Saturday, October 16, 2010

52 - Achtung! Halt!

A Dire Dawa square
Back again in daylight at the station cafe terrace; there's a lot of bustle. Evidently some train did arrive from somewhere during the hours of darkness. There's quite a crowd, piles of sacks, tuk-tuks tuk-tuking about, browsing goats, and a couple of horse buggies. This merits investigation. But muggins' attempt to enter the holy of holies this time is greeted by a serried array of upraised palms from a horde of police, soldiers and sundry others, suggesting that a halt to the sudden impulse is advisable. Where's your licence, one cop asks, aghast at my temerity.

OK, it's back to the café table. And muggins now has a new Deep Throat, an Ethiopian who has plonked himself down and informs me on the highest authority and deepest anonymous background that the flags flapping from the grey locomotive in the centre of the roundabout are indeed beer adverts and not part of an anti-AIDS campaign; they're for St. George beer. Meanwhile the shoeshine boys are taking customers' shoes to a little corner where they shine them; one little kid is using an awl and thread to do some sophisticated repairs.
St Michael's church

There's a rival station cafe across the square where tea at 12 US cents costs 4 cents more; but it has a pretty trellis with bright yellow-breasted little birds hopping on the branches. Each cafe seems to have its regular set of clients. This is indeed Jorge Amado-type territory with all its tales of provincial intrigue.

We're Gonna Rock Around The Clock Tonight

One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock... A visit to Ethiopian Airlines office in Dire Dawa produces a little surprise. The plane will be leaving at 8 instead of 5.20. Now this is confusing because it could mean two things; Ethiopians generally give you the time according to their clock, by which counting begins at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening. Hence they say 2 o'clock for our 8 o'clock, 6 o'clock for our noon etc. So the lady's announcement of muggins' flight change could mean an earlier departure at 2 p.m. But the Ethiopian beauty clarifies that she’s using the western clock; this means arrival in Addis at 2100.

Dire Dawa's flowering streets
Connecting with the ongoing flight back to the US, leaving at 2215, is virtually impossible, but they promise to put me up, all expenses paid, until the next flight in 24 hours time if I can't make the connection. Visions of first class luxury burgeon up in my mind's eye.

Some Corner Of A Foreign Field That Is Forever England

With hours on my hands, it's time for another walkabout. Down the road past the station square, past the mauve, red and yellow flowering trees, past a long wall of anti-AIDS murals (including one of a whore-like woman handing what could be a packet of condoms to a man sitting on a bed, his trousers coming down - and a real life beggar lying in the dust on the pavement beneath it), past the turn-off to the airport, lies one more of those little corners of England - a British war cemetery in a foreign land. Unlike many, this one is no manicured grassy oasis, but a small pebbled yard with 80 graves in rows. Virtually none is British; there are inscriptions in Arabic script, very non-English names from the King's African Rifles, Gold Coast Regiment, East African Rifles, some with crosses, some without – Africans fighting in the name of a far away empire against the Eye-Ties who had invaded Ethiopia, the only part of sub-Saharan Africa not to be colonised. Only two names are non-African, from South Africa. 
British war cemetery
Oh dear, muggins' nasty mind - could in be that these poor Africans were mere cannon fodder? At the far back, against a wall and a small domed memorial, are stelae with the names of three Royal Air force men, a 20-year-old pilot officer, two with no ages given, over the inscription: 'Their glory shall not be blotted out.' All died on August 20, 1940, their remains buried in Dire Dawa civil cemetery, their true graves now lost. These corners of English and un-English England across the world, from Kenya to Madagascar to Papua New Guinea, the epitome of Rupert Brooke's poem, are always extremely moving – youth cut down in their prime in stupid wars. Muggins must be getting sentimental in his old age - more like semi-mental. But my faith in human nature is restored - the guardian who unlocked the gate refuses point blank to take a tip.
Start of the AIDS murals
Sleeping beggar beneath AIDS mural
Dire Dawa's Thinker passes AIDS murals
The mural continues
And continues
And continues
The mistaken AIDS flags in station square
Shoeshine boys in station square
Dire Dawa's flowering squares

No comments:

Post a Comment