The Gambella MSF compound is pretty basic. Five cement block rooms (3x3 meters), four bedrooms, a kitchen, and a 6x6m hexagon shaped Tukul (traditional hut) under a tree. The Tukul is the central base for the one American ex-pat logistician and the visitors staying here on their way to either Mattar or Addis. It has some chairs, a table, a non-working TV, spasmodic internet and a phone. From the looks of it it's where they eat, drink, work and rest. One third of the wall is cement and the rest fly-screen with a straw roof. Oh it is also has a standing fan but there is no power at the moment! Small red-and-grey/ yellow-and-green dragon-like lizards are both inside and out and are not concerned with our presence at all.
The French logistician coordinator who is coming to Mattar to try and fix three of the four broken generators took us to the local hotel for lunch. We had “Kill Kill” which is a soup made from goat and some kind of sour tan coloured pancakes and a bowl of scrambled eggs! Not too bad considering it was all they had on the menu! The hotel consisted of five bamboo three-sided rooms (3x3m), each containing four plastic chairs and a table. The drinks were icy cold which was a bonus, and the cats and chooks that roamed the dusty floor made me feel quite at home!
So here I am at Gambella, the central hub of the project! Bugger me, if this is the happening place, what the hell is at Mattar???? Not a toilet, I know that much!!! So as I sit here in the Tukul writing this a calling is coming from the mosque across the road (apparently they start at 5am), a donkey (there’s heaps here AND they make good pets) is braying like someone’s cut its leg off and a multitude of birds are calling out in a choir of chaos.
After loading the land cruiser with a generator, three boxes of essential drugs, four boxes of logistic supplies, six people’s luggage and various other equipment, three of us in the front seat and four, including a patient and baby, in the back, we headed off on the four hour drive to Mattar.
It had rained all night and there was concern for the road conditions but they really weren’t too bad at all compared to Sri Lanka. The road was new and had been cut out of the scrub to allow the transport of harvesting equipment to some of the most fertile land in Ethiopia. After two hours of rich, red mud the soil changed to dark ebony where the ground was plowed as far as the eye can see. Brand new tractors and various other sowing and harvesting equipment were parked in compounds on the land leased to foreign investors by the government.
Along the way we saw impala and antelope, warthogs, baboons and hundreds of goats and cattle. The boys in the back cried out with excitement saying they saw a huge lion with a black mane, but we in the front apparently missed it!
Finally we reached an area with hundreds of grass Tukuls and mud huts, barely big enough to swing a cat. And turning in off the dusty track we passed through the village of Mattar.
The excessively tall, extremely dark people with their foreheads marked with six lines of tribal scaring were wearing typically bright coloured clothes. The kids half naked smiled, waved and called out “Kiwoy Kiwoy” (white man) in greeting as we ambled along the kilometer to the MSF compound. I actually felt quite emotional at the sight of all these people, the strong smell of cow dung, the surroundings and the realization that I had finally made it, I was actually in Africa, the Real Africa, a place of wild adventures, breathtaking landscapes, exotic animals, and interesting people. This has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember.