Monday, June 21, 2004

Train Ride in Ethiopia

MK stories

Chapter one

Considering taking the train to Dire Dawa? Do it!

Visiting Ethiopia, I can assure you that Addis Ababa is not the right place to be if you want to experience the feeling of being in Africa. A good friend of mine, Sveinung Kiplesund and I, decided to take a trip to see more of Ethiopia, the country we both grew up in. Little did we know what the next five days would be like. But that's the whole fun of taking trips like this. Wanting to experience the unknown...The trip turned out to be great. This was one of my founded trips I have ever had. I have never regreted this five-days trip till this day.Wanting to experience something unique of Africa? Take the train!

The stereotypical picture of a train in Europe is far from what it is in Ethiopia. While the trains in Europe have high quality standards, are the trains in Ethiopia the direct opposite. These trains are of so bad quality that it needs a visit and a tryout. You relly get the feeling of being in Africa when you go with the train. The trains are overloaded with people, animals and luggage. Some times you wonder how they manage to squeeze everything onto the train. A wonderful sight.
The train I'm talking about has its main station in Addis Ababa, and goes north-east heading for Dire Dawa, a beautiful town located not far from Djibouti and the Arabian peninsula.
On first class, the seats were padded and were quite comfortable to sit in. This is where I sat. Finding out that the trainride would last for about 22 hours, the desission on where to sit was never an issue. The second class wagon was different. Here people were sitting on 90 degrees wooden benches,the wagon was way overloaded and people often times sat on top of each other to find a place to sit. Not only did the train go at a pace of 30 km/t, but it also had to stop inbetween the stations because there were either animals or human activities on the rails.

Leave the necessaries at home:
On the way to our final destination, Dire Dawa, the train stops at every station, not only to pick up passengers, but also feeding the passengers already being on board. People gather around the windows(thank God that there were windows on that train), with a variety of foods and drinks to sell. The most popular food was something called "Samboosa", a triangular-shaped with a crunshy crust-quite tasty. Gum, botles of sodas and cigarettes were sold too. There are a mulitiple of similar stops like this, so hungry fellows; don't worry.

Inside the train:
Hearing a story from other MK's where they got robbed on the train, we decided to be night watchmen. While he slept for 30 minutes, I tried to watch out and hinder a possible robbery, and after a half hour, we switched roles. We faced one problem, though: There is so lights in the train, and our flashlights had died out and we ran out of batteries shortly after we left Addis. This would be an interesting night. It turned out that we were right. After about 5 hours after darkness, a woman started screaming and making a lot of din. She was screaming in Orominja(one of the main languages in Ethiopia). I had befriended an old man on the way, and he told me that there was a man who had tried to rape this woman. The train stopped and in not very long, the police showed up, and cleared out the situation. What happened to the man trying to rape the woman, I don't know. Not much happened after that, that is worth mentioning, other than I waking up by a terrible smell. The old man farted, and it smelled like rotten eggs, combined with a slight smell of yesterday's dinner. Till this day, I still wonder what he ate. It was horrible, that is true. At dawn, both Sveinung Kiplesund and I decided to pay the toilet a visit. The toilet, or I should say the entire lavatory was not a pretty sight, and would need a wash. The toilet itself was a hole in the floor. Looking down the hole, you could see the rails. On the walls and on the floor there was a thick layer (about one centimeter) of poop, urine and puke. Prettty digusting! You would stand in excrements of every sort at a distance of 2 meter from the hole.
My stay at the bathroom was my shortest stay in a bathroom ever! No question about it.

The little boy with the chamber pot:
Sitting accross from me, next to his mother and two siblings, was a little boy, probably about 8 or 9 years old. He seemed to be the oldest child of the three, and was very helpful and nice to his siblings and his mother. Suddenly, a chamber pot was pulled out from underneath the seat. To save time, all three kids took turns in pooping in the chamber pot, before getting rid of the contents. By the time the three kids were done, the pot was fairly filled up. Being a good older brother, the little boy took care of the task got rid of it. Unlike Sveinung and I, the little boy did not enter the bathroom. He opened the door, and without looking, he emptied the pot by throwing the feaces all over the lavatory. No one used the bathroom after that - no wonder.

The excitement rose when Dire Dawa appeared in the horizon. We had experienced a great trip, spiced up by many interesting happenings.
My advice to you: Don't doubt the thought of taking the train. It's worth it!

Chapter two

Dire Dawa & Harer:

The first thing my good friend and I noticed was that Dire Dawa was not only an old town with many old buildings, but it was also very clean.
By the time this trip took place, the world cup 2002 on and was broadcasted on TV in every bar and hotel nearby. Ethiopians have such a passion for soccer, that every age is represented if there is a local soccergame being played. We were not surprised when every bar was filled up with eagerly cheering fans. Walking in the streets, not a single begger was to be found. Strange but interesting!

Still in day 2 of our 5-day-trip, we decided to go directly to the nearest taxi/bus-stop and get on a taxi taking us to another town on our list of "to see's". For 50 birr each, we jumped on the nearest taxi- heading for the town, Harer.

Chat, the drug eveyone chews, was definitively affect the driver as he drove up the hills, cutting turns and driving in an enormous speed. Crazy, many would say. Going from Dire Dawa,riding in a taxi, you would either make it all the way to Harer, or you would die on the way. You see, there are so such thing as a fence on the side of the road. On the right side, there was a rock wall, and on the other side a precipice.

Finally reaching Harer, the forth holiest city for the muslims, we checked in at a hotel(with motel standards), before getting some food.
Harer, just like Dire Dawa was very clean. I can't remember how many mosques and churches we saw, but a fair number is an understatement.
At night, around 07:00pm we went down to the city border. Reason? To see the hyena-man.
The hyena-man is well known in Ethiopia, and is often portrayed on t-shirts, posters and postcards. A celeberty! Being surrounded by hungry hyenas, the hyena-man started calling on them, and throwing out bits and pieces of meat. In a period of five minutes, the hyena-man was surrounded by hyenas slobbering for more food. He started feeding them from a stick he held in the palm of his hand and later on from his mouth. The crowd of people watching the hyena-man as he fed the hyenas were gazing with admiration at the hyena-man. Later on, I asked the hyena-man if I could try to feed the hyena, which turned out to not be a problem at all. I did it, and so did my friend Sveinung. We fed the hyenas!

Day three was just around the corner, and on the following day(day three), we packed our stuff, and started our journey back to Dire Dawa, where we would spend one day, before heading back to Addis Ababa.
(Day four)
Nothing much happened in Dire Dawa that day. Sveinung and I decided to take the bus instead of the train back to Addis Ababa, just so we could experience that as well.
(Day five)
The positive aspect about taking the bus was that it only lasted for 14 hours. Here is the negative aspect of the bus-ride: It was around 40 degrees celcius outside, but hotter inside the bus. Sveinung and I started sweating, and we wanted to open a window to cool down some. That was not a very popular move by us, and was not approved by our fellow passengers. It's expensive to be sick in Ethiopia, so they were frightened of catching a cold if a draught in the bus would occur. We had to obay, but managed to make a tiny crack in the window, so we got some fresh air afterall.
Finally being back in Addis Ababa, it felt great to take a shower.
I have never regreted this trip till this day, and I have just positive and wonderful memories from the trip.
I highly recommend this trip to anyone who's visiting Ethiopia. The trip will definitively give you memories for life.