Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Tent living, in Kotu, Ethiopia

Time flies, when you least expect it. This time last year, I was traveling to my Hub Town, Debrre Berhan, to meet fellow Peace Corps volunteers, in my region, for a late Thanksgiving dinner. DB, as we liked to call it, is a city in Amhara Region, Ethiopia. The town is located about 120 kilometers north east of Addis Ababa and sits at an elevation of 2,840 meters. It’s the highest town of its size in Africa. It is very cold there. My site was also freezing.

View from the Bernos Hotel in DB

As volunteers, we were never allowed to travel at night, in Ethiopia. The same was true, when I served two years earlier, in Armenia. Old vehicles, bad roads, and American Peace Corps volunteers, at night, are a bad mix. My travel time from my site, in Kotu, to my Hub Town, was forty five minutes to an hour. The wait for a vehicle could run five minutes to three hours. Often, I would find a van and get seated. The van would pull off and then drive up and down the road, looking for passengers. It would then drive back to where I had gotten on and just wait.

Thanksgiving dinner 2019

After traveling the short fifteen minutes to the main crossroad, Highway 2, I would often be told to get out. If the driver picked up more passengers going in the opposite direction, he simply removed the other passengers from the van. You learned quickly to never pay, until you reached the main Highway. After being told to leave, I would wait for another vehicle, coming from Addis Ababa. That wait could be 15 minutes to an hour. The new vehicle would always “say” it was going to DB, but often only take me as far as Cha Cha, the next largest town. There, I would be traded from one van to another. Finally, I would arrive in DB and then start the “Do you have a room for the night” game.

Kotu— Hyena Hideout

I kept up the same no going out at night policy, both in my Hub Town and my site. In DB, I only went out at night as part of a group. And to be honest, I can count the times that I actually did that on one hand. With both a hot shower and western style toilet, in my hotel room, I saw little reason to venture out at night. At my permanent site, in Kotu, being outside the gated compound, after dark, was a hard “Oh Hell” no. My compound was the final residence before the forest. The large gate and the broken glass along the top of the brick wall was all there to keep hyenas from eating my landlord’s sheep.

My room with a view (of sheep)

These days, I still spend most of my time in darkness. I’m currently a COVID-19 Americorps member in Alaska. Today, sunrise was at 8:19 am. I walked to work in the dark. Today’s sunset was at 3:23 pm. My walk home was also in the dark. And … there are Bear! So, I always check the bear sightseeings report, on Facebook, before going or coming.

View from my dorm, 4:00 pm

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind a good sixteen hours of total darkness. I knit, drink tea, and catch-up on my favorite social media sites. I have Vitamin D pills and a light therapy lamp. Plus, this year is almost over. I can not believe that I only have two more weeks of work, this term. I arrived in Alaska the first of August. No one in my cohort had any idea of what we were getting ourselves into, as COVID-19 volunteers. My contract ends in May 2021. I don’t know about you, but I can not wait to travel again.

The Westin Cape Town, South Africa

After all, having a glass of wine, at sunset, with a view of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the dark. —GGT

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