Mountain Moonshine

by Niamh Kelly

A leap into the unknown Ethiopia


I'm not really the competitive type, but after the second hour of climbing up the slope of Mount Entoto, Addis Ababa at a diminishing pace, I was really starting to feel like a dawdler. Local women, in bright, Ankara waxed dresses giggled their way past me at an impressive speed. Especially as most of them were in their seventies and more embarrassingly, were carrying a good thirty kilo of Eucalyptus on their backs. "This is where Bob Marley stayed." Baby, a seven-year old, mountain goat herder informed me, matter of factly, nodding towards Maryam church, a modest building coated in the royal Rastafarian colours. In Ethiopia, you're never too far from a story about their revered Emperor, Haile Selassie, from the first half of the twentieth century and Marley, the man who sang to the world about Abyssinia. Baby, was in charge of the babies and carried a relaxed kid over his shoulder, with the sublime naturalness of a practised mother. A small brood of slightly older goats following closely, with toneless bleats. His big toe poked through his sandal as he led me through the fresh woodland, pointing solemnly at a hunting bird in the sky and then suddenly at a blood-red beetle scurrying beneath a stone at our feet. All the while, assessing my reactions with serious side way glances. Satisfied with his tour, he whistled sharply and turned with a shy goodbye, into the trees, leaving me to join the path of the barefoot, woodland women again, chuckling at the sun cream across my nose. I'm not fussy and I'm even less fussy when a group of friendly children gather round me to offer a drink from their parents hut. My Amharic is basic, so after a few minutes of playing charades with my helpful five-year old waitress, I still had no idea what I'd asked for. Ten pairs of excited eyes looked on, as I tried to discreetly sniff the rusty tin my drink had arrived in. "Mmm", I tried to compliment, however it came out as more of a worried squeak, as I caught a whiff of petrol from the murky, home-brewed beer in my hands. Fortunately, my entourage were satisfied with my theatrical sip, which barely wet my lips, hopping from one leg to the other and grinning back to their parents, peering curiously from their doorway. Leaving to cries of "Goodbye ferangi", I joined the troops of powerful women, passing us, snaking upwards with their heavy loads, taking a moment to snigger good-naturedly at my little backpack and pink sunburnt nose.