Monday, August 3, 2009

Do you speak English?

Posted from Zagazig, Egypt

We pedal a long Thursday into Addis Ababa. The Egyptian Embassy is only open until noon on Friday and we don't want to wait out the weekend to submit our visa application, so we try get close enough to Addis but stop far enough out that we can still find a place to camp.

We fail. The capital of Ethiopia and the fourth largest city in Africa, Addis is sprawled to the extent that we're within it before we know it. Between all the industry and the masses of people, we see nowhere to camp. A petrol station refuses our request. There's little green space and where there is it's urban, inappropriate and probably unsafe.

The sun goes down. We've come 100 km uphill and we're so tired that our decision-making is suffering. We stop to put our feet down and wonder about what to do.

"Can I help you?" a passerby says.
We tell him we need a place to stay. He indicates that he knows a place, but he's acting strangely and we realize early enough that it's probably not a good idea to follow him.
A couple of ladies walking by might be more help. We ask, but they only tell us there's a hotel up ahead somewhere, out of sight.

We go another hundred meters or so and see an industrial compound of some sort. It's dark so it's hard to tell what exactly it is. There's an old fire truck, presumably undergoing some sort of maintenance. There's a low building with a satellite dish on top. Most importantly, there's a fence around the place and a group of uniformed guards, one of whom is holding an automatic rifle.

Ethiopia is the only country in the world whose national language is Amharic. Amharic is difficult to begin with. It's got it's own script and it's full of sounds not found in English, like the "exploded" t and k. The syntax and grammar is different, and words addressed to women often have different suffixes than those addressed to men. Furthermore, we've been in Ethiopia for only a little more than a week. Suffice to say, we butcher our attempt to ask for a place to sleep.

Like the women we met before, the guards suggest a hotel down the road. We try to explain that we wish to sleep in a tent, that all we need is a small square of ground to put it on.

We fail. The Amharic word for tent is "dnkwan." We learn later that a dnkwan is actually a large canvas tent used in funeral celebrations, which can last up to three days. It doesn't really matter because we can't pronounce "dnkwan" anyway.

We're debating whether to keep trying here or move on and hope for better luck elsewhere when one of the guards steps forward.

"Do you speak English?" he says.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...