“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” – Matsuo Basho
So I’m home, or “home”. I’m not yet with my family, but I’m where everybody thinks I’ve come back to. It was a tough, but quick decision. I decided on Saturday morning, bought the ticket in the afternoon, flew out on Monday, and arrived in Ho Chi Minh on Tuesday.
Broke like a church mouse (as usual), I knew that the first thing I had to do in Tanzania was to find a job. A travel agent promised me 5000 Tsh/day ($1 ~ 1700 Tsh) to do something on computers, but he required me to do a “night interview” so that he could “get to know me better”. $3/day with a creepy boss? I’d rather enslave myself to a rich bald white yacht owner so that at least I could travel around with him.
On the bus to Yabello (Ethiopia), it struck me how different the bus conductor looked from the rest of us. He looked comfortable. While everyone was trying to fit ourselves in, some held their bags tight, some looked around warily, some stirred restlessly in their seats; the bus conductor just sat there, leisurely looking out of the window. He knew the bus, he knew where it was going to, he knew what he was supposed to do and what to expect out of it. On his bus, he had nothing to be scared of.
Each of us is comfortable where we belong to.
A bus conductor is comfortable on the bus.
A sailor is comfortable on the boat.
A traveler is comfortable on the road.
I’m comfortable on the road.
I might not know where I am going to, but I know that I’m “going”. Somewhere.
“If you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there.”
It was a long day, the longest day of my life: getting lost in an island, a fight, 2 police stations and being robbed by a group of 6 men with knives, losing my camera and all money I had left.
On my first day in Kenya, I picked up a magazine in the car I was hitchhiking with, and was immediately blown away when I saw a photo of hundreds of thousands of flamingos gracefully crowding a lake pink.
Just as I thought, the road from Isiolo to Nairobi was smooth. I hitchhiked with a bus from Isiolo to Meru, with a car from Meru to Kobo, and then with a pickup from Kobo to Nairobi. Meme, the driver, is a university professor in Nairobi. He came back to Kobo to visit his family. He usually picks up passengers to share the gas, but he picked me up for free, bought me lunch and even paid for my transport from his home in Nairobi to where I was supposed to meet Mwega, founder of Karika, the organization I was going to volunteer with.
The next day, I woke up early. There was absolutely no traffic, so I was forced to take a bus to the border. Standing next to me was a middle-aged man in brown leather jacket and checked cap. There was something about him that distinguished himself from the rest of people on the bus. His face was sharply cut, his eyebrows were thick, and his eyes were deep. He stood there with one hand holding on the metal and another in the trousers’ pocket. I couldn’t help but imagining him puffing on a pipe, just like any Don in a Hollywood mafia movie.
I woke up the next day, fresh and happy. At that time, I was sure that the decision to hit the road was the right one. If I had stayed in Addis, I would just hang around the places I usually went to. Lot of comfort, no risk but also no excitement. Now I had the whole new road, 487km, in front of me to explore.
I had neither a map nor a guide book at that time. From Mergia, I knew that I would have to get to Dilla, then Haggae Mariam, then Yabello and then Moyale. Negat Children’s Home is very close to the main road down South. Mergia walked me there, then we bit goodbye.
I planned to leave Addis Ababa right after New Year’s (which was on Monday). But when I woke up on Tuesday, I suddenly realized that I had no idea what it was on the other side of Moyale, how to get there, or where to go from there. All I knew was that Moyale is the border. So I decided to spend one more day in Addis at a wi-fi place to do some research. What I found was rather disheartening. Everyone who has traveled overland from Ethiopia to Kenya before strongly recommended against doing it. And they all said that it would not be safe to do it alone. I was discouraged. In the meantime, Lien tried to convince me to stay with her until the weekend for her company’s party. I was half convinced. With the prospective of leaving on an unknown road lying ahead, the comfort of Addis Ababa suddenly became so inviting. I told myself that I’d just wake up the next day and do what I feel like doing.
Travelers to the dark continent all know one fact: “Go to Tanzania to see animals, go to Ethiopia to see cultures.” With the population of 80 millions people, Ethiopia is the host of more than 80 ethnic groups, each has their own culture and language. But the most colorful are those who live in South Omo valley. From the moment I saw the photos of a woman with a ginormous lower lip that hung pendently below her chin, a man who slept on a wooden pillow to protect his clay-coated hair, I promised myself that I’d go to this valley no matter what.