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Day 359: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

After a good three hours sleep, I left the Dil Hotel to go and get a ticket for Dira Dawa on the ‘luxury’ coach. No chance. Sold out. Although the guy really didn’t need to be such a swine about it, especially at four in the morning. I pegged it back to the hotel to pick up Matt and get the hell to the main bus station before the scuzzy buses sold out as well. We got there at 5am – just in the nick of time, cadging the last two tickets on the bus.

So that’s how I spent Christmas Day 2009, on a bus heading across Ethiopia. Well I spent my 30th birthday on a bus heading down Central America, so I guess I better start getting used to it.

Not that it’s Christmas here. The Ethiopians don’t celebrate the birth of that Jesus chap until January 7th. Looks like a managed to find the only Christian Country for whom 25th December is just another day.

Ethiopia, despite being just as infuriating as everywhere else in Africa, is a class act. The only African country that wasn’t colonised by us dastardly Europeans (so they can’t blame us for all their ills Mugabe-stylee) and as such it’s like nowhere else on Earth. If I parachuted blind into Tanzania and somebody told me I was in Kenya or Uganda, I’d be none the wiser; but Ethiopia is Ethiopia through and through – it couldn’t be anywhere else. Not only has Ethiopia got its own alphabet, religion and traditions; it also has its own calendar and time. This is a bit messed up and difficult to explain, but the short of it is that when everyone else adopted the Gregorian Calendar, the Ethiopians stuck with the Julian so it’s not 2009 here, it’s 2002. I think.

The time thing is even more interesting (and infuriating): for Ethiopians, 6am is ‘1am’ so if your bus leaves at ‘three in the morning’, that could mean three in the morning or it could mean nine in the morning. Who knows? Luckily I had got wise to this strange way of telling the time before I got here.

Something else that’s weird is the pernicious meme that’s got about that when you’re on a bus you need to keep all the windows closed lest germs get in and make everyone ill. So even if you’re going to vomit, you can’t open the window, you just have to do it on the floor. Which is what a lot of people do, that is if they can’t find a hapless backpacker to hack their guts out all over instead. This is a particular bugbear of many travellers I’ve met who’ve travelled through Ethiopia, but in a land where 85% of the population is illiterate, it’s a bit hard to persuade them otherwise.

The reason why it’s always Ethiopia that seems to be having famines and not, say, Burkina Faso, is because of the awesome number of farmers here.. Pretty much everybody lives off the land – and while you may think that this leads to some kind of rural idyll (and, yes, the terraced hills are really quite breathtaking) it also means that when there is a drought (every ten years without fail) the economy grinds to a halt (nobody has anything to sell) and people die. The incredible number of people living off the land (100,000,000 people) also means that nobody goes to school. In fact, if everybody in the country attended school up until the age of 16, half of the working population would disappear. Nowhere else on Earth have I seen four-year-olds herding cattle across the road.

The journey to Dira Dawa was okay – Matt bribed some guys for their seats so he could have some leg room and I watched Blackadder on my laptop. The only downer was that in the madness that was yesterday’s minibus to Addis, I lost my Vodafone mobile internet dongle, so updating my website and twitter feed is now impossible. I’ve kept that little gidgit safe and warm for eleven months – it’s such a kicker to lose it now at the end of the year. I’ve got nothing but respect for Vodafone for giving me the thing in the first place – it’s been more useful than a Swiss army knife that purifies water and detects single women.


Dira Dawa was everything that Addis wasn’t; ordered, neat, safe. After arriving around 5pm, we jumped a tuk-tuk (or whatever the hell they call them here) to the ticket office for the bus to Djibouti. All my dreams came true when the chap said that the bus left at midnight. This meant that we should be getting in to Djibouti City the following morning – perfect. Dino had informed me that the ship for Egypt had been delayed, giving me plenty of time to get to Somalia and back before clambering on-board the MV Turquoise like a American leaving Saigon in 1975.

Matt needed some shut-eye (it’s been five days on the road now – it’s understandable) so he checked into the hilariously inept Ras hotel for a few hours kip while I headed over the road to the Triangle Hotel for a few hours booze and internetting. Had a good chat on Skype with my brother Mike and my nephew Joe before packing everything away and rousing Matt for his last bus journey.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Asier

    YES !!!They know its Xmas thanks to Bono thats why they multiply all the prices for x5 for hotels and … … …
    Good luck
    Asier in Addis abeba

  2. Micheal

    Mr. Hughes,
    You seem to be doing well on your journey. I hope and you will come a bit evolved, may be changed in some of your perspectives-of course for the better.
    While you do that, I hope you will keep an open and eager mind to grasp why people do what they do. I am referring to the not so good words you have regarding the Ethiopian calander and timing system. If you see it carefully, it make sense than that of dastardly Europeans: the bible divides a full day in to two 12 hours of night and 12 hours of daylight, since you most probably don’t have such equal number of hours in to day and night outside Ethiopia, you can forget comparing it. Back to the bible, so, you start the daylight at 1 o’clock in the morning and end it at 12- exactly when the day light ends-in most cases- for some season – an hour or so back and forth. And you start the night again at 1 oclock in the evening and end it when the night leaves at 12-leaving for the day light. It makes perfect sense, if you see it closely. What does not make sense is having 1AM, 1PM, 2AM, 2PM and so forth.
    As for the people keeping the window closed all the time, I can’t agree more with you. But it is not for reasons for which you alluded, rather they believe that they get wind blow (they call it draft). Either way, with all the stinky-ness, I do understand your point.
    As for not blaming the dastardly Europeans, I have news for you. Although the Ethiopians don’t blame for the colonization they do blame them particularly the UK and US for their ardent support of the BRUTAL regime that is reigning the country currently. You can be a witness, if you wish to do so in your conscious, how the people are being governed under the GUN- the very gun that is bought and delivered by the US/UK, so they do blame them and rightly so. Look at it, the leader there has been in power for the last 20 years supported by the three consecutive administrations of the US and two administration of UK. I can’t help but wonder though when you had the time to comment all about the people, how they are illiterate and all that, you have not said a word how brutally the government is controlling them. Could that be coincident, wink, wink. Do your job man , hope you get paid well , and I hope you will have one day a conscious to look back.

  3. Bruck

    Was nice to stumble upon your odyssey.

    One small point: Try to view and appreciate new places or people you visit through the eyes and cultures of the locals, for whom whatever setting they are in has worked for millennia. Your own views and cultures should not block you from appreciating the diversity of the planet.

    All the best and I positively envy you 🙂

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