Through No-Mans Land to Ethiopia
Feb 02, 2005
Dogs barking, and mice scurrying woke me up throughout the night. Two gunshots went off at some point. One seemed disturbingly close to my room. Though, I suppose any gunshots should be a bit worrying. I wondered what was going on. I also wondered if there was more gunfire that I just slept through.
I woke up early and rushed to the diocese to catch my ride; only to find that no one else was in a hurry. Father Francis invited me for breakfast (a real treat, with watermelon, cereal and coffee) and I sat for a leisurely breakfast with him. I asked Father Francis about the gunshots and he told me "Only two? That's a quiet night. It was probably just people fooling around, and letting off steam." The tractor didn't leave until 9am.
The tractor had a trailer hitched to the back of it, and was taking a construction crew on a trip to build a road near the Ethiopian border. I'm hitching a ride with them. The tractor drives off into the area on the map that Peter from Lodwar described as unknown and potentially dangerous. It's a dry grassland with scattered bushes. There aren't any people out here, but there is a fair bit of wildlife. We drive past foxes, rabbits, and eagles. But then we come across one lone Turkana nomad who is carrying an AK47. He hails us for a ride. The scene becomes ridiculous. He gets in our trailer, and then wants to shoot all the wildlife. But he can't aim because the tractor is bouncing along a rough dirt road. He keeps asking us to stop so he can shoot, but everyone else is yelling at him not to shoot anything. It's not because it's dangerous. They're all hard-core Christians hired by the diocese, and for some reason they think that the shooting of animals is against their religion. The nomad doesn't last more than about 10 minutes in our trailer before he is kicked out. Personally, I might be a bit hesitant to throw a guy with an AK47 out of my vehicle, but he seemed rather timid. With little complaint, he climbed down and grudgingly walked off in search of animals to kill.
As we approach the lake, the scenery becomes more desolate. It's now obvious that we're cruising along a dry lakebed. The bushes are gone, and all that's left is dirt and bits of dry grass. There are birds though; mostly some sort of black and white cranes.
The tractor stops briefly at an army post to drop off newspapers and magazines. I'm amused to see they're getting copies of "National Geographic". It seems rather more intellectual than the magazines our soldiers in remote desert posts would read. Though it's possible the people from the diocese bring them the "National Geographics", and someone else brings them their porn.
At 11am, we arrive at the border. What?? The plan, I thought, was to get a ride to the lake, and then transfer into a police truck, but suddenly here I am at the border. Well, at least I made it safely.
The police border post is a small fenced in compound with a couple of buildings. The police hang out in the shade playing cards. They check my passport to make sure that I have an Ethiopian visa. But, they don't check for the Kenyan exit stamp. I went all the way up to Lokichoggio to get an exit stamp and they didn't even check it.
I sit in the shade, away from the police, and have a small lunch. Then, I ask the chief policeman for information about the walk. I'll be walking through no-man's land; a buffer zone between Kenya and Ethiopia. I'm told that it is 5 miles to Ethiopia, not the 3 that I had expected. Fortunately, the directions are easy --- Follow the tire tracks, and you can't get lost.
Midday, I take off for Ethiopia. After the anticipation of the last few weeks, I was in a bit of a hurry to finally make it to Ethiopia. I wasn't too worried about the heat. The walk isn't particularly far and I have lots of water.
What I didn't consider was the fact that there would be no shade; absolutely nowhere to hide from the sun. The walk begins in a scrubland near a small marsh with flocks of birds. Hordes of grasshoppers scatter away in all directions away from my feet. But, even here there is no shade and the route is becoming increasingly desolate.
The shrubs disappear. The grass thins out. The wildlife is gone. Even the few small beetles disappear. All that's left is some dirt, a little bit of grass, and me. The temperature continues to rise up over 100 degrees.
Walking through the heat with a backpack is brutal. I try stopping to take a rest, but as I'm still out in the sun cooking it does little good. Instead, I have to just keep going; hoping to find some shade soon. Eventually, I see the glint of what might be a building, but it's a long ways off. I take brief peanut breaks to gather energy, but otherwise just keep walking. Slowly, I get close enough to the police post to make out some details. I see a watchtower and a couple of buildings on the only hill anywhere around. The last bit of the walk is a real struggle. Through no-man's land there was not a single bush, tree or rock to rest in the shade of. My mind empties of all but one thought - keep going, keep going, you're almost there.
Eventually, I made it. I arrive dehydrated and exhausted. I need to sit in the shade, and relax and recover, but it's mayhem around me. Women and children, all talking and laughing, surround me.
The contrast between the Kenyan and Ethiopian police posts is unbelievable. Kenya - A fenced in compound with 6 guys in uniform playing cards. Ethiopia - A tower up on a hill with women and children in constant motion, talking, playing and laughing. There are a couple of guys around, but they aren't wearing uniforms or anything to indicate that they are police. In Kenya, I was largely ignored. Here in Ethiopia I can't escape, people are talking to me, touching me, and poking at my luggage trying to guess what's inside. It's exhausting, and exhausting isn't what I wanted after a hard walk through the desert. But it's good. I heard more laughing in my first 15 minutes in Ethiopia, than I'd heard in the past 6 months.
The people in Ethiopia, even in this microcosm of a police checkpoint, are very diverse. Some of them are as black as can be. Others are more Turkish in color, with traditional tattooing on their necks, faces, and even gums. It's not just the animalistic people in Ethiopia who do traditional scarring and tattooing. The Ethiopian Orthodox Christians do it too.
An hour or so after arriving, they seem to offer me a girl from the local village who was about 13 years old. She was topless, wearing beads and jewelry, including half a metal watchband hanging down her forehead. I don't know what exactly they were offering - perhaps marriage. I politely declined whatever it was. Ethiopia certainly looks like it is going to be interesting.
The people are friendly and laughing, but they are, especially the kids, very demanding. The kids followed me around repeating, "Give one, give one, give one". Whatever it is, just give me one. And, given any opportunity they'd take advantage. I was handing out cookies; one cookie per kid, and one girl grabbed all the remaining cookies. I let the kids play frisbee for a while and then they returned the frisbee to me. One girl later asked for it again. I think that she knew I was only loaning it to her, but she ran off with it never to be seen again. Fortunately, I had a spare frisbee.
But the people were also very generous, for what little they had. They made tea and served it to me in a homemade bowl of some sort of gourd. They also shared their food; plain injeera bread.
This far out in the middle of nowhere, it really is a different world. Anything manufactured is of value. The young girl was wearing a watchband from a broken watch as jewelry. Other kids sorted through my trash and took everything. One grabbed the flimsy plastic container the cookies came in - I suppose that he'll find some use for it. Another kid sniffed an empty packet of rehydration salts. He ripped it open licked the package.
The day was exhausting. I woke up early, had the hard walk through the desert, and also unfortunately got a bad sunburn. After years of traveling, even with red hair, I've built up immunity to the sun, and only use sunscreen in extreme conditions or when I'll be out in the direct sun for a long time. Today qualified for both of those conditions, but I missed some spots with the sunscreen.
The walk today was pretty desolate, but the view over the back of the hill is downright intimidating. There is a dry and lifeless lakebed as far as the eye can see. That is where I will be walking tomorrow. Father Francis told me that I could get a ride from here, but he was mistaken. There's no sign of any vehicle anywhere. He was also a bit off on the distances. I'm told that it is 10 miles to the river, but after that another 7.5 miles to Omorate.
Only 3 miles from this police checkpoint is a Galeb village and I would have very much liked to visit it, but I had neither the physical nor mental energy to do so. Tomorrow, I have to survive a 17-mile hike through the desert. I need to save all of my strength to do it.
I also would have liked to take photos of the people at the police post, but in Southern Ethiopia you pay for photos and I had nothing to trade. I travel as light as possible, carrying nothing that I don't need. The only Ethiopian money that I had was 2 Ethiopian Birr ($0.25) needed for boat fare in crossing the Omo River. And so, unfortunately, I have no pictures of anyone.
They gave me a room in the base of the watchtower and told me that someone else is going to Omorate tomorrow. They'll wake me up at 4am and we'll go together. I am not a morning person, but for once 4am sounded like a great time to wake up. I've got a very hot desert to walk through.
The trip from Nairobi to Addis Ababa was interesting enough that I wrote it up as a daily log. If you'd like to read it from the beginning click here: [ Leaving Nairobi ]
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
This latest series is by far your most compelling writing to date. Good show! It's a real pity you didn't manage to get any photos of your arrival in Ethiopia, though! Now I'm eagerly waiting for the next installment of your adventures...
Unfortunately, taking photos of sensitive sites like bridges and borders is a real easy way to get arrested in Africa.
Kristen - Apr 22, 2005
I have to agree with the other comment. Your writing is so descriptive, I can picture the place and the people. It must be an amazing experience. Keep up the writing!!!! :)
Jlio R. Neto - Apr 23, 2005
After reading this journal, I needed water, sunscreen, and feel terribly tired.... this is great descriptive style journal. I just wonder if you can't write more about their coustumes and rites. Keep safe! ... Sorry! I forgot that safe is not fun, right? Keep healthy then.
Misha - Apr 25, 2005
Adam, your writing is getting better and better every time you post. The bit about being woken up by gunshots was fantastic. Dude, I am amazingly impressed. Keep writing, and don't die, please.
Stanley Bryan - Sept 27, 2005
you suck because you still have african woman
labeled as prostitutes and hookers. I bet you wouldnt take a picture of a white girl and lablel her a hooker.
Your just like the rest of them - like a visiter at a zoo..
Take pictures and tell everyone of how i saw this and saw that and i feel sorry for this and for that.
It not about what you do over there its about what you do when you come back to the states. Will you be one of those who just sits around and tries to impress people with your pictures or will you make a stand and let our US government and our citizens know how our policies effect other nations.
Will you write letters to Congress about countless woman being drawn to prostitution because they have no other way to survive.
Get real man get real.
I met you in Addis Ababa at the National Hotel.
I woke up every morning seeing those kids sleepin g
on the street too.
Christopher Weaver - Nov 01, 2005
A friend of mine, Dena, directed me to this site. What a magnificent adventure! The reality of this kind of experience endures and gives us all new truth and sight. Good for you for taking these exciting chances and allowing others to share in it!!
barron boykin - May 14, 2006
Glad that you have experianced the birthplace of the original man and woman. For five years straight the Italian Government bombed ethiopia with mustard gas and the U.S. did nothing. Maybe thats the reason ethiopian land is almost dead.No lie can live forever.Keep doing what you do,read Genesis and continue seeking truth about where education is derived from. Oh yes Moses sheep keeping wife was from ? You got it, Ethiopia, and Moses Passed as an egypt prince. Who would pass a Europian? Bill Clinton or Bill Cosby? Yes Egypt is in Africa Not the middle east. I love truth.
Sara - Sept 27, 2006
As a Ethiopian, I take offensive by a couple of things you mention. One, big eyes , almost bulging, white teeth, straight but smaller nose, and lighter complexion is ok ( not pale skin) are standards of beauty among ethiopians. If you look at our favorite singers, you have a idea. Believe me, you are hot in Ethiopia, becuase you are a american, and white. So automatically, they assume you have money.Very easy with very poor people. You seem to encourage prostitution vacations to my country, for white americans. Isnt Thailand, a good example. Do you mention how high Aids/HIV is in ethiopia. Thank you, America. I know Morroco thank you for white americans child sexual abuse among little boys.Do you tell them of dangers of being in the wrong place. Or how certain things can led to getting one killed. No.
> One, big eyes , almost bulging, white teeth, straight but smaller nose, and lighter complexion is ok ( not pale skin) are standards of beauty among ethiopians.
You would probably know better than I.
> You seem to encourage prostitution vacations to my country, for white americans. Isnt Thailand, a good example.
Prostitution is a very complex topic. My intent was not to encourage it. But neither was my intent to discourage it.
Maybe Thailand is a good example. It used to be known as a destination for sex tourists. Now, its a destination for everyone with millions of visitors a year and a large and quickly growing tourist economy. Did one lead to the other... I don't know? But, Ethiopia would undoubtedly love to be the economic success that Thailand is today.
And speaking honestly, for the women, sleeping with foreigners for money seems like a better option than some of the other bad options that they might have. This is sad, but seems to be true.
dallas - Oct 11, 2006
Sounds like an amazing experience--thanks for writing so extensively on your travels through Northern Kenya and Southwestern Ethiopia. Very enlightening for a person (me) who is trying to stage a similar journey. One note of criticism--referring to people as "animalistic" is pretty problematic. At least elaborate on what you mean by that, or try to examine what makes them more "animalistic" than other human animals. Otherwise, great job!
Sorry for the confusion. The term "animalistic" was intended only to refer to their religion. "Animalists" vs. "monotheists".
"animalists" are people who woship animals.