Pole to Pole
Day 78: Gondar to Bahir Dar
In the foyer there is evidence of the stillborn attempt to bring tourists here. 'Ethiopia, thirteen months of sunshine', reads one poster, playing on their calendar difference. Another extols the wonders of the nearby Simian Mountains: 'The splendid Roof of Africa - peak after rugged peak stretching away to the limitless horizon; pastoral scenes of shepherds and their flocks, carpets of Alpine flowers'.
Down to the centre of town. The place looks better from a distance. Below the picturesque patchwork of red and grey roofs are streets thronged with people, most of whom look downtrodden and threadbare. The djellabah, a simple, sensible, economical garment, is hardly worn here, partly because of the climate and partly because only fifteen million of the country's forty-five million people are Muslim. Here they seem to wear whatever they can get their hands on. One little girl appears to be dressed in a nightie, another in a torn crocheted sweater. Some have shoes, many don't. Food is stacked next to open drains, and it's easy to see how disease thrives. A lot of the children quickly gather round us, despite the efforts of some of the older men who try to clear them away by throwing stones. They look very unhealthy, with bulging stomachs and sores on their faces around which flies gather. They watch us quietly through big protruding eyes. One or two of the livelier ones try to interest us in packets of American army rations which found their way here after the Gulf War. I'm offered freeze-dried 'Cherry Nutcake', 'Tootsie Roll', 'Tomatoes au Gratin' and 'Beef and Rice Meatballs', all in identical grey sachets.
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