January 1, 2019
We leave a chilly Addis Ababa at 7 am headed to the ancient city of Harar, high in the mountains of the east.
Harar was founded along old trade routes centuries ago by Arab traders.Along the way we need to stop for lunch. In the countryside there are few opportunities to find formal restaurants to quickly feed a group of 22 in a reasonable amount of time. Instead the truck is fully equipped to handle the task.
So we stop by a small town centered along the main rail line. In the distance is a massive church that looks something like a mosque but exactly.
We efficiently set up the kitchen and prepare lunch. Almost immediately a crowd of curious locals gathers to watch. As we eat our simple lunch the crowds to about 100. They watch intensely but politely as we set up, eat and wash up lunch.
Out local guide tells us that we are in the ancient Kingdom of Kush. These were Kushites. He says that their customs are so different from ours that what they see us doing makes absolutely no sense to them.
The crowd is mostly children and they are skittish around us, but one traveller was able to engage them with some physical comedy and soon had them wildly laughing and chasing around us. We were strongly cautioned not to photograph them and you quickly got a feeling why. These are not people who accept western ideas and don’t want to be viewed as needing our pity.
One of the guides had those safari pants that zip off at the knee and decided for whatever reason to do so right in front of everyone. The people were literally wide eyed.
The rest of the 513 km journey was a cross section of Ethiopian culture played out as we climbed across the high mountains through many small villages. Sometimes children waved at us, a few launched missiles to let us know that we were in their neighborhood now. At one stop teenagers were offering to sell us chat, a mildly narcotic herb.