18 November 2012

Ethiopia: Thumbs Up Africa Blog 7 - Being 17 Again in Ethiopia

Photo: Elizabeth Mbundu/RNW
Sierd van der Bij, Neda Boin and Christiaan Triebert - Dutch hitchhikers in Africa.


Hunter S. Thompson left the world one famous lesson. If you want to know what you're talking about, you have to try it out yourself. He named it gonzo journalism. Although I have left my experimental phase far behind me, I felt 17 again. The Ethiopian calendar hits 2005 this year, so in a way I'm indeed 17 here.

“What are you doing?” I had asked the guys I saw sitting on the sidewalk a few times during the day. “I watch people. They come and go,” said one. The answer was as easy as that. Not too different from me watching people come and go while I would enjoy a pint of beer on a sunny day in the Netherlands.

But these boys have green teeth, green as grass, green as qat. By Dutch law, qat is considered to be a drug. Here, chewing qat is more common than smoking a cigarette. Qat leaves make you very lazy – or, actually, they make you fit for the job you happen to be on while chewing.

The job. So that's why Hatamu was chewing so much. “You alright?” was his favourite line, something which he’d repeat as we covered 500 slow, winding kilometres through the green Ethiopian mountains. Being a truck driver for Derba Transport, he got to see all of the Horn of Africa. And finally he asked: “Now that we've had breakfast, it's time to chew some qat. Will you try it?"

Miss Temptation left me no other option. Although Hatamu’s Volvo did not do much more than 25 kilometers an hour, I was chewing five leaves a minute. To sweeten the taste, Hatamu took a little sugar with them. I did the same and enjoyed the result of doing so. We listened to Ethiopian reggae and a few more times I answered affirmatively to his “You alright?”s.

For a while, I forgot about child labour, the poor state of agriculture, lack of education and poverty. I found myself sitting comfortably in a brand-new truck that was doing its best to avoid collisions with donkeys, baboons and children. I was whistling to the melody of Bob Marley’s evergreen ‘Three little birds’. I was chewing the day away.

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