I have thought of more than a dozen titles for this closing passage about Ethiopia. From all possible aberrations that came through my mind, the lightest and the one that I consider the original is: “Fuck you Ethiopia”. However, I have wisely let 6 months pass to write about this country with the simple aim of avoiding my lowest instincts and my darkest thoughts to dictate the words that I write today. So I have decided to go for the most moderate title: “Ethiopia, Never again”. And very moderated were the harshest words that I have written in all the posts that preceded this one.
52 are the days that this long torture have lasted, days that have seen moments of intense grandeur, where fascination has exalted my senses like never before, and moments of the deepest misery, where my spiritual skills to develop compassion have been repeatedly defeated by the uncontested evil of this country, sometimes leaving me sinking in the nastiest feelings of hatred. Traveling by bicycle across Ethiopia essentially means being submerged in a state of permanent contradiction, an overwhelming dichotomy from which escape is not possible.
On its brightest side, Ethiopia is one of the most stunning countries I have ever visited. Its majestic landscapes are breathtaking. From the dramatic intricacy of the geography of the northern highlands to the desertic south, after each bend of the road, the country reveals a beauty that makes it truly unique. The cultural legacy is equally impressive. For those of us who enjoy extraordinary cultural experiences where ancient aspects of history still prevail without having been swallowed by the imminent pace of globalization, Ethiopia, on its positive side, offers riches that have unequal match neither in the African continent or the whole world.
However, on Its darkest side, which is as alive and certainly even more powerful than its bright side, the Ethiopian experience has no rival either. Ethiopians, at least the immense majority of those who crossed paths with us, have turned out to be the most horrible and despicable people whom I have had the disgrace of meeting. Coming from Sudan, the jump from hospitality to hostility is as radical as jumping into an abyss. From a heartwarming farewell full of smiles and hands placed on the heart, we passed to a welcoming shower of stones and mocking hysterical laughter. Ethiopians had the enormous ability to finish with my patience, my tolerance and even temporarily the love for the people of this world: the very reason for which I love traveling! In this country we have had to repeatedly escape from the people, to only be able to find peace within the four walls of some grimy guest house, because outside of them, the experience could reach intolerable limits that at times I felt as though would lead me to madness.
Ethiopia is a country where its people have made me feel that I am not a person; that as white men and women, we are nothing else but walking ATM's that have the obligation of giving them something, whatever it is. Decades of mostly irresponsible action from the western countries and their ever so honorable NGO's, that have come in herds to this country to throw them fish without teaching them how to fish, are in great part to blame for creating the distorted image that Ethiopians have of the concept of help. Ethiopians often pride themselves openly about being the only country in Africa that has not fallen prey to any of the colonial powers, however, they lose this pride in the blink of an eye when they pull down their trousers and bend over so that a white man throws them something, anything, as a present.
From the scenes of harassment that I have described so far, it is very likely that the image that will come to your mind is that of a country where misery is so devastating, that forces people to crawl and beg for money, but you would be wrong, because this image is very far from the truth. Poverty is a fact but it is very far from explaining the sick and almost pathological behaviour of Ethiopians with respect to money.
Ethiopians beg to us just for entertainment, to annoy the hell out of us, get us pissed off and pretty much because we basically are faranjis (white people). These days nobody dies of hunger in Ethiopia and yet the general belief installed in people's psyche, is that white people are there only to give things (thanks for the magic Western world!). In any scenario of rural Ethiopia, a rich Ethiopian might get off his luxurious SUV and the kids will not even bother to ask for anything, he will just pass unnoticed. The begging I experienced throughout this country is not a begging out of necessity, but it is what I could only describe as selective begging, deliberately and exclusively directed at the white people.
But above all, what I have managed to realise with great clarity, is that harassing faranjis is more like an entertainment to them; a fun pastime that helps break the monotony of the daily lives of tens or even hundreds of thousands of kids, who are left drifting away from the very beginning of their lives, because they have come into this world as a product of ignorance and the uttermost lack of basic education of the general population. Here, people reproduce like rabbits, without the slightest regard for the disgraceful life that the newborns will surely be subjected to. When I think about it objectively, I cannot feel anything other than compassion, because behind every child that I have seen enjoying with impunity trying to fuck up our lives so he/she and buddies can have a good laugh, what there is, is exactly that, a defenseless child that smiles and has fun (albeit in a twisted way) that has just happened to have been born in a shit circumstance and doesn't know no better. But in reality, compassion does not suffice, at least not for me today, to justify and accept the overwhelming degree of harassment that we were victims of.
The Ethiopian challenge goes far beyond any challenge I have had to endure, and I have to admit that this country has defeated me internally: I have lost to the Ethiopians. I am leaving this country feeling my body sick of something as horrible as hate, which is so intense sometimes that I feel that if I stay here any longer I am actually going to cause great harm to myself. I am leaving this country with the feeling of wanting to come back, but not on a bicycle to be able to enter in intense communion with the culture (as it is the case everywhere), but with a tank and a rocket launcher so I can blow them up and enjoy the experience of watching them tear apart in the air. This is exactly why I never want to come back to Ethiopia because I do not want to carry this perverse and hurtful feeling which does not do me any good. This is the wise lesson that Ethiopians have left me with: That if you can't transform a negative emotion then you'd better run away from it, and that is exactly what I will do, never again Ethiopia!