I’d been to Link Ethiopia’s offices in London to meet their wonderfully enthusiastic and pleasingly easy-going staff twice before setting off for the horn, but really had no idea what to expect from the projects, country or local staff. Occasionally, ill-formed predictions would swim across my mind, but they were given short shrift; I’ve always found prediction of all of the complexities of a future experience far more than my feeble imagination is capable of.
Following a plane journey that issued a straight ultimatum between gazing at Iron Man 3 or reading plane safety guidelines and food that took our appetites away one way or another, we arrived in the underwhelming smog of Addis and my imagination could take it easy.
Soon enough though, first day anxiety arrived. That quivering, unimaginative, terrified part of you that always votes for sitting at home with a glass of apple squash watching highlights of the 2005 Ashes, finds itself holding the floor of the silent argument in your head. And for a moment, you believe it. However, all of the unexpected pleasures, sights, adventures, friends, frustrations and feelings that can’t be replicated back home, lay ahead.
Aware of the constant need to barter in Ethiopia I was mildly apprehensive at the prospect of getting a taxi to the British Council on the day of our arrival. I knew trouble could be lurking so had looked up the distance to the council before asking the hotel to find a driver. Moments later a well-dressed taxi owner emerged offering the trip for 600birr.
“600… That seems expensive … err … quite a lot … err … too, much, money (ahh yes, thinking up three different way to say something before you can be understood, I really need to start learning languages). We’d bartered to 500 before I casually played my trump card. “How far is it?”, “Erm, 9km”. Time for my nasty Machiavellian ploy from early to come to fruition – it was only 4. “Great”, a voice uncannily like mine said, “Let’s go”. Urgh.
Soon after, on quietly sharing my wasted distance trick this with my companion Sue, (more on her later), I learned that the driver had both better hearing and better English than I had bargained for, earning us a rather long and rather echoing lecture on honesty. We also learned a new distinction between young and old people, apparently young people know distances and old don’t. Who knew?
Barely 12 hours after take-off we were with the Link Ethiopia staff, who have been exceptionally welcoming. We flew to Gondar next morning, and with Eyayew’s accommodating nature, Elsa’s thoughtfulness, Zee’s perpetual smile and Sultan’s kindly invitations to feel at home, I did indeed do so.