This isn’t the place to go into the dull complexities of modern visa application processes. Its enough to say things were simpler when consular permission from 5 European powers would have seen me through the entire continent.
Awaiting Egyptian permission from the Addis embassy, I pitch east in search of that long forgotten staple of Encircle Africa: salt water.
Admittedly I sleep for most of the journey, but there doesn’t seem to be much between Addis and Dire Dawa. A few small non-descript towns and the endless monotonous brown-with-hints-of-green hilly landscape I’ve come to associate with Ethiopia. I have tibs with injera for dinner. The tibs, as a quarter of a cow before being cut into bite-sized pieces and fried with onion and chilli, was maturing nicely on a hook in a small ticket office-like construction to one side of the restuarant’s terrace. I’ve heard terrible things about injera, Ethiopia’s starch staple, so I’m disappointed by the plain slightly sour, slightly spongey pancake. It was boardering on dull.
From there I travel to Harar. We climb into the cool air of the hills from Dire Dawa’s valley position, beginning by passing a dry river bed. Its a strange sight, almost like a half excavated road or railway, vertical sand-coloured walls lining a deep channel where men dig for sand. It takes about an hour to reach Harar.
I would have thought the men fed the hyenas in the countryside beyond the city’s walls, but my guide stops me at a square with houses all around, shafts of light passing through ill fitting doors and windows. A steady stream of foot traffic passes within metres of the hyenas without either showing any concern. Small children totter about. I’m told the animals never attack humans.
The hyena man calls the hyenas to him at dusk, although in reality routine means they are already lurking about in the rubbish heap. I’m taken closer, to within a metre, which is perfectly close enough for me. The man wants me to hand feed too, but I have no intention of my writing hand being mistaken for a strip of rotting beef. The man sits among the animals, cuddling them, and within a couple more minutes its all over.