As we slowed to a crawl from well above 100km/h I looked up from my work to see what had caused this interruption of incessant swerving back and forth. A half a dozen young boys were aggressively urging their 50 or so cattle and sheep across a narrow bridge, as this road was the only way across the now high waters of the small creek. I took the opportunity to glance around and absorb the beauty of the Ethiopian Rift Valley. Here, about a hundred kilometers south of Addis Ababa, a passerby can get a quick glimpse of some of the most beautiful nature that Earth has to offer. A group of ten storks stood proud and tall atop a lush, flat-topped acacia tree, a small bird with the brightest red color I have ever seen rose up from the grass near the road side, and the green stretched for miles, and obvious sign that there has been adequate rainfall this year.
Further south we go, the green grass and twisted acacia trees begin to be accompanied by small shrubs and fields of corn as the dry season climate here is a little kinder than just a 100km to the north. Different types of trees appear on the roadside, some even with flowers. People walk this way and that carrying goods to or from the markets. Sheep and cows eager for the grass that is always greener on the other side daringly try to cross the road one of the nicest and busiest roads in Ethiopia running over 800km from Addis to the Kenyan border at a town called Moyale. Small villages and decent sized towns occasionally force vehicles to slow down, but the accelerator promptly hits the floor as the last of the homes are passed and the long stretch of smooth asphalt runs endlessly in front of us with mountains in the distance on every horizon that just never seem to get any closer.
Even further south now the small shrubs give way to bigger ones and the acacia trees begin to give way to warca trees which stand with the elegance of an old oak. Fences begin appearing around the houses as lumber is more readily available with the much larger number of trees. The leaves of false banana trees reach over top of the fences, a tell tale sign that we are now in the land of Ethiopiaâ€™s number one crop â€“ coffee. Pictures of legendary reggae star Bob Marley begin appearing on the roadside as well as the associated colors of red, yellow, green and black surrounding the Lion of Judah, the proud symbol of the Rastafarians. This means we are also fast approaching Sashemene, the once large, but now small, plot of land given to the Rastas by Emperor Haile Selaisse I, the man worshiped as a God by the Rastafarian religion. And then it is behind us.
It becomes apparent at about this point that we are now in the mountains that not so long ago appeared unreachable. Tree species too numerous to mention intermix with the coffee that is endemic to the highlands of Ethiopia. Even in the vehicle the air has a different feel, lighter, cooler, damper. The tall eucalyptus trees, given as a gift to Ethiopia by Australia in the late 1800’s and now everywhere, give off a strong scent as a light mist begins to fall. Up a slight incline and now fully encased in clouds we are again forced to a crawl as visibility is next to nothing. Another few minutes and its clear as if there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky all day.
As we begin our descent down the mountains the sprawling, red savanna which is Borena extends as far as the eye can see. We’re not going all the way there on this trip, but I can picture the familiar scenery in my head, short, twisted acacia trees intermixed with giant termite mounds which take on the red hue of the surrounding soil. Cattle by the thousands herded from one pasture to the next wherever there happens to be water at this given time.
At this point you may be asking yourself what this has to do with Peace Corps or Guyana, and I asked myself that very same question when I decided to post this here. Well, there isn’t really a huge connection other than that Ethiopia, like Guyana is an incredibly diverse place and everyone should try there best to get out and visit as many places as you can and meet as many people as possible. In doing this you may understand where the passion that Peace Corps Volunteers have comes from.