Day 4: Yabelo to Hawassa – Dec 25
Good morning. It is Christmas Day in the rest of the world but not here. People are up and about working as usual.
The vehicle arrived driven by a handsome and calm 26-year old fellow. I threw my rucksack to the back seat and we hit the road towards the north, leaving behind Yabelo seated under the round Obda Hill.
He is a good driver – I could tell it by how he handled the Landcruiser in the first few meters – expertly nursing the accelerator, letting the engine sing to the change of gears.
“How long have you been driving?” I asked.
“Been driving since I was 14. I actually drove for many years without a license for a taxi company,“ he said.
“And you never got caught?” I marvelled.
“No sir,” he smiled. “You know if you don’t cause trouble like an accident, the police would rarely ask for your license.”
“What happens if one gets caught?” I pressed on.
“You can go to jail for a long time or pay a huge fine,” he answered as he gently turned on the music. Teddy Afro, a controversial and popular music came on…blurting the words “Mare Mare.” I responded to the beat shaking shoulders and clapping to the beat. He smiled – a little surprised that I know the song and how to dance it. That connected us and it will be three days of stories on the road to Addis Ababa.
The land is flat and beautiful but clear signs of overgrazing in non-farming areas. The road is wide and well-marked. Donkeys, cattle and camels are abundant, crossing the road at will; a driver has to be extremely careful for killing livestock carries punitive penalties.
They also grow Teff here – an indigenous crop that is high in dietary fibre that provides protein and calcium. It is similar to millet but the seed is much smaller and cooks faster. Teff is used to make Injera. After the seed had been harvested, the rest of the plant is used to feed livestock.
We drove past small towns that are mostly occupied by subtribes of the Oromo people – Fichawa, Fresheka and Hagera Maryam. At about 100KM, we started to climb towards the highlands – a region called the Southern Nations Nationalities Peoples Region. This region is productive – green fields with maize and bananas. The road is now laced with trucks, donkey and horse carts that took produce to the markets in the towns of Gedeb, Fisehagenet, Yirgachefe and Winegu. The people are different too – more Bantu looking than Cushitic. The farms and markets are busy – all I could see is a hardworking people.
We stopped for a break at the city of Dilla Town – 200KM from Yabelo and this is also the end of the good road. We started driving very slowly past road construction crews and earth movers for over 100 kilometres. Sunset was fast approaching and we all seem anxious and I was relieved to see the 46KM sign to Hawassa at the town of Aposto.
We made it to Hawassa at 7:30PM. It is a beautiful evening in a seemingly busy city with well-lit streets. We checked into Pinna Hotel at the shores of Lake Hawassa.
I logged into the hotel wifi – Christmas Messages are still trickling in. I am still unable to access Facebook and Whatsapp because authorities have blocked their use in order to mute a student-led protest over the unrest in Moyale.
Now 1300Km done! Goodnight.