I reach the Ethiopian border by noon, and the crossing is as easy as one can possibly be. No questions asked – ”just fill in these forms and then get yourself a stamp in the office on the other side of the road”.
I sleep in ”Addis Abeba Hotel”, a two-dollar hotel (although much better than the three-dollar cheapies in Sudan). I enjoy some beer, injera (the local staple – a swampy, yeasted pancake-like bread made of teff flour – served with one or several sauces) and ponder at what lies ahead of me – some tough graveled roads leading up to 2,000 or maybe even 3,000 meters.
An entire book could probably be written about this border. About the stark contrasts between two neighboring small-towns, separated only by an at this time of year dry riverbed; connected by an old concrete bridge. Locals walk freely back and forth – the control of the two soldiers on each far side of the bridge is nil.
The town on the Sudanese side is sleepier than most small villages in Ethiopia, yet quite busy by Sudanese standards. I even met the odd man from Guinea! The Ethiopian border town – Meteme – is bigger than its counterpart, and considerably more busy. Partly I guess because most goods here are cheaper, but maybe also because both alcohol and women stand for sale, and that the loud, cheerful music from bars and shops alike deafens both the mosque prayer calls and the bare imagination of the inner quietness of the orthodox monasteries.
It’s a border between one of the few countries in Africa which enforces Sharia laws, and one of the most heavy drinking and prostitution hubs of the continent. If people would go by the book in Sudan, none would have sex before marriage, whilst in Ethiopia it seems that you could buy or sell it from whenever your body would permit. In Sudan, the law would forbid you alcohol throughout life; in Ethiopia even age is no limit.
In Sudan, large herds of cattle. In Ethiopia, women treated like cattle.
The hotel at which I stay invite me for a cup of coffee. It’s freshly ground and roasted; some larger pieces of beans still left in the small cup together with a bed of sugar. But it’s not the coffee that makes me the most excited, but the fact that I can take off my shirt for the first time in a very very long time. Even in front of women, without offending.
There’s the difference in cleanliness from the Muslim Sudan where people use water to wash themselves after having made their toilet, whilst in Ethiopia people use paper yet can’t afford soft and good such but instead use things like the label for the water bottle. Also, a lot of cold food; cockroaches.