53 – How I spent my night in a police station with no electricity and two crazies in a cell
Mon 18th Jan, Police Station, Afambo village
Early morning found us taking a minibus to Semera (2.5 birr) and finally getting the permit done up (100 birr each). With this valuable prize in hand, we returned back to Logiya (Semera was still awfully desolate despite it being a working day) to catch a minibus to Asaita, which is the base to start from when one wants to visit the lakes. The minibus ride was 25 birr (18 for passenger, 7 for my bag).
Reached Asaita at around lunch and asked our way to the police station. There was difficulty here in getting anyone to understand what we wanted, but we eventually managed to get the point across that we needed a guide, as per required by regulation. However, we decided to start from Afambo, a settlement marked on our map as being much nearer to the lakes than Asaita was. We asked around in town and there was a local small bus shuttling between Asaita and Afambo. This would cut down a lot of walking time. The plan was good, since we could also pick up our guide and camel to carry our stuff over there. The bus leaves at 3pm, so we had a couple of hours to spare.
Asaita is a surprisingly bustling little town, with a central square where the minibuses leave from. We had lunch at the Basha Hotel restaurant, (pasta, yum), and the rear of the hotel overlooked the lush greenery of the Awash river. Make no mistake, it was still terrifyingly hot out here, but here along the Awash, a sliver of green trees and shrubs, coupled together with a score of birdlife, stood out against the background of the Afar desert. A reminder that we were still on the lower borders of the Danakil region.
While waiting at the main square after lunch, a local Afar guy offered to beat Chris up. He thanked him but refused. We boarded the bus (6 birr) at the square, before it made a detour to the residential Asaita area where the bus filled up (residential: don’t think big apartment buildings, rather think haphazard maze of straw and wooden shacks. As usual, out here, no one really bothers about overcrowding (what? Your minibus seats only 12? No problem, we can squeeze in 20 people). The Afar locals seated all around us in the bus, with the sharp daggers and sharper teeth. It was quite the spectacle. Then there was the cutest little girl of about 8, with really sharp teeth that she was self-conscious about and tried to hide.
We reached Afambo, around 20 km away from Asaita along a gravel road. I think the village was actually called Hawsa, located in the Afambo district, but i couldn’t confirm it, since out here, barely anyone speaks English. We just refered to the whole place as Afambo. We got off and asked for the police station. A man seated together with a group by the roadside came over. He, in his sarong, introduced himself as the police chief. Okayyyy. It was all wooden shacks in this village, and a couple of dilapidated important looking stone buildings at the back of the village, a full 100m away. We headed towards one of these, the police station. It looked more like an abandoned single storeyed mansion more than a police station, notwithstanding its faded pink exterior facade.
Surrounded by more sarong wearing policemen, we showed them our permit. “No problem, no problem” which seemed to be the only English they spoke. We would have to stay overnight in the village, before waking up the next morning, where our security detail would act as our guide as we make our way towards the lakes, namely, Lake Afambo, Lake Boha, Lake Gamarri and Lake Abbe. This would take some days, but as we discussed with each other, basing ourselves at Afambo meant we needed to only take day trips out, thus avoiding the need for camel porters to carry our bags.
There was a grand total of one village shop selling neccesities in Afambo. This particular shop does not sell bottled water (wuha? No sorry, we don’t sell wuha). Neither does it sell any supplies one might need while traveling to the lakes iunder the hot sun. The other problem (“no problem, no problem” says the policemen) was that there was nowhere to spend the night…we were told to sleep in the police station itself.
And so, in the evening, we set up our sleeping bags on the dirty floor, in the one room in the police station that was not locked. This room, devoid of any other furniture, was the sleeping quarters of the local sarong-clad police force. Still, they were kind enough to share with us their humble abode. None of them were there yet when we turned in. It was dark, there was no electricity in the entire village, and it was hot in the room. So, slathering myself with mosquito repellent, i went outside within the police station grounds for a walk. And there alone, for want of a better thing to do, underneath the African starry sky, i begin to dance. Oh, and i forgot to mention, there were a couple of prisoners locked behind bars together with us in the back rooms of the police station. They shouted at us to come over, and I fled.