06 Nov Amazing weekend
Weekend trip to the Ethiopian Rift Valley
The majority of visitors to Addis Ababa go north to visit the Western Highlands where the water flows west to form the Blue Nile. As a biologist however I was more interested to see the Rift Valley which is east of Addis and runs south towards Kenya and Tanzania. It only drops a few hundred feet in most places but in the mountains of Ethiopia it is more impressive. Graduate students Demsachew Guadie and Fitsum Tadesse took me down on Saturday with a University car and driver. The picture shows the Awash River in the Rift Valley which flows in from south of Addis and on up the valley to the North and East, where it disappears into the desert south of the Danakil Depression. The villagers were cleaning fish by the roadside and the ground was covered with catfish heads. The large Marabou Storks have bald heads like vultures because they are scavengers that will eat absolutely anything; the catfish heads would only need to be cut up a bit more. The little girl got most of my coinage. When the boys came and I told them to get some from her she ran away.
We continued from here down past the Rastafarian town of Shashememe. Eucalyptus, introduced in Addis Ababa in the nineteenth century by Emperor Menelik to provide tree cover, can grow up to ten feet a year here; the plantations protect degraded hillsides and the poles are coppiced every few years to give scaffolding for the construction sites in Addis. After watching Armand and Michaela Denis and David Attenborough for years this was the first time I saw the termite mounds, the camels, and the round, mud-walled farmhouses called Hojos, with nests of Weaver Birds in the acacias around them made from farmyard wheat or Tef straw. In Hawassa we stayed the night by a lake with many colorful birds. Along the rivers that flow down into the Rift Valley and the lakes they form in the valley itself is where most hominid fossils have been found in rocks recently formed from sediments. The South African hominid expert Lee Berger favours the old idea that we humans, with our hairlessness and other adaptations, must have evolved more in association with coasts or inland water than any other hominid.
We came back by Addadi Maryam which has an underground church. There had been a Sunday market and I drank the local Raki in the village pub with the Oromo farmers whose tethered horses had bright and yellow saddle blankets showing the Lion of Ethiopia. There is some tendency to political separatism in the Ethiopian regions now and this is how Ireland must have been in the nineteenth century when a local man walked up to a political meeting in just such a village square and shouted the equivalent of „Arise Addadi Maryam and take your place among the Nations of the Earth!“. The journalist Peter Gill reported though that the main concern of Ethiopian farmers in an election was to know which Party would win – you don’t want to be caught voting for the losers.