Lindsay Eller and I travelled the length and breadth of Ethiopia with a driver and guide, investigating the introduction of eucalyptus trees from Australia. We both suffered badly from intestinal tract infections. This is a brief passage taken from The Attack of the Killer Rhododendrons.
“Dear people who manufacture loperamide hydrochloride to relieve diarrhea. Your pills don’t work. You suck. I hope you die. Signed, Pissed-off in Ethiopia.”
We were scheduled for a seventy-eight kilometre drive to a Dasanech village. However, I was having so much trouble with vomiting and diarrhea and the resulting weakness, that it was clear that I should go nowhere at all. Legese and Hassen offered to take Lindsay and leave me behind at camp, but Lindsay indicated that she would be pleased to go for a walk from camp instead, despite her own ongoing gastrointestinal difficulties. For me it was a day for sleeping and getting down what water and food I could. After a two hour walk in the blazing sun along the riverbed with Legese, Lindsay came back lightheaded from the heat and dehydration. I lay on my air mattress in the shade, listening to bird calls and watching antlions build their cone-shaped ant traps in the sand. I watched children from Turmi sweeping the campground of fallen leaves, periodically throwing sticks into the trees to knock down figs.
Legese and Haseen had purchased goat meat from someone in Turmi, and prepared it by cutting the meat into thin strips, wrapping it around a stick, and propping it over a campfire. I don’t think that this was any special Ethiopian traditional goat-preparation ceremony, but just the boys playing at camp cooking. If they had marshmallows, I am sure they would have been over the fire too.
The thing that sat best in my gut was very dilute powdered orange drink, although I fear that after the trip I would never again be able to face the damned stuff. Lindsay got the impression that in Ethiopia the traditional treatment for illness is food. She went to bed before dinner was served. Hassen made me go to our tent and double-check that Lindsay didn’t want any goat. I got the expected response.
I stayed up with Legese and Hasen, and we told stories and swapped jokes. I told them a joke about how to tell the difference between an American and a Canadian by the way that they make campfires. A Canadian, I explained, makes a small campfire, and stays warm by sitting close to it. An American makes a big campfire, and stays warm by running around looking for more wood. I’m not sure that they understood my joke, but laughed heartily anyway.
In return, they told me an Ethiopia joke. A man in the south is speaking by telephone to his friend in the north. He asked “Have the rains come to the north?” “No we are still having a drought,” was the response. The southerner continued – “Are you worried about your crops failing?” “That depends; is it raining in Canada?” Legese and Hasen had given me the gift of a joke about starvation and foreign aid.