean to scare them.]

[But we did.]

A hare on the way back. And at a riverbed where we stopped for something, lush vegetation—large trees—and these great medium-sized funny-beaked birds that looked very tropical and were very chatty, with a beautiful whistly song.

No problems at Finto. I puttered with the site and Tim paid the guard when we were done. [We hire a guard or guards to be responsible for the instrument and pay them ahead a few months].

[The view down at Finto from our site.]

[Tim sits. Guards behind.]

[Site guard.]


[Local guard, visitors, and our guard Mohamed from Digdiga with his argyle socks.]

I stood out in the street taking pictures of kids while they got started with the money stuff.

Abdu told us that the guard said he polishes the solar panel every day. Indeed, it looked very clean.

[A crowd gathers. I had to keep stepping back and taking another picture, and then another, and then another, because more kids wanted in. And note that they are ALL BOYS.]

[It seems that there is always some young man that wants in on the picture with (or without) the kids. In this case, it was this one.]

[I was lucky enough after the mayhem to get this girls to stand for me.]

[Everyone puts on their best serious face for photos, but I waited just long enough for these girls to start cracking nervous smiles.]

Tim and I decided we’d like to take the other way to Finto back, to see it (and record it on our handheld GPS), and we tried to express this. Instead, our site guard (the one living in Finto) offered to show us a shortcut to DA45, the next site we wanted to visit. Shortcut…the very word makes me nervous. Uhhhh…is this such a good idea? But the guard got in to share the front seat with our day guard, Mohammed, and we followed the pointing hand of our guard offroad over sometimes flat but frequently bumpy terrain (brush and streambeds), and after a few km we stopped the car and… the guard got out. He explained the rest of the route to Mohammed in Afari, and sent us on our way.

Belay was not happy. Tim and I were skeptical. Abdu was optimistic. Tim and I kept track of the distance left to the site with his handheld GPS and maybe halfway through the 18 km Abdu said, This was a good idea. What?? said Tim and I. We don’t even know if we’ll make it yet! You’re an optimist, said Tim. Even if it’s a bad idea, we should say it’s a good idea, said Abdu.

About 5 km from the site, we came to a riverbed that looked promising. Wouldn’t the going be easier along its smooth floor? So we drove down into it…and almost immediately got stuck. No more Belay driving in the sand. And what’s more, he tried to get out before everyone was back from scouting out the terrain up ahead, leaving only Mohammed and I to push, digging our feet into the sand, filling our sandals with sand and gravel, and though we gained a bit of ground we mostly just dug ourselves in deeper. When Tim and Abdu got back, we dug around the wheels again, put rocks in front of the back wheels, tried again with everyone, stopped, pulled one of the rocks out, and when Tim explained to Belay that he should drive to the gravelly patches and away from the sand once he got moving, Belay said ‘Okay’—handed Tim the keys—‘You drive!’ Not bitterly, but seeming happy to hand over the task. So Tim, looking a little taken aback, climbed in and the rest of us took our places behind the truck. Again, we dug our feet into the sand, and Tim made slow progress until he finally pulled up ahead of us, out of the riverbank, and there we were, 100 meters or so later, back on the main road to Digdiga. Shortcut over.

When we’d approached DA45 that morning, a group of boys in a riverbed just before the nearest village threatened us with rocks. Abdu rolled down his window and reprimanded them. He said they get angry because the cars scare their goats away. (I said maybe they shouldn’t bring their goats so close to the road…) In the afternoon, while Tim and I were at DA45 where I was downloading the data while Tim had a look around, Tim announced that he could see the rock-throwing boys down below. They were taking positions, advancing. Then Tim announced laughing that Abdu was chasing them all with a stick and they were running down the road in retreat. By the time we were done with the site and headed down, the boys were all hanging happily around the car. Oh, they are now friendly, we said to Abdu. You have tamed them. I said Salam and the boys all answered, immediately, even the fiercest of the bunch with his small, sharp features—a striking kid—Salamno, some with smiles even.


As soon as we got back, while it was still light, I got a shower. First one, from our little battery-powered shower. Cold at first, then warm as I became cold from standing around with wet skin.

Posted by beth at January 22, 2008 10:56 PM

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