Saturday, 29 August 2009
Last train to Djibouti
This will be the final entry on my travels in Africa, as I'm sure many of you will be glad to know. So much time has passed, or so it seems, that I can hardly believe I was ever actually there. The winds of autumn can now definitely be felt in the air, and the summer, such as it was, is drawing to a close. Before we know it, the preparations for Christmas will be in full swing and we will be approaching the end of another year.
Life is short, but not always nasty and brutish.
ADDIS ABABA - 9am
Don't let that fool you. I'm not in a Billie Holiday state of mind at all. There was a small frisson to lift the spirits of a middle-aged man last night in the Kara Mara club up on Bole Road. Prior to going there, I must admit to having some misgivings, the evening's entertainment having been billed as a visit to a traditional restaurant with music. I have been to a few Habesha restaurants in London previously, and they have been somewhat average. But of course, that was London, and this was Addis Ababa.
We were the first to arrive - at 8.30pm - and felt our way in the semi-darkness around the hut to the soft seats around the curved wall. A brazier was giving off its aromas of charcoal and frankincense, and the waiters hovered in their usual ultra-efficient way, while a curtain awaited parting to reveal the evening's performance. An excellent (and cheap - at 20 Birr) fasting (the day after I arrived in Addis, a meat fast, lasting 6 days, had begun for the devout among the populace, and many many people followed these rites religiously) meal arrived, of which I was able to eat about a quarter, while the veil was withdrawn, revealing the usual Korg stack, hooked up to several large amps standing either side of the front of the stage. Slowly, the hut began to fill, and then the singing began.
It soon became apparent that this was not going to be the usual fare of some bloke warbling away to similar sounding music all night. We were being treated to a showcase of the musical styles representing some of the 80 cultures in this fabulous, shabulous city. And then came the turn of - for me at least - the star of the show to strut her stuff. And strut she most definitely did, her lissom body jerking and thrusting to the insistent rhythm like a (very beautiful) thing possessed. There was audience participation, and she at last appeared right in front of me, her flashing smile and the heat of her body forever burnt into my memory as, fuelled by the slightly rough but deliciously alcoholic tej, I feebly attempted to mirror her movements.
It was a warm night, but it ended too soon because the kids were tired. In any case, when I asked for another tej, I was told it had run out.
However, as I was finally leaving after saying goodbye to the other relatives, my eye was caught by the smile of a woman who was standing by the door. Slowly learning the Ethiopian way, I gave her my most winning smile. In the din of the club, I watched her lips:
"Butame conjo..." she mouthed, in a most seductive manner. I was, as ever, too slow to react, and was out of the door before I even realised what was going on. In any case, the missus and kids were waiting for me in the Lada, but that look, and those mouthed words, haunted me then as they haunt me still.
The fact that the woman was quite possibly a prostitute, judging by some of the forenjey activity in the car park, is neither here nor there. It was, as they say, a cracking night.
BOLE AIRPORT - 13/8/09 - 5.40pm
Almost successfully through the checkpoints, except that they confiscated the 41 Birr bottle of ouzo as 'forbidden'. Bole airport is a bit of a piss-bin, with only one small duty free shop open Got a warm flat draught St. George for $3. It wasn't easy saying goodbye to the family, and I had to force a lump back down my gullet as my eldest said:
"Don't go Daddy..."
Will need a couple more of these beers to wash the lump down.
Goodbye Adot-Tina; goodbye Selam, Hermon, Hadas, Mamush, Shemshu, Shugaru, Sammy, Rothmans. Goodbye Ladas, Toyotas, Tatas. Goodbye breakfast buffets, goodbye Arab telly. Goodbye abet, ishi, conjo.
Goodbye the New Flower.
DUBAI AIRPORT - 14/8/09 - 2.45am