Traveling within Ethiopia.
I sit here in a nearly empty Korem bus in the Mekelle bus station. I’m incredibly surprised how something that appears so chaotic exists and is a large part of life here in Ethiopia. I’ve been sitting here in my spot for nearly an hour after getting a soda in a near by café with a friend.
So how many people are now in my bus? 4.
How many people fit in the bus? About 16.
Looks like I’ll be sitting here for a while.
Bus stations tend to be a large source of stress for volunteers here. Before even getting into the large gated “parking lot” people are already screaming at you. “Axum! Axum! Aduwa! Addis?” Clearly since I’m white I’m a tourist and want to go to all those places. When I ignore them screaming that’s when I get the time ‘ol question of “Where are you go?” No, that’s not a typo, that’s what they scream at you. Sometimes I give them a look like I don’t understand and tell them that’s not English. Other times I get a bit snarky and pull out my Amharic and tell them its none of their business. Neither attempts really work and can actually attract more attention then needed, or even wanted so more often than not I just ignore them.
The bus station in Mekelle is unique in the fact that it doesn’t get many tourist in it <editors note: About a half hour after writing this 2 foreigners got on my bus and I saw 2 more walk by…. Sooo maybe not the most accurate of statements>. Sometimes when I walk into the bus station I’m mistaken for some of my friends and am called to their buses. Nope sorry friend not Abi Adi, Maychew or Wukro today. Once next to my trusted Korem buses my stress is instantly reduced. I greet all of the door boys that I’ve made friends with over the past year and a half. With these boys knowing the ins and outs of the bus station I trust that my stuff and I are safe.
Just today after getting to the bus station before the bus I would take even arrived Daniel the bus boy told me that I should go get tea because it would be a while. Coming back from camp meetings I had a lot of stuff with me that I’d rather not drag around with me. He offered to keep my large bags locked up in a different bus until I got back. After a quick exchange of numbers I locked my big bags in the bus, keeping EVERYTHING worth ANYTHING with me (I’m trusting but not that trusting) and left for a soda. When I got back we unlocked the bus, grabbed my stuff and moved it to the bus I’m on now.
This type of trust doesn’t occur in all the bus stations. Often when not familiar with the bus station or town they often try to scam you. They try to charge you more or make you pay for your bags to be on top of the bus. Using the windows of near by buses to keep an eye on your bags, the worry of getting over priced, along with the occasional fights that break out and always sound a bit worse than they actually are, (“You want an Alamata bus? This is cheaper and goes from Korem to Alamata! Take this bus! You’ve already been sitting here!” <insert 4-5 people all screaming this at once>) can really deter people from traveling in this country.
So how do I survive traveling here? I just try to forget about such things (yes while still being mindful of my surroundings) and people watch. The Ethiopians using the bus station are sometimes just straight out hilarious to watch. “Oh yes Mr. Farmer we’ll find room for your flock of sheep on top of the bus, although we’ll charge you 5 birr a sheep for a roof spot”. “Sorry middle aged lady we’re a full bus; but WOW young lady you’re gorgeous, I think the spot right next to me just opened up”. I also focus on where I’m going. I remind myself the stress is worth it for either a gorgeous drive or the final destination.
Photo by my friend Chris Schmidt!
Next time you get into your car and get delayed 15 minutes because of traffic just remember you could live in Ethiopia and sit for hours waiting to leave or get delayed 30 minutes because someone on the bus wants Cactus fruit, or has to go to the bathroom, or is uncontrollably puking, or there is just an obsurd amount of livestock or camels on the road.
I’m pretty sure I’ll have a WHOLE new respect for traveling in the states. A 4 hour drive? No problem, atleast I don’t have a chicken on my feet and a woman with racid butter in her hair sitting next to me.