‘Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,’
The shade replied,
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
– Edgar Allan Poe
I see you remember well, dear friends. I had promised to tell you about this cold, little town called Fincawwa and I now intend to do it to keep one of the few remaining promises that I have not yet reneged upon.
Not that people should be proud of not keeping their word, but I am persuaded that I hold an impressive record of broken promises. So while I wait on banks, con artists and ambitious liars to catch up, I have decided to honor my promises from today. And no, I regret, dear friends, that this proclamation is not to be back-dated.
Fincawwa is a little town with a narrow tarmac road climbing through it. The road looks earthen, not tarmac, but with a consistent red colour that fades out as you leave the town.
It seemed to me that this impressive, giant ochre masterpiece rendered on tarmac is painted during the rains by the busy feet of the townspeople criss-crossing it (the road) on various errands. On some of these little outings, it is to be inferred, their business leads them to the numerous public table-tennis tables lining one side of the road.
It is impressive how easy it is to capture the interest of (young) people from idleness or mindless journeys on bicycles. I embarrassed my self thoroughly engaging the young men and a young woman in the sport that I knew not too much about. The games being thus played give the little town a cheerful air even with its cold and wet weather.
Still other feet, or the same, like mine, that had carried their owners to cheer or play in the sport, dabble the same road while carrying their owners to sip hot coffee in tiny cups on the other side of the road. Coffee served with a great helping of jokes and gossip from the jovial ladies behind smoky open fires and blackened urns. I envied this town. I wished this was my town with its peace and camaraderie. Not a single person was to be heard shouting at me “You! You! You!” or “Ferenji! Ferenji!” in the style incorrigibly popular with other Ethiopians.
Other than the usual niceties offered by friendly hosts, I had several offers of thick stems of khat. Whether I accepted this particular gesture, I shall not disclose, for I am also mindful of gossips and wish to give them material to spin fantastic tales in which I shall be the despicable protagonist. These same unauthorized biographers of your truly shall not believe their luck when they learn that I also choose not to disclose where I spent my night- in the wake of my praises to the friendliness and hospitality of the town. But that be that. I should always remember Fincawwa, the friendliest town.
How I do not daily recall the cruel climbs from Fincawwa to Hagre Marriam I shall only attribute to my weak mind and infirm memory. I have put much thought to explain it as honorably as is possible what I experienced since the break of that day; and propriety begs not to be used to downplay what was a serious foreplay to what awaited me later. I took three hours to do the thirty kilometres to Hagre Marriam.
I’d hoped for an ATM machine in Hagre Marriam, but I had already alluded to my disappointment towards this end much earlier.
In addition to which disappointment I was to be halted by some ailment I had developed along the way and that felt like a serious urinary tract infection. Or maybe dehydration, as I hoped and kept wishing. I stopped in the shade at the edge of a young eucalyptus plantation.
As I diluted some oral dehydration salts, there came and sat beside me a man, or a very realistic apparition -for I am not sure I wasn’t hallucinating- and he started talking away. He disregarded my polite protests that I didn’t understand a word he was saying.
Still he droned on in monotonous Amharic. He wasn’t impolite or rash, and I guessed he was telling a very interesting but tall tale. He played with a twig between his thick fingers and his widely-roamed toes. There is a way that wandering writes mileage on one’s feet and toes. On his were written miles upon square miles of covered African real estate and hill-climbing experience. “We are in this together”, they seemed to reassure me. There was something hypnotic about how he carried himself. It’s true that he understood basic English phrases for he repeated to me his name. I fell asleep involutarily to the sound of his husk but musical musings on the sparse grass.
An hour later, I awoke but could not find my companion. I was sure I had been drugged and robbed, or, Zeus forbid, worse. I made a quick check and estimation on my scant belongings and reassuring myself that I had lost nothing more than time, picked my bike and rode on to Garbaa.
Then it came back when I woke up thirsty in the middle of the night, clear as the sparkling water I was sipping in my bed from a plastic bottle. And I scribbled it. The name of the man, or apparition that I sat with earlier, was Neguese Bonayya.