Continued from Trekking In Addis Ababa - Part One...
We have caught the attention of a couple of ruffians however, who ask us for money; Alan refuses. They follow us for a distance, ignoring Alan’s request to be left alone; I get nervous, as we are in a desolate place. Alan flags down a passing military police car and complains about one kid who Alan says has threatened us. The police officer walks over to the kid, asks a few questions, but the kid is arrogant; denies it with a wicked grin on his lips. There is a swift crack of a slap followed by a vicious kick in the groin from a heavy boot and the kid doubles over but remains on his feet, face emotionless; I feel agony in my groins. With a vice grip on the wrist, the officer yanks the kid, hauls him into the back of the truck, turns, apologizes to us and is gone. Was that necessary? I admonish Alan. This is what keeps our country almost crime free, Mr. Ali, worry not your head about it. The kid will be taught a lesson and let out. Still, ouch, ouch. I sleep like a baby that night but not before thinking and worrying about the kid with a painful throbbing groin.
Day two begins with a downpour but clears up by the time we begin the walk; this day is tougher. With hands free of umbrellas under a warm sun, we begin trekking up a steep and rugged national park at a good pace. There are countless monkeys, deer and some signs of bear activity although we see no bears; the bird life is plentiful however. The park guide we have hired tells Alan there are lions and other wild animals as well, but they are seen in the dry season, so not to worry. The punishing accent is four hours long, three thousand four hundred meters up. It is much cooler this high and the air thin, breathing quite labored. With so many Muslims in the country, nobody gives me a second glance when I offer my salaat. Lunch is lamb chops and hummus from a Turkish restaurant – delicious. I want to climb to the apex but the guide advises against coming down in the dark. Disappointed, I reluctantly follow them down; we make it in less than three hours. I am dog tired by the time I reach the hotel. Saalat, bread cheese and a mango later, I am dead to the world.
Day three is a duplicate of day two but different as well, with rain in the morning but clearing up nicely as we set out; I feel blessed. We drive to the south, leaving the mountains behind. The trek is through villages and farmland, all savannah country, so there is no climbing. But I get to interact with a lot of local people, which is fantastic. The country is blessed with abundant rain and very fertile soil. We pass mountains of fresh harvested potatoes and tomatoes, ready for the market. Oddly, Ethiopia, with all these potatoes and tomatoes, has not a single potato chip or tomato ketchup plant; it’s all imported.
Ethiopia is very varied in her people, religions, cultures, languages, but the food is common - the injeera; this food must accompany all meals. The best way to describe this food is the mkate mimina of East Africa, except thinner. On this is poured a mix of gravy with beef, mutton or chicken; like Muslims, Orthodox Christians shun pork. I have insisted on a vegetable concoction so Alan has to cook this meal personally. Earlier, he insists the meat is halal, meaning not pork, but he nods his head sagely when I explain the rituals of zabeeha.
If you think only Indians and Thai east hot food, think again. Although the food is delicious, it is fiery. My guts complain with burbs and farts all afternoon long. We trek through some dicey thorny vegetation, the vicious thorns long and menacing enough to rip through my clothing and maim blood vessels. We get invited for tea by a farmer and a lady demonstrates an injeera cooking session; not nice. It is on a wood burning stove; I run outside in less than two minutes, coughing violently, with my eyes on smoke fire.
Alan has gotten much attached to me in these three days; he has poured his heart out. He remains single at age thirty-three and to get a suitable bride costs a lot of money. He invites me to dinner at a local restaurant that also features local tribes from all over the country traditional dancing and singing their folklore. I am not too excited about eating more injeera but he sounds so sincere, I hate to refuse him. Mr. Ali, he says, let us have bea today. I tell him alcohol is not permissible in Islam. Yes, I know, but this is only bea, not spirits. No, I tell him, not even beer. He looks shocked. You can’t have bea? But bea is so good! All Muslims I know in Ethiopia drink bea. Not this Muslim, I tell him. He takes it in stride and refrains from drinking beer as well. The traditional dancing is like what I used to see growing up in Tanzania. I say goodbye to him at the hotel and the guy is actually teary eyed; I feel sad. I have two more days in Addis so I ask him if it safe for me to walk about the city at night. Yes, Mr. Ali, very safe. Remember how the police treated the young guy for trying to create trouble? Addis is safe. Just be careful of the night ladies. Don’t let them touch you. If they touch you, you’ll begin to feel nice, but they are probably only after your money. I assure him I will not let them touch me but stay put in my hotel room just the same.
The next two days are spent in the company of Hashim Okeera, who has made Ethiopia his home to advance the madhab of Ahlebeyt (A) in that country. He runs a center for new converts and is struggling with tableegh work elsewhere. There are approximately a thousand Shia muslim converts in the country and I meet some of them. Many of them have been Shia Muslim for years, arguing they are lovers of Ahlebeyt (A) way before my ancestors or me. Remember, a man tells me, Jaffer Tayyaar came to live here way before you Khojas even know who the Prophet (S) was. I visit predominantly Muslim areas with halaal restaurants, a Yemeni one in particular that is super busy with some fantastic Yemeni food. I meet Martha, now Fatema Badi, a convert from Orthodox Christian to Sunni to Shia Muslima; she works as a producer for a local radio station. And many others.
I also meet a group of Khoja community from India and Pakistan who are in business in Addis Ababa. Numbering about a hundred, they have a center for religious activities. Regrettably, shamefully, indigenous Ethiopians Shias are not welcome. A prominent man who owns five different factories tells me his success story over dinner at a fancy Pakistani restaurant. He claims he came to Addis seven years ago with less than one hundred dollars; now, ten million is not an issue. He is ready to assist any Khoja set up shop in Addis, he tells me; every conceivable help, except money.
I visit his home and meet a few more Khojas who share similar stories of rags to riches. But do you guys like it here? What about the social life? Must be hard, after Mumbai or Karachi? Kya bolta tu! Not at all, we are making tons of money and get together every Saturday for mirungi between two and midnight.
So this is the tale of my exceptional Ethiopia trekking expedition. Wow, what an experience, no? I must be one blessed son of my parents!
You may enjoy this trip photos here.