Sunday, November 29, 2009


I've changed the name and picture in this story for privacy.

Henok and I met Lebna the evening we arrived in Bahir Dar. We were drinking coffee by the lake and he came with his friends to talk to us. He was in grade six. He spoke English well. He was getting special tutoring from an American organization that helps orphans. He wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. You could see he was exceptionally bright.

We weren't expecting him, but the next morning Lebna was waiting at the door of our hotel. Apparently he went to school in the afternoons and anyway he says, "Today is Saturday." So we took him with us to breakfast. We stayed in Bahir Dar for quite a few days and got to know Lebna pretty well.

After breakfast he asks can he have $10 because he wants to buy an Oxford Dictionary.

When you are cycling through Ethiopia, probably one person per kilometer will ask you to give them something. Mostly it's kids, but sometimes it is people with real needs and I wish I could give them something. I never do. I said no to over a thousand people per month while I was there.

But the Oxford Dictionary idea was unique and charming so I said, "How about this? You can earn some money. Henok and I are going to Gondar. We want to store some luggage here and pick it up on our way back. We'll pay you a dollar per day to keep it for us."

The next morning a disappointed Lebna tells us that he can't store our stuff. His mother refused. "She says that our house is not secure enough and if thieves found out we had your luggage they could kill us."

He also admitted that the story about the Oxford Dictionary wasn't true. The truth is that he was really asking for the money for his mom. She has HIV and needs money for treatment. He was afraid to tell us because of the HIV stigma.

I consider myself pretty progressive, but the truth is that if he had told me the truth at the beginning I probably wouldn't have agreed to help him in the first place. I liked the Oxford Dictionary story. It was charming. It was solvable. A one time gift of ten bucks. Done.

HIV is a heavy thing, I don't know how to handle it. I especially don't know how to handle it when you are twelve years old. When your dad has died. When your mom is sick.

Lebna lived in a shanty town. The house was small. There was a sitting room in the front. He and his mom shared the bedroom in the back. They had a television in the bed room. Some evenings Henok, Lebna and I would rent a kid friendly video and sit on his mom's bed and watch it together.

Lebna's mom was a sweet lady. She was frail and thin. She didn't speak English. She was getting some free ARVs at a clinic for her HIV. I got the impression the clinic was some distance away. The clinic had given her some HIV posters and she had them hanging on the walls of the sitting room.

When we left we gave Lebna's mom $20. Henok told her that Lebna wanted to buy an Oxford Dictionary, but she knew their budget and should choose how to spend it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Birds

You see a lot of birds when you cycle. All kinds of different interesting birds with long tail feathers, and funny beaks and so many colours. But normally it's hard to take pictures of them.

This picture was taken in Ethiopia where a driver had killed seven donkeys the night before. There were around 200 vultures feasting and having a good time.

In Ethiopia, you always suspect that the drivers are a bit buzzed, and bug eyed from chewing "chat." Chat is a mild stimulant and drivers like it because it keeps them awake. It is Ethiopia's fourth largest export.

The thing which I hadn't realized is that donkey skin is very tough except for a patch near the tail. The vultures go in the back door and eat them from the inside out. Which is a bit gruesome really.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Camping in the forest

One night in Namibia, I heard a leopard outside my tent making cat noises and knocking over my stuff. I wanted to take a picture of it, but I also wanted to keep my arm in one piece so I didn't.

The mantra white people repeat is that you are safe if you sleep in a tent. I slept fine.

In the morning, I found this old claw mark which I thought it was pretty impressive. It goes all the way through the bark. Judging from the other claw marks, the leopard used to like to sit in the tree near my tent and was surprised to find me in its territory.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More Ethiopian toilette stories

Ethiopian hotels have one feature you seldom see in other countries. Chamber pots.

Normally I opt for the cheapest hotels and so I don't get my own toilette and shower in those. In Ethiopia, the toilettes were sometimes difficult to reach at night. At one place you had to dress, put on your shoes, go out the gate and back in again by the front door, through the bar with a crowded dance floor and use the toilette in the back. That's about the point where I discovered that, yes, I can piss in a pot.

I was reading a website where some Ethiopian kids took a poo in their pot. They emptied it themselves so that's acceptable I suppose. When I asked about it, I was told that taking a dump in the pot was not OK unless you were desperately sick and about to die.

People also throw garbage in their chamber pots. One hotel had a way of sieving the garbage out so the pee drained into a ditch but they could burn the garbage.

Another time the cleaning lady just slopped the pee under the toilette stall door. It was a squat type toilette and the floor of the bathroom was sloped so probably most of the pee just ran down and drained away. I guess what struck me most about that was the unfortunate timing. Although in a more literal sense what actually struck me was urine seeing as how I was squating in there when she did it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Done done done...

I am at my parents house in Solwezi Zambia and that is the end of the road for me. I'm done. There are so many blog posts that I want to write still so I'll try to post them all. Maybe once a day for a five weeks.

Also I was wrong in the last post when I said there are no surprises in Zambia.

I took the back roads through Zambia. Parts of it were sandy sweaty work. The worst sand was from Mongu to Usha where I had to drag my bike through sand for around seven hours. It was well after dark when I finally reached a Luvale village and decided to stop for the night.

The lady there handed me a drink but under my flash light it looked pretty murky. I try be careful about not drinking murky water but the lady insisted, so I took a sip. It was a mabula fruit juice. I have never heard of that before. So cool and good.

Zambia has been full of pleasant surprises.