Dereje rang ahead to see if James’ accommodation was ready and we trotted along excitedly to inspect his new home for the next two years.
I wish I had taken a picture
In fairness to the landlord, his mother had just died…but then so did we when we saw the state of the house. The place was like a time-capsule. We had opened a door into the past- at a place and time when no-one cared for hygiene, house-keeping or waste-management. The contents were coated in a layer of grime and there was an unfamiliar but nonetheless pungent odour clinging on the air. (We later found out this was the smell of “khat” a local leaf, part of the heroin family, which is chewed copiously for the desired effect.)
And so we were delayed for another day in Dessie arranging furniture, cleaning and trying to assuage James’ fears that some sort of communicable disease was still lurking within the walls. While Dereje busied himself trying to make the “khat house/crack-den” habitable, James and I were left to our own devices- in the pool without armbands for the first time. We visited his new work-place and pottered around the town by ourselves. In the teacher’s college, we were delighted to meet James’ Ethiopian counterpart, an enthusiastic, friendly young guy with perfect English. In the town, our success was more of a mixed bag. We went in search of phone credit and a plastic basin. Instead, I was accosted and chased down the street by a vagrant with a large wooden stick and listened to the ardent protestations of another who bellowed at me from a distance, “YOU! I LOVE YOU!”. He was quite insistent but I felt his story was rather implausible given the fact that he had just clapped eyes on me. (I don’t think I really believe in love at first sight but it seems the Ethiopians do as this has become something of a theme every time I leave the house now.)
In hindsight this tarry in Dessie was a blessing in disguise, a chance to work through the trepidation of all that lay before us with my fellow volunteer James and a gentle introduction to regional Ethiopia (if you call being chased across a main-road by a mad-man wielding a stick gentle that is!). We shared a last supper together that evening. The end of the road was just within sight, the journey was coming to an end.
The next afternoon the time came to say goodbye and my heart went out to James as the emotion of the situation got to him.
It was a pathetic scene as I waved frantically out the window until I was absolutely certain he could no longer see us. We struck off for our final destination, three hours North of Dessie and a town called Woldia. But excitement had been rudely replaced by some other uninvited emotion prompted by the sight of James standing alone on the side of the road amidst the dust and the fumes.
Slowly, eventually, inevitably, it dawned on me- this was no road trip- it was a drop-off. We had been duped!
Soon Dereje would go back to his family in Addis and I would be abandoned in some unknown rural backwater, in a third world country without anyone to hold my hand. What was I thinking?!!!
There was a definite tightness in my throat.