Early Morning Race to the Airport

I’m up at 5am, power goes out. Then back on.

Still, for some unknown reason, they can’t charge it. I’m reading the instructions as we all give it a try. But no luck. I have a 300 birr bill, a flight leaving at 7am to Addis, and less than 50 birr in pocket (which I know I need in Addis for a taxi to the hotel)

With a gulp, upon my request, they call the manager at the unreasonably early hour. Not in the best of moods, he arrives in twenty minutes (as my airport shuttle leaves with the others from the hotel) and he will hardly talk to me, except to tell ask for my passport (to take a copy) and to not to worry about my flight.

I feel ridiculous and guilty and have to remind myself repeatedly that I’d done all I could do (stalked the ATM days before, confirmed twice that they could charge my credit card only days before) and staying in Gondar (airfare and hotel fees aside) but with no access to funds was not an option. I had to get to Addis. And I nervously insist that I make my flight, despite this hiccup.

The manager listens with a stern face. Then silently writes down the bank account number and wire instructions. And I try to show my sincerity when I promise to wire the money as soon as possible upon my return to Addis. (That is assuming I can actually find a working ATM and get more money upon my return to Addis…)

He picks up my bag and tosses it in the car, his car. It’s then that I realize he’s driving me. Oh great. This is going to be pleasant. 

Still without a word, we race through sleeping Gondar, my stomach full of nervous knots.

Early morning sun peeks between the hills to warm the terra-cotta and mud storefronts, the trees, the earth with gold-rose hues.

Still speeding widely, so that I’m clutching the arms of my seat, but dare not interrupt my intense driver, I realize I’ve been sleeping in too late. This is beautiful. Liquid gold pouring over burnt-gold and chartreuse green of meskel-in-bloom covered hillsides.

The city breaks into a spread of green field shadowed with pale-silver, slender eucalyptus trees. And between the intense-green sea, walk men and women, shrouded from head to toe in ethereal white netalahs, so that they almost float through the field towards the church. Singing, ancient hymns, quietly. It is like nothing else.

We pass the waking outskirts of town then, between the masses of moving people, donkeys and goats, the couple standing still, shoeless in the dirt, catch my eye. His arms around her.

How beautiful is this morning,

In my calm, I’m jerked to reality when I look up to see the flock of goats and villagers walking on the sides of the road that we’re hurtling towards, as the driver (instead of slamming on the brakes) slams on the gas to pass the military truck in the tiniest gap between an oncoming truck.

To the waitresses delight, I help myself to a pile of firfir and cups of buna at the airport.

When it’s nearing time to leave, I feel a tug at my sleeve: an airport worker. He personally informs me that my flight is getting ready to depart.We chit chat the rest of the way and I’m surprised how the mood has changed, from one of ultimate discomfort to friendship. (Perhaps he’d thought I was the angry one all the while I thought he hated me!)I suck in my breath in a deep gasp. As we miss smashing into theoncoming truck by mere feet. And I break into surprised laughter. My driver looks at me. Smiles in approval, as I continue laughing, until his laughter fills the car.

I reach for my totally blank boarding pass, which I know will get me to Addis one way or the other, and smile. I love this place.

Flying over patchwork of fields in all shades of green, and Axum rock, my thoughts to turn to this trip. To my surprise, it’s taught me about myself than anything in my life, thus far. What I’m capable of. Learning good and bad that I never knew.

Feel like after chaos of last couple years, suddenly, in the chaos, I’ve found comfort, I feel my life is my own again. Not a reaction to someone else.  This, my life, it is my own.

Fasilides Bath & the Ethiopian Slow-Bird

The British boys and I walk a couple miles out of town, down winding country roads, lined with fragrant eucalyptus trees and rows of laughing school children in pepto-pink polo shirts, towards the also massive separate bath also built by Emperor Fasilides (now used as a baptismal pool during Timket, the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of the epiphany). Pictures I’ve seen of the event are beyond beautiful.

Empty, sans holy water, and entrance to the actual stone bathhouse barred from passage due to construction in progress (compliments of Norwegian donations), the ancient structure is beautiful but somewhat less exciting and mysterious than we’d hoped.

While the women workers break for lunch, and eye us curiously as they finger delicate firfir lunch after a very laborious morning–we smile and walk the outside perimeter.

A bit of a magical garden or holy oasis, with ancient trees spread low branches towards the heavens, and everywhere luscious green grass.

At the edge, centuries-old mangrove trees with waists the diameter of a small home, lounge and rest heavy, tentacle-like arm-roots along a stone wall in various stages of disrepair.

As we wander, I help the guys with some of my favorite, and most useful Amharic: tenastali, aznalo, amasagnallo, menden no you.

The guys point to the large, dark-gray-brown colored bird, perched on the wood scaffolding, and we burst out with laughter. (From the Goha Hotel, when I’d wondered out loud about the lazily soaring creatures filling the air in the evenings, the guys had, without pause, informed me this was “THE Ethiopian slow-bird”. I was appropriately impressed with their ornithological prowess when they chuckled, Well, what else could it be? It flies so f__ slow?) So I point to the slow-bird and say the words I learned at Lalibela, which sound like Menden no you (And means “what’s that?”).

The women workers gasp with approval. Weuf! Bird. When we leave there are smiles all around and I have my new favorite word for the day.