The First Thing You Learn Is the Last Thing You Remember

Part 2 – Harar to Awash

I lay in a bed
My head doesn’t have anywhere to go
Tied to itself
Ready to go anywhere else
I can’t escape myself.

On the second floor of the Harar guesthouse it all began. Im not a morning person though in age I’ve improved – with some resentment. Rest shouldn’t be disturbed I believe, yet aging takes us up on this and we do our best to make the most of our days. And so there I was the first to awake, but today I felt a twinge. The slightest of twinges.

The girls were gathering their things and we were more or less on time. Travellers know the mini vans, buses, boats, tuk tuks -never arrive when they say they will. So without urgency I lounged in my bed listening to the sounds of bags being rustled with my eyes shut but ears softly open, and in the back of my head remembering I had a twinge. In my lower back I felt the slightest of pain and thought the thought that all of us have once had – oh, am I coming down with something?  I doubt it, it’s just my imagination. I dismissed it and said to myself I shouldn’t have skipped dinner the night before and if I was a morning person I would have felt more like myself.

Roni and I were the first ones up and went out to see where the pick up driver was. They were rather late, so we started to make phone calls. They couldn’t quite find the guesthouse so we walked out to the main street in hopes they would see us. As we waited on the corner I said to Roni I think Im getting sick, I should have eaten dinner last night. I was fine but the subtle discomfort made me think in a few days I’ll have caught something. I bought a bottle of water and some cookies for our 5 hour journey and eventually we were all in the van waiting patiently to leave for Awash.

As we waited it slowly dawned on me that I hadn’t taken local transport in Ethiopia on this trip. So far, it had been a private 4WD for two weeks in Omo Valley and the airplane. As we waited to leave in what was obviously a full van I grew irritated with the realization they were going to cram as many human beings as possible into the already very full van. Shoulder to shoulder would’ve been comfortable. Instead it was a van of bodies like hardened Play-Doh left in the box too long. Off we went with one thought – how many hours to Awash?

You need to know when something is best to be forgotten, but for the sake of the story I’ll fill in the gaps. The mini van left Harar and it soon became clear the driver wasn’t going to be mindful of the 15 or so passengers suffering. Speeding recklessly over, down and around the winding hills with hard breaks and even harder gas, people began to get sick. The lady in front of me was having a hard time and the window was her only refuge. As I watched her become more and more sick I wondered if I would as well. Me wondering if I’d get sick was the first sign I’d succumb to car sickness as not long after, a few hours into the journey I began to feel ill.

It wasn’t so bad as I vomited only a few times and thought to myself it was good to get that out of the way. But we had hours and hours to go and the bad driving and sick tummy didn’t let up.  I remember the van stopping for some reason and getting out to be sick. Once they were ready to go again the driver’s side kick rudely demanded I get on. I replied F%&# OFF. I was getting worse and having a hard time as it’s very unusual I snap like this.

When the van finally stopped halfway for lunch I was thankful. Only a handful of hours later my slightest twinge had become a full on battle between finding any kind of comfort and feeling just awful. Standing was an effort. Sitting wasn’t comforting. Food was unimaginable.

The four of us sat on the curb with Ofer nursing her swollen infected foot, and me bent over wanting air. Not long after locals gathered around staring and smiling. Fantastic. Our misery was their amusement. I asked a local man standing with a bag of limes if I could have one. Years ago I was traveling with my brother in Bali and his food poisoning came into fruition while we were stuck in a van for hours driving across the island. The driver handed him a lime to sniff and it actually helped. So thinking I was suffering from motion sickness or a bad stomach I gave it a try. No luck.

As everyone crammed themselves back into the sick box we left behind the amused crowd and looked forward to the fact this was the last part of our journey. The man next to me asked if the break made me feel better. Within moments I began to throw up. We had been sitting on the curb for a good forty minutes, yet I felt just as bad as when we stopped. This wasn’t going away. Everyone has experienced some kind of car sickness, sea sickness or motion sickness. When it hits you it feels awful and there’s no getting better. You need to ride it out. In my head that’s what I was doing. Riding it out. When I get to the hotel I’ll crash and recover within hours and feel myself and settled. I told myself all of this will be forgotten.

Awash is just a one road desert town located far away from anything useful though as we approached the town it seemed like an oasis of comfort and refuge. With eyes shut tight and my head in my hands I could gradually feel the landscape had flattened and climate more arid. The temperature was rising and air drier, but I wasn’t concerned with anything around me. I let me senses be and focused on arriving soon.

As we arrived at the hotel I stepped out of the van and the driver’s dropped our bags off and patronizingly said good bye as he could see I couldn’t stand. I was bent over, not to throw up but out of exhaustion. All I could do was wait for the girls to sort out the room with the hotel owner and leave behind the driver and van far, far behind.

The girls, hotel owner and an older woman began to gather the bags to take us to the room, but I was still bent over with hands on knees. The older woman offered to take one of the girl’s bags but she declined considering the woman was much older. When the woman reached for mine I wasn’t able to stop her. In the corner of my eye I saw one of the girls take notice. From the slightest of morning twinges to this I thought. I didn’t leave that Awash hotel room for the next two days.

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