I braced myself against the back seat of the van and waited to see what had happened. Our driver for the day pulled over to the right side of the road. A goat herder in a white turban carrying a walking stick approached us. To our left, the goat we had apparently just hit ran to the grass for safety. Kids started slowly collecting to our van like filaments to a magnet. Our driver and guide got out, while the guide’s beautiful young wife stayed with the rest of us. The seven of us looked at each other in shock and confusion. “Close the doors,” Ale said, as the crowd gathered. Javed and Niraj got out and stood at either side.
The goat herders, our guide and driver walked to the grassy area on the left, where the goat stood, its face bloody. They were talking in Amharic, arguing from the looks of their dramatic arm gestures. Our guide picked up the goat several times, perhaps weighing him, or indicating that he wasn’t badly injured. On our right, children from around ages 4-14 gathered. They had varying hues of dark skin and eyes, with closely cropped hair, a few shaved in geometric patterns. Big bright eyes, open and looking, mouths smiling when we smiled. By then, we had determined the temperature of the situation and had opened the door. To entertain the kids, Alejandra recited the few words in Amharic she had written down: “Hello,” “Nice to meet you,” “What is your name?”
On our left, the men were still arguing, lifting the goat.
Back on the right, Alejandra asked, “Should we count to ten and impress them?” So she did. One of the kids told us her name in perfect English. We looked at each other in awe. “Pencil?” another one asked. But we didn’t have any pencils available; everything was packed in our luggage and loaded in the back.
The driver came back to the van and got money out of the glove compartment. He brought it to the goat herders; later we found out he paid 500 Ethiopian birr, or the equivalent of $25. Our guide walked back to the van carrying the goat upside down by his legs. Some of us started clearing room for him, but others loudly refused. We had three more hours til Gondar, and barely enough space for the 10 of us and our luggage as is.
* * *
The day had started about 10 hours earlier, when we left Addis Ababa bright and early 6:30 Sunday morning. Plenty of people were walking to church wearing thin white shrouds, sheer fabric wrapped around their hair and bodies like a toga.
We were surprised to notice many runners up the steep hilled streets around Addis. Lots of men running, stretching, doing push-ups on the side of the street.
As we drove further from Addis, crowded city streets gave way to houses and shacks further apart. The soil was red. We passed a cement factory, horses, donkeys, people herding cattle, oxen and goats. After a few hours the elevation grew higher, the air grew colder and thinner as we approached the Rift Valley. We stopped for gas, some kids approached us and we gave them some marbles.
The Rift Valley was extremely winding and extremely beautiful, mountains full of clouds and trees. A baboon ran across the road, then another and another, and we saw about seven or eight in one small curve of the road, including a mom holding her tiny baby. Near the top, women and children were selling plates of fruit, and Alejandra bought two full plates from a woman with intricate tattoos (either a pattern or script writing) covering her neck. It cost 60 cents for all the bananas and limes we then ate.
It got warmer as we descended, and then cooler again once the elevation once again rose.
We stopped for lunch in the afternoon, during a rain storm. Out of the restaurant window we saw at least two wedding processions around the street’s roundabout, including several donkeys wearing woven blankets, songs pouring out of cars, bajajs (small three-wheeled rickshaws), guys dancing in the back of a pick-up truck and dump truck, and the wedding parties wearing flowing outfits. By the end of our weekend, we’d counted over 10 weddings (asseh in Amharic).
We bought some cake for the road. Some of us were carsick and took more medication. Further along the route we encountered the beautiful light of the setting sun, people of varying skin tones and clothing styles carrying wood down the side of the street, and eventually, the goat.
* * *
After the guide heeded his wife’s quick response to our unease with the goat’s accommodations, and piled the goat onto a bus that had just stopped, we continued in the deepening dusk to Gondar. The roads were very winding and trucks were using their high beams in the dark. Our driver was exceptional, however, at navigating the potholes, sharp turns, people and (almost all) animals with grace and precision. We arrived in Gondar just before 9pm, grateful to have made it to our destination, to no longer be crunched in the van, bouncing around with luggage, and thankfully no goat.