It hadn't been originally planned but we headed out to a singing well owned by
the Borena people. The drive into their area took us past deep, dry valleys
with rocks the size of houses perched on the side, threatening to fall in at
any moment. They've probably been there for thousands of years but they did
look ready to pounce. We stopped briefly at a town for refreshment and I left
the others for a wander. There were a few 'fuck yous' and other things shouted
and my hopes that this town would be different sank. Close to the edge of town
however, people were friendlier and the children loved the fact that I waved
at them. Judging by the clothing, it seemed to have a higher proportion of
muslims than Mekelle.
Outside of the town we left the road, Firew being guided by his memory onto
a dirt track, and then we were on our way towards a salt lake. The salt lake
was at the bottom of a deep crater. Although a path led down to the water, it
would take two hours to walk it. The crater was very, very deep. At the
bottom of the crater was a dark blue, irregularly shaped lake. Surrounding the
lake was the exposed salt. If you looked really closely, or with the assistance
of a zoom lens or binoculars you could see the people working the lake to
get the salt. The salt was for people and animals. To make the cattle fat, salt
is added to their feed.
Close to our vantage point was a village and in this village, Firew found a man
to act as a guide and translator for the local language. I thought we had left
the dust behind us but it wasn't long before the car and ourselves were covered
in dust once again on the way to the singing well.
The area surrounding the well is very dry. Because of this dryness, the well is
controlled and excellently organized. Cattle are brought to drink just once
a day at a pre-arranged time. The well is controlled by a foreman who might
work the well just once a month. The job is shared amongst the people in the
area. It is the foreman's job to keep the animals moving in and out and to
tell the people in the well when they need to put on a spurt to get water up.
As we approached the well, we could see signs of the organization in the
different pens for the animals waiting for their drink. Imagine Heathrow was a
well and aeroplanes cows. We walked down the slope into a large hole in the
ground. Along one side was a trough made from clay from which the animals could
drink. At the other end was the well itself. Forget the idea of a wishing well
type. There was no little roof, and no bucket on a winch. This was a hole and
in it were the people lifting water up by buckets. In the well, were seven
stages, each with a broad ledge for people to stand on. To keep time and
spirits high, the well workers sang deep-toned songs. The noises echoed around
the well and became louder.
The Hamer people were lovely. However, I think that these people are my
favourites. I think they were a little bit surprised to see Ferenji at their
well. There was a touristy one somehwere nearby but Firew doesn't use it
anymore after they tried to rip him off. The ladies who had been in the well
were lovely. They wore bright sashes and had plastic bags under the hair nets.
I think the reason I liked them was that they had a job to do and they did it.
They did it well without slacking or complaining and were happy just to say
hello. There was no asking for anything.
Before leaving we saw one of the men doing something that seemed strange. They
were putting soil into the water. I incorrectly assumed that it was salt, but
it was just soil. The reason was to take away the smell of some goats that had
just drunk from the water. The larger cattle are picky and don't like to
follow the goats.
We returned to Yabello and spent a lazy afternoon at the hotel. Yabello is a
smuggling town because it is close to the Kenyan border. The drivers seemed
to have acquired some goods to take back to Addis, presumably the tax had
been 'minimized'. The Yabello hotel was a very nice hotel although I was
annoyed not to have hot water for a shower. In the evening we thought we were
being overcharged for some beers and were arguing with the waiter. A couple of
tigraians on a nearby table were amused by this. Their amusement turned to
astonishment when we talked to them in Tigrinian (baring in mind how far way
from Tigray we were) to ask the price of a beer. They were being charged the
same as us and it was the menu that was out of date.
It was another early morning start and we headed off to Yabello to drop off
our stuff at the hotel. It was nice to be back on an asphalt road again. I
think we had forgotten what one felt like.