Unfortunately, I was in Ethiopia.
I could've written a list of the towns I'd visited here, and I wouldn't have liked these places much more than those on my previous "Worst Places in the World" list. It would've looked like this:
WORST PLACES (the alternative list)
1. Kibish, Ethiopia
2. Mizan Teferi, Ethiopia
3. Maji, Ethiopia
4. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
5. Tum, Ethiopia
What usually happened to me in Ethiopia was that I would visit a town. I found it to be awful. So then, I visited a new town, but that one turned out to be awful awful. Then, I visited a third town. This one was awful awful waffle. Oops. Not "waffle". Awful! So then, I began to feel nostalgia for the place that was only one awful. I returned, only to realize it was awful awful awful awful. So then, I returned to the place that was only two awfuls. But, I realized it was actually awful waffle awful waffle waffle ...
One day in Tulgit, Bar Lusa took me to see his family's farm. He introduced me by saying I was a friend, not a tourist. Indeed, I was giving him free English lessons.
His family quickly said four things to welcome me:
1. AN OLD WOMAN: "Do you have some money for me? I'm sick."
2. THE OLD WOMAN: "Do you have some medicine?"
3. A GIRL WITH A BABY: "Do you have some clothes for my baby?"
4. THE GIRL: "Give my baby that scarf you're wearing."
I hadn't even been invited to sit down. I left immediately. Their inhospitality made me feel bad.
So, I left the Surma region and revisited the Disi people's town of Tum. I realized it was full of drunken beggars and annoying children. I revisited Yimungshal here, the only Ethiopian woman I'd thought I had a connection with. She asked me for a souvenir. I figured this sweet girl wanted something to remember me by. I gave her a pair of my warm, nicest socks. Though they were useful for me, she didn't say 'thank you'. She kept saying "kalsi" (socks) in conversation with her family, as if my gift were a joke. The next day, I asked for them back. As I walked away, she called for: "Money!" She wasn't even poor. I threw the socks at her stomach, picked them up, and said: "Ethiopia metfo!" (Ethiopia bad!)
I still had two and a half weeks in this shit-hole country.
While still deciding which adventure I'd pursue, I began hitchhiking back towards the center of the country. To this point, I still believed I could find comfortable places to camp in the countryside. A group of Spanish tourists gave me a ride to the small town of She Benche. (Its name rhymed with: Gray Wrench.)
Dusk was approaching.
I began walking through town. The local Benche kids started following me.
-- Earlier in the day, the tourists and I stopped in a nearby town to visit a market. Fifteen Spaniards and I were surrounded by a sea of locals, as soon as we stepped out of our cars. The curious Benche people wore bright-colored Western clothes and were Christians. They touched our hair. We felt quite uncomfortable and were unable to see the market. One Spaniard asked the tour guide: "Don't they ever see foreigners here?" The guide responded: "Tourists drive past these towns. They never stop."
-- Nevertheless, I had noticed that large tour groups had a taming effect on the Ethiopians. They didn't beg so much. They stayed quiet. They were cute, even.
-- But, when they saw a solo traveler, me, they called and begged aggressively. They became monsters. --
The kids who followed me weren't too bad. But with dusk approaching, it frustrated and angered me that they wouldn't leave me alone so I could find a place to camp. "Hid!" I told the kids. (Go away!) But whenever you told Ethiopian children they were bothering you, it only made them pester you more eagerly. I threw rocks at the kids.
-- Educated Ethiopians told me the reason the poor were so annoying was because of: lack of education. But, I didn't think a culture needed education to learn respect for other humans. My parents had taught me to respect adults before I ever went to school, and cultures in other poor countries like Senegal and Guinea-Bissau did the same. In Ethiopia, I often wondered: Why didn't the adults help me, when their children were harrassing me? --
"Erdata!" I said. (Help!) One man threw stones at the kids, to partially scatter the crowd.
But, there were always people walking just behind me. Where are you going!? they asked. To Mizan Teferi. It's fifty kilometers away! I know that. Don't you have a car!? Yeah, I'm walking with my bags just for exercise.
I even told one or two grown men - who may've been drunk - to "Hid!"
There was little traffic on this road by day. None by night. No chance of catching a ride out of here now.
Three kilometers outside of She Benche, I turned off the road. I followed a path that disappeared between two tight hills. Though ten boys and men were still walking near me, I guessed they wouldn't follow me. Even if they did, I figured the round-faced Benche were more annoying than dangerous.
Away from the road, I found myself standing atop a hill that overlooked a hilly countryside of bare fields and sparsely placed huts. I descended into the dark and darkening countryside.
Halfway down the hill, I heard a loud question in Amharic:
"Where are you going?"
Fifteen boys and men stood behind me on the hilltop.
Maybe things would've gone better, if I would've told them the truth? But, I didn't say I was going to camp. I probably said I was going to Mizan. I told them to "Hid!!!" And a moment later, I imploded. Angrier than I'd been in years, I swore at them. Every other word "Fu**ing!" or "Idiots!" or "Go away!!!"
Moments after that, I noticed they were throwing rocks at me. Heavy rocks. The first one bounced once and passed me at head-level, about eight feet away. They threw some more.
Wow. This situation was getting pretty bad.
Going forward, I descended to a creek at the bottom of the hill. I began ascending a steep hill on the other side.
Suddenly, a man appeared above me. He may've been the drunken man I'd told to "Hid!" Now, he was holding a wooden pole larger than a baseball bat but smaller than a telephone pole. He held it like a baseball player, ready to swing. His body shook like a baseball player's, ready to swing. He was going to swing it at my head, if I ascended the hill any further.
I saw that twenty-five men were now behind me and in front of me atop the same hill, which connected above the creek.
If I would've had a stone, I would've thrown it straight at the chest of the man with the pole. But, no stones were near me.
I ascended the hill with deliberation, trying to push the man back with my self-confidence. But, he defended his territory well.
Someone on the hilltop commanded me in English: "Sit down!"
There could've been a hundred of them; I was not going to sit down and relinquish my personal autonomy, as compromised as it now was.
A twelve-year-old boy, standing behind the baseball player, yelled at me: "Money! Money!" It sounded like an order. I noticed that three men on the hilltop carried machetes.
So, I was being robbed by this mob? It seemed unlikely that I could excape this scenario with my bags. I might not escape with my life. But, I didn't relinquish my bags just yet.
I walked sideways along the hill, trying to gain ground upwards as I headed for the road. "Erdata! Erdata!" I called, hoping someone would hear me. (Help! Help!)
I came to a small, mostly barren cornfield. Walking through the cornstalks, I felt especially vulnerable and feared an attack. "Hizib tiro, erdata! Hizib tiro, erdata!" I yelled. (Good people, help! Good people, help!)
Pausing momentarily, I invented a lie. I told them I didn't have money, that it was all in a bank in Mizan. It was a believable lie, seeing as how the villagers had observed me trying to walk to Mizan.
I came to the place where the hill connected above the creek. Several young men from the crowd were waiting for me here, including one or two with machetes.
But, it seemed that they might not attack me. They ordered me to go to the "keutama" (town). It seemed that they'd let me return to the road peacefully - without coming within a machete's reach of me.
And they did so.
I almost felt safe.
Thirty boys and men formed a wall to prevent me from going to Mizan. They ordered me to walk back towards She Benche.
It was almost total darkness. Were they going to attack me on the way?
They followed me closely. I kept looking over my back at them, especially at the ones with weapons. But, the crowd stayed eight feet away from me.
The lights of a 4WD truck came at us. To my relief, the truck stopped. "Is there a problem?" said the driver. His name was Police Chief Thomaskin. He'd been called by the villagers.
Thomaskin spoke English to me and seemed sympathetic. He told me to get inside the closed back of the truck, with other police officers. But, I told him I was scared and wanted to ride up front with him.
I told him I was with the Spanish tourists, who were camping nearby. He drove me to their campsite. The tourists welcomed me back with dinner, frienship, good conversation, and a safe place to camp.
The tour guide - a blond-haired, caring Spaniard named Pat - told me that I was like an alien to the Benche people. They were probably more scared of me as I was of them - all thirty of them. They probably hadn't been trying to rob me. Just defending their farmland?
Pat put her arm around me. She could see I was emotionally shaken. I quickly put my arm around her. Though this pose didn't last long, it felt so comforting after the traumatic experience.
Thanks to Mursi, Pat, Xavier, Ana, & Ana for a very nice ride!