Ethiopia! Finally, I made it.
Trust me, I am far from enthusiastic, as the statement above may suggest.
Moyale is Moyale on either side – i.e. Kenya or Ethiopia, in that, I can’t understand why there is a high correlation between poverty and bad sanitation and hygiene. This is the same the world over (at least from my observation of having travelled to one too many backward, under developed nations).
The thing is: there is nothing from the economic standpoint to stop one from being neat, clean and tidy – is there? What I meant is, it cost nothing to dispose packaging, used bottles, food scraps in the proper or right places, right? And why not use the toilets being built by charitable NGOs? or what happened to drop-hole toilets?
I can understand dirt/ dust and grim caused by the elements – and trust me, when you’re up against sandstorms, unsurfaced roads and grounds with water shortages everything takes on a natural brown tone and there’s really nothing much one can do. Frequent washing – that is if water is not a problem – is a redundant act which proves more problematic. I have come to learn very early on, through self experimentation, that it’s really better to let nature take its cause by creating a protective layer on your epidermis and excreting just the right amount of grease to cleanse your scalp. But hailing from a different world, it does not stop me from dancing in the rain in a prison camp, obsessively wiping my feet with wet wipes, or sneaking into high end luxury safari/ national park resorts’ toilets and park ranger’s accommodation for a shower.
But, I do get this. I’ve camped out with the Samburu-s who’s only source of water is a brown muddy river some 2.5 to 3.0 kilometers away … I’ve spent time with the Hammar tribes who has never had a bath in their entire lifetime.
But what I fail to understand is why at the slightest hint of “civilisation”, packaging from the direct result of commercialization is being disposed carelessly around. Excrement and other bodily discharges are strewed around! These are things you do not experience in areas where the people lived off their land and batter trade life stocks, food produces and handmade household items.
And so, that’s the state of Moyale (Ethiopian side).
Being larger than its Kenyan counterpart and somewhat more prosperous with piped water and apparently a long-established electricity supply with lots of simple stores and eating places, Moyale (Ethiopian side) has a less sinister feel to it (compared to Kenyan side) with more street touts and frankly, just about any Ethiopian male youth ready to cut any type of deal with you; especially one pertaining to money exchange or transportation arrangements.
Point to note is: banks exists on both sides of Moyale with ATMs(!)… but let’s not get excited.
Service is terribly slow and confusing – where queues do not exists and banking halls does appear like a market square with flimsy counters demarcating the public from staff members counting stack high of birr on open tables …
… and yes, currency shortages is a norm. Fact is: 100Euros is a lot of Ethiopian birr (and beer (bira or birra) as well). So, be patient if it takes 8 people around a table 30 to 40 minutes to sort through a stack of brown-soiled “paper” for the equivalent of 100Euros … occasionally having to open the bank’s strong room, which is no more than a room at the back of the bank secured with some aluminium bars with a vault in the wall. Now, let’s not imagine The Italian Job or any Ocean’s 11, 12 (whatever) movie here – the vault is a recessed wall with a few shelves that has a few neatly stacked bills secured with rubber bands.
Since soiled notes don’t compress well, bring a large bag with you to shove the plastic bags filled with what appears to look like soiled, damp, crushed “toilet paper” you’d normally disposed … but don’t! That’s legal tender in Ethiopia even if you’re not able to make out any print on the brown highly suspect looking paper with torn edges.
Interestingly the touts on the street will not only quote you better rates than the banks, they are also able to complete the transaction in minutes by the sidewalk with a *special* currency converter calculator, and their notes handed out are crisps too! I’d leave the decision up to you … but given that you can’t even make out the birr handed out in the bank and presumably have never seen a birr in your life … well, all I’m saying is use your judgement – the BETTER one I hope!
As for transportation, in the case of public buses going north bound to Addis Ababa, you’ll need to be at the station by 5:30am to secure yourself a 6:00/ 6:30am departure in a first come first serve basis while nudging and avoiding baggage handlers who are often pick-pocketers as well. Worth knowing at this point is there is NO direct bus to Addis Ababa, but one the Shashemene or Hagere Maryam. The former is best avoided unless you’re keen to visit the birth place of Rastafari due to rampant muggings and pick-pocketing.
[Rastafari Photos aren’t mine – lost my CF card!!! – after all the ‘pain’ and trouble I went through]
For the southbound journey, it’s best to ask about trucks heading south across the border as buses schedule is erratic and may change; e.g. as of June 2005, there was a bus service running all the way to Nairobi (>24 hours), but seems to have ceased operations in 2010! Fare charged by trucks varies between 1000-2500 Kenyan Shillings depending on comfort (i.e. at the truck bed exposed to the elements but great photo ops, or in the enclosed cab). Trucks typically go through Isiolo and Marsabit or via Wajir and Garissa before arriving in Nairobi 2 to 3 days later through beautiful yet desolate countryside with Rothschild’s giraffe wandering around Wajir and herds of camels standing in the middle of the tarmac oblivious to the world.
Although bandits or Shiftas are a common problem, but don’t let that stop you as they are not keen on foreigners.
Ethnic fighting between the Borana and Gabra, such as the Turbi massacre, is yet another piece of news that haunts us who are quick with internet searches, and yes, the situation remains tense between Moyale and Marsabit, but again, this violence is not directed at foreigners.
Nonetheless, it’s best to hire an arm guard with you, adopt a selfish attitude by refusing to stop along the desert road for anyone in trouble (e.g. vehicle breakdown), or travel in a convoy of trucks like I did. The only ‘trouble’ encountered were delays at border crossing … and well, some “characters” whom you’d like to feed to the hungry hyenas when you travel with a pack of strangers under duress.
For instance, whilst leaving the Kenyan border post was quick and the only country thus far in all of my African travels to have checked on my Yellow Fever vaccination card, entering the Ethiopian border was a bit of a poor show, possibly due to the fact that we had arrived just before lunch and not knowing that our vehicles details and its contents needs to be checked (for the Carnet des Passages), alongside the need to have an inventory of our electronic equipment’s’ serial numbers being recorded. Unwilling to reveal my exhaustive camera gears, my inventory of serial numbers were whatever I fancied at that moment as I was too lazy to look them up or expose the items in my Lowepro Trekker and Domke; e.g. M1C43Y-M0U53, D0N41D-DU64, P@55W04D, 50M3-1d10T5 … etc. but some of the “characters” on board the trucks, on the other hand, had for some unknown reason felt compelled to be 100% dead honest and accurate by trudging their wares out only to be inspected item by item by officials who seemed to me more interested in pocketing the items than the exercise of recording the serial numbers. And so there I sat, in the dusty heat hearing ridiculous “negotiations” that should not have taken place in the first place if some grey matter was engaged.
Allocating only a hour stop, I ended up being there for 4 hours… oh well, the saving grace is Ethiopia’s Ge’ez Orthodox calendar is a full seven to eight years (depending on the exact date) behind the Gregorian calendar with thirteen months in a year! Short of saving: I could have lulled 7 years of my life away without a care … but just not in Moyale … surrounded by pesky flies and touts.