Awassa. Her seductions are truly seductive to a lone cyclist. To linger is seemingly the only choice. But this cyclist was aware of another interesting town whose fame, mysticism, lenient laws about “da herb” had traversed its borders, and where user-friendly daughters of Ethiopian peasants were to be found in plenty. Shashemene to Rastafarians, and to a peculiar brand of pan-Africanists, is regarded as the ultimate point of pilgrimage for the negroid descendant. Some feel the same way towards Timbuktu. But it’s Shashemene where the sons of slaves were the masters of their own thoughts and spirituality, made to feel like the gods they are and were treated as such by the emperor Haile Selassie, in whose veins flowed the blood of the Africa’s daughter from Sheba, who King Solomon thought wiser than himself. It was she that taught her children- and her Solomon- the primordial and ageless truth of “One Love” as sang by the poet Bob Marley. We, the sons of her sons even in captivity have not doubted her. For love is wiser than wisdom, she said.
So I set out to leave Awassa, whose beauty, now in the sunshine was like the flirtatious language of a mistress towards a famished vagabond just escaped from prison. The exotic sounds soothed and the smells of strange frying spices made me slow down as I rode out of town. Here I had a thousand reasons to stay a day longer and a thousand more to settle forever, or until my earthly possessions were spent. But the pilgrim’s path, I said to myself, is ever daubed with distractions that are pleasing to the ear and entertaining to the senses of an unwary cyclist. So I guarded my appetites, hopped on the bicycle and took on the impossible headwinds.
On your way out of Awassa town is Awassa University, the town’s institution of liberal morals and bohemian lifestyles. As the devil, or fate, had willed, I passed by the university a large group of students were breaking from a class. It must have been an arts class, for there were, in my estimated ratio, about a couple of long-haired daughters of Sheba (all of them of improbable beauty), for every shaggy bloke. It must have been an arts class. It would never have been a science class. I give you my word that there exists but a single kind of science students, and I have been one. It is the kind whose faces are ever glum and who harbor an ill attitude towards laughter after a lecture.
At about mid-morning I finally reached the outskirts of Awassa from where one is to observe Lake Awassa and hear the song of the marshes that surround it. The appearance of the picturesque lake in such a handsome morning and the enjoyment of birds and water plants in the breeze about it gave me such contentment of being a resident of this planet that I doubt I had felt it at any other time before. (Except perhaps that time when a girl whose name shall not be revealed, asked me for the first time to stay for the night!). Every photo that I took of the scene seemed more glorious than the previous one. I reckon that a mischievous young man upon observing young nude women bathing in the open would have behaved no differently with his camera. These were the elusive shots sought by many professional photographers of Mother Nature herself – in the nude! The fate that was to befall these photos later on is one I wish not to discuss. I will only assure you that I have kept the hope of finding them again.
I was in no great hurry, however, to get to Shashemene less than forty kilometers away but in time I was once more on my way. Had I even been in such a hurry, the unabated rush of headwinds would not allow me to pedal for any significant stretch of the road. On occasions, I feared the wind would make me bald from my insistence of having to bend my scalp against it. Eventually, I pushed and pedaled leisurely.
Finally, I rode into Shashemene early in the afternoon. It was underwhelming. It’s true it has some nice clean and straight streets, but it’s no “New Jerusalem”.