Ethiopia 5 "I shine your shoes, Mr?"
The mud was falling off my shoes, the new shoes I had carefully made especially for the mud of Ethiopia's wet season. The kid must have only been around 7 years old but got stuck in and cleaned them up and shifted all that muck, bringing them back to almost new. 10 birr,a bit less than a dollar NZ.
I had been wondering as I tramped through the mud,and balanced precariously on that collapsing bridge, whether my shoes would be capable of restoration? I wasn't worried about falling off, or the bridge finally giving way.JUST ABOUT MY SHOES!.
Driving down to Bahir Dar from Gondor,we'd driven through a village where the road was lined with trucks for kilometres, and knew this portended a road block ahead. Sure enough a few more kms further on we struck the traffic jam at a river crossing. We got out and went down to suss out the action around the crossing as the bridge was extensively damaged by the swollen river,and the alternative ford was running too high for anything but 4WDs. Trucks, buses and cars weren't getting across that! We were going nowhere fast! No alternative route, and a long ride back to any decent hotel!
Flood waters had gouged out one side of the concrete sidewall supports creating a huge hole behind it and most of the approach road to the bridge had collapsed into it..Now trucks were tipping rocks on the end of the bridge that rested on that seriously weakened support. All that extra weight added to that bridge could have caused a collapse,and with hundreds of people standing on it in danger. It was amazing to see all the trucks and front end loaders working away with crowds, awaiting to cross, up within inches of the working machinery.No safety barriers,no safety wardens keeping the crowds back.And then the loader ferried groups across in the bucket!
So we were stuck! What to do? Finally our tour leader came back with a plan. He had waded across and located a bus similar to our 23 seater Toyota Coaster that couldn't cross from the other side, and he had hired it so we could complete our journey..All its passengers had waded over to catch a bus on our side.There was now a massive movement of people crossing over and swapping buses. Somehow they were now getting over.
"There's a narrow path across the bridge now" we were told. "So we will have to carry our bags over".
All the group grabbed our daypacks and headed for the bridge.Two armed soldiers shepherded alternate groups one way at a time,across a very narrow path across the only remaining side wall. Less than a metre wide.One slip and over you go into the muddy torrent! We hurried across in the mud to our new bus. Then all we guys went back to get the rest of the large bags.I made 3 trips back over that narrow pathway, never tarrying too long ,as at any minute that bridge could have gone.All the boulders and shingle they were trucking onto the bridge, was being bulldozed in to fill the hole behind the concrete wall,to be flattened so vehicles could then drive over. The danger being that all that weight could push the wall out, it being so seriously weakened.
5 times I crossed over that narrow slippery path in the dark Scary stuff! And I was more worried about my shoes than my life!
But being the expert shoemaker I am,those shoes carried me across safely, never slipping! I'd chosen to make them with a very good grippy sole.And while making them,chanted ancient incantations and sung songs of our forefathers to protect the traveller who wears them in far off Ethiopia. I was perfectly safe!
And so that little shoeshine boy got a big tip for putting the polish back upon them.They deserved the best!