Awasa and the war veteran

EtiopiaSud0467I paid for my laziness dearly. I got up early, but not early enough for the first buses that leave at 6 o'clock, and after the early departures the bus station steeps in the usual chaos. At great length, I got a minibus to Shashemene and enjoyed another beautiful ride down the heights on a very panoramic road. On the way I bought a bag of freshly toasted barley to munch as a snack.

Given that there were no buses to Arba Minch, unless I wanted to change at Sodo, I headed to Awasa on the lake shore for a laid-back afternoon. The young man next to me in the bus was heading for Dillo where he worked as a local administrator, but he was in fact a pharmacist. Someone told me that no matter what you study in Ethiopia, you always end up working something different, and I'd played down the grievance remarking that this can happen anywhere. However, there was probably more than just a grain of truth.

I spend an afternoon in Awasa, strolling around the lake and meeting a war veteran who turned 100 years old on that very day.

I chose a hotel opposite the bus station, ready to leave for the south the next day. After lunch I bravely faced the heat and walked to the lake. The landscape and the birds were not much different from Ziway. Ugly marabou storks with their balding heads and red throats pranced clumsily around the shore, and the falcons were looking out for prey. An ibis was picking the carrion of a dead bird on the sand. When I'd had enough of birds, I walked into the beautiful park next to the fish market. The trees were impressive.

It was there that I met the war veteran. I was attracted by a monkey with a baby under her belly and followed it until I faced the two men. They were sitting on a rug chewing qat and looking apathetic as if they had been smoking opium. The monkey snatched the leaves from the old man's stretched hand and greedily stuck them into its mouth. I broke the ice with a friendly remark, and the younger man asked about my nationality. When he learned I was Italian, a spark of life brightened his eyes. He said: "My father fought the Italians in 1936. He was 22 at the time. Today is his 100th birthday!"

EtiopiaSud0524I turned to the old man and congratulated him, but I was a little incredulous. His skin was tense, ageless, and he was fit enough to have walked there by himself. However, I mentally did the maths and it made sense. The veteran dug in his memory, and came out with a sentence that sounded Italian, but I wasn't too sure what he meant. When his son asked for translation, I glided over the question in order not to cause embarrassment. The centenarian said he had been fighting for Emperor Menelik – which was anachronistic since that first war had been fought 40 years earlier. The son corrected his father, and this confusion convinced me that his age was really 100.

I climbed up the hill to enjoy a sunset view over the town and its lake, then took a tuktuk back to Piazza, passing the nice modern monument in front of St. George's church. I liked elegant Awasa. It was a town that moved at a friendly pace, that had nature and life, but also a lot of history.