Once I bought the admittedly expensive collection of welded metal poles and rubber tyres from SJS Cycles in Bridgwater (UK), I knew eventually that this thing moving me along faster than I could run (not hard!) would have a name.
However, for quite a while I was more concerned with the pain in my backside than I was at giving it a name. Once I got use to the pain – headwinds, heat, sand, hills and crazy drivers soon all took their place in the queue of primary concerns. But, as the kilometres ticked and time passed, this ‘thing’ (a Thorn Nomad Mk2) became more of a person and slowly but surely, I bonded with the mechanical creation.
It became a she and it was in Ethiopia that she really had to work hard. Ethiopia is geologically stunning; but that beauty comes coupled with a LOT of hills…mountains – in fact geological articles I was sure at the time had a whole new category of their own as I sweated furiously trying to get to the top.
So now that she had a personality I had bonded with, I needed to think of a name. But I didn’t just want to name her at whim; I wanted to find a name that I could truly relate with.
During my time in Ethiopia, as detailed in my earlier blog post, Dan and I spent a while working with Yenege Tesfa; an orphanage for Street Children in Gondar. The kids, Nigisti and those involved in the project are truly wonderful people; I really enjoyed working there and spending time with the kids.
Ethiopia I found to be a wonderful place; but let me not blow wind up your tailpipe like a tourist advert for “13 months of sunshine” Ethiopia. There were times when I hated it; when out of the cities and travelling through the country – the people (mainly children) I found quite often to be hard work. Constantly asking for money, pens and exercise books; they don’t take no or sorry for an answer – they keep asking, often following you until they can’t keep up. When you’re [slowly] going up a steep hill, the sun is inevitably baking you and more often that not a group of kids will be asking for one thing or another. As you might imagine – toiling in the heat and dealing with this level of attention can become a little frustrating…or at the very least, tiring.
Sadly, as a result of all the aid that’s come Ethiopia’s way, there’s a dependency such that when they see a white person (or ferenji) they feel it’s right that you the ferenji should give them something…if you don’t they feel offended and, on occasion, get angry. Throwing stones (or rocks) and cracking whips are unfortunately an occurrence you’re sure to experience if you cycle through Ethiopia.
But don’t let that put you off; just be prepared for it. Through this love/hate experience, I found a strong but generalised relation to how I’ve so far found the cycle. I love the cycling – it’s wonderful; but not always. Some of the earlier days toiling in the Egyptian sun were categorically not enjoyable; but I had to push through it to get the body into shape. Days with nothing but strong winds & sand in your face; high temperatures, strong sun and toiling up mountains with kids that won’t take no for an answer can all push you mentally as much as they can physically. You get through it; of course you do – and you reflect, look back and feel all the better for the experience.
Habesha is, in common use, the name given to the native people of Ethiopia (and Eritrea to the north). It is the old Arabic name for Ethiopia (Abyssinia in English). However, in Greek it translates as “burned face” (“Ethio”, burned, “Pia”, face). Now believe you me, I’ve had my own fair experience of that – especially in Egypt/Sudan wobbling red faced through the high temperatures and absorbing the suns radiation like a solar panel.
Ethiopians are a very beautiful bunch; wonderful eyes with amazing skin colour and complexion. Clearly I’m not in that category (!) – but my bike having put up with me for so long, not to mention the 60kg of extra weight I’ve made her carry, we’ll, she’s beautiful too 🙂
Coincidentally, Dan’s bike is named Habaqa – a Syrian heroin and Arabic name given to the bike by the generous people he met whilst in Syria. So similar names; it seems fitting, it’s purely by chance but a coincidence that cemented my decision to name her Habesha.
As I left Ethiopia and entered Kenya; I reflected deeply on my time travelling through the diverse country of cultures and traditions. There were tough times; no question. But they’re all outweighed with such magnitude by the wonderful events, people, sights & music I experienced in Ethiopia.
I was slightly nervous before I entered Ethiopia due to what people had said and from what I had read; but having experienced a huge majority of the country by bicycle, on reflection it may well be one of the most amazing places I’ve visited. And with that I see such a similarity with the cycle; I was worried and concerned before I got in the saddle, but as the days past and experiences built, in turn this too may be one of the most amazing things I’ve undertaken.
So there we have it; the bike is no longer a mangle of spurious metallic shapes or simply an it; she’s named Habesha and what a beauty she is.
Betam Amesaginalo Konjo Habesha [Amharic: A very big thank you – beautiful people of Ethiopia].