We’re hot, we’re Muslim and we’ve got goat meat

     I picked the wrong side of the plane for the window seat. Is there a website that tells people on which side of the plane to sit for the best views? If sleepinginairports.net exists, why not whichsideoftheplane.com? Yes, it’s another—ANOTHER!—free business idea from The Dromomaniac! It’s unconscionable that I don’t have thousands of fans and remain a cult oddity.
     I didn’t feel bad that I forsook the bus (but I will feel bad if “forsook” isn’t a word; I’m using it in Scrabble next time no matter what). The landscape was parched brown and unremarkable. Could have been the middle of Nevada.

     Less-than-bustling Dire Dawa airport from the tarmac. Should we trim the trees? Nah.

     More monkeys than cars in the airport parking lot.

     Bajaj Learner! The educational aspect must be how to get on two wheels or perhaps there are seminars on overcharging foreigners.

     I know some of you are reading me just for practical info on Ethiopia you can use for a future trip and then you will abandon me the moment I leave the country. It’s OK, I understand, no hard feelings YOU WILL ROT IN HELL! (Tourette’s, sorry.) Here’s a little tidbit: the fastest internet connections are in post office internet cafes.
     I always visit the main post office anywhere I go. That’s my idea of a good time. I appreciate the old colonial buildings, I check postal rates, see what the low value stamps look like, and here, to use the internet. What I didn’t expect was that I would be singing “Moon River” for the young guy running the place, a Jehovah’s Witness who played a nonstop playlist of Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers, which is a novelty I can live with but I wish I could get “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille…” out of my head now.
     It was one of several surreal moments here. Once I sat in a bajaj when a guy on the street ran up and thrust a six month old Newsweek magazine in my hands. Thanks, I guess. How did he know I needed something to read?
     Just before this I was on the steps of a bank having a long conversation with an employee as she instructed me on the best way to get black market (illegal) dollars and the merits of doing it here vs. Harar.

     Finally, after a month of seeing goats everywhere in the country, even several times in downtown Addis Ababa crossing Bole Road, the relatively trendy main shopping street, I see goat on a menu. I had been wondering what people are doing with the goat meat and milk. The reason must be that now I am in the predominantly Muslim eastern part of the country where few people are fasting for Lent.

     Dire Dawa used to be the second biggest city in Ethiopia, but its main industry, smuggling, has fallen on hard times and the train no longer runs, leaving it a hot and dusty outpost most people blow by to see the ancient city of Harar, an hour southeast and my next destination.
     But I say to be proud of what you have. The town’s slogan should be: “Dire Dawa: we’re hot, we’re Muslim and we’ve got goat meat!”
     Why am I never hired as a tourism consultant? This world is so unjust.

     There are few cars on the road, again because of the high taxes to import them. The raven-haired Italian girl of the last post informed me that there is a 250% tax on imported cars based on the government estimate of its value. I believe anything she tells me.

     I’m staying a day longer than I normally would here in Dire Dawa because I found a mellow place called African Village (above) run by a mellow Swiss guy. It’s clean, quiet, has excellent food, and is 130 birr ($8) a night.

     I can put my finger on an example of why I like Africa. Parked in front of the post office was a bus where a few guys were loading big bags of mail on the roof to be delivered to Addis Ababa. It seems very African to do that in front, on the street, and not hidden away somewhere in the back. So much goes on in the street, in view of everyone, which gives it a vibrancy. People chew chat out in the open, too, instead of going behind closed doors. More about chat later.
     Do you wonder why I don’t have many people pictures in this blog? In my experience Ethiopians usually recoil when I ask if I can take a photo, aside from these kids in the market.

     This defies explanation. How can you have a giant screen TV showing international soccer highlights in a town where maybe 1 out of 30 street lights work? The contrast between the dilapidated, closed train station and the big screen TV---the only modern thing in the entire town---couldn't be sharper.

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