Saturday, October 2, 2010

48 - On The Road (And A Freaking Crap Bus) Again

The trip from Hargeisa to the Ethiopian frontier is fine, mostly tarred, and emigration procedures fairly rapid, apart from dragging luggage over 200 yards of stoney ruts. But the minibus onwards to Jijiga for the change to Harar makes Angola's buses seem like cadillacs. It's already full, and muggins is seated side saddle on a slippery plastic covered bench back placed horizontally at a 10 degree tipping angle between two seats behind the first row. In an artistic makeover the interior above the driver is bedecked with pink and golden fabric roses and green ferns.

And we're off! And muggins is off! I pick myself up from among the jerrycans, reposition myself on the slide and find a tear in the plastic cover of the next seat in which to sink my talons for balance as we jounce along the rutted rock and dirt track. The conductor asks for 20 birr ($1.50) fare. This raises an interesting point since I already paid when I boarded. The question now is: whose income did I boost by $1.50? Helped by a Somalilander who lives in Manchester, the conductor eventually lets me be.

View from the bus window
We have three major police checks along the way, frisking, luggage opened and all, no doubt to deter would-be Shabaab suicide bombers from taking the ride, though they could just as easily blow themselves up at the checkpoint, killing both passengers and police checkers. But they're also looking to staunch arms and explosives trafficking as well as the smuggling from Somaliland of everything from electronics to sweets, which deprives the exchequer of a load of taxes.

A mother and baby are ensconced in the chair into whose holed back I've stuck my fingers, and I pass the time making eyes - with the baby that is; Mum is otherwise occupied, being an inveterate nose picker. And now there comes on board a freaking iman with henna-ed beard and an amplifying boom box with which he has just regaled us with calls to prayer, holy war, alms - who knows. Not only has he plonked himself on a jerrycan right by my tipping point, he's also cheekily purloined my hole in the plastic seat cover. I get my own back, though, knocking his cap sideways with my elbow, repeatedly, at each jolt and unjolt of the bus.

Under Attack - The bus from Jijiga to Harar is larger, but still a mess, though this time I have a seat, or rather half of one since the woman next to me is not only ample but amply reinforced by a myriad parcels and bags. My fellow passengers are mainly Moslems from the Oromo region. We keep on stopping at more check points, where police mount the roof to check the packages. For some reason, this prompts the women on board to rise and start twirling about as if they were dancing dervishes. I've just been hit in the head with a swirling shawl - watch it Fatima. And now I've been clocked in the eye with a handbag - I'll get you back for that one, Aisha. To make matters worse, and more gender balanced, one of the male passengers now decides to do a monkey walk across the ceiling, kicking me in the head with a flip-flop. They're all shouting away in Oromo and seem to be saying repeatedly Mossad and Tel Aviv. Shit, they've blown my cover.

To make up for the inconvenience, the scenery is splendid – glorious green ravines with splashes of red flowers and a zillion light brown boulders and rocks tempered by the elements into all sorts of wild shapes, piles, pinnacles and spires, with giant circumcised penises predominating.

Another view

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