6th February 2013

Heart for Ethiopia

My last two days in Gondar seemed to disappear fast in a blur of admin and jobs as I scrambled to organise shipment of two new excellent Bridgestone trail wing tyres to Ethiopia via DHL. Its not possible to buy these tyres in Ethiopia and rather than exchange my now tread- bare tyres for some half-baked dodgy Chinese numbers, I decided to do the job properly and get the real deal imported, helping to keep Suzi in tip top condition for the difficult road ahead. Alas the whole process was rather stressful from the very outset - buying the tyres from my usual shop in London was hard enough given the Internet connection in Gondar is so weak, the Skype connection left me seemingly inaudible, let alone trying to co-ordinate the DHL shipment for such an irregularly sized package to such an unusual location. Thank goodness my dad saved the day and ended up making the call for me, otherwise I really think those tyres would never have ever left the UK. Looking back, that was a mere entree to the soul-sapping saga that this tyre importation debacle turned out to be, but more of that later…

In any case, while Eve and I slowly sipped drink after drink in the Taye hotel (home of the best wifi in town - albeit still rather poor), we were approached by a slightly frazzled looking, retired Englishman who introduced himself as Chris and asked if either of us could lend us his Skype, as he had some affairs in UK that urgently required his attention. We were happy to share our rather patchy facilities and ended up chatting away for several hours while we waited for the wifi to spring back to life (it regularly “fell over” completely). Chris had spent the last year or so travelling through Africa, in particular Uganda, working in a consultancy function to new business projects in the area. Alas now his regular cash drops from the UK had malfunctioned so, fearing a Skype call wouldn’t necessarily fix the problem, had decided to start heading south to Addis so that he could catch a flight home. That night, to be my final night in Gondar, the three of us ate a refreshingly delicious fish goulash at the tastiest restaurant in town, the so-called “Masterchef”, before making our way to our respective guesthouses for a good sleep before the following day’s adventures.

Next day, I woke up bright and early and was fully packed and ready for the road by 10.30am. After nearly a week in Gondar I had grown very comfortable there and therefore as is so often the case, I was a mixed bundle of nervousness and excitement at the prospect of heading out on the open road once again. Sure enough though, after a few warm goodbyes, Suzi, Donkey and I were off again on another adventure and loving that wonderful sense of freedom that only motorcycling the open road can promise.

The route to my intended rest stop of Bahir Dar was plain sailing and within 3 hours I had arrived at my planned destination, the lakeside hotel called the Ghion. While this hotel boasts many undeniable attributes such as beautiful, exotic gardens, a wonderful situation right on Lake Tana and an unparalleled opportunity to meet new travelling friends, it nonetheless rather lacks in the general desirability of their rooms. This hotel is government owned and seemingly has not been renovated since the 1950s - the large bedrooms are a chaotic mixture of mismatching ancient furniture with mattresses so sagging in the middle they resemble half-pipes and walls so crumbled that whole patches are tacked over with ply-board. Fortunately though (in my room at least) the sheets were clean and the shower was hot, so for me it had all I really needed.

I rolled suzi right up to the front door of my bungalow style room and had just started to unload when I heard a familiar voice calling my name. I looked up only to see Chris striding towards me with an hand outstretched in greeting. “I really am only just passing through Bahir Dar”, he insisted, “I’m absolutely not staying but I was just looking for you to ask if I might use your Skype again?”. I told him it was no problem and once I had fully unloaded the bike and changed out of my riding kit, went to join Chris for a refreshing drink in the garden. Sure enough though, the wifi went down as soon as he tried it but in the meantime Chris mentioned that an American he had met in Gondar called Morgan was also staying at the hotel. Shortly afterwards, Morgan wandered over and pulled up a chair next to us to introduce himself - he told many colourful stories about his student job as a prison guard at a youth correctional facility as well as his current employment as a professor at a South Korean university. From our brief chat I concluded that I almost certainly never wish to go to South Korea. On hearing that I was a biker, Morgan related many stories of his days buzzing around Seoul on a scooter and getting regularly carved up by negligent taxi drivers. This apparently happened with such frequency that he actually used to tuck a hammer under a bungee on the back of his seat for use as a weapon on any offending vehicle’s bonnet as retribution for any misdemeanours. Not really my scene.

Anyway, Morgan’s colourful life story didn’t end there! It was halfway through hearing about Morgan’s majority shareholding in his wife’s tattoo parlour that we were interrupted by a politely spoken Belgian lady who introduced herself as Rita. She explained that she had arranged to meet someone at Ghion and could she wait with us for half an hour until the friend arrived? We welcomed her warmly and pulled up a seat. On further enquiry it transpired that Rita wasn’t exactly meeting a friend - in fact she was couch surfing and was waiting for her host, a young Indian lady who had lived in Bahir Dar for the last year. I was well impressed by Rita - with two sons in their mid-forties, she was a brave and pioneering single female traveller, venturing as far as Yemen (if you speak Dutch you may be interested to read her book on her adventures there) and open to all kinds of intrepid experiences such as couch-surfing in Ethiopia, something I had never even thought of.

Soon enough Rita’s couch-surfing host, Pooja, arrived, a very confident and self-possessed girl in her mid-twenties. We five, an unlikely group in ordinary circumstances but nonetheless one that worked perfectly well under these ones, all decided to have a beer together and then all moved on to a fantastic local restaurant called Lake Shore for some supper. As we sat together that night and enjoyed a delicious meal, I reflected on how remarkable it was that only several hours earlier, I had been slightly apprehensive of leaving Gondar and spending the rest of the day quite possibly alone, but now was surrounded by new friends and enjoying new experiences.

Over the next few days we five hung out together and explored some of the highlights of Bahir Dar as seen by a local, with one of my particular favourites being a visit to the best ice-cream shop in town! (Donkey was of course thrilled and tucked into their banana split speciality with great enthusiasm - he later snored the rest of the afternoon away with an enormous grin on his face). One night will remain in my memory for a particularly long while. Pooja invited us all around for a supper and bonfire at her house. It was very much a “man make fire” type event with Morgan and Chris demanding substantial admiration for their log chopping/fire building efforts as the three of us girls prepared salads, chicken and rice in the kitchen. This may sound terribly twee, but believe it or not I am a home bird really and very much enjoyed the time helping out chopping vegetables and chatting with the girls in the kitchen - it was a little taste of home, safety and normality mixed with a lovely feeling of sisterly warmth. As night fell and the fire roared, it was a wonderfully relaxing feeling to be sitting out on benches under the stars and just enjoying being in the moment with some wonderful new friends. With Pooja on one side of me and Rita on the other, we huddled together against the slight nip in the night air and I felt very content.

Next day, Rita and I decided to go on a short afternoon trip out to visit the Blue Nile Falls, a beautiful waterfall an hour or so’s minibus drive from Bahir Dar down a very dusty rubble track. The extreme vibrations seemed to have as detrimental an impact on the minibus (the middle of the steering wheel was jumping and jiving freely in its socket) as it did on the driver, who only disclosed on arrival at the ticket office that he had no idea how to get to the actual site itself. Despite the ticket office manager then cycling ahead down a deserted track to guide the way, our driver still managed to get totally lost, much to the increasing rage of one particular tourist on our bus, a soap-dodging mancunian. Doesn’t it make you proud to be British!

Mercifully though we arrived in the end with just enough daylight to take in our surroundings. With the fading light of a perfect summer’s evening, the valley was drenched in a warm, golden glow and I was blown away by just how stunning this place was. On more than one occasion, I had to keep reminding myself to stop gawping at the perfect watercolour painting all around me and watch where I was putting my feet as the track was steep and littered with large porous rocks perfectly created for twisting angles.

The walk took us along the stone Portugese bridge crossing the gorge then up a steep climb, dodging the free range chickens clucking at our feet and swift-footed children pawing at our pockets selling scarves and wooden flutes. After this short ascent, we reached a plateau, where we caught our first glimpse of the falls, apparently the 5th largest in the world (although dramatically smaller than they were in the past given the recent construction of a dam). Rita and I walked on together with a guide, who was helping Rita maintain a sure footing over the tussocks and rocks towards the falls themselves. I was so distracted by the powerful roar of the falls and the delicious sweet taste of the spray in the air that at first I didn’t notice a little voice calling “hello, hello” next to me. The little voice persisted though and looking over, I saw the little boy who was trying to attract my attention. Usually these appeals are followed up with “give me pen, give me money” rather swiftly, but this boy just grinned up at me with a lovely smile and started to walk alongside me, offering his hand for me whenever he saw our guide doing the same for Rita. I really didn’t need any help and laughed smilingly when he offered his hand, at first suspected another ruse for payment, but I could see in his face that he just wanted to be with me so I gave him my hand and he carefully led me up the rocks towards the falls. I stopped briefly to take a few photos and he looked very interested in my camera. “I take photo of you?” I asked, waiting to hear if he was going to demand some Birr in payment like his friends earlier on in the walk. This boy was different though. “Yes pleeese!” he replied with great excitement, leaping up onto a big rock for his very own perfect waterfall photo. I took a couple and showed him. He grinned shyly and pulled at his grubby t-shirt in delight. “thank yoooou!” he said. I smiled back at him warmly, refreshed by his lovely manners.

Once Rita and I had taken a few more photos at the falls, we started walking over to the river, from which we planned to complete the route with a short boat crossing. The sun was just about to set in the sky when the boy tapped my arm. “Good bye!” he said with another lovely smile. I really liked this boy, he didn’t seem to want anything beyond practising a bit of English and having his photo taken. Perhaps for that very reason I actually wanted to give him something small and wished I’d remembered to pack the pencils I’d bought for exactly this occasion. Then I remembered that I had one of Donkey’s emergency Werther’s Originals in my backpack. After a bit of rummaging, I found one in the front pocket and handed over the gold-wrapped sweet to the boy. His eyes grew huge as he saw what I was giving him and his face was a picture of complete delight. “thank you!!” he cried and skipped off very happily, untwizzling the wrapper and popping the contents into his mouth in one deft motion, rolling the toffee around in his mouth with great enjoyment. I finished this beautiful walk feeling incredibly content and alive, this place felt like a kind of paradise and really awakened my soul. Happy memories.

Very quickly, Sunday rolled around and it was time to make the final two day push onto Addis. After I’d packed up and left the hotel, I dropped in at Pooja’s house where everyone was gathered for one final goodbye. Pooja very thoughtfully gave me a small blue eye charm that had once been given to her to ensure a safe journey, which I attached to my necklace, while Rita gave me a hand-written copy of her personal Credo (like a mantra) that she says to herself every morning for strength and wisdom. I was so touched by the fond farewell and felt very grateful to have got to know my new friends.

After a very enjoyable stopover that night in Debre Markos, where I met up with Toby and Alison, two Brits who are cycling their way from Khartoum to Capetown, I arrived at Addis the next day. The guesthouse I was staying in was looked after by the lovely Messi, the big sister of Abi who had helped me out so much in Gondar. Messi speaks fantastic English and was very warm and welcoming at the guesthouse. We soon got talking about all kinds of things and after a short while I realised that she might be the perfect person to help me with an important mission. Before I had returned home
for Christmas, I had spotted a poster in the tourist information centre in Debark (in the Simien mountains, a remote part of Ethiopia) appealing for humanitarian assistance. This 25 year old young man, called Getahun, had heart failure and consequently was appealing for $5000 to pay for an international surgeon to operate on him, as neither hospitals in Gondar nor Addis could help him. When I saw this poster with all the details of his medical condition etc, I immediately thought of a nurse friend of mine who once told me about a charity in Khartoum that offers free cardiac surgery to those in need from anywhere in Africa. While I was home over Christmas, I had found out more information from Clare and now just needed to contact Getahun to ask him to send his medical records on to this charity. Alas this young man’s English was very thin and so I decided to ask Messi if she would speak to him - with the massive proviso that she must make clear to him this was in no way guaranteed to be a successful application to Khartoum but that we would try our best (I didn’t want to raise his hopes falsely) , which she readily agreed to. Messi spoke to him for a long time on the phone in Amharic, translating the highlights of the discussion to me in English. “His medical records are in Addis” she told me half way through the conversation, “he says he is prepared to fly down here to get them for us but he really sounds sick and is actually just now in hospital in Gondar.” I thought for a moment. “Please tell him not to fly down. Can we get a patient number from him or the name of his doctor and I’ll see if I can get his records myself - if he’s ok with that.”. Some more words were exchanged on the phone with Messi making a few notes before Messi ended the call. “What did he say?” I asked. “He has given me his patient number and is really thankful if we go get his details. He really is sick, he does understand that its not certain we can get him help but he said thank you because we called him and we are trying to help, it’s just good that people are doing something for him.” “fantastic, thank you Messi!” I said, engulfing her in a huge hug. As I pulled away though, I couldn’t help but notice that she was starting to cry. “oh no Messi, what’s wrong?” I asked, feeling terrible to have brought her sadness. “it’s just he’s so young”, she replied, “and he’s so sick, he really needs help. There was a guy in my church group, a young man, the best singer in the choir, he also had a heart problem and was trying to raise money for help - you just can’t get surgery here like that unless you can pay. He was so close to raising enough money but last month he died. It’s so sad.” “I’m really sorry Messi”, I replied, “that’s terrible. You know back home we’re so lucky, if we get sick then usually everything is tried to make you better regardless of how much money you have. People get sad if someone dies of something that can’t be fixed, but I can’t imagine how it must feel to know you could be cured if only you had enough money.” Messi nodded sadly. “You don’t realise it but that’s gold you’ve got in your hand right there, just gold. You know, I’m going to help you get help for Getahun, I’ll go wherever you go, I want to help him get this operation.”

Messi was true to her word and next day after hours, showed me where the hospital was where I needed to apply for his records. On the following day, when the administrative department was open, I went down there with Eve (who had just arrived in Addis for a brief stopover) to see what I could do. I had been warned by some that there was no way I would get his records and it wasn’t even worth trying, but being something of a stubborn sort I wasn’t prepared to take no for an answer, so I purposefully strode into the building and searched out the correct desk, armed with Getahun’s patient number. The hospital was beyond grim with a dank grime coating every one of the broken, cracked surfaces and an occasional
sheeted corpse being wheeled past those barely clinging to this mortal
coil as they lay waiting to be seen on heavily worn chairs lining the corridors. Fortunately we were quickly shown to the correct office and asked our purpose. After a brief but confident explanation and appeal for help, a white-coated man sprang into action and to my huge appreciation, handed me the file within 5 minutes and offered to photocopy whatever I liked. I asked to copy a few ECG’s and doctors notes as instructed, thanked him and left, desperately grateful not to be requiring medical attention there myself.

Later on, I emailed off the documents to Khartoum with a request for consideration and Messi spoke to Getahun again, updating him of the latest progress. She told me afterwards that he has said he is praying a lot and for the first time in a long time has hope that he might be helped. She responded to him that this was great but he should keep praying. Messi then mentioned to me that it might be worth speaking to the doctor who was also using my guesthouse - he is Ethiopian but has lived in Germany now for many years, but returns to Addis regularly in his capacity as a cardiologist to operate for free on children with heart problems whose families can’t afford to pay privately.

Later that evening I approached him and mentioned Getahun’s situation, asking if he had any thoughts on what else I should do to present a good case to Khartoum. He suggested that we had all the information he needed and after a look at the ECG copy I had taken, suggested that Getahun’s problem was one that could easily be fixed with surgery. Greatly encouraged, we talked some more about what we were both doing in Ethiopia and hit upon a common interest in sustainable development - mine being Microfinance and his being a very smart new private hospital he had almost completed building in Addis. His vision is to provide top quality medical care of a western standard to paying, wealthy patients, the proceeds of which can fund a charity wing, where children can go to get life saving cardio surgery for free. “My view is that you need to be a little bit communist, a little bit socialist and a little bit capitalist, that way everybody wins”, he said. In fact he went on to explain the lengthy discussions he’s had with the health minister to gain his support and then invited me to a gathering the next day at his nearly completed new hospital, where the health minister would be making a special visit, as well as some children he had previously operated on out of charity. He was keen that I speak to these children (now in fact young people) and give them some tips on setting up a small business - post surgery these children are all on daily warfarin (blood thinners) for the rest of their lives and need to find a way to fund it. I quickly accepted his invitation for what promised to be a fascinating day ahead.

Next day Eve and I turned up at the hospital site for midday for a brief tour and were hugely impressed by this light, bright, marbled Mecca of a medical facility - it felt like stepping into a particularly exclusive private clinic in London. It was clear that our new friend Kifle Tondo, the doctor and visionary behind this project, was proud of this building, but when ten or so of his former patients walked into the building ready for the minister’s visit, then his real pride was completely clear. Each of these sparky young people had been helped
by Kifle but by the way he reacted towards them, hugging each one and asking each how things were going, you would think that the reverse were true. All of these young people were lively and talkative except one thin, meek looking young man with a gentle smile who was holding an envelope. Kifle took the envelope from him, removed a sheet of brain scans and held them up to the light. “This young man had a stroke the other day because his warfarin dosage wasn’t correct, this is why he can’t speak much. This is very sad but one of the problems with warfarin, especially the stuff we get sent from India and China.”

We waited together for the minster for two hours and I was prompted to give some ideas for setting up a small business. One of the girls was interested to set up her own beauty salon while another thought she could run a cleaning business in this very hospital. “fantastic!” cried Kifle with a huge laugh, “Yes I can employ you, very good!!”. It was another three hours before the health minister finally turned up. I was a little surprised by his appearance - not only was he younger than I expected but was wearing a sports jacket, chinos and trainers! I also noticed that Kifle too was wearing a black roll neck sweater jacket, trousers and trainers, a surprising uniform for the serious discussion of Africa’s power brokers. It seems that Steve Jobs really had a lot to answer for with the latest movement in “geek chic”.

The minister was taken on a tour of the building and I was introduced to him along with a two liner about my trip. After shaking hands, he said to me “You do this trip alone?” he asked? I gave the affirmative. “this sounds very dangerous” he continued, clearly disturbed by the thought. “perfect”, I thought, “Now I will stick in his memory”. (you see, Messi had explained to me the previous night that Getahun doesn’t have a passport should he need one to get to Khartoum and the typical wait is 3 months, which he may not have…..but I suspect that if I were to put in an appeal for his passport application on the grounds of medical emergency, things could be fast-tracked. I may be needing Mr Minister’s help!)

After the tour had finished we all gathered on the roof top for a group photo, but as Kifle was using this opportunity for a serious discussion with the Health Minister, Eve and I went to have our own chat with his former patients. I asked them how the operation had changed their lives and how quickly they had felt better. “after the operation there was much pain and I couldn’t breathe” one explained, “but after about a week I began to feel really much better and now my life is completely like normal. Kifle has given me a gift of a real life and a real hope for the future”. Looking at these young people, except for the occasional glimpse of the start of a thick vertical scar starting near the top of the centre of their rib cages, you would never know they had ever been anything but entirely healthy and I so hope that Getahun will also one day get this same chance fulfilled. The latest news is that his application has been received by Khartoum and we are waiting to hear back to see if they will grant him surgery. I so hope they can help.

The other major focus of mine while I’ve been in Addis has been taking delivery of my new tyres. Alas after nearly a week of waiting while
I was assured they were being processed through customs, I finally discovered last Saturday morning that nothing had happened and that I would need to go down to the domestic airport early on Monday morning to sort things out. At 9am on Monday morning I caught a taxi down to the domestic terminal and was unceremoniously dumped at the roadside, assured that this was my destination. Regrettably once the taxi had driven away, it became clear that this was in fact the Cargo section and I would need to tramp for 15 minutes down a dusty, slightly dodgy road to get to the correct place, which I duly did. After the mandatory bag and body scan just to get into the building, I was allowed into the domestic terminal and made my way through to the DHL office. I was handed a bundle of papers to do with my shipment and told that I needed to fill out a Tourist Declaration form, which could be found in office 34 at…you guessed it! - Cargo. With a bit of a sigh I headed back down the same dusty, dirty road past the same homeless men who had heckled me first time around and power walked my way to Cargo, reflecting that this was a regrettable development as I had wanted to get to the Kenyan embassy that morning to apply for my visa and time was now running tight. Little did I know, this was only the beginning.

After another pat down and bag search at the gate, I marched down towards the cargo building and searched out office 34 on the second floor. Predictably enough no-one in there had a clue what I was asking for but after explaining my story, one man kindly told me to follow him back down the stairs to another office in search for the answer. We entered a small office where he started talking away in Amharic with a young woman of authoritative body language. The man turned to me. “I think you cannot import the tyres” he announced. I sighed. “keep cool” I reminded myself. “no, I definitely can and in fact I have. I am here for a Tourist Declaration form. Can you help me find one please?”. The man nodded and spoke some more to his colleague before turning back to me. “you are diplomat, yes?” he checked. “No”, I reiterated, “I am a Tourist so I need a Tourist Declaration Form. Do you have one please?”. Some more talking went on. He turned back to me. “You are company, yes?” he inquired. I took a deep breath. “No” I repeated. “I am a tourist and I need a tourist declaration form. Is there a problem?”. Some more talking ensued. The man turned back to me “we do not have a tourist declaration form here. You must go to the domestic terminal, you will get one there.” The woman behind him nodded in verification. “No”, I replied, “i’m not doing that. If the office at domestic had this form, then they clearly wouldn’t have told me to come here. I am not leaving until I have a tourist declaration form” I explained calmly, trying to hide the note of irritation in my voice.

Further discussions went on between the two workers. The man turned back to me, gesturing toward the woman. “She say you cannot have your tyres until you get a registration number for them. You must go and get them registered” he ventured. I struggled to control myself. Another deep breath. “No”, I insisted, “that isn’t going to work as there is no way of registering a tyre. It’s not possible. I am here for a Tourist Declaration form and I am
not leaving without one. Really, I think it would be a good idea if she could call the office in the domestic terminal to get clear on what needs to happen.” By some miracle, the man actually passed on the message to the woman without hesitation or deviation and after a chat on the phone to domestic, the woman nodded at me to follow her upstairs to another office where two senior looking men were sitting at a desk. They asked me my story and on hearing my explanation, wrote a note on the back of my shipment document which apparently said “this girl is definitely a tourist and therefore does not have to pay customs duty.” With this note in my hand, I was instructed by one of these men to go back to “Domestic, I mean International” to collect my parcel. “sorry, was that domestic or international?” I asked. “international!” the man replied, then rubbing his temples and shaking his head, corrected himself, “I mean domestic!”

After several more rounds of this farcical confusion, I eventually deduced that I should return to Domestic to finally take receipt of the tyres. As I marched the third time back along that same dusty, dirty road, past the same beggars and hawkers, with the sun now really starting to heat the day, I reflected how relieved I was that this battle was now over and soon the parcel would be mine. In retrospect this was a classic case of hope over experience to trust that my bureaucratic ordeal might be anywhere near over. Once back at Domestic and after stepping through the security scanners again, I went back to the DHL office. “I now have my papers and am ready to collect my parcel. Where is it please?” I asked the same man I had spoken to before. He insisted on seeing my papers and then commanded me to walk over to the International terminal to the Customs office. I demanded to know why, given I was exempt. Despite my protests that I wanted to know what exactly I needed to obtain from my visit there, this man couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give me any further detail but just told me to go to see the customs boss.

More than a little annoyed to be sent out on yet another hike around the Bole airport complex, I tramped over to the international terminal, through yet more security scanners and found my way over to customs. After a long queue I was ordered to see the big boss man in room 2. I followed instructions and very shortly found myself face to face with a rather groovy looking young dude sporting a retro Jackson 5 inspired cropped afro, moustache and grey leather jacket with flared arms and tasseled zips. I pulled up a chair and presented my case, desperately fighting to resist the urge to break out with a few lines of “Abc, it’s easy as 123…”.

The man demanded to see my carnet, passport and parcel documentation, reading through big boss man’s handwritten note with an exacting precision. He gave me a serious look and asked why I had imported these new tyres, to which I replied that the tread was no so worn they were unfit for use. “Can’t you repair them?” he demanded. At first I thought he had misunderstood my explanation. “No you see it’s the tread, the thickness of the rubber, it’s now very thin and you can’t fix that, once it’s gone it’s
gone.” The man glared at me. He clearly didn’t believe a word I was saying. “I think these tyres can be fixed” he stated. Before I could interject, a girl came giggling up to mr Boss man’s desk with a decorative ostrich egg which had a series of rather naff lion portraits painted all over it. Once she had placed this on a wooden stand on his desk, she continued to flirt with him, rotating it this way and that in a flurry of giggles in an attempt to hide the enormous bodge-repaired crack down one side. He in turned giggled and flirted back as this hideous egg was endlessly swivelled this way and that. I think this marked the beginning of the end of my sanity.

“excuse me, please can you help me”, I appealed to the Boss man, who nodded at the girl to leave and studied my papers once again. “I think you can fix these old tyres” he reiterated, “so I write a special note on your carnet to say that you must not leave our country unless you are carrying your old tyres with you.” My temper began to fray. “Absolutely not”, I declared. Big boss man looked startled. “Do you really think I would have gone to the phenomenal expense of importing new tyres if the old ones could be fixed?” I asked. Then, also realising that my “tread-bare” argument would never be understood here given tyres are run here til they blow out, tread or no, I contined, “these tyres are dead, finished, gone, yellem! (Amharic for “nothing left/end). So I am absolutely not carrying these rubbish tyres around with me, I am a girl alone on a motorbike and these things weigh 10 kilos!”. The man stopped for a moment and pondered the matter briefly. “Ok, I do not make note on carnet” he concluded. I sighed a big sigh of relief. Instead he scribbled another note on the back of my shipping paper and told me to go back to domestic to collect my parcel.

More than a little jaded now in the fourth hour of this exhausting battle, I staggered my way back to domestic , threw myself through the security scanner again and proceeded back
to the man in the DHl office. “Now I would finally like to collect my parcel” I stated. The man leant forward in his chair for what I mistook for compassion. “And how long has your parcel been here for?” he enquired. “it’s been terrible, the tyres have been siting here for a week!” I explained. The man’s face lit up in a victorious mask of evil bastardly delight. “Then I must charge you warehouse fee!” he cried.

Suffice to say, that’s when I really lost the plot. Fortunately within twenty minutes I had won my tyres but lost what felt like an entire lifetimes supply of zest for life. Horrific. But now several days on and after yet more trouble trying to find a reputable mechanic to help fit
the tyres and service the bike, I was finally introduced to the wonderful Bernahu who did a truly fantastic job on the bike. He took great pride and delight in working on the bike (it was the first time he’d ever seen heavy duty inner tubes - they were passed around the workshop to great admiration) and assured me he has every confidence she’ll get to Capetown (I know he’s right, Suzi was built with a whole lot of love, thought and care - I am truly very lucky to have her). Bernahu really helped restore my faith in humanity after the airport debacle with his good sense and conscientious approach to Suzi’s maintenance, my guardian angel did well to bring me to him. So now Suzi, Donkey and I are ready for the next challenge that lies ahead of us - quite possibly our biggest yet - the 1000km offroad border crossing into Kenya - may the gods of motorcycling be with us!