Happy New Year

New Year’s Day, 2012
Last night, sitting in our dreary room in dusty Jinka, head throbbing, eyes burning, stomach on the verge of heaving again, I wrote a post commenting on how sharply this New Year’s Eve contrasted to our experience last year. I reckoned it was just the hellish yang to last year’s amazing yin-fest on the beach in the Saloum Delta in Senegal, and I ranked it with any of a number of other bad New Year’s Eves I’ve experienced. Then it got worse.

Earlier, I had blamed myself for my tummy problems (my first ever in Africa). I had broken a cardinal rule Friday night in Arba Minch and eaten the raw shredded carrots, cabbage, and tomatoes that looked so tempting on my plate. Frankly, most of what we’ve eaten here so far has fueled my expectation that this trip would be not only a great adventure, but also a sort of countrywide weight-loss clinic, with food that was edible but unexciting. I didn’t start feeling queasy until early afternoon Saturday, when we had stopped in broiling malaria-infested Weito. After touring the scruffy tiny market (where I bought a skirt), Endalk, Sharom (our driver), Steve, and I retired into one of the shaded patios for lunch. The only choices were injera (the universal Ethiopian pancake/bread/eating utensil) and fried lamb, or injera and spiced beans, or macaroni a la Tsemay (the Tsemay being the tribe that occupy Weito and its environs). S and I opted for the beans combo, and it wasn’t bad. I should have been alerted by my lack of appetite, but I chalked that up to the heat and hours of jouncing over gravel roads. An hour or so later, I had to get out of our aged Land Cruiser and vomit in the bush.

But my Blame-the-Veggies theory evaporated minutes before 2012 began, when Steve (who had virtuously resisted eating anything resembling raw salad) bolted out of bed for the first of two rounds of violent vomiting and diarrhea. This is not a happy experience under the best of conditions, but the conditions in our bathroom included the floor being flooded (due to the toilet leaking) and no toilet paper (nor even a holder for it). Steve claimed at one point this morning that he noted a small dragon or bird embryo in his barf. The rest of the night was similarly hallucinogenic. I don’t remember a great deal of noise outside upon Steve’s first episode, understandably; the Ethiopians don’t consider Dec. 31 to be New Year’s Eve. (They celebrate that in September, and think the current year is 2004, just as they use a different system for naming the hours, with 0 starting at 6 a.m. (the theoretical dawn).

Still, sometime around 3 a.m., something that sounded like a call to prayer woke me up — the haranguing nasal voice, the amplified minor-key melodies. Multitudes of roosters responded to this, adding to the cacophony. At times the singing sounded more like drunken Christmas carolers, or misplaced karaoke performers; at other times demented howling. I’ve never heard the like of it anywhere, but it and the roosters and the muted musical accompaniment continued until dawn. A New Year’s Eve to remember.

Now Endalk is arriving (it’s 8:20 a.m.), and Steve and I are feeling recovered enough to imagine getting through the day. Jinka will be our launching point for visiting several of the tribes that have made this area “literally fantastic,” in the words of Bradt Guide author Philip Briggs, “as close as one can come to an Africa untouched by outside influences.” Sixteen tribes occupy the region, some scarifying their bodies, others grotesquely stretching their women’s lower lips, still others practicing bizarre coming-of-age rituals. At Endalk’s recommendation, we’ve bought $55 worth of razor blades, Obama-brand pens, and hard candies to distribute in exchange for photo ops. How could we fail to be in top form for THAT?

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