|Location:||lalibela, ethiopia (2432 m)|
|Text:||52 901 kilometres on the road
"sudan!" was all i could think about when i woke up this morning. "i want to get out of ethiopia as soon as possible; by the shortest route". sudan, a country that many people associate with terrorism and war, suddenly looked to me like heaven. "the sudanese are the friendliest people in africa," travellers had repeatedly told me. that was exactly what i needed now.
as we had breakfast in a road side café, enjoying the wonderful ethiopian coffee (there are good things in this country), two bikers arrived from the north. ulli and arthur, (the 'schmalspurnomaden') from austria. they had come through the middle east, egypt and sudan. we spent about an hour exchanging information about our respective roads ahead.
driving to lalibela on a small road, built on a narrow ridge into a vertical rock face, that gave a stunning view over the rugged plateau down below, i decided to give ethiopia another chance. bad luck and an accumulation of small events must have spoiled my mood yesterday. i breathed deeply, enjoyed the view and started, once again, to wave back at the children who stood on the side of the road, their little arms stretched out, palms up and greeting me: "money-money-money".
"my name is steven, not money!" i shouted back, smiling to myself. i had my good mood back; i could enjoy traveling again.
i had taken the lead and i was a couple of minutes ahead of witek and bartek, when i entered a little village in a green, fertile valley. i knew instantly that i was in trouble when i saw them: about a dozen young men, jogging down the road, chanting in unison and swinging arm-long wooden sticks. it looked like a ceremony or like the celebration of some victory.
as soon as they saw me they cheered loudly and blocked the road. they continued chanting, still jumping up and down, gesturing me to stop. they quickly surrounded me and all i could see were sweaty faces all around me, bobbing up and down, eyes wild and enchanted, as if in a frenzy or in ecstasy, a nightmare, a dream, a vision, the loud singing ringing in my ears. i was not afraid, not yet; just careful not to spoil what still looked like slightly crazy but enthusiastic fun.
"will you give us money?" one of the boys in front of me shouted above the noise. "you seem to have a good party!" i replied, trying to steer the conversation into different direction. "how are you?" i don't think i appeared as confident as i had intended.
"give your money!!!" he shouted into my face, still grinning, jumping up and down. "what for?" i yelled back, "i have no money to give"
they grabbed the front wheel, the handle bar and held on the luggage on the back, making sure i couldn't leave. "money! – money! – money!" they chanted in unison, laughing and screaming. they almost made me fall as they rocked my bike.
"allright, fine. i'll give you some money!" i said, trying to make myself heard above the noise. it worked. they stopped rocking the bike, but continued to jump up and down, their sweating faces glittering with greed and excitement.
once more i tried to change the topic of what could hardly be called a conversation, trying to buy time. i realized that quite some people were sitting around on the side of the road, absolutely ignoring the fact that i was being robbed in bright daylight. a car drove by. i tried to flag it down for help; the drive waved back and was gone.
they soon became outright aggressive and while one of them tried to bring me to a fall i felt the first sticks pounding on my luggage and on my back. all i could see through my narrowing vision was a mass of trance-like moving bodies, the hypnotizing up and down, sweaty faces, dust and sticks, accompanied by a no longer coherent singing, shouting and yelling. i could swear there was heavy rain clouds overhead, overshadowing the sun which cast a dim light of doom over my world.
i was exposed, helpless and under fire, going down an unknown path into despair. i was done, had no chance to escape. a sense of claustrophobic fear began creeping up my spine.
the old man came out of nowhere, like a saint; my saviour. his face appeared like a vision between the frenzy of wild-eyes youths, only his halo was missing. and while the other villagers were professionally indifferent he started pleading to the mob to let me go, gently pushing one after another away from the front of my bike. the rocking subsided, and the beating stopped.
eventually there was enough space for me to bolt and i sped out of the frenzy, leaving an upset mob and a saint behind. "i'll light a candle for the old man," i thought. not a believer myself i still thought that that would be a good (and the only) way to thank him.
i was overwhelmed with feelings that i can hardly describe: shock, outrage, fear and disbelieve. i wanted to scream but i only managed to produce a wheezing sound of despair. all i wanted was to get out of this awful country and it took me quite a while to overcome a feeling of cold and naked hatred for everything associated with ethiopia.
i became numb. i completely shot my self off from my surroundings and ignored everything around me: waving children, friendly smiles, flying stones, insults; anything. they didn't exist anymore. there was only my little micro cosmos, travelling through the hostile space of an unknown, dark universe; steady and unstoppable. i was numb. i had no feelings left.
it was already dark when i arrived in the remote town of lalibela. kids tried to jump on my bike in order to show me the way to some hotels. i shook them off. they complained. i didn't care. eventually i made my way through the labyrinth of narrow steep and stony streets, in the complete darkness of a town without electricity.
at the helen hotel i was overwhelmed by the other side of the ethiopian medal: i was welcomed like an old friend of the family which runs the little place. they were hospitable and friendly and i almost felt sorry that wasn't yet in a mood to return their friendliness.
when the polish guys arrived later i learned that they had also been attacked by the mob. we decided to get as drunk as possible tonight; a stubborn and boyish reaction, but it felt like exactly the right thing to do. with the mounting drunkenness we got rid or our bad feelings and managed to make some fatalistic jokes, turning our forced smiles into real bursts of laughter.