I head downstairs, when I spot the guard who bravely defended me from the crazy guy at the hotel gate two nights prior. I can only understand bits of his Amharic (“how are you” “friend” “it was no problem”) and I can only find bits of my Amharic suitable for the strange situation (“I’m am well, thanks to you my friend” and then just “thank you, thank you, thank you…”). Without a thought to gender roles, in my appreciation, I reach out and hug him. His gold-capped teeth gleam with a smile.
When I turn around, a man is listening to us. He stumbles through English. Stopping often. Frustrated. Then apologetic.
I cheer him on, “You’re doing great! English is not easy. Espanol?”
And then, while it’s not perfect, a summer of learning French-Turkish-Amharic has gotten me over my shyness of just trying. To my surprise and his delight, we’re somewhat conversing in Spanish, in Ethiopia. He’s had his camera stolen, he’s had a hard time getting around, he cannot believe I’ve made it this long unscathed and adds his compliments to the growing stack. You’re amazing to do this alone, as a woman. He admires it, and continues, I have only met one other woman, alone, here. But she, she was crazy.
I’m hearing the fear-mixed-with-admiration so often now, I do wonder about my sanity in undertaking the solo trip. I shrug my shoulders and laugh. It’s always possible?
He insists I am not crazy. Just brave.
After work that night, I meet the British boys, Rob and Jerome, on leave from university to teach a three month business class in the local school. We walk up a winding road out of town to the quiet, secluded Goha hotel. I’m more than a little relieved to find the guys (the epitome of youth and fitness) are winded by our ascent to the hotel, at 8K feet elevation.
The low-lying, single-story hotel buildings are perched on the highest hill, overlooking Gondar and some of the most spectacular views of the green, treed hillsides and higher plateaus that are all shades of pink-purple-gray-green with the distance and the remains of a thrilling sunset.
Buzzing electric “Goha” sign to our back, we sit in plastic chairs at the edge of the cliff. The camaraderie and dry sarcasm of the UK guys is a welcomed break from my own internal dialogue. We talk about the idea of a “gap year” (generally lost on Americans) and what is “meaningful”. We trade stories of our “reasons for being here”: theirs (educating and interacting with children in need, while scraping by on a such a limited pension that they’re plotting ways to save money by saving up for a hotplate to cook at home, and substitute bread for a meal as much as possible) is altruistic and grand. Mine (analyzing data so companies in the US can sell more of something while traveling in relatively luxury with all my camera, laptop and kindle, yoga pants and a US income) feels ridiculously self-indulgent and removed from reality. At least, the reality here.
But to my surprise, while I’m stifling my jealousy for their life–they’re complimentary about mine. It’s brilliant what you’re able to do, to travel and see the world, while working. Instead of being trapped somewhere. People would kill for that.
I laugh more that night than I had in a long time. And I have to insist, multiple times, before the guys let me pay for our “fancy hotel” beers. They only accept my tiny token of friendship when I tell them to let me do this so they pay it forward (they can get me back in the years to come, when they’re “my age” and then run into cool kids going cool things and foot the beer bill).
On the walk home, we’re picked up by a man in older-model Range Rover who insists he’ll give us a free ride down. But only when we’re seated and halfway down the road that he changes his mind and threatens the stiffest rate. It’s a scam. And it takes the boys arguing and me nudging the door open as we move to change his mind back to our original deal of “free”. And while awkward, it’s a good reminder that scams and outrage happen to boys too. It’s not the result of me being female, or having done something wrong. It’s just how travel, life goes sometimes.
We end on a good note: at The Coffee House, for pasta and burgers. It’s a good way to end the day.