Booze Babes and Bread- a Rastafarian Roller Coaster
Booze Babes And Bread- A prologue
When God created Adam and Eve, he created the first human beings. During the process of creation, he injected in an empty frame called the body, a spirit that later came to be called life.
With life came nature and brought with it all things natural that were associated with it. The theory of magnetism is as old as Adam and Eve. Man and woman were not the only two opposites that took turns to complement themselves in fulfilling the cycle of nature! For day there was night, to joy was grief and to strength there was weakness. The weakness of mankind that has spelt his rise and fall has been characterized by its first letter W. Man’s weakness since times immemorial have manifested in the form of Wine, women and wealth. Man devoid of desire of these attributes was God himself. He did come down once in a while, and he came to Africa too!
This book is aimed at showcasing one of the worlds most fascinating and unknown
commodities-Ethiopia. Modern worlds yet undiscovered commodity that the scriptures refer to as 'Land of the judgment day’, the archaeologists- 'the cradle of humanity', the historians-Abyssinia and the Christians-land of the black Jews.’ Land of the Zion, Mecca of the Rastafarians and one of the world’s first Christian kingdoms, Ethiopia is where Jesus still lives in the hearts of these wonderful and God fearing people.
This is the story of Gangadeen Moses, a young lad born to an Indian mother and from a Jamaican father. Ganga, who came to Ethiopia as a tour guide to watch the Bob Marley centenary show ended up being showman instead.
The lad that carried the name of purity Ganga was soon misled into the fast and furious lane whose sign board read- Booze, Babes and Bread....
There was only one Jah to the Rastafarians and that was Rasta Makonen Haile Selassie
Bob Marleys famous quotes
You can fool people sometime but you cant fool all the people all the time.
My music will go on forever; maybe its a fool say that but when me know facts, me can say facts. My music will go on forever.
If you get down and quarrel everyday, you are praying to the devil I say.
Get up, stand up, stand up for your right. Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight.
Every man got a right to decide his own destiny.
Booze Babes And Bread- A Rastafarian Roller Coaster- The story first published by Notion Press
GANGA 'S STORY-HOW IT ALL STARTED
My name is Gangadeen Moses. My story starts in the year April 2005, at just about the time Ethiopia was preparing to play host to Bob Marley’s centenary celebrations commemorating his sixtieth birthday.
My visit to Addis was a matter of chance as I deputized for my father who was supposed to lead the contingent that included musicians and also Bob Marley's family. Whether I would do a good job as a tour guide or would guide my own destiny is another chapter altogether!!
Pa said ‘Ganga, after you’ve seen everybody off at the Addis Ababa airport, you may stay on for a couple of months with your uncle Ramadhin.’
The flight out of Jamaica was my first time flying. I had only heard about the word wander-lust until now and honestly had no clue that the flight I was about to take, would throw me into the realms of both wander and lust, albeit in different dimensions. Also the next thing that was highly intriguing was that I was going to Africa and I didn’t really know why it was called the Dark Continent? In fact, the first time that Pa had mentioned to me about the whole show being held in Ethiopia, my first reaction was that of disbelief.
After I got the seat -belt off my waist and slunk into the comfort of my reclining seat, the drinks arrived! The air- hostess who was serving me with scotch and soda looked prettier and sexier after every round I drank and every time she bent to pour soda upon ice, I’d ask her for another cube to take a peek at her well formed and rounded boobs. She finally tired of my strategy and poured me two stiff drinks with enough soda and so much ice that she left me with no reason at all to call out for her until I was drunk and done for. I was the kind of horse that could sleep and stand and do them both at the same time with equal effect and ease. I passed off into a blissful dream wherein the air hostess neither tired of serving me, nor of me savoring the unlimited peeks of her luscious boobs!
The Ethiopian airlines flight from Jamaica to Addis Ababa touched down at close to midnight on a pleasant summer night in the year 2005 and I stepped out into its mild chill inhaling my first deep breath of the country’s fresh air; virgin and intact. Ethiopia is a country of ninety million people and a true representative of the continent itself; one massive block; a million square meters of land; almost seven in ten was begging to be utilized or fertilized. On the other side, the country’s massive forest cover had been reduced to its mere tenth in keeping with the crying demand for a fuel substitute.
Time and tide wait for no tree!
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city has a population of nearly four million. It is densely populated and in fact among the largest land-locked cities in the continent. The breath-taking scenic land peers down a good 2300 meters, boasting of an excellent climate from atop. Capital to a nation that has many a hungry and starved mouths to feed, the city plays the ideal and welcoming host to those willing to embrace the plethora of opportunities the nation has to offer.Ethiopia was fourteen percent HIV positive and a very large population between the age groups of twenty five to forty years were dying of Aids. If the trend continued, the country would end up losing almost a fifth of its younger generation to this killer disease. Statistics threw light on the fact that the country was making remarkable progress in HIV education and prevention and was certain to come out of the throes of a pandemic, it had got itself into. If this was some consolation, this country was a lot better than some of its continental peers in southern Afric
Ethiopian food is very popular in all of America and in Jamaica too. I still remember the first Habesha (local Ethiopian) restaurant I visited and whatever happened later that night because some things aren’t easily forgotten....so read on...... The first morsel of Injera, the country’s local food was as unpalatable as an over fermented burrito but I didn’t make the mistake of shying away from a second. I believed that if one made an effort in acclimatizing to the unknown, then dislikes often changed their first three letters. My eyes caught the Ethiopian waitress.I liked the sheer size of her buttocks. While she swayed into and away and occupied almost the entire restaurant while she did so.
She was cute, alright, but something was amiss! A grin swept across my face when I noticed the symmetry in her system. While her big boobs terrorized me when they stared me in the face, her hips went so far away from her body that I found it difficult to fathom if this sweet Delilah was a one piece. T’was difficult to discern whether the hips or the boobs; which ones were bigger and a closer look told me that they tied the competition. She would indeed be a tailor’s delight if ever he had to stitch her a bikini.
The narrow roads of Addis Ababa were strewn with so many gravel pebbles that it made walking across them difficult at night. The combination of old sloping roofs and most modern palatial constructions gave me a mixed signal. It was as though the time machine had sent us a decade or two back but yet spoke of an ostentatious display of wealth in concentrated pockets.
The next night, I sauntered in for a drink. 'National' that was a dimly lit rectangle with a tiny unmanned bar. Making sole use of the round stools bordering it, I made myself busy, chatting up a nubile thing called Neetu who came across as the prettiest of the lot. 'Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.’ Old jungle saying!
Although broken, her spoken English was pretty decent, but her footwear was a major giveaway compared to the rest of her attire that seemed quite 'in' with the times and the cheap perfume she'd worn reeked of a brute and repulsive strength. Though the nightclub had many chairs and tables spread across its length and breadth, it still gave ample room to those who wanted to shake a leg after the spirits had started shaking them. The floor was empty, barring a lone brave whore’s attempts at seductive solicitations that managed to entice little beyond two over enthusiastic drunken bums’ unsuccessful attempts at seeking a free ride!
I preferred the quiet corner of the bar and the not so quiet chatterbox Neetu. Adventure struck an otherwise staid night. A drunk soon accosted me! No matter where, the tribe always has its reps around! The guy came up to me in a totally inebriated state of mind and body. His strides seemed to be out of sync with his head and the way in which he took off every now and then,reminded me of a flying saucer. He struggled to look me straight in the eye but he chose to hurtle his well- rehearsed lines in English fairly clearly and audibly at me. ‘Get the fuck out of the place.’
I chose to ignore the guy and to move away from the bar. He was intent on playing Mary's little lamb and literally followed me all around the fifty square meter hall. I dodged him yet he dogged me! Neetu too did the same until it became impossible to fathom who was following whom and for what? I tired of this never- ending merry go round and finally settled for dialogue.
He confessed, ‘Neetu is mine, you stay out Faranjee or ……..?'
Was that all he was objecting to? Was the bone of contention merely a chunky piece of flesh? It was Ethiopian culture to be friendly to Ingidaas (guests), so it was but natural that Neetu had been fawning all over me. Over and above Faranjees (foreigners) tipped better; she was just doing her job.... The rest of the fraternity of drunken brotherhood spaced all across the bar, albeit sparsely, couldn’t understand the big deal about it either! I told the guy to relax, requested Neetu to attend to him and went and joined Willy to focus on better things.
While the loud lilting music from the Republic of Congo was filling the room with its rhythmic beats, a fierce altercation was ensuing, between the drunken lover boy and Neetu. Neetu, meanwhile desperately got herself off his clutches and flew for safety in my direction! She held me by the shoulder and went and hid right behind me. This was beginning to shape like a script out of a movie. ‘Two guys and a chick, local boy loves local girl, local girl loves foreigner,foreigner loves nobody but just wants to play, local guy doesn’t like foreigner play! The result could never be ‘love all’ and unfortunately the tussle had to end somewhere. Somebody had to win or lose for the sport to be played out to its result! And the result was not something that I take any particular pride in recalling.
When Mr. Drunken bum was pickled to the tee, he turned more physical and less vocal and in attempting to display his physical skills, he started prancing around Neetu, grabbing her by the arm and then forcibly dragging her on to the floor. I pitied poor Neetu and it was the first time that night, I actually got a setting to prove myself as Jimmy, the hero when Neetu once again managed to get off his clutches and brake into the shelter of my protection. Enough was enough and I was left with no option but to lodge a formal complaint with the manager of the pub and have poor lover boy thrown off by two more than willing bouncers.
We played till well past midnight and Neetu started fawning all over me in an attempt to have me buy her full time for that night. When she understood that I was useless beyond shaking a leg or gulping a beer.
Little did poor Neetu know that I was an old hand at the game and played by a single cardinal rule. ‘I never took MY pants off!’ ‘So, the name of the game was the play was in the foreplay!'
As we snored the night away, not more than 150 kms away, my dear uncle Ramadhin was beginning to call in his day. He had long before chosen to make this lovely country, his second home. That of course had been many years ago when Ramadhin had first arrived in Shashemene. He was chewing chat and rolling a joint. Being a habitual smoker, he spent more time tending and watering his nursery of dope than he did on anything else. He raised his nursery with as much affection as that of a first-born. Thanks to him and his like- minded friends, an entire commune from Jamaica had come to be in Shashemene with families and children; a Rasta battalion of two hundred and fifty in all.
The massive convergence of worldwide Reggae enthusiasts to commemorate Bob Marley’s 60th anniversary in Ethiopia was just about beginning. Uncle Ranmadhin and co drove down from Shashemene to Addis in an antique German Mercedes model; one of those outdated ones no longer in demand in mainland Europe. No wonder that these miserable pieces of shit were being dumped onto the poorer African countries in the name of Aid.
I wondered when life would ever be like a chess -board where the blacks and whites played as equals. It wasn’t fair that the whites had used the might of the horses in history and the guile of their wizards in recent times to conquer us blacks while we were still being juggled around like pawns and always having our queens check-mated by them white kings.
Some day the tables would turn on the very same chess- board; the Rasta had ordained us all to wait for our day in the sun!
Ramadhin uncle wore his usually ill-fitting green coloured turban and set sail on his expedition to Addis Ababa for the Marley show. As soon as the bus departed from Shashemene, the host of other like- minded Rastafarians that accompanied him screamed, ‘Long Live Jah!’
The section of the batch that had missed it the first time, echoed the encore ‘Long Live Jah!’ and smilingly, they set forward to the journey they believed was taking them a step closer to their Rasta.
The run up to the event was pretty exciting. There were to be live-performances from Congo,Tanzania, Mali and of course the host country Ethiopia. The best voices in the continent would be lending their voices in paying homage to the greatest reggae stars that had ever lived.Meskel Square, host to the great performance was the nerve center of this beautiful city and wore a festive look, seldom seen in recent times.
BOB MARLEY- BUFFALO SOLDIER IN THE HEART OF ETHIOPIA
Ramadhin uncle and I were seeing each other after many years and it was but natural that we had a very emotional reunion.
Ramadhin introduced me in a special way; very much his own. ‘This, my dear braddahs is the most precious seed sown into our family. He is just about blossoming into this world to make his own contribution to it.’ The entire batch of braddahs looked on fondly as though they had known me for ages. The Rasta bonding was not only instantaneous but magnetic indeed! Special security arrangements had been made for the early arrival of some of the dignitaries from Jamaica for whom the crowds waited with bated breath, eager to get a glimpse of each one of them.
Marley became a Rastafarian around 1966, the time of Rasta's historic Jamaican visit. To Bob, both the dreads he wore and the grass he smoked were pure religion like the Rasta himself. The dreads Marley sported meant rebellion of a certain behavior pattern of society and a message to the white man who combed his hair straight. Every one of his performances began proclaiming the divinity of ‘Jah Rastafari’. In fact, the word ‘reggae’, in Latin stands for "to the king". Little wonder then that all Marley’s songs were for his king, the Jah Rasta Almighty. Even today, it is difficult to say whether his immense popularity came as a musician or from the powerful and compelling lyrics he wrote about oppression, poverty, slavery, apartheid and human rights.
He told them, ‘Struggle is the enemy but weed is remedy, so smoke to get high and balance out your lows. If you don’t have a good job and still not smoking weed, what the fuck are you doin with your life? Cos when you smoke weed you reveal yourself.’
To him ganja like so many of his brethren was the wisdom weed, who the Rasta’s believe first grew from the grave of King Solomon, ‘the wisest men ever to walk the planet’,according to the Bible.
Marley died in the year 1981 from skin cancer and the last words he spoke were to his Mother were, ‘Maddah, don’t cry.’ He was buried in a crypt near his birthplace with his Gibson Les Paul guitar, a soccer ball, a cannabis bud and a Bible. His soul continues to live but physically though, his death left a deep void in the hearts of his countless fans and his mother never stopped listening to the song he left behind for her, ‘No Woman No Cry.’
The Meskel Square not only looked festive but there was an electric air within and around It that made the entire atmosphere resonate to the reverberating sounds of the African guitars and drums. There were people and nothing but people everywhere and the setting resembled that of an endless ocean of humanity. It was an evening of unending joy and passion as the Rastafarians who had assembled at the square from all over the globe lost themselves in the memory of Marley and danced the evening away. Such was the magic of Marley that despite the fact that he had twenty four years been dead, his music made him come alive and among the crowd. It was the first time that ‘the white and the black, the have and the have not,the local and the foreigner, the taxi driver and the owner of a self driven BMW and the worldwide Rastafarians, all cheerfully danced in unison to 'The beat of Bob Marley's spirit.'
The Marley magic was being recreated one after the other by both, the African as well as the Caribbean musicians. This was a special evening; in fact so special that nobody ever wanted it to end. Marley had once averred that his music would never die and would go on forever, and so both the crowds and the bands that played wanted to keep up to Bob’s words.
Ziggy, Bob’s son played the song ‘Buffalo soldier, stolen from Africa, brought to America in the heart of the Caribbean .’ It seemed that the entire square was full of buffalo soldiers. The song “Buffalo Soldier” was written about the history of the slave trade. Jamaica, as we all know was first discovered by Columbus in the year 1493 and later on, in the year 1655, after the English conquered the islands and went on to found the Royal Africa Company, they made the Island one of their most important slave markets. Some hundred thousand black people were chained and brought to work in Jamaica and to America. Thus the African culture itself was stolen from them when they were taken away on slave ships. Because of the "generosity" of the white Masters, Missionaries were allowed to teach Christianity to the blacks. Most of the blacks slaves however had problems believing in the existence of a Godly and pure white man named Jesus. ‘How could he be?’ they asked in all innocence, when white men were supposed to be anything other than cruel and heartless! When the slavery was officially ended in 1838, over ninety eight percent of the population in the West Indies were black, but the white still remained the Masters. So it was said, "Look to Africa, because if a black King is coronated, the day of redemption is near."
Back to the show and back to Bob Marley. The Rastafarians, cobbled up together, were in their own world and listening to each and every song like gospel. A Marley look alike sang ‘Exodus: movement of jah people! oh-oh, yeah!’ Bob, when he had sung this song, Bob had talked about how a few enlightened blacks had exhorted the poor slaves to rebel against the establishment. They had asked me to take a peep into the lives they were living and to see the light that Jah gave to get them out of darkness. It took me a while to understand why the crowd was making so much noise and when I did, I too joined in the Nyahbinghi; 'Let the tournament begin.’
Nyanbhingi, is the most integral form of Rastafarian music and includes chanting, drumming, dancing and smoking ganja. The name that dates to the 1850's, was centered on a Ugandan woman who was accused of witchcraft and uniting Rastafarians in opposing imperialism. Drumming is the major element in Nyahbinghi and its improvised amalgamation with a sixties music called Ska paved the way for Reggae that was until then more like American R&B and New Orleans jazz.
While the crowds swayed to Exodus, the flags fluttered in the air. The air echoed and resonated with the single line, ‘Movement of Jah people.’ From the distance it was difficult to make out whether the movement was that of the people or the innumerable flags that were fluttering in the air. The colors of red, gold, and green, of the Ethiopian flag are also a symbol of the Rastafarian movement and of the loyalty they felt toward Haile Selassie. Red stands for the triumphant church of the Rastafarian as also the blood of martyrs in the black struggle for liberation, green stands for the vegetation of Africa, while gold stands for the wealth and prosperity Africa has to offer, or the sun which gives everything life.
Then somebody came on stage and sang ‘Get up Stand Up, Stand Up for your right.’ I had not the faintest idea that Bob Marley despite the legend that he was, could be so popular. The crowd went delirious when they heard, ‘We sick and tired of your bull’s game, die and go to heaven in Jesus name; we know when we understand almighty God is a living man.’ This was a very controversial line by the legend, where he had in the name of rebellion, even taken cudgels against God himself but be it a hardcore Rastafarian or the ardent Ethiopian Christian, music took precedence over philosophy and opinions and the crowd continued to rock, roll, and rock’ roll until the time to drop dead arrived.
All good things come to an end. So did the show. Of the fifty odd thousand cab population of the city, more than ten thousand showed up that evening. Even though I had seen the show from level ground, I had thoroughly enjoyed it; I wondered what those potters who had viewed it from a different planet perhaps must have felt about it.
Even though I had been born into a Rastafarian family, Pa had kept me away and had not allowed me to get into the early habits of Rasta hood such as the use of the ‘heavenly herb’ or grass in common parlance. I was really very curious to know how it tasted cos I saw uncle Ramadhin pass a cone around, all throughout the show, something that convinced me that the Rastafarian culture was for the grown -ups. The only unanswered question was, was I? Willy and I went back to the comfort of our beds while Ramadhin uncle and his friends continued partying to more Marley music and all that went with it late into the night. The bus that drove us to Shashemene was again an obsolete and rickety Benz that seated thirty of us to full capacity. Though, these guys had barely slept, they looked wide awake and with a never say die kind of a spirit, sang nearly every song that was sung the previous night. They didn’t need no guitars, no drums, no organs; they needed nothing. Save the loud amplifiers, the bus resembled a small time amphitheater. They did everything with their vocal chords and almost managed a very decent repetition, managing to keep the show alive in the bus as if it had never ended. The hangover of Meskel Square was being carried forward with great effect into Shashemene.
I was expecting an action packed atmosphere and adventure; but was thoroughly disappointed as we settled down in a dimly lit room, savoring little more than the aroma of fresh vegetables being stewed. A true Rastafarian I was told despised liquor, loved milk, and ate lots of stewed vegetables, baked or grilled fish and whole salads.Ramadhin on the other hand was the other end of the pendulum; a staunch believer of Mark Knoffler’s ‘heavy heavy fuel’ subscribing to the ‘nicotine for breakfast and scotch all night theory.’ Like almost every other thing, breakfast with the Rastafarians was nothing short of a ritual. Though most of them ate no chicken, they surely ate like them! On the other hand, proscribed by the old testament, though the Rastafarians ate no pigs, Ramadhin himself ate like one!
The entire Rastafarian commune lived together in a cluster of houses on a land that was free-hold. Many years ago, 1955 to be precise, around 2,200 blacks, mainly Rastafarians of Jamaica wishing to migrate to Africa had been offered 500 acres of land, by Rasta Haileselassie. Subsequently in the nineteen seventies, the socialist Derg Regime that had usurped power from Haileselassie reclaimed all the land when they came to power. They spared just eleven acres on which the entire commune of Rastafarians now lived. The Rastafarian commune was a little distant from the main road because the Rastafarian’s liked to listen to their music late into the night and even play it loud. Dope flowed freely and as a matter of their birth-right perhaps was legally or illegally grown in the backyard! There was a deep freezer too, a pooled investment of the commune, a sensible one as it kept the beer flowing into the wee hours of the morning. Little had I realized that this inert commune awoke only at night when all the Rastafarians gathered together in a large hall and started some kind of ceremony. This was something else and was called “reasoning”. The softy cone was filled with a dense mixture and a fireball placed over it. It was then passed around in a clockwise direction. ‘Shoot,’ cried Ramadhin and I saw one of them suck at the damn thing with all his might. More cones soon followed and the entire room smelt more of incense than of oxygen. The entire massive commune was agog with activity in hosting itself to the swarms of worldwide Rastafarians that swooped on to Shashemene. Willy and I were both getting impatient that we would finally get it over with; the longing desire to smoke the damn weed. I was a young man after all, not a papa’s boy any more.
The next day, William spent the entire evening listening to the sermons of Ramadhin uncle and gang and proceeded to pen down a page or two about the Rastafarians.
The Rastafarian movement in itself is a highly disorganized and independent movement; in the sense that it cannot be categorized. There is no particular religion to the Rastafarians; to each his own but there is only one Jah who is the Rasta. If there is one striking bond between them all, it is the love of their mentor Rasta. Rastafari has no command structure. It is not really a religion in the conventional sense either, nor is there any doctrine or set of beliefs; some are very anti-technology-walking barefoot, while others have websites; some believe white is the devil, while most embrace all races; some believe Haile Selassie is Christ, some say he is God. No coincidence again that this faith is no religion in itself but is just a way of life. For the Rastafarians, living a natural life; one that is part of a natural approach is reflected in their hair, in smoking ‘Ganja’ and in their Ital vegetarian boiled food. Rastafarians do not believe in discovering how the world is by looking from the outside but the Ganja they smoke helps them discover the inner science of self; to see life from the inside, it is a from within- the without approach! Every Rastafarian has to figure out his own inner truth for himself and abide by the messages expounded by the Rasta that promote love and respect for all living things and emphasize the paramount importance of human dignity and self-respect.
The Rastafarians were preparing for the second concert for the Bob Marley centenary show at Shashemene. There were no degrees to the use of cannabis. Each one of the Rastafarians was an institutional incinerator so to say, because smoking was a religion and therefore had so much passion to it.
To them, life was but a journey that they simply rolled along as a bunch of rolling stones.
It was a night Willy and I will never forget the rest of our lives. It was a night that changed my life forever. Yet another ganja smoking session caught up with us. ‘What say Willy boy? Shall we?’
‘Shoot!’ Instantly, the bullet pierced my skull into two. When I recovered to still find my head in one piece, everything seemed so green. I could no longer make out any lyrics, I could no longer make out any music, and I could not even make myself out.
The last physical contact I remember was that of a chair. As I eased myself into it, I couldn’t but help making the mistake of closing my eyes. I was transcending boundaries and entering ether. What the hell were the mortals wasting their time on earth for? I was walking on the moon and I started to sing. The sounds of my song of course drowned in the shrill of the night. ‘Giant steps are what you take walking on the moon, walking out from your house walking on the moon.’ Mom was a fairy and she was holding my hand as she showed me around. She looked more beautiful than I had ever remembered seeing her, being dressed in milky white with wings that matched the shade of her dress so much that it confused me whether the wings were for real or just a part of my illusion. Just to make sure maybe, I sat on them and then she showed me around the milky- way. Everything was so white, so pure and pristine and then she flew me higher and spun off into the stars.
They winked at me so hard that their brilliance blinded me.
‘Shine on you crazy diamond!’
'Take a look at me now. I am just an empty space,’ wallowed a stoned Willy jumping
around in his own psychedelic world not too far away from me. Not that I could hear, feel or understand him, neither he me. We were both just riders on a storm. Jimmy Morrison sang.. ‘Take a long holiday and let the children play.’ It had been so ordained. Willy was still tripping, not over anything else but over his own fantasy!@#$^&*&^%#
‘All in all you’re just another brick in the wall!’
‘Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies, cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over your head; look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone, Lucy in the sky with diamonds.’
Willy was having one heck of a trip with a bunch of guys he’d never known from Adam. He was almost rolling along the ground, barely able to keep himself up on his two feet; he might have looked a sight with his white vest jutting out below his woolen tuxedo! He continued a wayward journey strolling like a stone that gathered no moss and introduced himself to every chick he’d met that night as ‘Hello Madam, I’m Adam!’
My flight into space gained more momentum after Mom sadly said it was time to bid me goodbye. I should have never let her go. I went into a black hole sleeping on her bosom but she disappeared in a jiffy! I never saw her again that night but she managed to leave me in a hypnotic spell that had tied me up in its unbreakable chords! I was bound as it is by the trance of my own hallucinations and every sound that I heard seemed to split my skull until I gave up trying to make any more sense in them than I already had. My journey in the yonder wonder continued, the tide was in no mood to ebb! I walked on silently on a brilliant blinding carpet of stars and I don’t remember when but Pa came in from nowhere. He was holding my hand and I had grown a lot bigger in size; I was almost myself. He was looking fondly at me and saying, ‘Son, I could have got you another mom to wipe that shit off your arse every morning but Maya said she’d be watching if I ever tried to cheat her or break my vow. I swear to God, I was tempted but never did.’
I reached out to Pa and cried with him. When the tears dried and I realized I had better things to do than just cry, I found myself flying even higher. I could faintly hear Pa’s voice gradually fade out into the distance....‘You have a long flight, take care my son.’
I found myself running at the speed of lightning upon on a carpet of stars and soon felt the heat getting to me. Unable to bear the brilliant light, I closed my eyes. Immediately after, I was engulfed in a sea of darkness falling off my path and tripping over the edge. I then went into a free fall and into a seemingly abysmal pit. It was like having been vaulted into the Bermuda triangle, where I heard horrific voices in the distance and wondered if I had been hallucinating all the while!! When I tried hard coming back to my senses, I saw a spray of light and was forced to open my eyes. I could finally hear some loud and incomprehensibly jarring music. My feet began to feel the ground once again and I thanked my stars for seeing me off so protectively. It was as if I’d returned from a “night-flight to Venus” and I felt like I’d just had an extremely bumpy landing but had forgotten to clip my seat belt on! As the bumps gradually diminished in intensity, I began seeing things around me and the first thing that caught my attention was highly amusing. I saw Willy dancing with a bunch of people not further than five feet further away from me I would imagine. I tried calling out to Willy but the voice wouldn’t carry. I think I stood there like an immobile zombie for a long- long time. Willy not only looked a funny sight but he seemed to be doing funnier things too! He was telling me something I could never understand. Could it have been that I could understand nothing? The space shuttle I had been travelling in, gradually began its descent. The all- encompassing light became a lot more benign and the sounds around me started to become a friendly audible. I was Gangadeen Moses alright and I could hear the songs from Jamaica being played on stage in Shashemene. I pinched myself, flexed my hands and legs and everything seemed to be in order. It took me quite an effort to wade my way through the ecstatic crowd who were so lost in their own world that they hardly noticed the way I stumbled and staggered in making my way to reach Willy who was yelling on the top of his voice, ‘Newspaper taxis are clear on the shore, waiting to take you away, look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and you’re gone.’
I could hear him clearly and there was no other sound. In fact there was nobody else save the two of us in the room. ‘How’d you like the show?’ mumbled Willy.
‘What time is it?’
‘Where are we?’
‘How did we get here?’
‘Then what the fuck do you know?’
‘Nothing more than you do pal; if there is anything more that you know you tell me. I am just happy as hell that I’m alive.’
‘I met ma, pa and walked in space; and you?’ I asked inquisitively, trying to find out
whether it was Willy or I who was a bigger victim of last night’s trip!!!!
‘I made love to Lucy.’
‘Now, who the fuck is Lucy?’
‘She is the first specimen on earth discovered by some archaeologists called the Beatles.’
‘Where is she now?’
‘She’s in the sky.’
‘How’d she get there? You didn’t say you made love to her! Or did you?’
‘Yes that’s the deal, as soon as you finish making love to her, she turns into a diamond and disappears into the sky.'
‘You are blown bad man!’
‘And you, what happened after mom and Pa left you?’
‘Don’t remember.’ Will you please leave me alone man? My head feels as if it’s been smashed by stone, strange I have a nut and not pulp in place.'
The curtains were drawn and we were too lazy to disturb their state. Well honestly, we were still to land on planet earth. We both looked at the state of our sorry selves, laughed at each other and then broke out singing, ‘I feel so high, I even touch the sky above the falling rain, I feel so good in my neighborhood so here I come again, I gotta have kaya now.’
‘Did we have more?’
‘Don’t know man, I guess so.’
We tried drawing the curtains, but it was too much of a distance to cover. We tried making a sense of whatever was going on and when we stopped making any more sense to ourselves, the speech faded into oblivion and we crashed out all over again. We may have slept on until eternity but for the fact that the housemaid Nabiyat decided to check out if we were indeed alive at all! She was flummoxed by the fact that two guys could sleep dead beat to the yonder world? How on earth? She normally greeted everyone with a tub of water she carried on her hips, helping everyone wash their hands in, irrespective of the time or place within the commune. She herself may not have known why except that someone had programmed her for doing just that. She was a sexy lass, slim and svelte but a little heavy in the bottom. There was definitely a thing about Injera, the local food. Why else would Ethiopian women be so sexy? So horny was I that I wanted to make an indecent proposal to Nebiyat for a spot of instant fornication; what you’d call a quickie, but couldn’t quite muster courage enough to spill my guts!! I lost no time in sharing my devious intent with Willy who was in no mood for a gang bang.
The fact that neither one of us, carried even a single French leather for such unplanned emergencies, sealed our fate; the unholy idea that had germinated from the dope in my mind was instantly nipped in its bud.
Both Willy and I were fortunate that uncle Ramadhin had given us an attached toilet and we took turns at taking matters in our hands and jerking off the accumulated spunk off our poisoned minds via our inflated tools.
The lesser said about the commune, the better. Nobody, not even as so much moved.They had danced so much that their bodies ached and their heads were still dizzy. Willy and I gave each other bewildered looks seeing the way Ramadhin uncle looked at us. He laughed uncontrollably. With him jerked his quintal of bag and bones in rhythmic sync. He made a funny sight and the way he smoked, tried to speak and went on to laugh all in one go made him look like a man severely short of time in a life that loudly said 'Eat, drink, smoke, and be merry!'
'I know who you are and I saw what you did?'
I was a free bird. How far and how high I would now fly was entirely up to me. I
had never felt this way before. My dreams had given me the propellers I needed to take off but I had no idea just how far I would fly or what would happen if my propellers themselves hit the vacuum of reality?
THE JAH OF ALL TIMES-RASTAFARI HAILE SELASSIE
I spent my hangover the next day, nursing it in a small library in the commune that was tailor made for a Rastafarian. Rastafarian is the belief in being one's own 'king-man.' The word Rastafarian itself is one that expresses the personal relationship each Rasta has with Jah Selassie.
Jah’s real name had been Ras Tafari Makonnen. Tafari, in Ethiopian language stood for chief. Ras Tafari when he ascended the throne was bestowed the title ‘Haile Sellasie’ ("Power of the Trinity"). His eyes lit up as he wrote, ‘Rastafarians gave him a lot of names, the list of which is endless.’ "King of Kings," "Lord of Lords," "Light of Saba," and "the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah."
‘The Rastafarians believe that the more the titles given to the same individual, the power that each name carries will manifest within. Rastafarians also believe that Rasta or Jah was a living God incarnate, a black Messiah who would lead the world's peoples of African origin into a promised land of full emancipation and divine justice. The Bible prophesied that the only black leader accepted among the kings and queens of Europe, who came from a free African nation would be the one to lead them into liberation. Since Ethiopia fitted the description aptly, the Rastafarians were convinced that the person described in the books written by God was none other than Rasta Haile Sellasie himself.’ ‘Some of the Rastafarians believe that only half of the Bible has been written, and that the other half, stolen from them along with their culture, is written in a man's heart. Even the illiterate can become a Rasta by reading God's Word in his heart. Rastafarians believe that their body is the true church or temple of God, and so see no need to make temples or churches out of physical buildings. Rastafarians believe that life is immortal and that they are the chosen few that will continue to live forever in their current bodies, a concept called "ever-living." An important Rastafarian concept is "I and I”; for Rastafarians there in no “You and I” emphasizing the oneness between humanity and God as well as the equality of all humanity. What better example than the legend himself? Bob Marley refused to write his will although he knew his end was near because he would never do anything that would go against Rasta’s spirit of an ever-living life.’
He made his first impression on the global scenario when he made a passionate plea for aid from the League of Nations when the Italians began their first attacks on Ethiopia. After Ethiopia was invaded in the year 1935 and was put under Italian rule by Mussolini,Emperor Haile Selassie was forced into exile and returned to his throne in 1941 when Ethiopia was strategically liberated by the European alliances formed early in World War II. ‘Rasta' was named ‘Time's Person of the Year for 1935’ and ‘he was the first Black person to receive such an honor,’ .
‘A major event in Rastafarian history was Haile Selassie's visit to Jamaica on April 21, 1966 four years after Jamaica had won its independence from the British. It was a time that the demons of famine had devastated the poor Jamaicans and the fields were parched and the people were dying. There were no signs of rain whatsoever; not until Haile set his foot upon Jamaica. No sooner than the Rasta’s aircraft landed, the rain God’s unleashed a torrential downpour, the thunder raged unabated, the streaks of lightning ran across the skies and when Haile Selassie appeared everything just went out of control. Hundreds of people broke the security- barriers and swarmed around his plane; everybody wanted to touch him. It was clear that Rasta was indeed a messenger of the Rain Gods and The Messiah of Good Fortune and this was stamped in the heart of every Jamaican. He was Manna sent directly from heaven. The Jamaicans were already his ardent fans and after this incident, some even began worshiping him as the ‘Rain God.’ Rain or no rain, he gradually carved a place for himself as a God incarnate in the heart of every Rastafarian.
One of his most famous quotes states thus, ‘That until there are no longer any first class and second class citizens of any nation; that until the color of a man's skin is of no more significant than the color of his eyes; that until basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race . . . until that day, the dreams of lasting peace, world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.’
Though Selassie knew what the Rastafarians thought of him, he maintained his modesty and always said: ‘Don't pray to me, I am not Jah, I'm only his servant.’ Rasta was moved by the fact that the entire cultural heritage of the black slaves had been taken away from them and it was only when they turned to “Him”, that they began to seek a renewed identity to their existence and a new meaning of life. With his arrival, came a sense of purposeful spirit, unity and compassion that started replacing the rebellious and helplessness of the Rastafarians. The Rasta reciprocated in welcoming them to his nation with open arms but at the same time told the Rastafarians that they should not seek to immigrate to Ethiopia until they had liberated the people of Jamaica, a command that came to be known as "liberation before repatriation."
‘After the war, he began working tirelessly to modernize Ethiopia. Haile Selassie soon made as many enemies within his own country as he had made friends outside it and finally, in 1974, succumbed to the designs of his detractors. The Ethiopian army led by a Marxist Dictator Mengistu succeeded in seizing control and stripped Haile Selassie of his powers, and placed him under house arrest by the. A year later came a sad end to his fairy tale in the form of his execution.’
Uncle Ramdhin surprised me when he sensed that the commune was now boring me.He surprised me at times with his resourcefulness. ‘Would you like to work in a Jamaican restaurant in Addis?’ ‘They’ll give you accommodation and free food. The job will even get you a residence permit and that way you can keep busy, earn some money and stay for as long as you wish to stay in this country.’
How could I refuse? I was thrilled and grabbed my chance with the only two hands I had; I’d have used more if I had em. Moments before my departure, I pilfered some weed off uncles desk and hid it in my bag. It was the first time I had ever stolen a thing in my life.
I couldn’t careless, nor did I give a damn at that moment. Morals took a back seat; I just wanted to smoke that damn stuff again......
JAMAICA- RENDEZVOUS OF THE GRASSHOPPERS
Jamaica was the name of the restaurant and Getachew its owner’s. How appropriate a place to land myself into, one that shared the name of the town I was born and brought up!
‘Tenasthalegn,’ he hugged and welcomed me into his household. The Jamaican restaurant was a huge house and since it fell close to the main road, Ato Getachew’s entrepreneurial sense told him to put it to good commercial use rather than waste it for residential purposes. With no prior experience in this business, he had made a foray into it, only because it was in keeping with a need of the hour. His decision was absolutely right.
It was a weekday and the restaurant was empty , so my boss left. As chance would have it, a whole load of Rastafarians turned up later that night. I took real good care of the guests, personally attending to each one of them among whom was a strikingly different Rastafarian who was a Dutchman named Henry. He must have been about forty years of age, lived in Addis and was much about the same age as Ramadhin whom he seemed to know rather well. That evening, Henry spoke with me a great deal and told me a lot about himself and his life. He even left me a tip of two hundred birr, an equivalent of a little over twenty dollars; a very generous man indeed!
The restaurant was very huge and the large hall of eight hundred square feet occupied most of it. The bedrooms had been converted to private sitting areas; more suited for family or privacy hungry love-birds . The rear end housed the service quarters that were used as office for admin & accounts. The largest room was well done up, fully furnished and housed Ato Getachew while the only one who actually lived in the premises was I. I was also the last one to hit the sack everyday and all of this gave me a great sense of commitment to my new job and I did not want do anything that would jeopardize this opportunity; rather I assiduously worked at building upon it and on pleasing Ato Getachew who on his part was pleased as punch with my multi tasking abilities. So thrilled was he with me that he called up Ramadhin and congratulated him. ‘A fine lad you sent me Rama. I owe you some Jamaican rum; just got hold of a full crate and looking to do justice to it myself,’ he laughed.
The poor turnovers on weekdays were compensated by converting the place into a ‘Sheesha’ bar. Post four in the evening, lots of single chicks walked in, either to browse through their laptops, chat or simply to chew chat until it intoxicated them enough to chew each other's brains up. I made sure that if I ever felt the need to take a cat nap, I’d kill it by half past three in the afternoon with hot and strong bunna (black-coffee) and make myself available to the fraternity of single women. How I wished I could be of better service to them rather than just ensuring that they were looked after well and that the various flavors like apple, strawberry, mint etc that went into making hukaa smoking a more tasteful experience, were always in stock. Most of them came casually dressed and devoid of any make-up whatsoever and yet, it was this raw, brazen beauty of Ethiopian chicks that always tickled the beast in me.
I never seemed to get enough of them and slept with almost all of them in my dreams.That’s the best I could do anyway and as long as I didn’t harm anyone, nothing gave me better reason to believe that I should not have fun that came at no or nobody’s expense!
I later learnt that all these chicks were actually extremely wealthy women whose
husbands were away in foreign countries, and they came with a single intent.
“Kill time else boredom will kill you.”
Come weekend and the place was again houseful. Henry visited us once again with a new bunch of Rastafarians at the stroke of midnight. Ato Getachew was himself entertaining a few people and decided to reward my diligence. He let me leave a little early and after we left the restaurant, Henry took me on a guided tour of Addis Ababa’s nightlife. He was accompanied by his Ethiopian wife Tigist who was kind of used to the fact that her husband was a ‘grasshopper,’ whose day began with a joint and ended with one. Henry had once upon a time owned a large agricultural outfit in Netherlands but that had been a long time ago. Today, he was just another white that entered Ethiopia and never went back.
That night I smoked weed again. I was dying for this moment but tried acting as casually as possible when Henry offered me the stuff. I didn’t have any hangover the following morning. A check on my wallet told me that indeed the situation had got the better of me and I had either gone and raped myself or had committed harakiri of sorts.
Reality dawned that I’d had my first black-out. I may have presumed that I had learnt how to hold dope but the art of staying within the sinusoidal wave of alcohol and gas was something I was an absolute novice at. Was part of the learning curve, I guess!
I spent the whole week repeating the same encore. I would load my joint in the privacy of my bogs and then walk until I’d find ‘destination perfect’ closer to the airport. I enjoyed joining the worldwide international high fliers at the international terminal in taking to the sky alongside them. With the same stoned frame of mind, I’d derive immense pleasure in interacting with the Rastafarians, who’d invariably land up for a meal in the wee hours of night. Henry and I often met up to split a joint over a cup of coffee or Henry sometimes treated me to a beer. Late one night, Henry made an appearance with a couple of Rastafarians who it appeared, were new to Addis. While Freddie was rotund to the point of obesity and beyond, Mike was well built, strong and had a look of purpose and a strange indifference about him. My first impression about him was that he was one hell of a fucking meanie! Not so his friend Freddie who reminded me of good ol dumbo Billy Bunter. These guys, I later learnt were looking out for land to build a resort close to Shashemene, in order to create the much desired infrastructure required for Rastafarians from Jamaica to come here and chill. I was delighted to show them around on the weekend and even hosted the weed and a trip around town. Henry came too but minus Tigist and the night was more or less a replay of the previous outing.
Mike and Freddie came almost every day for dinner and even taught our chef how to make authentic Jamaican food that included ‘vegetarian Ital’. After almost a week since I had first seen them, they announced that they were going back to Jamaica in order to put together some bread for their new venture. But before that, they had a few tasks to get over with which they managed to do at an amazing speed. They registered their company in two days flat and it astounded me that the government of Ethiopia functioned at such a lightning speed. The country was definitely headed for rapid development. As the country grew on me, so did realization dawn that setting up of a company was just about the only fastest thing that moved in the country.
My Caribbean guests dropped by at the restaurant en-route to the airport and I seized the opportunity to introduce them both to Getachew. They authorized us to source some lands in and around Shashemene.
‘I’ll give Ganga the job; he is a smart young lad,’ Getachew said to my delight. I was just happy being given additional responsibility that meant that rewards would follow naturally with it.
The Jamaicans gave me a tight hug as I bade them goodbye at the airport. ‘How soon do you think you will be able to rustle up the money?’ I asked, showing a sense of pro activity at my latest business deal.
‘It’s up to Jah; he will provide the bread,’ said Fred instantly reminding me of a Marley song he’d obviously lifted the line from. I watched the plane take off and followed it into the distance before strolling back into the familiar territory where I initiated my own take-off! That night Bob Dylan sang, ‘Blowing in the wind’ but in my case the question was why I was getting blown day in and day out and which way was my wind blowing?
The arrival of the weekend brought a welcome change along with it in the form of Uncle Ramadhin. He was a balanced kind of person, making smart money by trading in the seasonal vegetables and the chat that he grew in his backyard. He often never took money in return but bartered something else that he would hoard in small quantities and wait for better prices to sell. Somehow, he had got the economics right. His only problem was his weakness for marijuana. He had no clue that I too had also become a full fledged animal belonging to the weed breed. His work done at Addis, he insisted I accompany him to Shashemene for a few days and using the pretext of looking for some lands for Fred and Mike, I managed to convince Ato Getachew and got myself a few days leave.
‘Come back soon, my son,’ he said. ‘This restaurant will miss you the most and your absence will most certainly be felt, but its work that takes you there, so go you must. Wish you good luck.’
I knew it was far too early to start the exercise but I desperately needed to get there and steal some more of uncle's weed. I was completely out of bread, having blown up whatever little pocket money I’d been left with, in entertaining myself to the city's innumerable nightspots and was yet to receive my first salary pay check as Ato Getachew had negotiated a quarterly payment for me, so I could save some money. I’d been out of weed for three fucking days and that was making me edgy as hell! I was simply desperate to get hold of the stuff a and smoke a few drags. ‘Oh! I needed the stuff, and I needed it bad man! I was experiencing my first full blown withdrawal symptom!
Having left early, I reached Shashemene by ten in the morning and then found the best solution to beat my system –sleep it!. The commune and its inmates gave me the same old customarily warm reception. The Braddas welcomed me with open arms and it felt great and almost like it was to be back home. Post lunch, I pretended to have a headache and slept it off until I got my chance a couple of hours later when uncle went to the loo. I moved in swift as a cat and relieved his desk of some of its contents. What if someone walked into the room and caught me in the act? No such thing happened and I had easily more than a week’s ration to go by. When uncle came back into the room I lied, ‘I need to go for a jog.’
‘Don’t get too near the center of the highway and stick to the sides. Turn back soon otherwise it may get dark.’ That mattered little since safety was Ethiopia's second name. I didn’t have to jog too far and found myself a lonely spot to quickly roll a joint.
I stripped the cigarette off its tobacco, placing it between my thumb and index finger of my left hand even as I dropped its contents in the open palm of my right. At the same time, I crushed the weed with my right and then swiftly amalgamated the mixture of weed and tobacco in the same palm using my left to get rid of the tiny buds and sticks that came with it; cleaning the mix that purified the soul! Simultaneously, I tossed the empty fag into my mouth and sucked deeply drawing the mixture from my right palm into the cigarette, thereby completing a meticulous set of processes involved in manufacturing a joint.
The entire operation may not have taken more than a minute. So swift and alert was I that I was cock sure that my actions had gone unnoticed; I was becoming a pro at the act. Happily stoned, I walked back to the commune and sheepishly set in to the room accompanying the sun in its daily downward journey.
Uncle gazed into my glazed eyes that I thought gave nothing away! ‘Been smoking kid?’
‘Just a ciggy here and there,’ I mumbled, shrugging my shoulders as if it were nothing.
‘Who you kiddin boy?’ ‘I can smell weed on you and I can smell it by a mile,’ he smiled.
'We all smoke; I started even younger than you. It is part of us and it is written in the Bible that God gave us this heavenly herb. It is no sin to smoke my child.’ His words came as a soothing balm. He ended however with a note of caution. ‘Ganga,’ he said, ‘your father always forbade you to use the herb because he didn’t want no distraction on your mind.’ ‘Promise me you won’t forget that.’
‘I do.’ I was losing count on the number of times I had lied in the last couple of hours. We both shared a dyna (joint without tobacco) and Pa went instantly out of my system. For a strange reason, I found myself telling uncle Ramadhin things I could never tell Pa. The thin line of respect differentiated itself from that with a confidante and I ended up giving uncle Ramadhin an update of whatever was going on inside of me. He gave me a very patient ear and then a piece of profound advise.
“It doesn’t matter son, if you smoke a couple of joints every day. What matters is that as long as you have your head on your shoulder, what’s the harm in giving it a bit of a spin. “
I short-listed a few pieces of land by the day and got stoned and yapped a whole load of shit by the night. There was so much to learn about the Rastafarians from uncle Ramadhin and his friends but before I could even begin to digest any of the Rasta culture, it was time to get back to Jamaica.Destiny had other plans. I was offered a fantastic raise by Freddie and bid adieus to Jamaica. The night uncle Ramdhin, Freddie and I partied, the weed got me to take a closer look at my new boss. He was an absolute idiot; an understatement!!!!
He smoked like a chimney, ate like a pig and drank like a fish. He ogled as if he’d never seen a woman before. Either he wore X-ray glasses or didn’t need any to process his X rated thoughts; cos the way his hungry eyes pierced through them, didn’t need to tell that whether or not the women wore anything, his imagination led him to see everything there was to see beyond those silly mundane things we call clothes.
The party continued way past midnight and we ran into Henry and a bunch of Rastafarians smoking joints outside a Raggae music joint. The after midnight party began. I found myself another bar, drank myself silly, smoked a lot of weed and finally woke up with a chick in bed lying next to me. I tried figuring out what had happened the night before but remembered nothing. I didn’t even remember her name for God’s sake! As I wore my clothes and tossed some money on the bed, I had no regrets……………….If this was the way I was gonna live my life, so be it…….All I needed was to keep the moolah coming and that was that; doing that was all I had to figure out. A new Ganga was born…….
GANGA IS REBORN-SATANIC VICES
I soon slipped into my role of deputy to fat fool Fred who trusted me implicitly and gave me a lot of money since he foolishly thought that this was the only way to speed up the pace of things. Little did he know that Ethiopians don't need to be corrupted as they were helpful people willing to help those who were helping the cause of their country. Since the money came so easy, I began misusing it for all the wrong kind of things that kept me busy at night.
‘Fred, what you gonna do till the government don’t give the land?’
‘You tell me kid; is there a good business here you can find me till we get the lands?’
If Fred wanted a recreation ground for the worldwide Rastafarians, why not hire a place outside Addis which had a few rooms for lodging, a restaurant and music, a park for the children and what have you? ‘From the airport transfers to food and stay, sightseeing and organizing a trip to Shashemene, we could give them a deal; we could offer to all our braddah Rastamen visiting this city the first time, a home away from home.’ In the same excited breath I continued, motivated by my own self inspiration, ‘I have been helping Pa out with the travel agency business and Getachew taught me how to run a restaurant business in this city.’ I was really excited and went for the kill sensing that Fred was biting into it,
'You see Fred, Getachew had planned to open up another Jamaican joint,’ I lied.
‘What you suggestin?’
‘Don’t know lemme talk to Demeka.’
I didn’t know who Demeka was either, but it was a name of one of the shoe shine boys outside my previous workplace. 'He's the real estate fixer,’ I lied once again.
I had become a pro at lying, my face straighter than a dealt poker hand.
Intent on making a success of ‘mission fast bucks’, whichever way they came, I drove off with my partner in crime, my cab driver Fekadu, furiously networking our way through the only broker he knew. The broker was another street smart alec; a guy named Habib who knew no English but managed enough to obviate the need for any sign language. There was no way I was gonna introduce this smart enough cookie to Fred; not until I’d structured it right. Fekadu and I cut a deal with Habib that the rental would be marked up over and above the agreed sum and then again split three ways between Fekadu, him and I.
Business is being at the right place with the right product at the right time and I found myself being a key decision maker in finding all three. Thus was born the ‘Caribbean Rasta Farm’. It was a home away from home and the land of dreams, a heaven in itself.
It was a sprawling outdated structure, four kilometers out of Addis on the road to Shashemene. The concept Mike had in mind was that of a working village, in that, all the guests and of course other inmates would not only live there but work together to showcase the philosophy, movement, and lifestyle-concept of the Rastafarians. The massive lawns within the Rasta farm were to reflect endemic flora and fauna, the interiors were meant to showcase handmade art & craft. Mike had kept that in mind to give the feeling of being at home. Giving me a rundown of his vision of The farm over telephone, he told me that each and every visitor to the farm was to be given a guided tour of the journeys of the Rastafari and their messages to the world - from inception to present time. A small medicinal herbal garden and a special set of drums that most of guests would know how to play was the “must dos” on Mike’s list. The farm was planned so as to give a completely interactive Rastafarian experience. It had ample space to plan a recreation park for the children and everything else we wanted. The service quarters were large enough to have me, my home and my office all rolled in one. On his part, Fred was overjoyed with my capabilities at putting such reasonable deals together in such a short span of time. Reasonable it was alright except that I had made a neat pile on it. A lot of work was still to be done in putting Mike’s plans into action in terms of rebuilding the place, buying furniture, household goods, kitchen stuff so on and so forth. There was a lot more cash to flow out from Fred and the only way my mind worked was how to make a part of it switch from his pocket to mine. Come Friday night and every time it did, the party began almost immediately. Fred had arrived like a God sent for me and was all one could ask for in life, an absolute goon with his money and one that simply delved in delight at throwing it around. When he got drunk that was every time he sat down to drink, he would splurge. That weekend before he could get cracking to doing that, Henry joined us late evening and we repeated the tireless agenda. We first rolled and then we “Rock and rolled”.
Henry showed us a new side of Addis’s night life. It was the first time I saw a pole dance done by a fully clothed babe! The three of us settled down to more mischief; and the party ended only when I ended up bedding yet another whore. Slowly but surely I was growing into a man eater; getting used to tasting blood and relishing it too. I was becoming a recognized figure at every bar I went to. The word ‘Ganga’ was becoming synonymous with all the wrong things in all the wrong places in town; my first achievement! The month itself had been so action packed that I had forgotten that I even had a father who I had left behind oceans apart.
I GO OVER THE BEND
It was a good five months since I had first come to Ethiopia It had been raining cats and dogs and all I did that weekend was smoked dope and smoke more dope. One of Ramadhin's cronies started to yap.
The relics have it that the country is itself one of the oldest civilizations mankind has seen and is also the second oldest Christian country in the world after Armenia. The Ethiopians see themselves as a people of God and as the cradle of humanity. Underlining this fact are the various hominid fossil discoveries like the Australopithecine Lucy. After analyzing the DNA of almost a thousand people around the world, geneticists and other scientists claim the evolution of humanity a hundred thousand years ago from what is now Addis Ababa. History is witness to the fact that the dynasty of the Ethiopian Emperors began three thousand years ago; the first known civilization that is known to have lived in the year 1000 BC was that of the mighty Aksumite Kingdom. During the reign of the Aksumites, King Solomon, who was in power from 970-930 BC, was visited by the Queen of Sheba, the legendary and beautiful Goddess of beauty. He fell head over heels in love with her and upon his behest, she converted to Judaism, and bore him a son who was christened Menelik I (The son of the wise.) At the age of thirteen, Menelik went back to Jerusalem to get his father's blessing and stole the holiest thing of the Israelites from the Temple of Solomon and brought it back to Ethiopia and anointed himself as king of the Ethiopian Axumite Christian kingdom. It is therefore believed that African people are among the true children of Israel. The black Jews of Israel that have lived in Ethiopia for centuries now have proved history right. Though, the wheel of time has turned many a circle, even today, centuries later still, Ethiopia has remained the only originally orthodox Christian country in Africa and the Island of the Christianity in the Islamic Ocean.’
Ramadhin and ‘the braddah gang’ joined into the gab session and the yap they gave was far more entertaining.
‘The Rastafarians believe that dreadlocks are a sign of identity. According to the Bible, Samson was a Nazarite who had "seven locks". ‘A Nazarite is one sworn never to part with his hair and history has it that one bound by the vow would be blessed with immense super- natural strength but would lose it if he broke it. One of the famous betrayals in history, that of Delilah who snared the mighty Samson in her love and then chopped his curls off leading to Samson's downfall at the hands of her tribe is a fact and no fiction.’
I listened with my mouth agape:
'The length of a Rasta's dreads is a measure of his wisdom, maturity, and knowledge and so the longer your hair grows, the wiser you get,' Ramadhin continued in his gruff voice, the words hissing between his thick mustache and scraggly beard. ‘It is a spiritual journey that one takes in the process of locking one's hair. The patience one develops in growing dreadlocks is like a journey of the mind, soul and spirituality. That is why we allow hair to grow in its natural pattern, without cutting, combing or brushing.’
'Son, we consider ganja as sacred. The human body is like a vehicle that needs to be cleaned in both body and mind. The smoking of this heavenly herb not only does that but it heals the soul, creates awareness of our inner consciousness, brings inner bliss and peace and with it the immeasurable pleasure of feeling closer to Jah.'
Truly he added, ‘A friend of weed is a friend indeed.’
'Who started off the culture of growing hair and smoking weed? After all, the Rastafarians are a very new sect, only half a century old?' I asked. One of Ramdhin uncle’s innumerable Rastafarian friends who had accompanied him from Shashemene spoke.
If he hadn't, perhaps he may have been misunderstood as the stone who’s ever stoned!
With a face bereft of emotion or expression and a voice that cracked like a teenager, he said, 'The migration of thousands of Hindus from India to Jamaica in the early part of the twentieth century brought this culture to Jamaica.’ He went on to add, ‘Dreadlocked mystics known as Sadhus have smoked cannabis in India for centuries. It is they that brought this magic cure with them. It is not only a mental block remover but physically also it is a panacea for all illnesses.’
'What about Raggae?' I asked another pertinent question I had in mind.
'It all started off with a small drum beat and look where it led,' said the same scrawny little Rastafarian. ‘The drum is a symbol of the Africanness of Rasta’s and the Jah's spirit of divine energy.’
It was the slave owners that encouraged it as a method of keeping morale high and later it became the incentive to make melody out of the drum beat and then music out of melody.
Fascinating stuff this! Apart from being stoned, I was totally lost till I heard myself slap my face and get rid of a troubling mosquito on my cheek. The cackling of birds and a lone cock told us that we had been sitting, stoning and yapping through the night. Mercifully, since the rains were expected to continue, I had the luxury of catching a few over-due winks.
Come Monday morning and it was back to the grind albeit an enjoyable one. There was no let up at the speed at which things were motoring along at the Rasta farm. My idea of the Caribbean Rasta Farm had been an instant sell out and Mike was mighty pleased with this effort. So damn good was the place that visitors just wanted to stay on.
I introspected once in a while post my high and felt ashamed how I’d been ripping Fred off; after all wasn’t Fred the guy who had virtually given me a new lease of life? I couldn’t tell him I was running in a fast track lane on the highway of life whose milestone read, ‘Welcome to the world of the Satin Satan!’ I couldn’t tell him that I was on the road to hell. I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know all those things myself.I was in no mood for any more sermons, high as I was; it now sounded more like a lecture on Ethiopian and Rastafarian history!!!!!
Who had the time to read history when I was busy trying to make my own!
That night, I heard a very old number; in fact it was vintage Marley and wondered when I had recorded it; ‘don’t dig the grave too deep or you’ll fall in it.’ Big Bob sang me a timely message but I’d grown too deaf to listen by then….
The CARIBBEAN RASTA FARM
The Caribbean Rasta Farm had been thrown open to the public and I was thrilled with its success. So good was the next weekend that we ran short of almost everything, be it food, booze, rooms or what have you. With Mike’s arrival, came the good news about the hike in my salary. My happiness knew no bounds when Mike patted me on the back and told me, ‘Well done kid, this is only the beginning; you have a long way to go!’
Pa had taught me that the world is a place to work in fulfillment of one’s dreams and those that didn’t dare to dream never learnt or experienced the thrill of work. My understanding of Pa’s teachings was a bit skewed up, perhaps to suit my own interests. I lived, slept and breathed only one dream; that of making so much bread that I would be able to buy anything in the world with it, so the world itself that I lived in would become a dream world.
Mike had a small room to himself in the farthest corner of the service quarters. His room was typical and spoke more of the man than it did for itself; there was no furniture, no visitor’s chairs, no stationary. Mike liked to be alone most of the time and his only team mates so to say, were one table and one chair. He often spent hours slumped in his chair with his legs crossed over the table, lost in his own world and while he ran his thoughts into the distance, he blew smoke rings in a most fascinating sequence. Five in a row and the sixth one through all five; believe it or not! After hours of sloth, solitude and reason, he’d jump out of his chair and get to work as though he was a man possessed with a mission to accomplish. The first time he arose out of his slumber for activity brought about the action to recreate the entire outdoors and indoors of the park with Rasta history. Sign boards were fabricated at strategic points outdoors and concreted into the ground. Historical milestones, centered around Haile Selassie, on Jamaica, and the Ethiopian invasion and its liberation called Adwa day were depicted by these pictures. An artiste was hired to draw a larger than life portrait of Rasta on rain-proof canvas. Messages were engraved within trees, all the parapets and every available outdoor space which was naturally protected from the rain was used to erect a small fabricated structure to recreate a page out of Rastafarian history. The place itself was made to look like a mini museum. Every time Mike was stoned, he went crazy with his graffiti. Not an inch of wall was spared and there were festoons, newspaper collages, wall papers; he was besotted by a kind of fetish…… The music room was a mini studio; one that paid tribute to the likes of all Reggae stars and reggae music played in the farm almost round the clock. Dozens of paintings of famous reggae stars adorned the wall - Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear; and famous civil rights and black nationalist heroes - Mandela, King, Marcus Garvey. The remaining walls, from floor to ceiling, were filled with murals and one of the walls was dominated by an enormous portrait of His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie.
"Have a nice day", it's "Jah guide" were the largest sign boards at the entrance that were meant to catch every visitor’s attention at the time of check in. What Mike had done with the farm, Fred and I hadn’t dreamt of doing even in our wildest thoughts. Mike wanted to announce to the Rastafarian community in Addis Ababa and Shashemene that ‘The Caribbean Rasta Farm’ had arrived. He therefore summoned me every once in a while whenever he landed on earth from his space shuttle to do reality checks. Breakfast was invariably the time he looked, spoke and acted as an earthling would but once he entered his room, you never could say when Mike turned into an Extra Terrestrial Creature again!!!
‘Gangs, my lil bro, in how many days do you think, you could confidently say, we can do an official launch party for our Farm? I want it to be an unforgettable event and I want all my Rasta Braddas to know that we are around.’
I was absolutely thrilled at the question. One, it gave me the opportunity to spend money on the farm’s behalf and so naturally make some on the side and two, it cemented my position in the farm. Also, it was an excellent exposure to so many more new people.
‘Two weeks is all I need; I will complete all the pending jobs on decking up the farm and promise to make it look like a bride by then; we can simultaneously, draw up and put to action our party plans,’ I continued excitedly.
‘What better ambassadors do we need than the invitees themselves, Mike? Once they have an enjoyable experience; they will be our marketing network. We couldn’t ask for a more reasonable ad budget, could we?’ I surprised myself with my own wisdom.
Mike was impressed too. ‘Tell your uncle Ramadhin to bring the whole fuckin Rasta community over.’
I had a hunch we wouldn’t run out of booze and stuff, but was trying to figure out if we would have enough beds! ‘We’ll have to shut the place to outsiders Mike, so we can use even the dining room for having our Braddas sleep there on rented mattresses and blankets and stuff like that….’
‘You’re the boss, your call kid.’ Fred had just walked in and was privy to most of the conversation. He shuffled a bit and his expression was a bit envious at hearing Mike call me ‘the boss,’ but his grump soon turned into a snigger at what Mike had to say next.
‘But remember kid, anything goes wrong and I’ll take your pants off.’ His dead-pan expression didn’t change. The message was loud and clear; if I didn’t deliver, my balls would be on the guillotine.
For the first time in many days, making free bread was an activity that I relegated to the back-burner. Instead, I devised a new methodology of work that made life so easy…A t least it helped me sleep in peace. I prepared an activity chart and reviewed it every day with Mike over breakfast. The inputs I received from my seniors including Henry, uncle Ramadhin and Mike made things a lot easier. They enjoyed the participation but the only thing I ensured was they were stone sober and not stoned when I spoke to them.The day I had worked for so hard, finally arrived and brought with it an overdose of inclement weather, a quixotic blend of assorted Rastafarians and a complete breakdown in power. The massive bonfire, mind boggling sound system and outdoor entertainment went down the drain. My face looked half its regular size but it was Ramadhin uncle who hugged and kissed me repeatedly and reassured me with his words, ‘Gangly, my bubba, don’t worry, everything will be alright.’ I smiled not because of what he said but because, this was another Marley song.
The entire event had to be shifted indoors and by the time all the invitees settled to sprawl over the hired mattresses, the whole hall looked as if it was yet another mini Rastafarian conclave. Apart from the Shashemene gang, Henry had also invited plenty of Rastafarians. There was a Russian, an American, a Cuban and even one Maori and it didn’t need any educated guess to tell me that he was somewhere from the orient. Different shapes, sizes and colors but the same mentor…Rasta. A couple of Rastafarian folk from Shashemene always carried their guitars with them and what a blessing in disguise that turned out to be!! There were enough candles around the place to counter the darkness but the doors had to be kept closed to bar the whistling and gushing stream of the chilly winds that threatened to blow them out even from the distance. It was near impossible to step outdoor to smoke the weed and it wasn’t long before the Brotherhoods’ limits of patience’ was tested unto the limits of decency. Caring two hoots of what the place would smell like, the Rasta braddahs began the Reasoning ceremony. A short prayer was followed by a flow of cones. The coconut coir was burnt indoors and there was a variety of grass, hash, poppy and what have you on light!!! It was a cent percent Rastaman show and I had ensured that all the employees at the establishment were asked to stay out of bounds unless called for. Only three trusted lieutenants that were more like family remained and I personally locked them up to ensure there would be no cheap and uncalled for publicity that could leak out. Not to say that they didn’t know exactly what was happening! The entire place soon started smelling. There was only smoke but no fire; there were around seventy odd people and not one abstained or shied away from pulling a puff whenever it was on offer. The atmosphere was so contaminated that after a while, I could hardly breathe and when my neighbor noticed my plight, he promptly ran to me and made me take a drag. The Rasta philosophy says, ‘kill fire with fire.’ Though I didn’t enjoy puffing the cone as much as I did my ciggies, I will be candid enough to admit that this one took me a lot higher. Somebody opened a couple of crates of beer and another went on to open a couple of whiskey bottles. The water and sodas couldn’t be located in the dark, so people drank whatever was poured into their glasses. I managed to find myself a glass and mixed some whiskey and coke and relaxed. The guitars came out….I was so smashed in the next half an hour or so that I found myself actually watching Bob Marley perform!!The Rasta man who was singing had sported the Bob Marley hair style and sang and strummed the guitar brilliantly. What made the entire set-up look like a live show was that more than a dozen guys doubled up to sing on behalf of the Wailers. To top it all, they sang in female voices to recreate the natural effect. While the booze flowed regularly, several joints sans any tobacco that the Rastas fondly called Diana did the rounds regularly! Actually, I just didn’t need to smoke any of that stuff. The aroma and the incense within the closed doors was so heady and pungent that a sniffer dog would have charged into our compound by now but for the fact that he may been on duty elsewhere…. Well past three am in the night, everyone was stoned out of their nuts and too tired to either sing or drink. What followed was an endless session of verbose, some heady stuff of Bob Marley quotes and some jokes that the braddahs found funny, and I wondered why?
The ones I remember went thus…..
‘Ganja is not for recreation but it is a food that feeds the spirit.’
Uncle Ramadhin was heard hollering his favorite but these guys must have heard it a thousand times before. There were no takers for, ‘A friend of weed is a friend indeed!’ If I thought uncle Ramadhin was a Marley know all, I was sadly mistaken. What followed were a barrage of priceless nuggets. The best ones that I will never ever forget were as follows in random order of remembrance. Courtesy big Bob and in the name of the great Marley…….
“The good thing about music is that when it hits you, you don’t feel any pain.” Bob Marley
“Who are you to judge the life I live I know I'm not perfect-and I don't live to be-but before you start pointing fingers...make sure you hands are clean!” Bob Marley
“Don't Gain the World & Lose Your Soul, Wisdom Is Better Than Silver Or Gold.” Bob Marley
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” Bob Marley
“The good times of today are the sad thoughts of tomorrow.” Bob Marley
“Live for yourself and you will live in vain; Live for others, and you will live again.” Bob Marley
“Most people think great god will come from the skies, take away everything, and make everybody feel high. But if you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth.” Bob Marley
“Live the life you love, love the life you live.” Bob Marley
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds. Have no fear for atomic energy 'cause none of them can stop the time.” Bob Marley
and finally my personal favorite for a reason I will let you know later
“You can fool some people all the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” Bob Marley
Clearly outclassed at the Marley session by the visitors, Ramadhin and his boys from Shashemene patiently waited for their time in the sun. The sun was not in any case more than an hour from rising and when everybody was clearly tired of themselves, they brought the house down with a non- stop barrage of idiotic wit. I can’t till date fathom what the fuck was so damn funny? The braddahs thought otherwise or were too damn stoned to find the stuff anything but incorrigibly hilarious.
Ramadhin’s friend asked, ’Why do you think Haile Selassie is gonna join us for breakfast? None could hazard a guess and when he said, ‘Cos, we had so much to jam with Jah.’ The entire hall broke into a laugh riot. The entire camp was rejuvenated and they again went and lit a few joints after that.
The laughter continued when another asked, ‘How many days of the week start with the letter T?’ The answer was so obvious that nobody bothered answering until the guy who had asked, the question couldn’t stop giggling, ‘Yeah two is right, today and tomorrow….!’ One guy fell off his chair and it was not about the joke but his reaction that sent us all into a tizzy. I thought I’d die laughing.
The next one asked something that I thought was really cute; it was the only joke worth remembering and the last one for the night.
‘Why is a printer that doesn’t work called Bob Marley?’
‘Cos it’s always jamming!’
I can’t remember when the clock struck noon the following afternoon. Many of the braddahs didn’t subscribe to the theory of a clean body but only clean souls and generously contributed to the time saved in the otherwise congested showers. They were however the first ones at the dining table whetting their appetite with bread, eggs, sausages, coffee and marijuana for breakfast. I couldn’t find any of the servants in the room that I had locked them in the previous night!
How they had managed to unlock themselves is a mystery to me and I could find none when I went to look for them. They seemed to have managed to have their own private ball and were just not around when it mattered that morning. The Rasta brotherhood had one heck of a ball, but the state in which they left the rooms they occupied were a complete disaster! All the mattresses they slept upon had king sized holes in them and the linen smelt like tobacco factories. For a while, I attempted to tidy up things a bit but gave up as the stench was too much to bear. I yelled around for the servants and combed the entire farm in my man hunt. At long last, I found two of them spaced out on the bare floor, in the small cleaning area adjoining the kitchen. They were either sozzled or grassed out or both and simply had no clue about the third. They soon found their bearings and we continued to search for the third musketeer and guess what we found? The poor guy had fallen into the well in the backyard and had to be roped out. He had almost frozen to death and had to be dropped into a tub of water like a hot pickle and Ramadhin made sure he gulped almost a quart of whiskey neat. He passed out into peaceful oblivion till the next morning and could remember nothing more of his escapade more than a mid -summer night’s dream.
The next day was all about goodbyes and more goodbyes. Most of the Rastafarians exchanged little mementos; stuff like key rings carrying the photo of Rasta and stuff like that. A few of them exchanged autographs and the more hard-core insisted on sharing parting shots of hash balls. For a change, I felt like consuming nothing but cold water.
FROM ONE FARM TO ANOTHER-KAYA TIME
Wonder what Henry had to do with Mike and Fred. In his company, they made a perfect threesome; Ebony, Ivory and Black-magic. Only God knew what plans they were hatching. Whenever I made a rude intrusion into their conference, they’d immediately switch to hushed tones. Something was definitely cooking but I didn’t know what. They invariably met at lunch and spent hours closeted in discussion until it was time to break for dinner. Henry came across as a man who was smart enough to sell his ideas but too smart to activate them on his own. For one such day- long session, they had chosen a private corner in a run- down shack in Dukem, twenty km outside of Addis Ababa, perhaps an innovative and new getaway to their gateway of thoughts.
They had been smoking dope for hours and Mike had been reasoning since morning. Before he made any new decision, Mike had his own methods of evaluation and while he gazed into space, no one was to disturb him until he chose to disturb himself!
‘How did you come about Jamaal?’ he finally spoke.
‘I traced the area Antonio had told me about. It was twenty- five miles out of Negelle.
Mike had already made up his mind on the road ahead and decided whatever had to be done, was going to be done. He had come to this country seeking a far- sighted business venture with excellent prospects and long -term returns and had instead chanced upon something that needed far less capital and promised returns far beyond what he’d come looking for or even imagined.
Henry had managed to reinforce Mike's decision in investing on farming dope; a dangerous farming alright but one secretive, exciting and outrageously profitable! The only thing was there was an element of risk involved within and without. On the inside, was the danger of Henry ganging up with Jamaal (who was an absolute stranger they would bank on) and scampering with the big bucks once they were made and on the outside, it was getting caught in the act of perpetrating the crime of smuggling narcotics itself!
If Mike stayed, he’d be in the thick of action and risk both. On the other hand, if he let Henry do the farming and store it in the Rasta farm, Fred could sit on it till it moved back and forth and brought in the moolah. I was supposedly, the biggest dasher of em all and was nominated to go and sell the stuff in the market.
Mike saw Henry, Fred and I as the three pawns in the game of chess. Since he was the king of the board, the only way to play this game he reckoned was to keep himself safe in Jamaican defense and never move himself into Ethiopian territory. Worst case, he’d sink some capital but he wouldn’t go down sinking with it.
He didn’t think beyond that. It was early days. ‘Ok, guys I will invest in this but you will grow and you will drive it,’ indicating his directions to Henry and Fred in that order. They nodded happily in agreement.
As soon as I stepped into the dimly lit cafe, Mike threw a glance at me and said ‘everybody often thinks that they are the smartest and that is where they make their biggest mistakes.’ His breath was a pungent mixture of dope and meat and the nearer he came to me, the farther I wished to run. He lit another cigarette and took a deep drag before he spoke again. It seemed that the smoke was a thinking medicine. As the smoke rolled out of his mouth and nostrils, he said softly, ‘Ganga I think it’s time you started dreaming big.’
There was more to this than met the eye.
‘You guys wanna be mining gold or something,’ I asked disbelieving myself as I spoke.
‘If we had money to mine gold, we would be in Downtown Manhattan and not Ethiopia, my friend,’ Fred grunted his usual dissatisfied self. When I hear the plan, I was taken aback.
'So, we gonna grow weed in some jungles and sell the damn thing,’ I said. It sounded weird and unbelievable in today’s modern world. ‘But why was I required to play ball?’ I asked myself.
‘Was I a guinea pig in the larger scheme of things?’
‘You will be the point man of our team.’ ‘Don’t worry! Jamaal will take care of supplying you with as much stuff as you want,’ Henry reassured me. His cunning thoughts were as yellow as his teeth.
‘Who was Jamaal?’
Henry said, ‘He is the guy getting us the lands from the farmers on lease. It is a win- win, young man.’
When I slept that night, I didn’t dream of shooting my childhood enemies in a western duel nor did I dream about any exotic chick. I only dreamed that I was flying in a chartered plane and that I had breakfast in London, lunch in Paris and dinner in Tokyo.
Few hours into the drive, our shirts were soaked with sweat, not by any overbearing humidity, but by the brute intensity of the equatorial sun. We had spent a good twelve hours in the whirring and rickety monster of an outdated Land rover before the nearest town Sidama came to greet us. These were southern Ethiopian lowlands, part of the vast geographic expanse of Ethiopia that encompasses different altitudes and latitudes making it a country with different types of climatic conditions. The beer at the roadside motel was flowing on the tap. Whether it served as a placebo or a panacea, whether the customer was an addict or a beer lover, the tap just wouldn’t cease to flow. Doing service to this noble cause was a very young girl Sameera who might not have been more than seventeen years of age. She had a noble demeanor about herself and her actions and a perfectly chiseled face. She was about five feet six inches tall, slim and bronze in complexion and had a permanent smile on her face all the time. She was as efficient as a robot and uninterruptedly set about her task of clearing the empty mugs, cleaning the table clear of its contents and serving more and more beer whenever the guzzlers hankered for a repeat.
I didn’t like the way Fred treated her later that evening. In his hurry to get high, he was slugging his beer faster than poor Sameera could keep pace replenishing. When he’d tired of paying enough visitations to the loo, he shifted his focus on to Sameera. He straddled the poor nubile little thing across his lap and started fondling her breasts. She was less than half his age and perhaps a third his weight but Fred couldn’t care less. He was soon all over her, and his hand had slid under her dress, getting a feel of her raw skin. The man was a brute; deriving vicarious pleasure watching the helpless girl grimace in pain as he squeezed her vitals. She was no longer just a toy, but a plaything and another source of amusement, like the snack that went with the beer!
The table had an indifferent attitude towards Fred and his actions. I was too embarrassed to say or do anything though heart of hearts, I wanted to clobber the fat fool. I concentrated instead on shortening my life span and pulled hard at my hundredth cigarette of the day. Henry bothered nobody. He was lost in his own world and was impatiently waiting for someone. A little later, he stood up and was all smiles as he embraced a huge figure that had rolled into the lawns.
An Ethiopian greeting is a long process. Health, work, family, welfare, well-being and many more are part of a report card that precedes a normal greeting.
Henry and Jamaal kissed each other three times on the cheeks, a thing I later learnt to do and accept as part of this most culturally endowed nation. The intimacy between Henry and Jamaal as the night wore on told me that Jamaal was an integral spoke of this wheel. But the curtains were still to rise in revealing his true role. The land cruiser we drove the next day towards the mines was an old model and the bumpy ride began having its effect on all those sitting at the back seats. While, the rest chose to suffer in silence; I was a bit more vocal at expressing my plight. ‘My balls have turned from boiled to fried eggs!’
We continued into the grind of the dust and the grime. Harsh cacti soon replaced the sweet sights of roses. Cacti were the survival artistes; they were to the plant kingdom what the camel was to the animal kingdom. I wondered whether my survival instincts would ever be tested in this lifetime! A few more testing hours later, we finally made it to the vast expanse. There were thousands and thousands of hectares for the taking. The Land was almost free unlike the city!!! The sun was setting between two distant hillocks and its game of hide and seek with the surroundings was making the scenery simply breathtaking. A solitary tent stood pitched like a rude obstruction into the massive green envelope that seemed to merge with the azure skyline in the distant horizon. Jamaal preferred secrecy to this clandestine operation and so left the driver behind in the tent. He drove us on to another road and without a warning, stopped in the middle of nowhere and showed us at a distance, the land where he had sown the seeds that would soon start spinning money.
I was glad that finally I was getting to eat something other than Awaara (dust) that I’d been gobbling for free during the ride. I raised the first toast of that evening. We slept in tents and Jamaal revealed in secrecy to me his strategy of growing chat and mixing it up with the weed. He gave me a most reassuring smile and I slept peacefully dreaming of the million bucks that awaited me. The next morning threw more visible light on the characters and their characteristics around me.
Freddie was obese. He was disgusting in fact. I often noticed thick saliva at the corner of his mouth that stayed just there but never fell serving to cement an unlit cigarette between his lips. In contrast, Henry never ever got drunk, nor smoked too many cigarettes as Fred. Speaking of Henry; although he was a Rastafarian who lived and behaved like his kin, he remained an enigma to me in many ways. He somehow reminded me of a Nazi. Whenever, I smiled at him, I only saw a faint one in return. This man had never learnt to smile! He had a stoned face all the time.
He just seemed the types who believed that joy and sorrows were emotions that neither multiplied nor diminished when shared and were better off handled alone.
On the way back from the lands, I couldn’t stop myself from chewing chat. These green leaves were different from getting stoned. Though they had a similar dehydrating effect, they didn’t have the instantaneous in it. It was a slow diabetic death that sweetened the blood taking its own measured time before killing the mind. Throughout the ride, high as I was, I counted my chickens and continued chewing the green leaves and gazing into the dust. I saw myself in the distant mirage being swarmed by the most beautiful of babes driving around in a swank Ferrari sports convertible.
We stopped at Awassa to rest our aching butts and cool off our over excited minds. I was famished to say the least and thirsty like a dried well. Instead of relishing my beer and my meal, all that caught my attention then was Freddie. Every time I saw him eat, I thought I saw a pig. He was ravenous all the time and made a meal of any and everything he had, whether it was a tasty looking dish or a sexy chick. They all ended up as piles of used garbage once he'd gotten them done and over with! As is to prove a point, he disappeared with a whore who’d been shoring up her tempestuous abilities ever since we had entered the restaurant. My grin turned to uncontrollable laughter at the sight of Freddie when I saw him return an hour later after a bout of secretion of lust. He looked absolutely exhausted; his hair was disheveled, the buttons of his shirt had been ripped out! He had learnt the art of spending in its truest sense! The young chick that had helped spend him looked a sight herself. This four hundred pound hunk had crushed the poor thing. So much so that she looked like a piece of cloth that had just been wrung dry by the washer man. I was no mood to go whoring and just happy getting stoned and had a chimney named Henry that kept me company. We finally hit the Caribbean Rasta farm and it felt great coming home!
Henry was busy crushing some grass in his palms and said softly, ‘Until we are all rolling in the Moolah, let’s make do with what I am about to roll.’
Freddie said, ‘roll on regardless.’
I threw the icing on the cake, ‘In one year maybe we’ll be able to roll our own Royce.’
Sense or otherwise, the weed was talking.
Fred got a little over-stoned and went into a laughing fit. He almost rolled off his chair in laughter as if he was being tickled insane by a box of rats strapped on to his stomach (a routine primitive Chinese torture.) Henry and Jamaal went back to King Solomon’s mines, as I jokingly called them. Once there, Jamaal was to set to work, a force of about five hundred odd laborers and things were about to get cracking. More land had to be dug and more seeds had to be sown.They had to be watered from the nearby lake and then the place had to be nurtured. Harvest was yet a long time away but Jamaal had long since sown enough weed that was ready for dual action; for harvest and for stoning the entire galaxy squint!!
MUSTAFA- A GAME OF CHESS BEGINS
The next morning, Mike welcomed our return.
‘Howdi partner?’ Fred growled, slumping into the solitary visitor’s chair in Mike’s room, making the room look tinier than it actually was.
Mike spoke, ‘Kid, It’s only a matter of time before our friends Henry and Jamaal bring in the first consignment of dope. Have the stuff unloaded in a room in the back yard. This apart, the new seeding would yield a few months down the line.’ Mike continued 'Initially kid, you could start with pushing retail.'
‘Why me?' I asked in finding myself a reassurance rather than anything else.
'One of us has to do it. We couldn’t involve an outsider and you are young and have the fire in the belly; we want you to be the pusher as we think you got what it takes.’
He continued mumbling, more appropriately hissing in a barely audible tone, ‘Kid, you are a braddah; never feel like an outsider.’ He was looking right into my eyes while he spoke and expected me to do the same.
‘There is so much bread to be made in this trade that all of us can hit it real big. We will have to keep enough for eventualities; it is a risky business after all and so the lion’s share of the profit must go for future reserves.’ His intent gaze spoke, not him. ‘We hope you understand.’ ‘But remember, this is your business and do it as secretly as possibly.’
He gave me some more motivational crap that failed to interest me any further but I
pretended all the while that he was succeeding in motivating and even brain washing me…
Hahaha!! I had an independent mind of my own and figured that with Henry out of the picture helping Jamaal with sowing the weed, and only a dumb idiot like Fred to contend with, I was already smelling the scent of green bags! Peddling dope in retail meant first hand access to the who’s who in town. That was my actual profit, I surmised; a little with delight!
‘But just how would I get started?’ Santana’s song floated into my mind. ‘As the evening sun goes down, the dealer shuffles into town, makes a note of what’s afloat and flying down he’ll cut your throat.’ So I was ordained to be Dealer and I intended to make my deals like the dope itself......cut and dry.....
My first sale was an experience of a lifetime…………………………. They say that, ‘there is always a first time,’ and only the time I was doing what I was doing for the first time made me realize the meaning of the saying. I was supposed to meet some guy I’d never seen before at a popular night club called ‘Addis Blue’, a biggish place on the first floor of a building adjoining one of the busiest areas of Addis Ababa called Hayaa Hullath (twenty two) referring to the area. When I walked into the place, I was very nervous since I was carrying a lot of the stuff on me; I was wearing it in fact, in my jacket. I had stuffed the damn weed in all my possible pockets and even under my jacket zippers making me look like an overgrown baboon. All I had been told was to wait until a guy introduced himself to me as Mustafa. I waited in one corner of the restaurant doing nothing but wait. One long and unending pain in the arse, it was!!!!
Addis Blue itself was large, very large and loud….....The blood red sofa that occupied centre-stage was noticeable even in the dark of the night and its color jarred as much as did the music. Mustafa never came. I was tempted time and again to call Fred up but knew it would serve no purpose. The instructions had been loud and clear. Do nothing at all; make no move to do anything that would get me noticed. Mustafa it was and Mustafa it would be who would make all the moves. Much as I tried, the wait for Mustafa was boring me to death. I neither drank nor ate anything, looked lost and felt out of place. The place had long since started to rock and so, I finally ordered myself a beer. The chilled beera came as some sort of interim relief though the patient game of wait and watch continued. This may have been the foreword in any business transaction, but to me it was getting to be one big ball ride. A ‘Madonna’ look alike sat her sweet arse on the bar stool next to mine. She deliberately pouted when I looked at her and puffed smoke away from me when I didn’t. She was one of those ravishing babes who’d walk directly through the doors of my filthy mind, straight into my insatiable loins! My hard on refused to soften but I knew there was no way I could bed her that night. Nonetheless, I sent her a beer and struck up a conversation with her that was barely audible. I also stupidly smoked a joint and the weed zapped me out instantly!!
Of all the things, I did this on a day when I had set out to do my first business deal. The DJ shifted to Marley and I forgot all about Mustafa. It was the first time that evening that I began to relax and notice things other than my taut nerves and tense guts would permit me. ‘Madonna’, as I preferred to call her was wearing a green top and faded blue jeans. Her foot wear was a pair of neat and tidy sneakers. She didn’t come across as any whore since she was definitely not dressed like one. Her footwear and manner of speech that were otherwise the first qualities to give one’s upbringing away, did not seem to suggest that. For a little while, I did remember managing to make some polite conversation with her and later with don't know who, but slowly I drifted off. Her words became inaudible and my surroundings began to dim. I was floating all over the place and the music was like the beat of an unending march-past. It was some kind of techno and the DJ chose the most inappropriate of times to turn the fog and the rest of the light and jazz stuff on. The strobes were like the state of my mind; spinning around in circles and soon the flickering lights played on my wavering mind that I led myself on to the dance floor. I was a fairly decent dancer and had no difficulty in finding myself some decent company. Madonna wasn’t alone and Whitney and Britney ended up from nowhere to give her company. There were guys with the babes too but it no longer mattered who was with whom and why?
The alcohol again spurred my generosity and from the harsh slug of beer, we made the smooth switch to the ‘white horse’. The dance floor was gyrating with people and the colored lights were winking at the floor. I drank like a fish and as the fish grew on me, it turned into ‘a whale of a time.’
The entire scenario turned electric blue! So kicked was I, that I went and offered a round of dope to all the guys I had started partying with and to make matters worse, they all smoked like pros. They were all well to do guys it seemed; no pariahs these. After a little familiarity began breeding camaraderie, they offered to take me to more exciting places but I still had a mission to fulfill. High as I was, the dope still controlled my levels of sanity and so, I politely declined their invitation since I couldn’t tell them who I waited for and why? Mustafa never came and my patience didn’t want to co-operate with me any further. Madonna, Britney, Whitney and gang finally got the better of me and so did my urge to drink. I once gain made the cardinal blunder of side steeping my sinusoidal curve and began to drink as if from a bucket and then took to the floor with a vengeance. Late into the morning, my tendencies of flirting with danger got the better of me. I had smoked so much weed and drunk so much that let alone Mustafa, I was in no position to fathom where the hell I was and what on earth had happened to me after all! The night was one long and unending fairy tale and the last I remembered of it was the word ‘Mustafa’. The piercing Ethiopian sunlight shot through the windshield and though it had a tint to it, it did little to stop the sun. The early rays hit me in the face first and then straight in the eye. I opened them, a bit startled not only at the surroundings but also with myself. Never before had I passed off so peacefully into such a blissful state that the hard seat of the Vitara even in a supine position had seemed as comfortable as a bed of a million roses and a thousand velvet. I almost jumped out of my seat only to see that I wasn’t alone.
A strange looking guy at the driver’s seat stretched back to the full was half snoring, blissfully unaware of the day light around him. My first reaction was one of disbelief and even as I rubbed my eyes to focus straight, the sun once again hit and this time, it hit right into my brains that seemed to have numbed out with the expedition of the previous night. I had over done my antics and my over confidence had severely done me in.
‘Fuckin shit!’ I yelled out loud and in a manner of self defense, I immediately reached into my jacket probing its depths and then hissing a sound of relief; the grunt of a satisfied stallion! The weed was still there and absolutely intact. Would my sweat have messed it up? I wouldn’t know since these were matters of the finer nitty- gritties of the trade. I fumbled for my mobile, found it and dialed.
Fred barked, ‘Where the hell have you been? Is all ok with ya? Are ya still shacked up with some sleazy whore? Did you meet Mustafa? Hope the rat didn’t leave any bread due to pay?’
If he had asked me a couple of questions or maybe just one more, I’d have been glad to answer him but the rogue was greedy even with information! He wanted all of it in one go! I rolled down the glasses of the Vitara and let the fresh morning breeze roll in.
‘Are you there?’ he barked again, sounding nearly as close as the bulldog he very nearly looked. ‘Are you alright Ganga?’
‘I’m fine and why are you shouting, you mother fucker?’ I could still feel the stale stench of my breath and felt the urgent urge of nicotine swell in my blood. Fred was still shouting himself hoarse till he could eke out an answer from me, but I couldn't care less. I took my own sweet time in lighting up a ciggy just as Fred himself would, took a deep drag and let the tobacco fill up my senses before coming out with it, ‘I’m fine, the stuff is intact, Mustafa never showed up and I’m not with any chick in any hotel room but I spent the night with a guy who I don’t even know in a fuckin Vitara.’
‘In a what?’
‘In a Vitara.’ I could hear the son of a bitch laugh; he sounded worse than a hyena. His speech was jammed by a fit of laughter that often choked his respiratory tract. His enormous weight was his biggest enemy and I had always imagined that if there was a guy who’d die laughing, it had to be Fred. When he laughed, he always coughed and whenever he coughed, he choked so much that the laughter just wouldn’t come out. Complicated simultaneous equations indeed! Between his laughs and chokes or whatever you may call their combination, he finally managed to guffaw, 'So you prefer sweet arses more now, don't you?'
‘Dammit, when there is pussy on line, why would I go for arse?’
‘Never know Ganga, strange things can happen in the dark of the night.'
The full throated laughter from within the Vitara came almost at the same time that I switched the mobile off. Startled, I looked haplessly at the stranger beside me. He never said a word. That didn’t mean of course that he did nothing. He just laughed. I couldn’t imagine what he found so funny, so early in the morning. He was a smart lad who would not have been more than his mid twenties. The same age as I, give or take a year at best, well dressed and judging by the car he drove, he came across as one among the affluent; perhaps not the rich and filthy but surely the comfortable and healthy. He had an unusual accent, very alien and his command over his English was better than mine. T’was later that I learnt a couple of things about him; that he did his schooling and graduation in down town Manhattan and that he was fuckin’ stinking rich!
‘Samuel,’ he said, stretching a large and warm hand in full and firm grip towards me. I held his hand and he started to laugh all over again.
‘Who was?’ I couldn’t understand what this guy Samuel or whatever his name, was
saying and nothing else seemed to make any sense either.
‘I‘m sorry,’ I said.
His laughter was carrying beyond the road now. He was becoming a show stopper as the passers- by looked on. While I looked on in a state of confusion confounded, he realized that he may have gone overboard in entertaining himself at my expense and so stifled himself momentarily.
‘Pass me a cigarette.’
I lit two, passed him one and waited for him to do what he would next. He would either laugh or he would talk. He did neither, just enjoyed his cigarette. Somebody had to say something; I decided wouldn't be such a bad idea if it might have to be me. ‘What happened?’
‘First tell me how much you remember?’ he smiled, a thing he’d been doing since I had seen him that morning. For a reason I still cannot explain, I took an instant liking to this affable Ethiopian.
‘Well, I was dancing with this chick and I ordered a round of beer for a lot of people.’
‘And nothing more than that.’
‘Nothing at all?’
He stifled a laugh, ‘Man, you were a one man show last night. You drank so much that you drove the bar man nuts, you danced so much that you swept everybody off the floor and…' So saying, he paused, 'Until then you were real cute, but after that......'
'But after that, what?'
He suppressed a smirk, ‘You went over the bend. You made almost everyone in the club smoke the goddamn weed you were carrying and then you began an endless and irritating search for somebody and ended up asking not less than a hundred guys whether anybody had seen Mustafa.’ He changed his tone, lowered his voice and almost whispered, ‘You know something else man? You cracked a deal with some strange looking guy who you thought to be Mustafa?’
`‘How do you know that?’
‘You introduced him to me as Mustafa and the two of you were smiling as though you guys had just swapped one of the world’s seven wonders!!.’
‘Are you saying that I thought somebody was Mustafa while he actually wasn't?’ I said, trying to suppress my irritation at my own stupidity. Had I behaved like a jack ass the previous night? ‘And what was the guy like?’
‘I don’t remember very clearly man; the guy was no Ethiopian; maybe he was West African. I don't know your deal and don’t think you remember it either.'
I waited with bated breath at his absolutely accurate assessments.
He said, 'you did clinch the deal after all and so you will have to pretend that you remember everything.’
My reaction to Sami was a confused one like facing a quiz master and not knowing what he was saying. Sami however seemed in complete control, 'And if you let him do all the speaking, you'd be better off.' This in his opinion was the best way to renegotiate the deal since I didn’t even remember there was one.
'How did the night end?'
If I thought he was finished with his laughter, I was wrong. There was more to follow, inspired largely by the reasons I'd given him the previous night. He fought off a cough and said, 'This is the first time in my life I came across a cartoon who forgets his own house! You had me so fed up in trying to look for your house that I had to give up and park where we are, only to get both the night and your return to sanity over with.’ 'Let’s have a cuppa hot bunna somewhere nearby.’
Sami was a Rasta, half and half. He loved to dope and Bob Marley was almost a God to him but he hated to grow his hair. ‘I don’t have to show that I am a Rasta when I know I am one man,’ he justified. The scent of tobacco slowly began killing the overnight stale stench of alcohol and dope.
’ Who was he?’ I asked with a sense of disbelief.
‘Ha ha ha,’ his laughter resonated but at lower decibels as he reached towards the dashboard; it was an absolute mess. There were cigarette buds, loose change and sealed cigarette packets, sealed condom packets and a solitary visiting card. While Sami managed to retrieve a pack of fags, I stared hard at the name ‘Mbangwa’ written on a plastic visiting card, the one meant to survive both rain and rape. Across it was a note ‘C U Tom Hilton 405.' …
I called Mike, ‘Hey listen, and I think I have a buyer.' I didn't know what the deal with Mustafa was but I had to find out.
'How much can I get rid of the fuckin stuff for? I smell like a house of weed myself.'
If I had hinted at pity, it didn't seem forthcoming; though it caught Mike's attention and sent him into silence for a long time. I knew he was the sorts who always weighed his options before he spoke and who believed in thinking at least a seven times before letting the words quiver off his chords.
‘Who’s the customer?’
‘Cut it out Mike, there ain’t no time for history or geography now or any for moral science, let’s just stick to the math,' I asserted, still trying to avoid the glare from hitting at my eyes.
‘Kid, if you gonna promise me not to come back empty handed, I’d like you to close it anything over and above five grand.’
I cut the mobile dead. I knew the thing might not have cost Mike even a tenth of that, but the real profit in this business, I reckoned was the opportunity itself. There could have been nothing better in this whole goddamn world than doing an illegal business and that too in bulk. I pointed two fingers indicative of a victory sign at an ever smiling Sami who was busy looking for place to pullover into the Hilton hotel’s parking lot. Sami went in to look for our guest; I just couldn’t since I was a mobile weed depot rolled into walking grassland! almost half of the stuff had been sewn onto me in my socks, in my trousers, shirt and jacket. God bless Mike for sparing my undies!
Sami left only to return just ten minutes later, a baldy in tow. Mbangwa looked at me; half irritably and half amused. Was I the same drunken bum he’d spoken to the previous night? I was too sheepish to own up. With Mbangwa occupying almost the entire space in the rear, Sami put the reverse gear in motion and swung off screeching irritatingly away onto the main road and drove off. I looked back and saw Mbangwa gaping back at me, his expression as deadpan as a door mat. Sami soon pulled up into a nearby by lane and we showed Mbangwa the dope. He didn’t smoke any of it but he sniffed very systematically like a dog would a bone. As he sized up the quantity, I finally got to hear his voice, ‘How much?’
Sami was a born businessman and a shrewd money multiplier. ’Twenty grand,’ said a poker faced Sami.
‘This stuff ain’t worth more than ten grand at best.’
‘Deal,’ Sami announced, pretending to concede the battle of wits he had actually won!
Soon I denuded myself off the weed and converted from a grass land to a barren desert.
Mbangwa too relieved himself of the bread and we were soon headed our individual ways; he to spread the cause of satanic doom and we to celebrate the success of the financial closure to our first marketing jig.
Sami whispered, ‘What you gonna do now?’
‘Give Mike all the money, what else man?’
‘You crazy man, are you out of your fucking nuts?' ‘What’s the matter with you?' I was lost for words.
‘Put your foot where the mouth is man. You ain't as smart as I thought you were!’
Nobody had ever spoken to me the way this stranger had before, but there was a certain something in his tone that never angered me despite whatever he had said. Though he was addicted to using his mobile phone while he drove, his gaze was focused upon the road ahead at all times and his right hand was always in control of his power steering. He winked, ‘Call Mike and lemme talk to him.’
When Mike came on line, a confident Sami growled, ‘Hey dude, this stuff ain’t worth five grand; it ain't nothin like the stuff I get from Harar. Since I’ve run outta stock, I thought I might try out something new.’ Getting no reaction from Mike yet, he continued, ‘Look, the customers don’t give that much shit about quality and to them it ain’t make no diff if the weed comes from Scotland or from Timbaktoo. Let’s just talk price man.’ Though the dialog continued, I could hear only Sami's side of it. 'My last price is three thousand bucks.' He passed me the mobile.
Mike said to me ‘Look kid, bring the guy over and we can talk.’
Sami and I played the game of betrayal together. ‘He ain’t got the time,’ I said confidently,emboldened by the scent of the moolah that lay in store.
‘Then do your best kid, you are the boss.’
A strange concoction of wisdom and mischief dawned upon me. I was gonna double cross the guys who had brought me into this business. So what if I made a buck on the side,weren’t they making much more? And as long as everybody was happy, why think twice???
Four grand and deal closed. Sami and I had made a killing of six grand birr, the equivalent of seven hundred dollars on our first trade. It was the first of many more that were to follow.
It was customary practice to breakfast together around nine every morning in the salon at the far end of the farm.
Mike said, ‘Sonny, I need to get back home. Fred will of course be here to guide you guys just in case.'
He took me aside and whispered, ‘Son, I am depending upon you, cos the weather ain’t good and we have too much stock. Without caring to stop the flow of saliva that trickled past the corner of his mouth, he continued, ‘Although the stuff is well sealed, I don’t want us to take no chances. I want you to slog your balls off and get rid of the damn shit as soon as possible.’
More than say anything; I was inquisitive to see if his saliva would drop onto the floor. No such luck! He used it to wet a joint that made the first drag easier and then went on to put his arm around my shoulder as he blew marijuana right into my face, ‘Never mind the price,' he added to my delight. In the same breath, he said, ‘You can tell your Pa that you are doing a fine job of running the restaurant, you ever need some bread to send home, don't hesitate to ask Fred for an advance.’
It told me that you were needed in any business only as long as the business needed you and the more the business began to depend on you, the more valuable your time became in the business.
BOOZE, BABES AND BREAD- A RASTAFARIAN ROLLER COASTER
More than six months had gone by, since the time I had first set foot into this country. The plain and simple Ganga was no longer the same. I was but a simple lad who knew not the meaning of dope six months ago and now my day never passed without smoking the damn thing at least thrice a day! I needed the damn thing for almost everything I did. There was not a single barman or maid that had not tended me on the whole of Bole road, and though I didn’t accept it, fact remained that I had become an alcoholic and just couldn’t do without a daily drink!
'Ganga,’ the name of the river Ganges, a symbol of purity in India; a name my mother might have so fondly kept thinking her son would grow up and become a delta of happiness was like a river in spate; fast and furious eroding all ethics and morals in life just to get to life's greenest pastures taking the shortest and fastest route with it.
Six months ago, I never had a dime in my pocket and was always dependent on Pa to even buy me my toothpaste and my soap but now I had plenty in the bank that I had earned by the most deceitful of means. I didn’t even know what women looked like six months ago and now I was slowly losing count of the number of chicks I had been to bed with. I was on the verge of starting one of the most exciting businesses; one that was carried out only in the dark of night and I seemed to throw caution to the wind to the fact that it was dangerous and illegal. What mattered was the thrill it brought with it.
My life was a one way street that was called 3B: booze, babes and bread. I had no intention of ever going back on it. I had found myself paradise and there was no way I was going to let go of the joys of life I had begun experiencing.
‘Now what?’ Sami was planning the next move. Stoned out of our wits, at the time of the day the sun was peaking, we looked down upon the city from Hilltop hotel situated at exactly the same place its name suggested. The thousands of city minions that buzzed around made fascinating viewing. Come night and this same set of fun loving people who'd toiled all day chasing their daily breads would come alive to the city's brilliant lights and its thousand odd bars. Stoned to a tee and letting the sun take us from the outdoors of where we stood, we drifted away towards the light blue skies that seemed to be tinting with a shade of green. We both shared a dream of adding a new dimension in entertainment to the city's night life merchandise.
'We need to find ourselves a bigger market for the damn weed. We need to recycle whatever we’ve made and then double it. And then double again and the faster we move on with it, the more moolah we gonna make,' said Sami fascinating me with the skills of his multiplication and the intensity of his ambition. Fact remained that we had just got plain lucky, one fine night and dame fortune had been kind enough to give us a peep in to a business which was gonna be much harder and harsher than it actually looked. The two of us however, just couldn’t see beyond our own stony mirage and refused to acknowledge that anything other than what we thought could ever be right. We continued doping until we saw the sun off and went to join the stars and the skies. We spent almost the entire night crawling one spot to another and it took us a lot of determination to resist the temptation of the thousand odd bars where either the music or the hostess herself tried to lure us in. Our minds were set on business and our eyes were peeled, looking for that elusive pusher or peddler but nobody came. The next night, we started off on the same mission but gave up half way! What the fuck? Once in a way, gotta enjoy life! So, it was that we decided to forget about the gravity of the present and relive the madness of the more recent pleasurable past! We did an encore on Addis Blue in an attempt to get second time lucky. The scenario was an action replay of the last time round. Dim lights, great babes, and great music but no Mustafa and no Mbangwa and no repeat of my histrionics! But that didn't stop History from repeating itself, neither we from repeating history
The Rasta farm was crowded every Sunday afternoons with a lot of people. Many of the braddahs in fact were crazy about the way the place was done up and spent hours in stoned silence when they revisited Mike's graffiti.
'Why Beer Drinkers make better lovers?' had been explained in seventeen different
Ways; a reason for every season! Each one a Mike Carvalho original! The rest of the crowd simply came to listen to the music. The Reggae collection that Mike had brought along with him especially from the Caribbean was an archive in itself Sami too came to nurse his overnight hangover and the two of us sat ourselves under the Caribbean styled umbrellas, nursing some chilled beers while Fred gulped his. Fred hated to see the glass either half full or half empty. He just loved to top up the beer whenever he drank which was almost all the time and then he liked to eat anything and everything because the beer made him hungry and ravenous after that. Then he loved to belch, rave, rant and curse at any and everything in sight until he felt so drunk and sleepy that he had no energy in him to do anything but sleep. This was a typical Sunday with Fred, a time when the guy was best avoided like a barge pole! Fortunately for us, Bob Marley's voice had drowned Fred's. Matters livened up later in the evening with the arrival of Ramadhin uncle who was so much fun; that is what he brought with him every time he came to the farm. It had been over a fortnight since I had seen uncle Ramadhin and he wondered what had kept me busy. I was tempted to say so many things to uncle but sewed my tongue up in resisting the temptation. It was the question of my career after all……….
Come the first of the week and it was that Sami brought the good news about the fresh order that he’d received for weed and even handed over twenty grand as advance to Fred.
My role was essentially that of a support system and a morale booster. My role was to accompany Sami and pick up the rest of the bread after the sale had been made. After everybody had slept that night, Fred furtively opened the godown and carefully began loading some weed that he’d cleverly camouflaged within the chat leaves into Sami's hard-top pick-up. Since the operation was top secret, Fred, Sami and I loaded the stuff ourselves. We made a stop over the following morning at my bank and I pulled out some bread as my part of the share capital for the deal. I didn’t even know where we were going.
'Nazareth,' said Sami. ‘I know someone who thinks he has a buyer for the stuff.'
Sami's father is a businessman. Although he is a little old fashioned and orthodox, he spoils him with the money he makes and he seems to have no dearth of it. Then why the hell was Sami doing what he was doing?
'Just for kicks,' he smiled.
Like me, he too admitted subscribing to the theory of the big B’s (Booze, babes and bread). Given his present state of affairs that were hot and exciting, Sami knew he'd never be able to send his dad a satisfactory explanation on his life's balance sheet and therefore never spared an endeavor to make that extra buck he needed for all the four letter words that rhymed with it. The drive to Nazareth was largely dominated by a silence that echoed the fear psychosis that accompanies a criminal’s first-time outing. But business transacted, on hindsight it was smooth, fast and so easy after all!! The mistake I had probably made was attempting the ride sober!!
The Caribbean Rasta farm continued to flourish in business. I spent my days running after the juice that fuels the pocket and my nights running after juicier things that helped emptying them. Another month passed by and it seemed like eternity because every day of the month brought with it more booze, babes and bread!! I never tired of this and the more I got, the more I wanted! A serious round of introspection told me that in the last seven or eight months, I had majored in vice. I was stoned round the clock and my tongue almost stuck out between my set of lips almost all the time as if waiting for some sensation. I drank from scotch to beer to local gin to whatever I could lay my hands on and I had almost come to a stage where I couldn’t even sleep unless I’d emptied a whole fuckin bottle of any goddamn booze. That was my physical condition. Mentally though, I had toughened like steel.
Doping had changed my entire perspective in life. I began seeing through things as though I had a telescope inside my eyes. I don't know what the weed was doing to me but I began to discover things about people; something I didn’t have the ability to do so before!
To me, Mike came across as an extremely sharp and shrewd cookie; somebody who knew an account and to whom accountability mattered more than anything else. With him out of the picture, at least for the time being, I knew it was time to make hay! The iron was real hot and I had luckily found myself a local hammer in Sami. I didn’t know what it was with this new friend of mine, but I began trusting him implicitly and I guess the feeling was mutual Fred was a fuckin idiot and I knew how to handle him, even by remote! My only threat was from the one guy that I never trusted and that was Henry. I abhorred the look in those mean green eyes and every time I saw him, it was as if I had seen the face of a rat. His mouth resembled that of a large and overgrown bandicoot and his scraggy Hitler shaped mustache stuck out like whiskers making him an indescribable sight; have you ever seen a rat smile? Whenever I made eye contact with him, the pale look behind his eye showed up the cold blood flowing through it, telling me that they had a deadly purpose behind them.
My second trip out of town was to a place in central Ethiopia called Bahir Dahr, the country’s second largest city. The news that Henry would soon arrive with yet another consignment of dope was driving Fred up the wall.
'Nuthin has sold yet and this pimp is bringing in yet anoduh friggin load. Are we gonna blow the whole nation stoned overnight?' he reasoned quite logically for a change.
Sami was a Gurage by birth; Gurages were businessmen by birthright and knew not only how to earn money but how to hold on to it; they certainly were distant cousins of the Jews! Blessed by birth, Sami turned on his effervescent charm and sweet talked Fred into selling him whatever stuff there was in the Rasta farm at a very attractive price.
‘Where will you sell the stuff kid?' asked a relieved and grateful Fred.
'I haven't thought about that yet,' said Sami in all magnanimity, winning fat fool Fred's trust and respect. He had sold him another sweet lie! Fact was that Sami had received positive responses to all the sampling he had cleverly done using all of the country's physical communication systems such as courier, speed post and messengers who traveled the country- side by bus. Having cleaned out all the weed from the Rastafarm, Sami sped to Bahir Dahr and it was the first time since I’d met him that I was actually, all by myself. I still remember that morning, when I was cooking my breakfast, that I heard the thunderous sound of the earth shake. Couldn’t have been a quake? It wasn’t, but it was Fred was at the door, puffing and panting.
'You have to reach the airport in the next ten minutes, here is your ticket.' He had no time to explain. Smoking kills! I realized this when I barely made it alive to the terminal and checked myself in. It was only when I hugged Sami that I realized how much I missed him.
'What did you pill to the stupid son of a gun Fred?'
Sami always liked to shoot his mouth off especially if the subject was as innocuous as our in-house arse hole, Fred. 'I said that the packin wasn't good and the stuff was moist and that I needed you here to set things right; otherwise I'd return the goddam stuff.'
Sami and I laughed at Fred's expense all the way from the airport until he drove past the Yonas's palatial palace.
‘You ain't seen nobody like my cousin Yonas. The son of a bitch is such a rich land lord that he neither knows what to do with his lands nor does he know what he wants to do with all the riches he lands.'
'So why'd you want me here man?' I asked chewing one of those gums I was forever nibbling in order to cut down the number of cigarettes I everyday smoked from a hundred to half.
'Because you are such fun and I wanted you to see life in this country outside the city of Addis.' I believed him, but only to an extent. The only company he may have kept in Yonas’s absence, were the servants around the house that greatly outnumbered its inmates. The only commodity that outnumbered the servants too were the infinite cattle that sprawled all over the massive expanse of green that stretched into infinity.
Our conversation was soon interrupted by the entry of a solid hunk, six feet two, wearing a thirty eight sized Levis hanging loosely under an over sized Turkish towel T-shirt. The guy had an aura about himself. He had a neatly trimmed a handle bar mustache and his hair had been neatly permed and beaded; yet another hardcore Rastafarian.
'Them pay ten grand for what I showed em,' he said his voice deeply accentuated and influenced as if he were a yank himself. I didn't know if that was the way he spoke or it was a put on to impress me. I couldn't ask but the smile on Sami’s face told me that we were already in business! Although Bahir Dahr may have had a lot to offer in terms of historical sight-seeing, my sights were solely focused on the set of historical events that were to follow in our lives!
The following morning, I called Fred, 'The stuff is all rotting man, and you should have had Henry and Jamaal pack it better,' I yelled as per Sami's instructions. Blow hot, and then blow cold was our strategy; so I mollified Fred instantly, 'Don't worry, I am blow drying the whole shit and repackin the stuff.' This definitely appeased Fred instantly. His mind was set on how to unload the stuff Henry would be bringing and he had no patience to handle any more bullshit. As far as fat fool Fred went, I knew what shots to call. The weed on its part, began moving thick and fast, but in small lots and so I stayed on at Bahir Dahr with Sami and witnessed the weed convert to cash. I had seen a few English flicks in which shady deals of peddling and smuggling was done late nights on deserted roads but Yonas liked the broad daylight. Business deals were transacted in a small leisure cubicle in a deserted by lane. The floor was covered with white mattresses and the wealthy guys who recreated together, spent the whole day, reclining over the bolsters and smoking the apple flavored Sheesha, chewing chat and hatching ideas that never saw the light beyond the four walls of the room. Every time I returned from the loo after pissing off the beers I slugged, the guys would stand up and say ‘Nor’. They wouldn’t sit till I learnt to say ‘Bagzer-by the grace of God’- yet another Ethiopian tradition! However, when it was time to do the shady stuff, they vanished in a jiffy and came back only when Yonas called.
Henry and Jamal surfaced once again at the Rasta farm bringing with them a green garden of unsold poison. Jamal came in first and Henry followed an hour later. They always traveled separately as a code of conduct more suited to the kind of business they were in. Fred greeted them typically; with a scream first and everything else later. They both swore that nothing could have gone wrong with the packing. Henry was a past master at the game after all.
'What happened with Mustafa?' Nobody knew the answer. Nobody called Mustafa and it was always the other way around. Whether Mustafa would turn up again, no one but Mustafa himself would ever know.
The sun still shone brightly as the three of them ruminated in the veranda; the time was six o'clock noon Ethiopian time and the trio were still soaking their thoughts at all the probabilities and possibilities that might have affected the consignment of dope. Just then, Mike called Fred just like he did every other day.
'How's the kid doin?'
'He's ok. He says he's making amends to the stuff but Henry swears nothing could have happened.'
Mike's guffaw at the other end came across more as a reflection of his analysis than a question or an answer. 'What else?'
‘The kid and Sami are sayin the same thing Mike.’
Nobody could ever fathom the way Mike thought. He probed so far and so deep that there was little escaping his radar.
'Can I speak to Henry for a second?' Fred only heard Henry mumble back in mono syllables. Neither Jamaal nor Fred knew what had transpired between the two. There were times, Mike trusted nobody and strange though it may seem, he chose to speak to Henry and not his own partner and confidante, Fred. Yonas, Sami and I finished counting the wad of torn and shabby notes that came that afternoon. It had almost seemed like eternity by the time we'd finished counting fifteen thousand birr. Amazing! We had recovered more than half the investment, and believe it or not; not even a tenth of the stock had been exhausted. It was time to move on to Harar and Dire Dawa where greener pastures beckoned us.
I realized during my travel that I had been long time out of sex. Honestly, I must admit that though my long Johny pressed hard under the shorts that I wore, I was so hard pressed for time that there was no way in the world I could take them off! Why talk of babes, when there was not even room for sleep! Barely had I managed a forty winks, the dope had been sold out and it was time to move on to Jijiga, almost near the border of Somalia.
'A massive order needs to be smuggled out of the border and we might have to rush back for some more of the stuff,' said Sami excitedly. Jijiga was hot as hell and we got in and outta the place before anyone could even scream Adam. The speed at which things were moving was like a passing bullet and the events unfolding were as if life itself was like one long dream. The amount of money Sami and I were already carrying home was beyond any logical imagination and there was much more in store. Phew.......I had already made so much; I thought I didn't need anyone, anymore. Sami had walked into my life as an unannounced money bag and so I made a decision to play ball only with Sami hence forth even if it meant breaking off with Mike, Fred and co. The question was when and honestly, I hadn't strategized an answer; things had moved beyond a comprehensible pace.
A GAME GONE TOO FAR- REASON FOR TREASON
Mike sat in his one room apartment overlooking the Caribbean seas. He blew smoke rings as he gazed through his window and looked on at the unending sea of waves rise and ebb onto the shores. He inhaled deeply, still going over the conversation he had with Henry over and over again in his mind. Henry's voice echoed within him, like a tape recorder, going back and forth, wind and rewind. Mike knew he couldn't and wouldn't stop; not unless he was sure he'd found the answer. After almost an hour of chain smoking, Mike pondered hard at the sequence of events that gradually began unfolding clearly in front of him. He always meditated over things until, he saw the truth as he understood it and unless he was given reason to believe otherwise, he always backed his own gut. When the truth hit him, he nearly jumped as though stung by the harsh impact of the waves on the little pebbles that lay strewn all across the Caribbean sands. He clenched his fists, 'I'm gonna get you for this, you mother fucker.' There was no way in the world, a dope consignment could have gone moist, not after Henry and Jamaal of all people, had packed it. The excuse was amateurish and a lame one. The kids had obviously taken Fred for a nice neat ride and would have pocketed a handsome sum.
'So, what are you suggesting now?'
'Trail em,' Mike instructed Henry, 'Once we know where, how and to who the dope was being peddled, the kids should have to be taken care of.' You are to take care of the future business.’ He dragged deep into whatever he was smoking and the words blew out of his mouth faster than the smoke, 'Don’t kill the kids, just terrorize the mother fuckers and make sure they squeal.’
The hyena in Henry was grinning sheepishly. I was a thorn in the bed and hurt whenever Henry slept. He knew he would never sleep in peace unless he had me outta the way. As he stubbed out his cigarette, his foot hurt as he ground it under his heel. Little was I aware how much Henry had suddenly started hating me.
The aeroplane from Jijiga to Addis Ababa was an antique piece of outdated hardware. The propellers of the Fokker Friendship, squirmed and screamed noisily even as they thudded into the ground. I’d been fast asleep in a world of my own being courted by a bevy of sexy babes smiling like a moron, and snoring as if lost to this world. So lost was I in paradise that I almost yelled in trepidation at the rude and harsh landing at Addis Ababa airport.
Henry was about to retire to bed in the Rasta farm, when he heard his mobile ring. 'Who the fuck is it calling after midnight?' he mumbled under his breath, in trying to find his slippers to go across to the other end of the room where he'd carelessly thrown them. He fumbled with the light switch first and then with his mobile still trying to bring himself out of his slumber. He wrinkled his nose over his spectacles to peer at the caller’s identity. Ever since he had been living in Ethiopia, almost nobody ever called him at this odd hour. A cold and familiar voice croaked at the other end. Henry almost stifled his surprise and in a desperate attempt to keep his voice down and whispered, 'Where the fuck have you been all this while, Mustafa?'
'I have lots of news.'
‘Good or bad.'
'Both, which one you wanna hear first?'
'Where are you?'
'I've just hit town.' The two exchanged Morse codes as though speech was at a premium, while Henry desperately rushed to the window to peep around and see if anyone in the farm had nothing better to do than eavesdrop in the middle of the night. Soon realizing that, that might not be the case, Henry spoke a little louder. 'You know the Crown Hotel outside town.'
‘And the petrol station adjacent to it.’
‘Listen, don't keep me waiting. I will be there at eight in the morning waiting for you at the cafeteria across the road opposite the fuel station.' The conversation went silent. Henry couldn't sleep a wink after that, intrigued by the story Mustafa was going to unravel the next day. His time in the sun was a certainty; the only question was, when?
Henry had spent years dreaming about this opportunity and now that it was within the distance of a handshake, there was no way he was not going to let it shake.
Sami and I decided to sleep in his house that night and I didn’t go over to the Rasta farm. Instead, I called Fred and tried to sound very cheerful that I had sorted the problems out and also thought that the fat fool would be thrilled to smithereens that Sami needed to pick up more stuff.
'Sorry, please tell your buddy that we ain't got any stuff for him now, not anymore?' The fat fool was still smarting.
I couldn’t believe my ears. Instead of congratulating me, what was it that had made Fred turn-coat? I was so worried that even the pleasant weather could not stop the sweat trickling behind my ear. I pretended to be as cheerful as before, 'Don't worry Fred ol chap, next time around, we'll be careful with the packing and all that; I'll do it myself so I can take the guarantee.’
The sweet talking didn’t help.
'It's not that.'
'What is it then?'
'It's sold out kid.' ‘Henry called saying he's got a buyer who'd pay thrice as much.’ I fell silent but Fred continued, 'Where the hell have you been so long anyway?'
What the hell on earth was happening? Had the arsehole found out? Had Henry turned the tables overnight? I was worried as hell and when I broke the news to Sami, he brushed it aside. ‘The arsehole must be stoned. There ain’t no way they can match my marketing network; even if they did get to peddle some stuff, do you know how much stuff they hold? They’d need to get the entire country stoned. You gotta be kidding!’
Not with -standing the fact that Sami was the eternal optimist, he had much more than reason to back his conviction. But though logic was on his side, I for one was still queasy. I couldn’t get myself to sleep that night until I drunk myself to stupor. I consoled myself that there was no point racking my brains anymore? I'd figure out the truth soon anyway.
Mustafa was a code name. His real name was Zargabachew. He was an army man and had served under the Derg regime, fighting for his country when the Ethiopian war took place with Eritrea. Like the war itself, all that remained of the man was history. History apart, he had no meaningful distinction in life. He had no family he could call his own; his wife had left him cos she chose to fend for her children while he chose his country. There was bitterness in him that life had not rewarded him the way he might have liked. He was a man who was fully aware of the fact that that his life was just a bullet away from its nemesis at all times from dusk to dawn and save a medal of bravery from an officer he had never seen earlier nor would ever see again, what else had life given him? He'd lost his wife and his entire family had disowned him. If liquor could drown a sorrow and smoke could recreate his life which had already gone up in it, he had, had enough. While his friends who didn't think that the country needed them more than they her, had thrived to prosper, Zergaw as his wife had called him when she was proud to be his, was a penny pooper and loser in life. He had sought solace in the Rastafarian faith and had finally settled down in it trying to reconcile his past. Henry had sheltered him at a time when he had no one to turn to and if there was anyone in this world he'd live, kill or die for, it was Henry.
'You arsehole, this is my third cup of Machiatto and second Takorach (cake).' Mustafa wiped his eyes. He had overslept as usual.
'Where the hell have you been for the past three months and what news do you bring?'
'I couldn't make it to the bar that night and then I had to go away for a while,’ chirped a disinterested Mustafa, in no way aware of any urgency of Henry's impending assignment.
'Where did you?'
‘I was in Harar and got wind of the price floating in the market. Everybody peddling the stuff is making a kill. The demand for weed is damn good and I too want to taste the smell some moolah; tell me when and how do we get started?’
Henry shook his head from side to side and banged the table in front of him, ‘Ah! So, Mike was right after all! The muther fucker double crossed us!’ Mustafa tried making an inquiry but Mike cut him and the long story short, ‘I’ll tell you everything later.’
Soon the two veterans, one, war scarred and the other, a scheming sort, found themselves in the midst of a deep and detailed discussion. There were no witnesses save the torrential downpour that muffled the script that Mustafa was soon going to execute. Mustafa unfolded the plan that he would befriend me, win my trust and then wait for an appropriate moment to terrorize and isolate me into submission. He would then pack me off to where I’d come from, with so much fright that I’d never dream of coming back again. Just in case, I retaliated violently or lost my marbles, he would terminate me any time he wished and make it look like an accident. That would be the last resort and he was confident that there would be no such necessities. The mission at hand was after all kids play; perfectly in line with Mike’s long term game plan of non-violence.
As long as the thorn could be plucked out of the rose, why crush it?
Mike hadn’t called Fred in two days, something that was rather strange, especially at a time when Fred needed his orders of what to do with the dope lying around in the Rasta farm. Henry had disappeared since morning and I too had been told off from picking up any more stuff.
What the fuck was happening? Fred was clueless and sulked in the arms of his easy chair within the emptiness of his room, his mind as blank as the four walls surrounding him. Jamaal sat there giving him company, chewing chat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While Jamaal chewed the damn cud, Fred spent almost of the entire day chewing his fingers off! Sami and I continued conducting our own post mortem of what may or may not have happened. Sami was not one to give up so easily; he’d tasted blood after all and was relishing it. He offered Fred, a higher price, 'Hey man, I need more stuff and I'm committed.'
Fred grunted, still rocking in the chair he hadn't left the whole day. 'I'll get back to you.’ He never did; he couldn't unless he received orders to do so from Mike. Henry and Mustafa shook hands. The deal was done! The rain still crashed the sloped roof of the run down joint they sat in. It would be an ordeal walking into the muck that the rain had created and so the two preferred to spend a little more time in the shack. Henry had no other choice anyway. It was too early to call Mike in Jamaica and it would be pointless to go back to Jamaal who would be in a mystic yonder world of his own by the time he got back. So, he decided to call it a day and the two old friends asked for a bottle of Katikala, a toxic Ethiopian brand of country made liquor. The rain refused to let up and while the two veterans drank to old times. I showed up in the Rasta farm, struggling to keep my umbrella upright, Fred began to drink himself to slumber and Jamaal was bordering a state of ‘Mirkana’
Mirkana was the chat chewer’s Nirvana; a state of mind where the world was his for the taking but he was too lazy to have it!!
Henry and Mustafa polished off a whole bottle. They called it a night with Henry promising to organise a fresh mobile number for Mustafa. They agreed that the two would meet the same place, same time a day after. After Mustafa departed, Henry found himself a private tele-centre and punched in the international code for Jamaica and to his good fortune connected in the very first attempt. Mike picked up almost instantly. A rare co-incidence indeed! Henry briefed him about the morning’s discussion with Mustafa. Mike smiled.
Henry may have titled Zergaw as Mustafa, the Lion King but in this jungle, it was Mike that was the only Lion king. In the law of hunting, it is the lioness that hunts and brings the hunted to the king. All the king does is use the lioness to satisfy all his carnal desires. Mike had not one but so many of them lionesses at his beck and command.
Henry and I were both up and about, the next morning, while the rest of the crew were just about getting out of slumber.
‘Hi Ganga!’ the sly and wily fox chirped pronouncing my name in a typically Dutch accent.
His hair had grown longer than usual and his braids almost fell over his eyes blocking his view. In any case, his eyes were never part of his asset, so maybe was worth the hide.
‘Hello stranger, where’ve you been?’
‘Look at the pot calling the kettle black,’ he grinned throwing his braids behind his shoulders exposing the full set of those cunning mean eyes. The two of us were seated in the main salon awaiting breakfast and each one waited for the other to open any sort of meaningful dialog. Our attention was distracted by the entry of Jamaal who’d just finished brushing his teeth and was all set to start chewing the left- over of the previous night’s chat. He was undoubtedly killing the previous night’s hangover and starting to press his own self destruction detonator that would last him another full day!!! Henry refused to break his silence, deciding to keep me on tenterhooks for some more time. He was actually waiting for Mike to call Fred and tell him about the change in their organizational structure. Having had a lot of time to kill, he decided to do it the only way he knew. He decided to sample some of the fresh dope that lay untouched. Oblivious at his own impending demotion, Fred delighted at the idea. I was the only one left high and dry!
Zergaw had shacked in at the Flotsam hotel somewhere in Saris. Not quite knowing what to do with himself or with the whole day to kill before his appointment with Henry, he drank, ate and smoked to his heart’s content. It was ages since he’d had a woman and although he was growing old, he didn’t know if he was still up to it! Reminded by the empty second cot in his room, he couldn’t resist the temptation to find out. He felt his pocket that told him that it had enough dope and money in it to blow both his brains and wits out. After he was fully stoned, the lion Mustafa consummated some filly he found in the neighboring night -club until he’d jumped and blown her brains out too! The sounds she made at the unstoppable pumping of Zergaw’s bazooka almost brought the entire neighborhood alive. The hotel manager threatened to throw Zergaw out of the hotel, if he attempted a repetition of his heroics again! Poor Zergaw wore a sheepish look and was embarrassed as hell.
Time had not taken away the art of cycling away from him. It’s an old jungle saying-“Once an engine driver, always an engine driver.”
He waited with bated breath for the morrow! Two things happened almost simultaneously at the Rasta farm. The sun set and Henry got stoned. He was busy sauntering around the Rasta farm and noticed nothing had changed. It looked even more beautiful, post stone! The flowers had grown and the farm now looked a lot greener and fuller. A young girl who waited on the tables came looking for him. Fred wanted to see him. A glow transcended Henry's sheepish face.
He knew Mike had called.
‘What the fuck man? You cutting deals with Mike, and don’t even have the balls to tell me; after all, even I’m a friend and a partner man.’ If only Fred had learnt to keep his mouth shut more than he’d learnt to shoot it, people might have started taking him a little more seriously. So, Henry could never really be blamed after all! The minor skirmish between Henry and Fred was loud enough for everyone to hear; maybe Henry wanted it that way! The beans had been spilled and the captain of the ship had been changed. Fred left the room in a huff; his pajamas hung low under his stomach just as his poor fat head did under his sagging spirits.
'Mike is my buddy and he didn’t even know Henry until I introduced him barely a few months ago,‘ he mumbled cursing his own situation.
Mike’s moves were seldom straight. This one was diagonal; pawn kills pawn! The game of chess goes on……..
Jamaal who also witnessed the goings on was very alert with all the chat inside him but he cared two hoots about who captained the boat. Neither was he overly concerned with who sold the weed, at what price or where? His only concern was that he got paid for himself and the Kayaki chief who had leased them the lands and the farming labor. Once he would have some moolah tucked under his belt, he would be on his way back to growing the weed at the secret farm behind the King Solomon’s mines. Till then, he would keep himself busy chewing chat and enjoy his own little world of fantasy! He owed allegiance to Henry in any case and had neither pity nor remorse for the fat fool Fred. Henry refused to let go his smirk, till he followed poor Fred's sad and wayward departure out of the room. Far from satisfied with those fleeting moments, he gloated, 'So you now know kid, who is in command?'
He continued grinning, ‘Mustafa’s absence gave you a vacation and you guys seemed to have made hay. I have no problem with that but I believe it is a world of live and let live. Pay me four times what you gave Fred and I’ll let you have all the dope you want.’
I liked and disliked Henry's approach, so ruthlessly blunt and so logically forthright. He knew everything, yet he was keeping all options open. He wasn’t blowing the lid yet because he had to depend on somebody to peddle the stuff. Sami’s marketing network was simply outstanding. That did give me some room for maneuver.
‘Are you crazy?’
‘If I squeal the truth to Mike, off you go to Jamaica,’ giving a nice veiled threat. I saw those yellow teeth and the sarcastic and sickening grin, both at the same time. The dose of double dislike was too much to swallow.
‘Bring your partner over and we can talk,’ and then he grinned, knowing exactly how desperate we were, ‘And do it fast, this is your last chance.’
Sami tried bargaining with all his magnetic charm and unflinching verve, but all his acumen seemed to fail him. He was up against a wall and was reduced to near begging after a few moments of one sided conversation. Abject surrender was the last option and he took it..
‘Three times the price and no further reduction,’ barked Henry sternly .Take it or leave it!!!! Henry insisted Sami have a beer before he left; it was his way of sealing the deal! I shook hands with the son of a gun wishing I'd get to break them some day. The rendezvous had been set at ten in the morning for brunch. I was easing myself out of bed when my mobile rang and Henry snapped, 'Where the fuck are you? If you don't learn to respect time, time will never ever respect you.' I couldn’t help smiling.... profound words indeed!! Although, I hated the bastard, I had to give the devil his due!
I almost hurt my pubic, jamming them within my zippers to get the fuck out of the place and screamed as though Henry had managed to have a go by remote!
‘Meet Mustafa,’ said Henry as he introduced the two of us to a scrawny looking guy that seemed to resemble Bill Cosby, similar in looks but lot more filled up both horizontally and vertically than Bill might have been. His outstretched hand took mine first and seeing me grimace from his squeeze, Sami said something to him in Amharic that had Cosby in splits.
So this harmless and effectual gentleman was the deadly Mustafa after all! The Pizza was fantastic, topped with wholesome Italian Kraft cheese and garnished with succulent chicken, mushroom, ham and pepper, it was more than junk, any foodie could have asked for. Among the best things that the Italians left behind with the termination of their rule of this country was their food and their wines. I seldom drank wine but since the brunch spilled over to lunch, had no choice. Henry and I drank as hard as we disliked each other. We both drank red wine. One day we would drink each other’s blood perhaps! On the other hand, Sami and Mustafa couldn’t stop talking, laughing and drinking; they both seemed to be getting along right from the word go like a house on fire! Henry nominated Mustafa to co-ordinate all our shady deals from then on.
The first consignment to us was delivered by Mustafa at a warehouse in Debrezeit, forty kilometers away from Addis. He wasn’t half like what he was when we met him over brunch just a couple of days ago and both Sami and I wondered why the warmth in the man had totally disappeared and why he hid behind that ice cold facade?
Adam eased his Toyota Corolla at a distance, parking it just behind another delivery truck that made him invisible but at a distance where he could get a bird’s eye view. He was yet another one of Henry's endless contacts. He was six feet six inches in height, tall alright but not outlandish for a Gambellan.
Gambella is the western tip of Ethiopia that borders Sudan and its people are charcoal black in color and extremely tall. Barring the curly hair, there is hardly anything Ethiopian about them. The idea of employing him had been Mike's, cos in Mike's game of chess, even a pawn had to be covered by another!
After the stuff was loaded, Mustafa carefully counted the wad of notes, Sami had given him. His cold look remained with him even as he got back into the Isuzu. He gave a cursory look and then opened his trap, bound by his script perhaps, ‘I’ll bring more stuff the day after,’ he said as he sped off. He had failed to notice the yellow color Toyota Corolla that stood at a little distance adjacent to the warehouse with a tall, mean and hungry man wearing dark sun -glasses behind the wheel.
The sun set and rose another day giving an opportunity to calendars, watches, clocks, sun-dials and so many electronic gadgets to change numbers. Adam chewed some chat and opened a chilled bottle of beer with his raw teeth. Hidden beneath his seat was a rusted country made iron rod he’d picked off the scrap market and in the boot was enough rope to strangle an ox from the top of a cliff! Adam enjoyed this game and he was almost a past master at it. If you’d ever seen a cool cucumber, Adam was its second name. He reclined his seat, adjusted his sunglasses and silently purred the Corolla to ignition to begin the trail of the Vitara. Adam chased Sami all day. To him the thrill was in the chase; the rest was meaningless. So, he waited for his bait, a good half hour before Sami’s routine began at half past nine in the morning. Parked outside Sami’s house, he managed a wry smile at the irony of life. He was an uneducated bum who could hardly read or write and who made a living from doing a series of activities that involved misuse of his brute and guts, ranging from arson, loot, extortion and at times, contract killing. It was an irregular kind of job, so he had to make the most of whatever assignment came his way. The latest one involved terrorizing a local twenty four year old lad that had everything in life but a reason to peddle dope.
Sami was the youngest son of a family of eight that his father Ato Ayelew proudly boasted of. Ato Ayelew, curiously had a fetish with the number eight. Not only had he eight children, he also had eight cars, eight shops in Merkato, eight houses all over town out of which he’d rented seven, except the one he lived in, a mansion of a house with eight ; bedrooms in it. He gave the number eight some respite when it came to marriage and stuck to a single wife.
Adam wondered what on earth, the prince born with a silver spoon in his mouth was doing peddling dope? A couple of broken ribs were all it would take to make this yuppy turned macho variety come back to ground. Adam smiled. It had been ages since he had been paid so handsomely for an assignment so chicken such as this. His thoughts were interrupted by the loud blare of the Vitara’s horn. Whenever he left home, he invariably yelled at a servant or the Zawaian (watchman). Adam watched Sami out of the left corner of his eagle eye, drive out of his house and head for work while he reclined and relaxed as he got back to doing his.
Mustafa readied to start his day. It was going to be a really long one. Although he liked to dress informally, he loved to don the khaki colour. His shoes were always polished such that he could always see his own face shine in it. Before he had gone to sleep the previous night, he had given last minute instructions to his cousin Dawit again. He would be arriving at his village in Bale along with an Ingidaa(guest) and that he would need bed for two. Mustafa woke me early the next morning and Henry packed me off with him on an urgent matter regarding a dope deal.
Travelling was involved and so I packed my bags and off I went. It was the longest trip I was about to undertake at the shortest notice of travel I'd ever received in my life.
Mustafa had got a kid out of a nap and it was only a matter of time before he'd put the two together.
Mustafa’s belongings were a mixed bag. He carried a blanket and whatever little survival kit an army man always had handy that ran from instant food, glucose, a sewing kit, utensils, and rope. Soon, he was cruising along the highway, and started to sing in order to keep himself awake. He whistled and sang some Godforsaken army jingle, then stopped at the fuel station, picked up gas, bought some water, biscuits, drank some coffee and moved along. He continued to sing like a bloody idiotic moron while I snored in the front seat oblivious to my impending joy ride. Both Adam and Mustafa never stoned while at work; they were professionals that left nothing to chance on the day it mattered.
We must have covered half way and though still very sleepy, I was forced to wake up because the road had turned bumpy as hell, 'Where we headed?'
Mustafa didn't speak, but his eyes were telling me that something perhaps was wrong. I took my eyes away from his and looked at the next possible thing in view. The scene of the green blanket of eucalyptus trees under the vast blue umbrella was breathtaking.
'Stop the car, I wanna pee, I wanna crap and I am hungry. For God's sake give me a cigarette.' Mercifully, we didn’t have to wait very long and found a town where I could ease myself, satisfy my hunger- pangs and catch a few more winks of an unending afternoon siesta!
After a relentless and futile day-long chase, Adam was dying of hunger pangs. It was almost half past six in the evening and a cool wind blew him right in his face. Sami finally appeared with four other guys, all of whom were smoking. It was obvious they were still chewing chat and had already spent a long time doing so. All the while that he chewed, Sami was puzzled that I’d disappeared without notice, but he thought no more of it and instead was busy partying with his friends at the Chechenya road.
Chechenya was a Russian name and a notorious place like a war zone. This road too was the same and it was a war zone for soft beds and hard battles!
At the stroke of midnight, only a handful of cars stood outside the bar. Almost all the street lights had been switched off, and Adam was totally invisible; camouflaged under a cap that merged with the darkness of the setting! The rain neither eased nor intensified.
It just came peter patter down with regular monotony, threatening to pour but managing only to pee!
Adam had got sick of waiting and finally heaved a long sigh of relief at the swagger of five odd musketeers. The drunken monks were switching bars.
The door of Mary bar, the most popular night club in the area opened and Marley’s song could be heard right on the street. ‘Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do when they come for you!’
I peacefully slept through sunset while Mustafa, manfully drove through the dusty rural hinterland, in an effort to get to his village in Bale region before it could get uncomfortably dark for driving.
Back in Addis, Ato Ayelew opened the gates of his house to head out for his morning walk and found his youngest son Sami lying sprawled on the ground. His nose was bleeding profusely and he had sustained multiple injuries. He tried to pick Sami up, but his body refused to rise. He had obviously been roughed up very badly.
'Mindinow, what the hell?’ Ato Ayelew gasped as all hell broke loose in rushing Sami to the hospital. The ambulance blared making its way to the Blackline hospital, covering a distance of five kilometers in less than five minutes. Ato Ayelew's mobile rang. While Sami was lying battered and bruised in the intensive care of Blackline hospital, who the hell could be calling from Sami’s mobile?
'Tenastelegn. Mannow? Who's this?'
The man spoke in a strangely accented and in fluent Amharic, his voice devoid of any emotion whatsoever. 'Listen to me carefully. Your son is the biggest drug dealer in the country today and whatever has happened to him has happened for that reason.'
Ato Ayelew struggled to beat the lump of fear in his throat. The voice continued, 'It seems you don't give your son enough for his needs. Take my advice, be a little more liberal and I don't think, he'd be tempted to make a little more pocket money; not this way at least.'
Ato Ayelew was sweating profusely as he heard a strange foreign voice sermonize him on how he should be conducting his own life style. He was one of the most influential and connected men in the country, yet how helpless a situation he found himself in? And one last thing, 'If your son ever comes back into this business, you will not be able to advice him as he will not even be alive to hear it.'
'No no, please don't kill my son, I beg you.'
The voice at the other end reassured him, 'Calm down, do I have your word that your son will never do such a thing?'
Ato Ayelew was emoting almost uncontrollably, 'I promise. If he even goes anywhere near that stuff, I will be the first one to kill him.'
'Good, you are a man of your word, I presume.'
'Yes meto, I mean a hundred percent, I promise.'
'I hope for the sake of your son's life you don't forget.' The line went dead.
Adam called Henry from a private booth to inform him that Mission Terrorize had
been successfully implemented.
'Don't come to the farm, wait for my call, I'll pay you the money when we meet and give you your next assignment too.' The receiver went cold.
Adam looked on at Sami's mobile instrument. With just the one call to Ato Ayelew, it had done enough to ensure that its job like his was done forever. But being the most careful of people and meticulous of executors, he removed the sim card, crushed it and trashed the instrument. He was then soon on his way to the nearest bar. He gulped down three large drinks almost one after the other. He had denied himself alcohol, weed and sex doing a grave injustice to their levels within his system.
Mike was thrilled at the successful execution of the double plan and contemplating whether it would be wise for him to pay a visit to the Rasta farm. He decided that he’d best let em’ pawns settle scores and go only after the moves on his chess board were clearer! Back to the farm, Fred went through the monthly ledgers that told him that the Ital vegetarian food was the biggest bread earner while the Jukebox came a close second. The Rasta farm had such a magnetic effect, that the guests who came for a day ended up staying for even a week at times.
Hotel California would have been a more appropriate description as one could check out any time but could never leave!
Mustafa’s Mustang finally pulled up after an endless drive of fifteen hours, through dust and grime. A dilapidated and outdated structure welcomed us in the middle of nowhere. This was Mustafa’s home.
FROM BABYLON TO ZION- THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Mustafa's village, fifty miles away from Bale town was a part of the world that was totally oblivious to the rest of the universe; blissfully incommunicado with no network communications of any sort. It was a place where no phone ever rang; a perfect getaway!
Back at the Rasta farm, Ramadhin yelled, 'Good evening.' It was hardly evening and stroking past four hours Ethiopian local time or 10 pm. Ramadhin had given his clarion wake-up call that began only after the sun had set. He tactfully made his entry around dinner time and after he'd hugged his friends affectionately and kissed everybody in sight, male or female both, he headed straight for the wash room.
'I'm hungry,' he said shamelessly.
'Nothing new with that,' grinned Henry, his sarcasm having little or no impact on uncle Ramadhin's appetite who served himself from a large pitcher of the beer that pitched in as an appetizer. After taking a king size swig, Ramadhin looked around. Everything looked the same. The same old Reggae and the familiar sight of the Rastafarians but one thing was amiss.
'Where's my bubba?'
'Ganga has gone on business,' Fred said, providing ample display of his tactlessness. Before Fred could say anything else or Ramadhin could even ask, Henry took over the conversation. 'Well, we had an investor looking for spice and coffee and Ganga has gone to survey the lands at Masha.' Masha was a God forsaken place near the Sudan border in western Ethiopia; where one went out of range for days on end.
'Oh!’ Joseph was pretty concerned that bubba hadn't called him in the last one week,' chirped a ravenous Ramadhin in between the terrible chomping noises he made, gnawing at a plate full of mutton chops.
'That's pretty irresponsible,' said Fred, finally falling in line. Henry had ensured in effect that I would be incommunicado, at least for a week thereon.
'When he calls, let him know his Pa was concerned.’ As soon as he finished his meal, Ramadhin got down to some ethereal and sublime work. For him, it was business as usual. He rolled a joint. 'Ah yes I forgot to mention just another thing.' Ganga's Pa and a bunch of other Rastafarians want to visit us and I wanted your advice, when they should be here.'
The smile on Henry's face and Fred's smug look both froze in tandem.
Mustafa’s village that called itself Debre whatever near Bale is part of the Central highlands of Ethiopia and has a population of about five thousand people. The drive had been so tiring that I had almost immediately, again fallen fast asleep in Mustafa’s ranch. When I woke up the next morning, I found only the surroundings for company and no one else to speak to and had to spend the entire day waiting for Mustafa to return back to his ranch which he'd left even before I had woken up. After what seemed like eternity, the sound of the Mustang lifted my spirits and I ran out into the yard to welcome him, 'So, when do we get to work?'
Enough was enough and he thought he'd let me know who the boss was in this part of the world at least!! 'Kid, behave yourself for a few days and do as I say; obey my command like religion, otherwise we may have you end up spending the rest of your life cooking food to earn a living, until you disappear into the Bale dust.' Mustafa never looked at me when he spoke; the fact that someone else had put these words into his mouth were but obvious. For a moment the world around me spun so fast that it almost gave way. 'Is this some kind of a joke or somethin, man?' He was forced to look me in the eye and when they met mine, I just hated his looks. I'd never seen him that way before.
He spat loud and even harsher this time wanting to drive the nail right in with a sense of frustration at what he was actually doing, ‘You are under house arrest but I don't want you to feel under any kind of restraint. You may eat, drink and do as you please. I have a lot of English books if you may wish to read. Mobiles don't work here so you can’t even try calling.' I was too stunned to even react. He continued, 'You are a sensible young man; don't try anything silly or stupid. There is no way you can get out of this place and even if you did slip out, I would still hunt you. The entire hamlet and the hundred miles after that are my people, so don't even try. I am hopeful there will be no unpleasantness between us and you can leave here alive some day.'
Mustafa was guilty as hell when he finished but tried to look, act and speak as tough as he possibly could without letting anything else show.
‘But why?’ I asked, trying to look as innocent as possible and betraying the feeling that I knew that I was being punished for my mischief!
‘I’m surprised you ask; cross your heart and say you don’t know why and don’t pretend to ask for sympathy, and yes, he continued, ‘You’re not a fuckin kid, and I know that, don’t you know we all know that you are one hell of a smart son of a gun?’ That was that! The cat was out of the bag! No wonder, Fred had behaved in the manner that he did! I was gonna have a tough ride! He left me to be with my thoughts for some time and I felt a sense of gloominess pall all over me. The antique battery operated transistor caught a stray signal and Marley’s wailers crooned, ‘Get up stand up, Don’t give up the fight!’
Mustafa looked at me; the same confused and angry look, 'Do you want a cigarette?'
Did I? I was dying for a fag. I had just one in the morning with my bunna and none post breakfast. I was breaking new records! For a strange reason, I refused. Pa often said, ‘If you wanted to make the impossible possible, then you had to sacrifice what you desired most; anything was possible only after that. It was his tried and tested formula for success. No pain –no gain! I instantly decided to give up booze, cigarettes and meat! Believe it or not! At first even I didn’t! From that time on, I lived on milk, boiled vegetables, Injera and thin air. Strange, I had chosen to look up to my Christ, months after I had come in to Addis Ababa. Ever since I had started the Rasta farm for Fred, not once had I bothered to go to Church. Who did I think I was?
What had become of me? I was so frightened about what would happen to me next that although selfish, I had no choice but to call for a strength outside of me that would protect and get me out of the mess I had landed myself into. I had already committed so many errors and it was time I had to face up to all of that. It was time this boy had to become a man. It was time to set the wrong, right.
'Please take me to a church,' the words came out involuntarily as though Pa had with an unfathomable and strange power sent them across to me from across the oceans. The Mustang was away for some repairs and the church was too far to walk to. Mustafa wasn’t the same tough nut; he was an exceptionally kind-hearted and gentle soul that chose to ride me on a mule. Silence befell the entire ride from his ranch all the way to the church.
It came across ironically to me that the ways of God were indeed unusual. After watching me spend months driving around in the lane of vice, he had me going back to him in nature's lap astride a beast of his own creation.
The church was almost empty. All of God's subjects had gone off to earn their daily bread after seeking his blessings in the morning. Why not me? I closed my eyes and heard Pa sing one of his favorite Marley songs.
‘There is a natural mystic blowing through the air cos if you listen carefully now you will hear; it’s impossible to go live in the past, I wouldn’t tell a lie.’
'Oh God forgive me for I know not what I have done but get me out of the present and take me to my past. I will do whatever you say.' I prayed silently and earnestly. Pa never gave me a reason ever and a cry baby I never was, so I don’t really remember when I had cried last but I just couldn’t hold them back anymore.
In crying, I was perhaps trying hard to wash all my sins just in a day, I knew I couldn’t but I could at least make a start. If God didn’t give us a chance, we would go back to living the same old sinful lives; then the world would be a place only full of sinners .Wouldn’t it?
Mustafa too knew that he had to call Henry and keep him informed about the progress. He had no clue his target would have softened so much overnight and he was kinda feeling sorry for me. The silence between us continued, more from my side all the way back to his ranch. While, I ran into my room and cried a little more in self pity, Mustafa walked around his small little ancestral ranch. I cried myself to sleep until the gentle wind blew onto my face, and woke up very early morning to see Mustafa standing beside my bed.
While each and every Rastafarian in the Addis farm and in the Shashemene commune slept, some stoned, some drunk and some both, Mustafa and I were the two odd and brave men of the tribe that bravely bore the morning chill and went for a long morning stroll. Later that afternoon, Henry was in the midst of an important meeting inside the Hilton hotel with two well dressed European gentlemen drinking cappuccino in the large and hospitable lounge that adjoined the spacious and stylish bar of the hotel. He tried to ignore the second ring of his mobile but evinced more interest when he seemed to recognize the code. He excused himself and strolled into a corner. Even though there was nothing more secretive than what he was already doing, Henry preferred to engage his friend in a coded dialogue.
'How's it going?'
'You think you have any problem?'
'Look Henry, the kid is a softy; he cried his heart out in the church.'
That could be crocodile training, thought Henry, the only way he always thought first, never giving the benefit of doubt to anyone else except his own. 'Listen,' he said, without calling Mustafa's name aloud, 'I want you to get him to tell you, who all he'd met, all his contacts with their telephone nos.’ Henry was half whispering and half lisping into his mouthpiece’ his words barely audible beyond his own ears. He went on to add, 'We got some serious trouble over here.'
'His father wants to come over.'
'Big one!' They both thought hard trying to transmit a wired telepathy to each other in seeking a solution. Mustafa came up first. By the time he collected his random sequence of thoughts and spoke, he sensed a sea of resentment from the callers in waiting at the public tele-centre. There was a queue of people lined up outside the small cubicle through which Mustafa spoke and at the end of the every three minutes, the operator prompted him as if representing the resentment of the crowd in waiting..
'Tinish that meant- just a little,’ Mustafa requested each time. The innocent rural folks helplessly looked on, despite their individual sense of urgency. 'Why don’t I make the kid speak to his Pa and tell him not to come?'
'You think you can give it a shot?' Henry scratched his scraggy and unevenly spread beard while still contemplating whether this was a wise move. Well, what was the harm in giving it a shot anyway?
'I can try'.
'Great idea, give it a shot and call me again.’
Every morning, invariably started with a brisk walk and continued with a drive into town, a walk around the hamlet, vegetarian lunch, a nap and a repetition of the similar exercise all over again. Mentally, more so physically, I was surprised at the change in myself. At times, I was even able to jog the way Mustafa did; the best part was that I even managed to run uphill for a distance of about two hundred meters and come back in one piece! My morning routine included watching the bees, birds and a solitary bus that left the hamlet for Addis. En route, it stopped at many places to load and unload that had I even hazarded jumping into it, Mustafa would find it no harder to bump me off than he had kidnapped me and so, I gave up the idea almost immediately after I had nursed it. With nothing else to do, I went to the church every day and prayed. And whenever I did, I felt a sense of complete serenity. Most of all, I was very impressed with the Ethiopian people. How devout they looked when they closed their eyes and opened their arms in fervent prayer to the Lord? I heard the church bells ring…
I could almost feel Pa telling me, 'Come back son.' I didn’t know how, neither did I know when but I resolved that I must and so promised him I would.
Although I had been dying for a ciggie after breakfast, I came alive to nature and it’s fresh air to quell the thought. Since the idea of coming to the church was to fight evil with good, I settled for a mastika (chewing gum). 'So, were you able to get through to Addis yesterday?’ I asked Mustafa. I was running out of any ideas of making any polite conversation.
'Oh yes, your father wants to visit you and your uncle Ramadhin is at the Rasta farm, waiting for us to send him a visa.'
Mustafa shrugged, 'Maybe he's missing you?' I stared far at the glowing sun that slowly began to sink between two mountain passes. The color from a pale white was turning orange as I watched it set. The breeze brought some moisture with it and a few tiny droplets of rain, that first sprinkled my hair and then caressed my eyelids. I didn't want to take my eyes off the brilliant setting as if mesmerized. But a fleeting glance was all I could afford and the reality returned me to my sadness. Mustafa followed my gaze and put his arm around me like an elder brother would and whispered, 'Look son, I know exactly how it feels to be in a foreign land and in a position you find yourself in today.' Without removing his arm, he continued in the same brotherly tone, ‘so, if I were you, I'd call father and tell him not to waste his time and energy coming; why embarrass him with the truth; don’t you think you should sort yourself out first?'
'When can I speak to Pa?'
I would he assured me the second thing the next morning, the first, of course was the morning drill. The cocks cackled as if they unwound the alarm of six o clock in them. It was one of the most irritating sound in the world. There was only one sound more irritating than them. That was the sound of Mustafa's snore. If sunset in this area was breathtaking, the sunrise was even more invigorating. Our walk always began while it was still dark and almost twenty minutes later when the climb uphill began, we could see the sun begin its ascent. Every time we negotiated a bend and moved towards and then away from the direction in which the sun rose, it would continue to play a game of hide and seek that lasted only as long as the all encompassing envelope of blue would unfold and gradually begin blanketing the semi-circular horizon with it.
Ramadhin was getting restless. 'Man, I need my answers; why wouldn't you want me to tell Joseph to come?' Fred was stuttering and stammering but Henry saved the day.
Firing Fred’s base was the most unattractive of propositions to a hetero like Henry but covering his face was part of the baggage Mike had left him with!
So, Henry spoke and Fred was relieved without being asked to shut his big mouth. 'He could if he wanted to but the kid is so busy, let’s ask him first. His father wouldn't like to sit here and scratch his balls doing nothing would he?' It’s just a matter of a couple of days. I am positive that Ganga will definitely call.'
Ramadhin was glad in a way that there was no decision. 'I am leaving now but won’t be able to come back so soon but I'll try to make it by the weekend,' he lied.
‘Pariah, Leech, parasite, bloodsucker! Between Henry and Fred they exhausted all the expletives in showering their unbridled love and affection for Ramadhin.
RUN UNTO NOWHERE- A MOMENT OF MADNESS
I could hardly conceal my excitement at the prospect of speaking to Pa but had to patiently sit it out in Mustafa’s Mustang through the dusty and bumpy ride until we would hit Bale town. The overnight showers had made the morning hot and humid and therefore, Mustafa was sweating profusely throughout the drive to town. I didn’t sweat but my heartbeat was in some kind of a sprint mode! The potholes and rubble that greeted his Mustang didn’t seem to affect Mustafa’s speed and he was giving all three bellies, his own, mine and the Mustang’s , one hell of a nice digestive. His manner of driving reflected the way his own life had treated him, harsh and unforgiving. The tele-centre was not as crowded as it normally was always, and so I thanked the lord almighty for answering one of my unlimited prayers that I had offered in church the previous few days, or was it weeks?
Mustafa stood right next to me literally breathing down my neck in a ‘two by two feet’ cubicle that could barely accommodate even one, but that’s the way he chose to dog me, as if it were a game of cat and mouse!
Pa's hello was a distant one. He still wheezed; a sound that clearly ricocheted off the microphone onto the walls and then into Mustafa's eardrums. Certain that it was my father and no secret agent I was talking to, he chose to step aside but kept the door open to hear me speak. I could now at least breathe my own exhale! Pa spoke less but coughed more. His wind pipe seemed to choke every time he exerted his vocal cord and barely had he mumbled me an inaudible greeting, that he once again broke into a terrifying wheeze and then a dead silence. The manner my facial expressions may have been contorting worried Mustafa also. I couldn’t hear anything from the other end for at least thirty odd seconds and repeated my hellos. till the silence finally broke. A voice other than Pa’s came across from the other end. It was crisp, clear and loud, 'Ganga, this is doctor Derek speaking. Now listen carefully, your father is terribly sick. He has been diagnosed with severe cirrhosis of the liver and a multiple other complications that I cannot possibly explain over the phone.’
‘How is he now?’ I whispered making a conscious effort of keeping Mustafa from hearing me.
'Very weak and I’m afraid, he isn’t getting any better.’
Even as the tears welled inside of me, I managed to observe a restraint and to put up a brave front. I changed the dialect of my dialogue into Jamaican so only I would be able to understand the language I spoke. Pa had been all set to come and take me back with him but a sudden bout of illness had struck that had made him not only cancel any travel plans but had confined him to bed. I then spoke louder and in English specifically for Mustafa's benefit.
'How are you Pa?' I pretended fighting hard to beat the misery within me. 'Please don't come here, I will come home soon.'
I heard uncle Derek, 'If I were you, I'd be here before it was too late.' The line went dead as I had finished nine minutes on phone. Hard as I tried, I couldn't feign a smile, neither could I cry. I wanted to lock myself somewhere, to be by myself. I wanted to pull my hair apart or simply bellow out loud. I wanted to beat the hell of this imprisonment and run to be with Pa. I would never forgive myself if Pa died before I got home. There was only one thing I wanted and that was out! After Mustafa finished with his quota of communication, the tele-centre had granted him, he invited me for a cup of machiatto. Ethiopian dust was the hallmark of the country and I was getting used to eating it during my jeep rides, drinking it with coffee on the road side cafes and staining my clothes with it all the time. It was nature's 'way to dusty death!' I stirred my coffee, my mind still going over the conversation and the voice of Dr. Derek clanging against my ears making me clamor to see Pa. Mustafa slurped at his coffee, obviously unsuspecting and oblivious to the harsh waves of uncertainty clouding my mind and the nausea of homesickness completely engulfing my being.
'When do you think I will be able to get home?' I asked putting on a face as innocent as he'd have liked to see. I then softened my tenor and tone and whispered, 'I am dying of home sickness Mustafa and Pa isn't keeping good health.'
He gave me that, 'How I wish I could help you but I am so helpless,' kind of look.
'Answer me,' I persisted.
'You will be released only after Mike comes over.'
'When will that be?'
'I don't know.' 'Look kid, you ain't going nowhere; not in this month for sure.’ There were twelve more days to go for the month to end and the doctor had said, 'I should have been there already!
I felt so bewildered, bemused and butchered at that instant that I wanted to either kill myself or wished that I got hold of a gun to kill everybody around!!
But there had to be a time for decision making and all it took was one split second. The time to run was Nowwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If I ever went back to the hamlet with Mustafa, I had no clue when he'd bring me back here. It could be days or could be weeks! I had to get Mustafa out of my sight and then disappear so fast that he would never catch me. The only question was how on earth was I ever gonna do that? I had gone over this routine a hundred times in the last one week or more that I had been there. There was no escape from the hamlet, it was too thickly carpeted by forest and it was Mustafa's home-land after all! My thoughts were rudely interrupted when I saw Mustafa standing up to pay for the coffees.
Oh God! I can’t go back now! Think, Gangadeen Moses, think!!! What If I simply ran? He would mobilize the entire village and hunt me down. He had a vehicle and me just my two limbs. I would be no match and the sheer logistics were against me. The connection to Addis by bus as an escape route was equally hazardous and it stopped at so many places that he could easily have me tracked! That left me with only one option, good bad or ugly......and that was 'now or never!'
I had to do something and I had to do it now..............In the final analysis I had to run ……for my life or worst case against it!
I saw Mustafa talking to one of his countless acquaintances. His hellos and goodbyes were nothing less than irritating rituals but this was one day, I blessed him for that. It was at least giving me a chance to think. I gazed far into the dust outside and I saw a lone driver board a tipper truck that was heading towards the direction away from Bale which meant it was possibly on its way to Addis. 'Run Ganga run,' my conscience told me. 'Now or never,' my conscience screamed at me again. I gave Mustafa one more look. He was lost in his own world. Just to check if he was looking in my direction, I waved at him but he didn’t react and I was sure he had momentarily forgotten about me. I slowly and stealthily began waking sideways as if ambling aimlessly and most casually as if I were going nowhere in particular but merely stretching out and though I was frightened as hell, I didn't take my eyes off him for even an instant till the moment I was out of his sight. He had not seen me nor had the melee that had encircled him perhaps discussing a day of the past or a leaf out of a chapter of their collective lives! I focused my attention away from Mustafa and onto the tipper and my heart almost sank when I noticed that it had started to crawl. I looked back again, “Oh Jesus! Just gimme a few seconds please.” I gave another fleeting glance in the direction of the café to ensure that Mustafa hadn’t noticed my absence. He hadn’t; I could lay my life on the fact that he hadn’t! I ran on to the road. The coast seemed clear for the moment; freedom was beckoning. I was about to take the darnest risk of my life but what the hell? The doctor's voice kept coming back and rang out loud in my ears. Spurred on by my conscience, I gathered all my sinews of strength and instincts of dare. There was no backtracking now. I was a fugitive, a runaway!! A few seconds later, I found myself chasing the tipper which was now almost a good twenty five yards away. If I ran at the speed of light, I could still make it. The road meandered uphill and fortunately for me, the driver seemed to be in no hurry either that gave me a chance to get closer. The tipper was lazily trudging along and was as close as ten yards only!
Rain or thunder, this jungle wasn’t gonna stop me, no bush, no shrub, even the tallest tree! I would run for my life and until my last breath; I no longer cared if I even lay it down but I would run until the time I would be free!
Mustafa, meanwhile ordered another cup of black coffee and drank it without sugar. It was as if the man had already pre-determined that any amount of external sweetening could do nothing to change the bitterness in his life.
With my senses in my heart and my heart in my mouth, I ran like a gazelle for God knows how many seconds in hot pursuit of the dump truck that was still not in total mobility; God bless the rains and the battering they had given the roads for that. I was no pole vaulter, but I don't know what gave me the energy to latch on to whatever grip the rear of the truck offered me to be able to vault into it.
The café where Mustafa sat and waited for another coffee played Bob Marley, ’I have to save the life I live, so I run like a lion in Zion, I run like a mad chap in zion, zion zion, zion, zion.’
I went headlong into the metallic floor of the truck, palms first and the rest of my entire hunk next. The way that I'd landed, had cushioned my fall. The driver must have wondered what the noise at the back of his truck must have been but continued driving, giving nature the benefit of doubt. A band of small kids fascinated by my heroics had applauded me even as I ran. Fortunately, my athletic demonstrations went completely unnoticed by Mustafa and party who were still too busy chattering and enjoying their gossip! The dump truck began picking up speed and soon it started to hurtle past the ups and downs of Bale's mountainous terrains. It tossed and threw me around as if I was a piece of boulder. Because the hot sun had heated the iron base, I was finding it difficult to hold on to the sides; and if I didn't, I was crashing into its edges. I had not a penny in my pocket and prayed that the driver wouldn’t know I had intruded. I shat at the thought, ‘What if he was Mustafa’s friend?’ Somehow holding on to the hot iron pieces of support, my hands suffered heat burns that I stoically suffered in silence, not letting anything come between me and ‘mission runaway.’
When Mustafa and company finally tired of boring each other to death, he looked for me but I was nowhere to be found. The message that a young Jamaican lad had hooked it, took no more than five minutes to reach Mustafa’s ears. He was a man enraged. He ranted and even as he did, the clouds above decided to vent some of their own ire. The rains came down in an unforgiving torrent and lashed at me mercilessly. Mustafa knew he had lost precious time and his dilapidated vehicle would be no match for the sturdy truck. He was going to have a long chase and gonna need more juice to keep his metallic piece of junk he called his jeep, alive and guzzling. The rains had made things difficult for him and by the time, he finally got hold of some fuel packed in dirty jerry cans; almost thirty minutes had elapsed since the moment I had made that wondrous dash. Mustafa, Dawit and Tamrath began their manhunt. Barely able to see anything but a heavy rain in front, they trudged along, more out of desperation than out of any sensibility. They made no progress and it would have made more sense to wait rather than move; but it was more for the game than for the shame that Mustafa drove on manfully at a tardy ten kilo meters per hour. To make matters difficult for him, the downpour got even worse. While Mustafa had four wheels to contend with, I had only two; both my legs were almost giving way and being swept aside by the torrent that followed. I was tossed from one end to the other and my arms crashed so badly into the sides of the tipper that for an instant, I felt as if I had broken one of them. Both the rain and my pain may have lasted for about half an hour but it had seemed like eternity. The rain Gods, finally decided to take pity on me in answer to my prayers that I would turn over a new leaf; one that Pa would be proud to own as part of his tree!
My hands were completely battered and my legs were hopelessly bruised but it was my spirit that kept me going. I managed to squat comfortably on the floor of the truck and found something to grip but every time the tipper negotiated a curve or a bend, it was as if I had to muster all my strength to counter nature’s centripetal force and keep me where I was. Mustafa had blood in his eyes and along with his hunting party, continued treading along at a miserable speed ceding more and more ground to me. He cursed himself for making that one single lapse of letting me out of his sight since the time he had me in captivity; one that might cost him dearly. He had not yet informed Henry about this momentous lapse; his mind was too preoccupied.
There were far too many problems to sort going ahead; the largest one of them all was going to be the nuisance of the road itself. The tires of his jeep were bald and every time he tried revving up a bit, it would skid skating on the muck bringing them close to the edge of the mountain range. There was not much to choose between speed and death and Mustafa had an option either to drive like a snake or perish. He chose the former.
The rainbow made its grand appearance and a powerful breeze swept past my braids. I was finding it difficult to breathe and was forced to look down to avoid the wind intruding into my gullet but the temptation of watching the rainbow weave its spell of magic from the distant stratus was so strong that I was lured into looking up again. The road smoothed and though I was tired and sleepy, I continued to hold on to metal and bear a painful shoulder. We must have been driving for over three hours when a tiny hamlet greeted us by the road side. The driver took the Dump truck closer to the edge of the road and choked the fuel supply to the old Deutz engine that chuckled to a silent halt. More out of habit than anything else, he came towards the rear inspecting the tires and when he saw me, he let out a scream 'Inde, what?' What on earth was a twenty six year old lad doing in his truck? I l felt exhausted; like I was going to come apart and instead of rendering any apologies, asked for his hand in helping to got off the truck. Neither of us knew each other’s language, so he could never understand whatever little I tried to explain about my mysterious intrusion as his free payload!
I removed my sun dial to give it to him and said, 'Birr yellam, no cash.' His face wore an expression of extreme surprise as he felt the steel of my sundial caress his hand. 'Inka, take this.'
I offered him in kind since I had no cash. He looked at the watch and then back at me. 'Gid Yellam, never mind,’ he said returning it back and then went on to shower the generosity of buying me some sweetmeats and tea. He gave me a pride of place in the front seat and drove on. I was a bit nervous at the interval but I fathomed that he rightly deserved a few minutes of rest. Knowing the condition of Mustafa’s Mustang, by any yardstick, I was cock sure that even if Mustafa had not wasted any time in chasing me, he would be still far-far behind and I didn’t want to raise any suspicion or alarm within the driver Asfaw’s mind. We had a long way to go and for now, I felt safe in his hands.
The road on the highway got smoother and the rains had completely abated, helping Asfaw todrive faster. The road was lit only in stretches and talking of lights, Asfaw was one bright spot himself.
He said in broken English, ‘You tourist, Jamaica?’ I nodded. ‘You like Ethiopian ladies?’That brought about a smile on my face. The fact that I chose not to answer his query gave him the impression that I knew nothing about the matter in subject where as fact of the matter was that I had almost majored in it. Permitted by the clement weather, Mustafa and his gang started covering ground and a little later, found the highway too. The bald tires behaved themselves and since the roads were sans any rain in this part of the country; they didn’t threaten to skid either. I was worried that when the night fell, my sternest test would commence. It was nearly half past eight when my mate Asfaw pulled up to the side and decided to halt for the night. I don’t know what kind of sight I may have looked but certainly felt like a zombie whose arse had been taken mercilessly, whose nut still throbbed with the ruthless battering it had received at the hands of the rain Gods and legs that went knock kneed as they tried to find their direction. Asfaw pitied my plight, settled me to a chair and went on to exhibit why Ethiopians are a truly hospitable race. He even shared his food with me but his largess ended there cos he didn't offer to share with me, a five feet nothing, buxom and beautiful bronze haired lass he called his wife. I wondered how many more of them he had besides this one around the roads he drove.
It was for the first time during the day, I had time to be with myself. I took stock of the situation that told me in no uncertain terms that. Mustafa would be here sooner or later. He would come into this town in the next few hours with or without company. He would have known that I had made my escape in a dump truck that now stood all alone in the heart of the town in stark solitude. A tube light in the distance did spray enough light to lead me towards it and to tell me that the highway was absolutely deserted. A couple of table tennis tables, adjacent to the highway that may have been a recreation keeping a few jobless youths busy all day, was all that came to light to my visible eye. A couple of stray dogs hooted disliking my sight. I ignored them and continued walking across the town until the light had almost lost its reach. Even as it began to fade, I could see enough in the darkness to disfigure what certainly looked like the outline of a large cross. I had found myself a church. There was no longer enough light to see but for the darkness of the night; a night that was cold and one that took a lot of insanity and imprudence to go without a blanket. I had to take my chances and gave myself unto the protection of the Lord Jesus, recited a silent prayer to him and God Shiva and crouched to sleep in a portion of the church that was concreted. The gong might not yet have struck midnight but it definitely must have been thereabouts. I shivered but slept with arms wrapped around my chest trying to shield it from a chill.
Mustafa and his cronies got off the Mustang looking to find themselves some much needed food. The whole town had slept including Asfaw and his wife. The only place still half open was the one I had eaten dinner at. Mustafa wiped himself clean of the dirt and the grime but could neither wipe the frustration nor the disgust off his face. He suddenly felt better as he noticed the dump truck parked at almost a handshaking distance. There was nobody who he could talk to. Everybody had slept. He looked around the truck, inside, under and around hoping to find me. Even in the stark of the night, three guys intent on their hunt flashed a torch light and walked around the whole town looking for me. They came as far as the gate that led to the church and didn't even give a faint outside chance that somebody would be so foolishly brave to sleep in the kingdom of God .
I awoke hearing the sound of my teeth chattering furiously against each other. I just couldn’t bear the chilly and wintry air that had almost paralyzed my marrows! Unable to last out any longer, I stood up my trembling knees, and then driven by some crazy and indescribable sense of intrepidity, I strolled out of the church compound back into the dark and deserted street. I could barely make anything out even within the distance of a hand shake. I groped forward towards where the dump truck might have been with a single minded intent of getting me a blanket; a wisdom that had deserted me before the intensity of the chill hit. It is fool hardy to be brave but foolish to be thoughtlessly adventurous! The truck was a a good twenty five yards away and I had to walk in stark and complete darkness. There was an eeriness about the night and the chill breeze continued to blow into my face, nearly numbing my nose with it. I walked like a blind man would have; both my hands outstretched in front of me. The blind man's bluff continued for a few more moments until I almost got to the truck and then froze, not with the chillness of the night but with the sound of a snore. It was undoubtedly Mustafa that had heaved himself through the window, Asfaw had so graciously left open for me and made himself a warm bed for the night. There could be no way I could stand up and seek protection or to fight for my rights in a part of the world Mustafa called his own. I was in the jaws of death and standing within a handshake of the lion's den. I was trembling so much that I was finding it difficult to stop both my legs clanging against each other; I was cold not with the external chill in the atmosphere but with my own fright at what I could do next. Mustafa knew almost everybody in the territory and I was safe only until he opened his eyes. Death stared me in my frightened face. 'Run Ganga run,' I again heard my inner voice scream and this time, I heard it louder than ever before. Silently praying to my Christ, I went back, past the church, and broke out into a brisk walk like an expert in the game of the blind man's bluff!
I must have walked on a tight rope of complete darkness nearly a full mile or more and stumbled a couple of times; I groped, even crawled but moved on for what might have seemed an endless journey, but I was too frightened to stop.
The first twilight kissed the earth and I was fortunate not to have tripped and fallen into a ditch or over a resting hyena! Fortune had favored the brave. I could see a dense forest all around me but the sad part was that I could also visualize my manhunt begin at any given instant.
It was the second time in a matter of two days that I went and did the unthinkable all over again. There was no way on earth or in Ethiopia for that matter that I could run and escape. I had to run for cover. So, I thought what better way, than a dense forest to lose myself in!
The jungle was wild and my thoughts even wilder. I had gambled to play a game called 'survival of the fittest!' I deliberately decided to change my tracks to throw a spanner of confusion into Mustafa's scheme of things.
Nobody had seen me yet and it would be impossible to pick up my trail. My battle for survival led me deep into the forest and I found myself jogging in the massive cover of the country’s vast expanse of eucalyptus trees. I had no clue where to I was headed and would have to take hurdle or bridge one at a time. I heaved a sigh of relief; at least, I could walk without any fear of being tracked or chased down! The clock struck half past one Ethiopian time, early in the morning.
The mobile service had resumed and Mustafa was breaking the bad news to Henry.
'Good for nothin sonofabitch!' were the first words out of Henry's mouth making it fouler as it added to the stench from the previous nights’ excessive bout of drinking and stoning. 'Don't you show me your rotten face or even call me until you've got the son of a bitch. He can be far too dangerous for us, do you understand? Have you checked with the police station?' he questioned a dumbfounded Mustafa, almost in one continuous breath.
‘Do that and hurry.'
‘Don't worry. He must be hiding somewhere around town. We'll get him.' Mustafa and his search party combed through the entire town and asked each and every house, boarding or lodging, however big or small if they’d seen any runaway Rastafarian? They finally got hold of Asfaw and rudely got him out of whatever he was doing and on to the road.
So much so that poor Asfaw had to disengage while still in the act. The poor guy’s fuse was blown even before he could think of short-circuiting his morning discharge!
The morning trucks prepared to leave, carrying Mustafa's mobile number with them. An entire squad of hares were added to seek out a missing Ninja turtle…………
Mustafa was simply unable to get over my mysterious absence and so he fretted profusely, 'Minnow? Taffa? What the hell? He's disappeared?’
Henry and Mustafa decided that the only place I was headed for was the Bole International airport. 'I will see to it that the bastard doesn't get anywhere near the airport.' The conversation was still unfinished as the transmission network lived up to its disappearing act!
The equatorial sun began to ascend in its daily trajectory and soon soaked me in its warmth. I continued running into the thick and dense forest cover, something only a madman might have done. Now that I had, I was on a path of no return; I had no clue whether a lion, a bushman or a cannibal would surface to throw my adventure into jeopardy, neither did I know whether I had chosen to willingly throw myself from the frying pan into the fire. I was between the devil and the deep sea anyway! I couldn’t keep track of time but was certain that a few hours may have elapsed cos the sun was no longer its benign self. It had begun to scorch and tore down harshly at me. As I continued to half jog and half run, I began to sponge in a blanket of perspiration. Jogging up the hill, was an arduous task and my already injured legs were finding it extremely difficult to take the additional strain. It was the first time I not only learnt by practical experience that I fully understood the meaning of uphill task in its truly literal sense. I had a hunch that the end of the grind uphill would bring an unknown surprise with it. The other side of the grass was always green, after all! No such luck…Nothing…….My knees started to tremble after some more time but it was mental resolve that kept me going. I was thirsty as hell, parched like a desert plant. I was no cactus, neither was I a camel. I was but a simple human being fighting against an evil of my own creation. My feet by now, were heavy as though with lead and my heart was tortured with an ever growing demand for blood supply. My respiratory trachea was gasping for more supply even as I manfully continued my upwardly mobile run. After a little more time, my stamina gradually began giving way reducing my run into something else and then all I could do was walk. With eyelids, a one half soaked with sweat and the other with fear and desperation, I managed to glance at the needles of my sundial mating as one. It was noon. I had run, jogged and walked for almost six hours on stretch; by no means a pedestrian effort! Alas, I reached the summit and collapsed only to roll down the hill. I was knocked out unconscious like the log I had crashed into. The sunlight was now even more ferociously battering and burning my skin. I didn't know whether it was the heat of the sun or the temperature of my body that was generating so much heat, but the wind in my nose and the twitch in my eyelid told me that I might have been running temperature. From a chilly wintry night to a hot and humid day, so much had changed in the past few hours. I could barely stand and my tongue was stuck to my palate as though cemented. I didn't try to speak but I guess could not have managed to strain my gullet, even had I tried. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would ever come to pass a real life adventure such as this where in I played the sole character lost in the wilderness of a jungle with no one but flora and an endless stretch for company. When I tried to look up at the sun, it bashed me with such a harsh and ferocious might that I was forced to close my eyes with both my hands in desperation to hide from it. I couldn't even stand up straight; my thirst had intensified to the extent that it threatened to kill me with it. There was only one thing left for me do. I opened both my hands far and wide and prayed to both Christ and my Shiva. I prayed to my God like father and to Maya my angel mother. I prayed for strength to survive. Although weak in mind, I managed to remember what a survival artiste had once done to remain alive in one of the books that I had read as a child in the Potomac westerns.
The rule of the Phantom said that the jungle always rewarded those who had the courage to survive at all costs, at all odds, and when their chips were down!
I had to remain alive for Pa's sake and mine! I cupped my hands below my zipper and peed and drank my urine, albeit in installments, not wanting to waste even a precious drop of the salts and minerals my body desperately needed. My battery was recharged somewhat after using the only lifeline left within me to continue the game of the hunter and the hunted.
Mustafa growled and snarled in pursuit like a wounded tiger in search of the hunt that had given the slip. He had gone way past from where I'd made my detour leaving no landmark behind. He had set off at eight in the morning and had driven almost five hours covering more than two hundred kilometers. What he just couldn't fathom was where and how on earth had I disappeared.
Only a universal truth that the earth was round could have answered this riddle!
I strove on manfully and jogged at a pace my legs would allow without hurting too much. I had once heard Pa telling his friend that life was full of ups and downs and only those that continued on the path of correctness were ultimate victors in life's intricate battle. It was as if my very existence depended on his convictions. Even, the heavens must have debated whether I'd been a good enough son to deserve another chance! By two o’clock, in the afternoon, I was half walking and at times, half crawling. Sometimes I was on my two limbs, at times, on all fours. The mighty sun was now at a peak and even walking was becoming difficult. The sunlight had become so ominous that I just couldn’t face it anymore and lay down on the uneven ground with my back towards it, not perhaps having enough courage to face it any longer. I lay there almost indefinitely awaiting destiny's next instructions. Even while I lay with my back facing the sun and my belly hurting against the ground, I could feel a sense of dehydration all over again. I could hear myself wheeze; something I had thought myself incapable of at this age. I can't recall just how long I must have been lying there, completely sapped of strength, stamina and spirit. Mustafa was lost for words and even perhaps action. All he did was shout and yell at one and sundry and curse his fate while driving down a long and merciless road that granted him neither clue nor information. Henry on the other hand was much more pro-active compared to his mate and had galvanized a new set of local thugs into action.
The entry to the airport was sealed by a couple of spies that carried my photograph and waited to sight me while I waited on the heavens to recreate some magic and breathe a fresh lease of life into me. As if in resonance to my fervent prayers, the clouds belched loudly and almost instantly sprayed so much water that they gave me all I wanted to drink. I stood up and faced the skies with outstretched arms drinking up all the water I possibly could that would keep me going for some more time. The rains tapered off into a trickle after about five or ten minutes. It was as if they had been designed only to answer my prayers. The temperature dropped and my spirits went up in the inverse proportion, albeit marginally. I continued my walk and saw some wild flowers; the first sign of vegetation since my tryst with destiny had begun. I plucked and ate some of them. At that point, I could not even make out whether they were palatable or poison. Somewhere along the way, I got to see some cattle grazing by the forest. I prayed to spot the lone shepherd among them but he had chosen to abstain. I looked down at my sundial and it told me the time was four o’ clock. The evening was somewhere around the corner and the sun would start to go down soon. With the thought of the sunset in mind, my thoughts too began to sink with it!
Mustafa was getting restive. More so, because Henry was bugging him no end alternating between belittling and threatening him with dire consequences if he didn’t find me. Lost for ideas, he was suddenly seized with guerrilla warfare tactics. He left Tamrath behind at wherever they had lunched. He would do the same with Dawit at the next check point while he would hold fort closer to Addis. The manhunt had spread its tentacles.
I didn't have too much time on my side, either. With a belly full of leaves and water, I could muster only enough strength in my sinews to break into what was probably and possibly my last run. I somehow had a faith that before the sun would set, it would definitely leave behind its last ray of hope for me.
Up ahead, the horizon was distant and endless! I ran knowing full well that my life solely depended on how much I would run before the sun would set. I was much too scared at the daunting prospect of spending a night out in the wilderness. What if the hyenas appeared? Spurred on by a mixture of scary negative thoughts that were countered by my own belief that fortune would favor, I bravely ran on. But, yet again, how long was I to overdraw on the reserves of my determination and resolute will to win? I was indeed fortunate that as a habit, I wore only sneakers and this was an opportune time, they not only served as protection against uneven terrain but they were now breaking into a nice rhythm. The table top helped me conserve my energy and I was breathing far better now. I was exhaling shorter spells, trying to inhale as much as possible and also trying to retain my breath for as long as possible before I began my exhale. As I ran, I improved with every stride I made and was impressed at my own ability to run. I was perhaps marathon material and I didn't even know it! Every time I saw a different shape in the distant horizon, I imagined it was a conduit to safety and every time I neared it, it let me down. With a single purpose of mind, I continued to run as if a man possessed. I knew I did not have much time and continued giving it my best shot. I would run as hard as I could for as long as I could. Do your best and God will do the rest.
Tamrath and Dawit took their positions on the highway, while Mustafa was nearing the end of his journey and deciding to wait for me at the last major town nearest to Addis. My chasers had left nothing to chance. Little did they, even in their wildest dreams know that I was running at an altogether different tangent; an adventure beyond the realm of fantasy! When the choice is between do or die, nothing is impossible.
An uphill run began all over again but this time I wasn’t as afraid and ran instead with all my might. The brightness around me had begun to pale and the shadows had begun to loom across the fields. There was still enough light to run and so I ran even faster as though I was on the last few laps of a massive marathon. At almost the steep end of yet another uphill climb, my lungs began to swell again and I found it extremely difficult to catch my breath. A few more minutes later, the shadows had begun to threateningly stretch horizontally across the fields and the twilight was scattering its bright white light into myriads of yellow and orange that gradually dimmed in intensity. Alas, I despaired. Was I running against time! Though the uphill terrain had once again come to plateau and running was a lot easier, my ordeal was far from over! Not knowing just how much more I had to run in how short a time, I gambled and ran the next few furlongs at the fastest I had ever run during the day. I was punishing myself but couldn’t care less; my legs were no longer as heavy as lead, but probably heavier than the heaviest metal, my head was bursting and my sight was clouded by beads of perspiration over my eyes. I didn’t even have the energy to wipe the sweat off my eyes nor any kind of stamina to carry on. The wheezing had returned and was now blocking my breath to an extent that I felt my lungs would burst. It was apparent I had overdone and abused my system beyond all prescribed limits of tolerance.
I knew the time for deliverance was over-due; judgment day was at hand! Something had to give either way -Do or die! I was about to collapse and I didn’t give myself more than a minute at best…. I closed my eyes in one last silent prayer.
'And thou whilst be done.' The magic came almost simultaneously And Lo!!!!!!!! As my system was just about collapsing; I saw the breath-taking view of the sunset, and alongside, I also saw the sight of a cluster of huts in the not so distant horizon. I had won my first battle but the war was not over yet! I tore my shirt away, removed my shoes and screamed as if to psyche myself. I can’t fathom how or why I managed to carry on. Though I was not able to run any longer, I managed to walk and jog in alternate measure, stopping and starting to catch my breath that was killing me now. The scent of humanity seemed closer than it was. The harder I walked towards it, the further away it seemed to go. The sun was setting and the lights were fading but the burning desire to win my marathon kept me going. I ran my last lap in total darkness and almost exulted in joy at the first sight of humanity before finally crashing into a heap of hay. I had won!
A MENTOR BY MAGIC
The setting was idyllic. Rural Ethiopia was at its best- “a dale within two mountain- passes.” A gentle drift turned blades and pumped water from a nearby lake on to the fields irrigating more than twenty acres of maize, tef and barley with it. Ato Mulugeta Bikila, a descendant of one of the greatest marathon runners of all times, Abebe Bikila was informed in his huge ranch that a Rastafarian had barged in from nowhere and had collapsed unconscious at his door.
'How is he now?' Mulugeta inquired, of me. I woke up to the inaudible rumblings of a few people that stood close to where I had lain, having slept all of the previous night under the warmth of a woolen quilt and my body had been pasted all over with leaves.
'Don't worry son, these leaves are herbs that will relieve you of your pains like magic.’
‘Here drink this,' said Ato Mulugeta.
An older woman brought me something to drink. 'It will taste like poison but works better than the best medicine of modern times,' he continued in chaste English stretching forth his large warm hand.
'Mulugeta Bikila,' he said introducing himself. His face told me that he wanted to ask me a thousand and one questions but he was more intent on having me recover first. I wanted to throw up when the first drops of the magic potion went into my system, but was too tired to react thus. The whole setting seemed like a leaf from within a book of the Phantom's jungle adventures. The sight of Ato Mulugeta however, completely contradicted those kind of settings as well as thoughts! The man had an aura of majesty around him; an air of supremacy, born out of extreme ability and confidence in the way he had lived his life. He seemed to be a contended man at absolute peace with himself; among the blessed few in the rat race of today's modern world. When he saw me put down the tumbler, I heard him tell the same woman who had nursed me, 'Woha sichi, give water'. I thankfully gulped down a glass of water that helped in neutralizing the acrid taste that the herbal mixture had left behind in my mouth. So saying he sat down on a weird looking hand-made chair carved from the timber from one of the countless trees that grew in the neighborhood. He clapped his hands as if to announce that he wished to be left alone. I noticed him, a little more closely. He was wearing a white colored robe and a scarf of the same color around his neck Also, the dress he wore, was embroidered on its borders by colors of the Ethiopian flag. The man took a pride adorning his country's colors even in the clothes he wore!
'Do you wish to freshen up now or take more rest?'
I hesitated and he continued with a most reassuring smile, 'Feel absolutely at home, you have nothing to fear, you may do as you please.' ‘Inka, take this,' he said, passing me a neat new pillow to place as a back rest. He was a true gentleman indeed. 'If you wish not to be disturbed, we can meet later for lunch.' So saying, he started to walk away.
'No no, please sit,' I stopped him in his tracks.
'Tell me about yourself and how you landed up here of all places and that too from there?' he exclaimed, pointing in the direction to where I might have come from, the previous night. He went on to explain, 'The gates of my farm are just two and a half kilometers away from the highway. This is the first time in so many years that I have seen anyone coming to my farm, from that direction. He paused, ‘Frankly, I didn't even know that way might have existed,' he continued in astonishment. ‘This is the first time I have seen the backdoor route being used so effectively!’
He was almost smiling, 'Anyway, you must have reason to do what you did, so please tell me your story.' He had used the right phrase. Story indeed it was!
Mustafa continued cursing his luck, while Henry continued cursing him. Fred was the only jobless guy around demanding to know what the hell on earth was happening while back home in the Caribbean, Mike scratched his well groomed beard at my disappearing act! Henry's mobile rang to answer Mike, with whom had an open line going. The former always called only if there was a problem and the latter only if he had a solution. 'Be careful not to let the kid squeal, Just in case he's holed out somewhere and starts calling all the wrong shots, we're done for,’
Mike cautioned and continued, ‘I suggest you change your telephone numbers and get out of the farm. Get the weed out from there and stash it elsewhere. Keep the option of plan B alive and active. Get it going now while I call Fred and give him its edited rundown.' Minutes later, Fred grunted in silence at Mike’s monologue.
Mike’s orders were religious commands, so much so that Henry and Fred had a sleepless night and by the end of it, had succeeded in emptying the Rasta Farm that wore a deserted look. The entire setting had been shifted to a rundown joint called ‘Addis Pension.’ in the by lanes of Kaliti on the outskirts of the city.
Ato Mulugeta listened with undivided attention and intent as I told him my story; each and every portion of it; relevant and irrelevant. I learnt to call him Ato that in Amharic means Mr and is a sign of respect prefixed to one's name or more so identity and he fitted that bill perfectly.
'And you ran even before the day had dawned until the break of the sunset, is that right?'
'Yes sir, that is right,' I said, still massaging the soles of my feet that felt like a stone that had been scrubbed against sand paper till it had lost its roughness.'
'Amazing and unbelievable,' he said lost in the memories of his past that made him see his running days. He had raced for his state, his country and his pride but never had he ever run a race to save his own life. He envied me at having missed out on such an opportunity.
'You have created history,' he said and stood up to clap. I was being given a standing ovation for having won a marathon that had only two participants, “my life and my death in it”.
When my host went on to tell me that he had belonged to the family of the greatest marathon runners the country had ever produced, my heart swelled with pride at what he thought about my running skills. 'What do you want to do with yourself now?'
'I want to go away to meet my Pa.’
'And what about the menace you have helped spread in the country?' I had no answer to that. 'Knowingly or unknowingly, you have committed a very grave sin,' he added. 'You have contributed to hollowing the roots of the very foundation of this holy country.'
The man took off and just wouldn’t stop. I was still sick and whatever he said made me sicker, 'Do you know anything at all about my country?’ His voice was grave and stern. It was almost like that of a school principal admonishing his pupil. He wasn’t finished. ‘It isn't for nothing that our elders named this city Addis Ababa meaning ‘new flower’. Is this the flower we want our society to blossom into, one riddled with drugs that will automatically lead to arson, vandalism and injustice?' His barrage was an endless sermon. I listened with my head hung in shame. He then lowered his voice and said sympathetically, 'We are a poor people, but we are what we are because of our pride, honesty and belief in ourselves. Every Ethiopian has only one dream; to see his country take its place of pride on the globe. We maybe under developed today but weren't so many countries a mere couple of decades ago?'
I felt guilty as hell. I knew I had erred gravely.
'Son, if you go away now, then the perpetrators of this dangerous mission will continue poisoning the roots and corrupting the youth of our society. Do you think you can go away in peace and enjoy your life while the young Ethiopians your age die of addiction?'
'I am sorry,' the words came out inadvertently.
'If you do wish to apologize for your actions, you must show them by deeds son. You are one of the bravest and most courageous lads I have ever seen and I can sense, you have what it takes to atone for the sins you have already committed .’
'My father is gravely unwell and my life is in danger,' I said submitting myself with folded hands.
'I understand your situation son.’ 'You have nothing to fear about your life, and now let us together pray for your father's life.' We closed our eyes for ten minutes and he read out a prayer.
When he finished saying his prayers, he said, 'Your father will be fine, if the lord so wills.' ‘I am going to town this evening. ‘I will personally go to the tele-centre and talk to your people. You will need a day's rest at least and tomorrow we will decide what to do next.’ He left me, carrying with him a slip of paper that had Dr. Derek's mobile number written upon it. I followed him out of the room and cried myself to sleep. I had never before been touched by so much humanity!
Willy, my buddy back home who had joined me in the concert, made a cash deposit in the hospital after borrowing on some securities that Pa owned; the balance of the money would come from insurance.
I spent the day nursing my wounds. The lady whose name I didn't know or bother to ask was middle aged and dark. She belonged to the Hamer tribe and had her nose and ears pierced the size of a bullet. The tribe was known to have their tongues pierced too and I wondered what rituals did to mankind even in today's modern era of jets, robotics and computer sciences. She wiped and scrubbed the tenderloins of my soles that had been bruised and damaged by my non-stop running and applied a balm almost all over my body except my frontals. The muscles on the calves of my thigh and the shins of both my feet throbbed as though they had been torn apart. I ravenously ate a meal full of vegetables and drank a lot of broth; proteins designed to set the rickets in my bones right. I also ate a lot of boiled potatoes and fried corns; carbs to replenish my energy levels!
The following morning, after I had bathed and freshened up, Ato Mulugeta greeted me with such warmth that for an instant I almost forgot the throbbing pain. He announced, 'Your father's operation was successful.' I was so glad; I almost got up to hug him.
'Well,' he added taking a deep breath and recalling his conversation, 'Your father will be kept under observation for the next four or five days and then possibly discharged.'
‘What did you tell Willy?'
'I told him that you were now a grown up boy who understood his responsibilities towards his family,' he smiled.
‘Has the fucking ground chewed him up or has he dissolved into thin air? You say you have three people including yourself manning the highway of Bale and Addis; an area you call your backyard, then why haven't you got hold of any news yet?'
Henry was in a fit of rage and knocking at the doors of a mental asylum, so mad was he! ‘I'm wasting the precious time of my team of drug peddlers. Instead of pushing, thanks to you, they have nothing to do but scratch their balls in frustration. And you bloody jolly well know it costs me a lot of bread to do all this.'
If Henry could find a hangman’s noose that hung by remote, he would have strangled Mustafa till he was made to breath his last.
I told Ato Mulgeta about Jamaal and the Kayaki tribe and I also gave him the telephone numbers of all my accomplices in crime. He nodded his head in deep thought. 'There is a lot of work that may have to be done going forward,' he said.
Retiring for the night, he put down his book, took his glasses off, switched off his night lamp and reflected deeply over the day and all that I had told him. Ato Mulugeta was not one to take things lying down. He was a sportsman that hated defeat. He was a winner and believed only in the faith of his own actions. It was time for justice! He sprang out of his bed, switched on the lights and sat down to work all over again. He spent the next few minutes, searching and scrolling down his contact list. He had an early morning call to make the next day.
Commissioner Haile shuffled uneasily at the sight of the unknown number that called him. Unknown callers often brought trouble or troublesome news with them. Ato Mulugeta’s words rung loud and clear into Hailu’s earpiece, 'There is cancer in the country that needs to be stopped and stopped immediately.’ Haile listened in rapt attention to the names, telephone numbers and addresses that Ato Mulugeta gave him and made a note of each one of them. Before he disconnected, Ato Mulugeta reminded him, 'Don't forget; you have promised.'
'I won't, Xavier immesgen,' he swore. After raiding the Rasta Farm, Haile would personally go to meet the chief of narcotics and organize a raid on Jamaal’s fields.
Forewarned is forearmed.” This was to be Jamaal’s last night with the Kayaki tribe for a long long time. Tipped off by a special messenger sent on an emergency mission by Henry about the possibility of impending danger, he was fully prepared for any eventuality and was busy loading his final consignment after which there would be nothing more to load!. With a handful of hours to kill before he had fully executed Henry’s instructions, he smoked, drank and danced to the Kayaki tribal folklore. A single henchman driving a massive Mercedes Benz truck propelled by fourteen tires prepared to take off from Awassa to load more weed and assist Jamaal in quitting the place.
Commissioner Haile headed a raid accompanied by a convoy of armed police personnel upon the Caribbean Rasta farm, only to find the place deserted and locked to visitors. Haile conveyed the unfortunate news to Ato Mulgeta.
‘It is a battle of wits and they can’t escape the long arm of the law,’ Ato Mulugeta sighed.
He urged me to think about any chink in the foe’s armor. He pressed me to think hard and to come up with any loop that would lead us somewhere. I searched desperately for any strand of news, anything at all that would lead us to them. I racked my brains but nothing came; nothing at all!
The fifth day after I first stumbled upon Ato Mulugeta's ranch was a new beginning. It was the first page of a new chapter; I was turning over a new leaf! Barely had the sun gone up that Ato Mulugeta showed up at my bedside and led me out into the open. I was facing my new tutor. My first lessons were some simple stretching exercises. ‘You need to stretch yourself that much more in the last lap after every long race and unless you tone and tune your muscles for that, you will never be a good finisher.’ He taught me some breathing exercises that were meant to help in conserving breath and after a good half an hour of warm up, we both began to jog around his field. I was beginning to train under the a legend and I now had at least something I could take home to Pa. 'Son, I am an old man now but I would still love to give you a run for the money. I would love to race you down that track.’
So saying, he broke into a jog and since he'd been running to my left, he clasped my left hand with his right. Though, I had not yet fully recovered from system abuse, and puffed and panted, I manfully and sportingly accompanied him on the jog. This was a totally different speed of running; in fact it was a class apart. This was professional speed and not the kind of speed an amateur like I could have even dreamt attempting. After more than an hour of well paced running, my chest began to feel like an inflated balloon and my head like one massive log of wood. These were situations, I was already familiar with and sensing that, Ato Mulugeta didn’t concern himself too much about how or what I felt. He refused to let go of my hand and continued to run at the speed he thought well. I manly kept pace with him enduring all my agony in singular file. Finally, my feet wobbled in trying to keep pace with this agile Cheetah that still pulled me along as one does plastic. I entreated him with a fervent plea but my self- imposed tutor refused to budge even by an inch. When I was stretched beyond my limit of elasticity, my rhythm finally snapped.
The upper part of the body was still adrift in mid air while my lower just buckled under my feet. As I crashed, head long into the benign grassland, I took my trainer with me. I lay there for ten long minutes, gasping for breath. It came back to me, only to desert me again! I felt pain all over me in my lungs, in my sides and many more places I could only feel; not describe! There can be no worldly pleasure without pain and how I had enjoyed potting and smoking those hundred fags a day. It was payback time. 'Get up, I said get up,' my tutor kicked me in the butt. It wasn't over yet, it was the beginning.
'Can't we do this tomorrow?'
'Then hurt some more.' The iron man had nerves of steel. He kicked me in my butt this time and before I knew it, he had taken my hand again and set off, albeit thankfully a lot slower
He made me breathe heavily; an aerobic exercise meant for running; Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, and again he would repeat the process. When we approached a steep uphill, I wanted to yell and break away from him, but I had nowhere to run. In this strange land, good or bad he was all I had. So, I mustered all my courage and ran and ran and ran and then I actually began to enjoy running!
'Kas ba kas inqulaal bagroo heduaal.' The egg rolls slowly before the chicken can run.
Profound words from an even more profound soul.
‘I was a long distance specialist and I trained hard for it. There was no one who could defeat me in my heydays and you know something Ganga, you too are going to be a great runner some day.' Ato Mulugeta had sighted his winner!
I couldn't believe my ears. 'Why'd you say that, sir?'
‘I never expected you to run back home after you fell the second time. The spirit of running lies not in winning, but in completing the race and you have that in you; I am proud that you have passed that test.'
I ran with a little more freedom but a lot slower the next day. The first day was perhaps been an assessment of my mental toughness. At the end of the day three, my system started reacting in a strange manner indeed! I was coughing at the end of every bout of running and spitting a multi-colored phlegm disassociating itself from the system it had been stuck to for so long! After breakfast, I sat alone in the house watching the crows fly around while I let my thoughts fly in reliving the memories of the past few months. I yearned to speak to Pa and my mentor assured me that I soon would. My wounds soon began to heal bringing normalcy and back. After we had jogged for almost a week, Ato Mulugeta decided it was time we needed a break from the forests of Bale.
The hunters had gone almost crazy and called off patrol. Only Mekuria manned the airport once in a while, keeping track of Jamaican bound passengers while Dawit and Tamrath ate, slept and drank and repeated the cycle until they were almost throwing their hands up in defeat. But the show was far from over and Henry’s devilish sense had taught him that just when the guard was let down, the opponent invariably showed up. He was a persistent variety to the levels of unbearable irritation himself and egged his team to do the same.
We packed off in a white Toyota pick-up that I saw for the first time. It was always parked under the natural sunshade of the countless palm trees that grew all around the ranch. I bid adieu to the palms that I had drunk to revitalize me, the innumerable herbals that had nursed my wounds and the breath taking natural freshness that I rued, I would ever see again in a lifetime.
Dawit waited patiently outside the road side cafe in a small road side town. For the last one week, all he had done was eaten and sleep, yet he had been man to the job. A fleeting moment or a momentary glance was all it would take to get a hold of his subject. At close to seven Ethiopian time (one p.m.) in the afternoon, a white colored Toyota parked outside the only restaurant in town and with the legendary Ato Mulugeta Bekele, disembarked a young Rastafarian named Gangadeen Moses.
Dawit couldn’t believe what he saw. He swiftly hid himself at a place where he knew he was out of sight, yet could keep an eye on us and our vehicle. He thanked his stars that the network coverage was working and quietly whispered the numbers he'd read off the Toyota’s plate.
Mustafa repeated his orders, ' Let me know when they leave and call me again. You may come to Addis and meet me at Hotel Flotsam after that.’ Dawit did exactly as told and couldn’t get that silly smile off his face. Tamrath was also on his way and it wouldn't be long before I too hit the city.
The number plate was relayed and everybody waited. The instructions given were only to tail and not to use one’s head.
'Where will you be taking me?' I asked Ato Mulugeta.
'I have my house in Addis Ababa; let’s get there first, we will see.' The gates of a massive mansion, somewhere near the old airport area opened up and an entire family stood there to greet Ato Mulugeta. It was yet another home coming for me!
'So some great once upon a time Ethiopian runner has taken a crazy fancy to this stupid son of a gun,' Fred said aptly summing up his disdain at the end of the suspense that had been troubling him!
'What we gonna do now?'
'Nothing, we keep tailing the kid until we find him alone and then we nab him,' Henry
replied, biting off cheroot more than he could chew. 'I'm off to close a deal for a truck load of some more weed. Shouldn't the next load be arriving here tomorrow?' Fred nodded in agreement.
The Addis Ababa stadium is located at the Meskel square. The last time I had been here was for the concert and what a different setting I found myself in! There were scores of runners either running exercising or making their way in or out of the stadium; the whole place was action. packed. I felt kind of shy being introduced to some of them as a student of the legendary Bikila. It was the first time I ran on track and I was surprised to see how effortlessly the legendary octogenarian was leading my pace all through the run that must have been about twenty laps or eight thousand meters! When we drove back, he said, A runner needs technique, stamina and spirit. That’s all he needs. I will give you the technique; practice will build your stamina and you have more than abundant fire and spirit in you to keep the runner's flame alive.’
‘What's the runner's flame?’ I queried, fascinated by the terminology my coach had used.
'The will to win like you did in making it to my farm.’
I was fortunate to be able to speak to Pa and although I couldn't speak to him for long, he sounded very cheerful and said, 'Take your time son, I have Willy with me but do come soon.’
I promised myself that I would make Pa proud. Ato Mulugeta watched a tear roll down my cheek and he put his arm around my shoulder and comforted me. I felt that Pa was not so far after all and in a reflex driven by emotion, I hugged him.
He hugged me too and I never wanted to let go. The steel man was a damn coconut after all! He was a hard shell but real soft and nice inside.
Henry's stooge was busy tailing us for whatever it was worth; he was merely obeying orders! We spent the whole afternoon watching videos of the famous Ethiopian runners while Ato Mulugeta showed me how different runners adopted independent strategies to win their races.
'Knowing your strength is half the battle won,' he explained telling me about the country's most exciting runners Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba who kept the first ninety percent of the race to the pack and the last ten percent to themselves. They knew their strengths lay in drawing an inexhaustible reserve towards the end of the race. ‘You too will soon find your strength son,' he said.
The red colored Mercedes Benz found it difficult to negotiate the narrow bends as it ploughed its way on all its fourteen tires to conquer a payload of thirty tones of chat and an astronomical ton of dope! Jamaal was thanking his good fortune at heading back to town for a whole load of action. His khaki overalls were dark brown in color with all the dust he had accumulated in the fields over the past two days that he had not slept, in harvesting and loading the biggest haul in the history of Abyssinia. He made one last attempt at keeping awake, while bidding the Kayakis goodbye before pulling his cap over his face and crashing into a nice siesta.
With the loud growl of Jamaal's snore drowned by the whirring of the large diesel engine, the Mercedes slowly meandered onto the main road and almost simultaneously unnoticeable to the truck, a massive cauldron of police constabulary was on their way to the Kayaki fields.
Ato Mulgeta was pensive. ‘Don't you remember anything at all?' ‘Anything else, some name, any place that any of these guys frequented?’ The name came to me in a flash.
'Flotsam hotel in Saris,' I said. ‘But I think he may not be stupid enough to still be there.’
On second thoughts, it was not Henry we were talking about but Mustafa and to the best of my knowledge, if there was a single person on earth that could do the stupidest thing on earth, it had to be Mustafa. Commissioner Haile gave Ato Mulugeta another brief, 'whatever information you give me, somebody gives them before hand,’ he took pains to explain, a little concerned.
An equally pensive Mulugeta said. ‘Look Commissioner, we have to take all the chances we can.'
'Ishee; ok,’ he said reluctantly, even as he prepared to summon a search for a retired lieutenant by the name Zergabachew.
THE HUNTERS BECOME THE HUNTED
Zergabachew was a relieved man. Everything had suddenly gone right. I had been traced, the Rasta farm had been shifted out on time and Jamaal would soon be on his way with a whopping load of weed to sell. Between the spray of hot water and these gratifying thoughts, Zergaw found it extremely difficult to conceal his excitement. Shaved and showered, he got into his gray baggy trousers, brown shirt and pulled a printed blue color jacket over it. A mere forty five minutes within Ato Mulugeta’s call, Commissioner Haile and his orderly in toe set off towards another raid. They had no clue if this was yet another false alarm or wild goose chase but duty was duty; risks or rewards followed later! They were both dressed like civilians, got off a civilian car and ambled across to the Flotsam hotel. His mobile rang to tell him that in precisely four minutes, the police van would seal the road heading towards Flotsam from the main road. With a couple of minutes to kill, both cops took seats at the shoeshine, getting their shoes polished. The poor boy attending to the Commissioner's shining shoes wondered how much more a shine his customer had wanted. There was a limit to perfection after all! Nobody had crossed over from Flotsam within those three minutes of shoeshine and with hardly a minute to go before, help would arrive and barely a margin for error, Haile nodded at his assistant and they strolled towards their target. A casual enquiry about Ato Zergabachew brought about a most unexpected response.
'Tolo matha inde?' How come you came so soon?’ Haile was thrilled; so there would be two more crooks to his kitty and that too in installments! When the police van pulled up outside the hotel, Zergabachew's fate was sealed. Even before he could move, Haile's iron hand had cuffed him and taken him away while the rest of the crew waited to arrest Dawit and Tamrath.
The torture cell was a seven by seven feet dungeon with hardly any height at all. Zergaw's hair was in an iron like vice of the commissioner. He had all the ingredients ready for a massive programmed torture. He had rats, tweezers to pull the nails off his fingers and he even had an electric chair and everything else that could frighten the daylights out of any mortal at his disposal but he always believed in using the most effective weapon; psychology first. After allowing his prisoner all the freedom of speech he'd wanted, Haile drew a deep breath before he finally spoke. He cursed Zergaw for calling himself a soldier. It was sad, blasphemous and ironical that an army man had gone and sold his country's interests into the hands of some scheming foreigners. In fluent Amharic he chastised Zergaw, 'Tell me, you donkey, in what way are you different from a pimp who brokered sex for his own unknowing and innocent mother?'
That one patriotic line touched some raw nerve so bad that it was enough for Zergaw to completely break down. He cried and begged for clemency. His cries became even louder when Haile's iron hands slapped him harder and harder and harder. He was a protector of the law and couldn't wring the bastard’s neck, though he wished he could. So he seethed in an unstoppable fit of rage. 'You bastard, you should be ashamed of yourself,' he said.
Haile had vented his anger enough; the steam eased off the lid. When he spoke to Zergaw next, he was much kinder. He gave him a glass of water and asked for the names of the entire coterie of sinners involved. Zergaw was by then under a spell of acute emotional distress and duress. He told him all about Fred, Henry and Jamaal. He even told him what little he had heard about Mike, the boss. Strangely, he told him nothing about a young Rastafarian boy named Gangadeen nor did he say anything about a younger Ethiopian lad named Sami. There was no use punishing youth who had already realized their mistakes and had lives to look forward to.
Allowing him a smoke, Commissioner Haile sought his co-operation in trapping Fred and Henry. In return, Haile gave Zergaw his word that he would recommend him as the state witness and have his sentence reduced. Zergaw had no idea where Henry and Fred had holed out; they wouldn't say, courtesy strict instructions their Jamaican boss, but call him, they definitely would!
The night in its course of time, soon brought in two more accomplices Dawit and Tamrath behind bars while the morning saw Zergaw lay the trap for Henry and Fred. Zergaw's words echoed Haile's carefully well thought out trap. Nothing sold like greed.
He told Henry, 'Listen man, I've got a buyer for the whole of the weed.’
Henry said, ' where you wanna meet?’
The meeting was set up at the crowded 'Kaldis coffee shop Medhanealam at five o clock in the evening. Henry smiled as he put the phone down and dialed another number. Fred was too deaf and far too dumb to be able to fathom whatever went on inside of Henry's scheming mind.
I noticed that I was improving each day and had a much more satisfying outing every day in comparison to its previous day. I used to run a full five thousand meters every time I ran, and my coach would time each lap individually. When I finished on the day, through the corner of my eyes, I saw Ato Mulugeta strategize with a few more senior and seasoned athletes about my running abilities and statistics.
A blue colored Suzuki tailed us back all the way home. Mekuria called Henry who couldn’t believe his ears when he heard what he had to tell him. He laughed out loud calling out for Fred. 'The mother fucker is training to be a professional runner.’ ‘Wish I could carry a pistol into the stadium pretending it to be the starter's whistle and then use the same gun to blow the arse holes’ brains off. Did he ever run in the Rasta farm?'
'Not that I know of,’ said an equally bemused Fred. ‘He would walk to the airport but only to get stoned.'
The Kayakis were as green as angels and knew nothing beyond green vegetables and green tef. A few hundred miles of ride in the rough had been for nothing after all! The drug raid organized by Commissioner Haile, that had promised to be a blast turned out to be a damp squib!
The law keepers ruefully made their way back to where they came from and on the other hand, the Kayakis rejoiced at the fast one they had so cleverly pulled!
Mustafa sat himself under the Kalldis café’s umbrella shade at five minutes to five. It was the time of the day when people would start to pour in to the place and relax with their friends over refreshments. The place spun money as much as the macchiato that spun around in the steaming coffee machines. He waved out, when he saw Henry and Fred, trying to find themselves a place to park. Fred had lost weight ever since the center of action had shifted to Addis Pension; his waist having taken two inches off it and so his trousers hung ever so shabbily over his rotund paunch. Even before Fred could move towards Mustafa’s table, Henry excused himself, saying that he needed to pick up some fags. Haile and gang waited patiently at the far end of the parking lot perpendicular to the café, completely oblivious to everybody around while a solitary cop dressed in plain clothes kept a strict vigil over Zergaw alias Mustafa. Henry went absolutely unnoticed. He quietly crossed the road and put his hand in his pockets. He flipped open his Samsung mobile and dialed. Plan B, was now into action.
Adam from Gambella, Henry’s confidante had finished loading all the weed at Addis Pension into another vehicle and was himself readying to move towards the Medhanealam church, the scene of the action where Mustafa sat sipping his macchiato joined by Fred who was greedily slurping on his chocolate milk shake.
‘Henry yeth alle, Where's Henry?’
'Yimathaal, yimathaal, he'll come,' replied Fred in the little Amharic that he had recently learned.
Henry put the mobile back into his baggy trousers and made a non-stop sprint into the building and up the three floors without a stop. He stopped, panted and again ran almost non-stop to the fourth and the top most floor of the building. He paused to catch his breath and went on close unfinished tasks. He pulled out a pair of mini binoculars and began focusing back at the coffee shop. A more unfocused player would have got distracted by the plunging necklines and short midis that the hotties of Addis Ababa offered but Henry was intent on the job at hand.
The Volks Wagon Sedan at the far corner distracted him. What where four men doing with wireless sets in their hands, parked outside a coffee shop and yet not drinking any coffee? Henry was a sharp cookie and went over Mike's plan B over and over again in his mind. It ran thus.
'Have a backup in someone you trust, preferably who doesn't know or is not known to too many people in Addis.
Keep changing your hideout and telephone numbers. Always be wary of things that seem too easy and too fast and if you feel you are trapped and need to run, change your appearance and head towards the border.'
Adam was an old buddy, and an unknown Gambellan and above all Henry trusted him immensely. Lastly, if anything were to go wrong, he had to leave Fred in the lurch and vamoose on his own. Henry patiently waited behind his magnifying lenses that told him no more half an hour later than they had half an hour before.
Save the multicolored setting with a swarm of chicks replacing the static chairs and sofas, nothing seemed to change. Henry lit cigarette after cigarette till all the offices in the building had shut shop. It was one past zero hour Ethiopian time, seven in the evening. The solitary cop keeping an eye on Zergaw and company was tiring of standing and went towards the Volks Wagon and sat in it. Almost simultaneously, another guy got off the rear and went at almost the same place diametrically opposite the table where Mustafa and Fred were chatting about old times. Fred was obviously in trouble and Henry definitely knew it now. There were not four but five of them and sooner or later they would get Fred. It was Henry they were waiting for and they had cleverly used Mustafa as bait. Old tactics! He called Adam again.
'Haya deka, twenty minutes,' Adam hissed. Henry had less than half an hour to run but he wouldn't leave; not until he saw what they did with Fred. The obese son of a gun was gorging on apple pies while Mustafa drank a third cup of coffee. At half past seven, the restaurant began to shut. Fat Fred’s shop shut too! Commissioner Haile got out of the Volks and arrested him.
Henry was down the four floors of the building in a matter of seconds getting into the rust colored Corolla. A couple of hours later, a man resembling a Russian school teacher came out of the city center. He was bald and wore a cap and the brown colored contact lenses made him look fairly handsome. He was accompanied by a big black man, possibly from Nigeria wearing a cultural dress of that state. The two of them got into the rust colored Corolla, stopped at the next fuel station, fed the Corolla with enough gas to kill and were soon seen by people who didn’t matter heading out towards the border. The consignment of chat that Adam had booked earlier in the day was also bound towards Gambella with all of the weed cleverly camouflaged inside the it.
Henry smiled while Fred wept mercilessly being treated like a third rate citizen in a seven by seven feet dungeon of a torture cell.
All tails were off. “The hunters had become the hunted.”
The next day, I ran my fastest fifteen hundred meters ever since I had begun to practice. The telex in Commissioner Haile's office began printing. There was nobody in the entire Caribbean island called Mike Carvahlo. However, there had indeed been two bookings in that name by the flights that the Commissioner had sought details about but the address and contact numbers were either mistaken or did not exist. The passenger had obviously used a fake passport!
It had been the easiest thing to make Fred talk. All it required was the muzzle of a loaded gun to be shoved up his mouth. Fred squealed almost everything at the simple drop of a hat and so Jamaal and co were rudely intercepted and picked up from Addis Pension late that night.
There wasn’t much dope to confiscate since Adam had cleaned it all up but Jamaal wasn’t part of plan B and so he too was sacrificed at the altar! The fourteen tire Mercedes truck stood like an innocuous piece of steel waiting for a scrap merchant to bid it goodbye!.
Henry and Adam drove into the still of the night when the former’s phone came alive. Mike was on line congratulating him for his skillful execution.
'Remember friend, you can fool some people sometime but you can't fool all the people all the time. But the important thing is to keep on going, keep on going.' He had spoken a mixture of Marley and his own brand of fire filled philosophy. He switched his mobile off. ‘Bubba Ray’, king of the Caribbean sands, war-lord of Jamaica, splashed around in the Barbadian seas sipping his favorite shot of vodka martini shaken and stirred while discussing a major drug deal in Columbia with his mates Curtly, Bruce and Jeff.
So what if Ethiopia had not hit pay dirt; to him business meant spreading the odds until something or the other evened it out.
Life had vaulted around a full three hundred and sixty degrees in the last one week. This was perhaps what they call the circle of life. Ato Mulugeta was an elated man. The gang had been busted and the poppy fields were set on fire. Though the Dutchman who was the cleverest of them all had escaped, there were not too many regrets over all and Commissioner Haile vowed that he'd get him sooner or later.
Ato Mulugeta looked more cheerful than ever as he introduced me to a giant killer.
'Meet Commissioner Haile,' he winked. He too is my disciple and an excellent runner. If he hadn't joined the police; he'd be running for his country today.’
‘Good luck and well done,' he said in the commissioner’s praise. I stood there amazed and at a loss for words at how skillfully this master of the track had master-minded the entire crack down operation in tandem with Commissioner Haile. Sami and I had been pardoned under extra-ordinary circumstances or my coach had negotiated it as a pre-condition perhaps.
Ramadhin uncle arrived, still zapped at my vanishing act. 'You owe me an explanation bubba,' he said.
I said to him, 'I have undone all that I could not have lived with and I shall now only do deeds that will make me live life with a sense of pride.’ He didn't understand the whole thing; it was simply too much and too hard to digest. All he said with a limpid look in the eye was,
'I am proud of you bubba.'
Back to the grind of running, home, running and more running. The stadium became my first home and hard work and practice, my religion. Ato Mulgeta was a stickler for discipline and got a complete check on my blood samples.Alcohol and dope had polluted my system so much that we both needed to be sure if I was intact health wise; fortunately I was.
I also failed the only test that every fucker worth the salt of his most prized asset would take pride in not passing; it was called H.I.V.
When we were not training, Ato Mulugeta was an active home man. Come Sabbath day, he would spend time in the kitchen and cook some fine Injera and chikana Tibbs. All I was allowed was my weekly quota of home made wine. That night, I mustered enough courage to tell Ato Mulugeta about how I had deviated from the path of correct living and how I had emancipated from my own slavery in the life of the 3B’s and then joined the Zionist forces in defeating my own all- encompassing Babylon spirit! He looked proudly at me and strangely that day I felt an immense bond of attachment with this fine Ethiopian gentleman; the perfect embodiment of such a historic culture!
It was time to test the litmus.
The Rasta had said, ‘Do not come to Ethiopia if you have not liberated yourselves from the shackles of Babylon.’ But for me, my visit to Ethiopia would be a true home coming indeed!! I was still to break free from the shackles of the demons of Babylon but was hell bent upon conquering the hearts of the Angels. I was not only going to run in the true spirit of the Rasta but also for my own pride!”
I VS I- RUNNING FOR PRIDE
Back in Addis, Ato Mulugeta's family had become as if like my own and even the dog Teethee, a cross between an Alsatian and something else would growl, if I missed taking it for a walk or if I forgot feeding it some biscuits.
'No wine, no beera, no alcohol, no coke till the race is over,' my coach instructed the entire household. He seldom announced such blanket bans and his command was next to religion in his own house.
Ato Mulugeta was going over his study. Why runners from Africa have dominated long distance running events? History is based on evidence and what better way to prove than the results that point to the fact that their success has something to do with their nature and habitat.
There aren’t better examples than Ethiopia. No coincidence that the running greats who have excelled for Ethiopia have all been known to hail from the highlands of Arsi, Bale and Shewa, all part of the central highlands of the country. This is ‘the genetic theory factor’. There is another school of thought that rightly suggests that the Kenyans and Ethiopian highlanders traveled to school more than five kilometers on foot in childhood and most of them ran to school, everyday.
That is what perhaps gave them the endurance. In stark contrast, obesity with children in the United States and Great Britain has robbed them of any aerobic endurance, just the opposite of what East African kids were born blessed with. Another reason why the East Africans were the best endurance long distance runners were the altitude levels at which they ran. Yet another motivation to take up the sport in Ethiopia was its challenge as an exit route from poverty. And finally, winning in East African meant survival and not glory and so they ran as though their lives depended on it. The Jamaicans on the other hand were strong beef eaters; powerful human dynamos with volcanoes within them. Who was I? Ato Mulugeta was convinced I could not do much in the longer versions of the game; I wasn't born for it.' So son, do you want to run the eight or the fifteen hundred,' he asked.
An old man, one who'd spent years of his life in the track and field of the stadium of Addis Ababa sat with a tattered register, one that had at least four hundred pages of annals of the sweat and toil of the country's finest runners who had started off here and then gone on to win laurels for the country all over the world. 'Und shee hamist metho, one thousand five hundred,' the old man nodded in certification. He continued to look at me and to size me up.
So, it was finally determined that I would run the fifteen hundred meters event. I wondered just how many champs he had learnt to spot when he had seen them. I didn't know what material I was but he had seen me run and was suggesting what he thought me fittest for.
Back to the stadium and back to practice. Ato Mulugeta spoke with a fond gaze into his running past, 'You know, I clearly remember the times when a number of athletes never even wore any shoes but that didn't deter them from the spirit of the game.’ He had seen the days when even blank cartridges for a starter's pistol were used, miserly preserving the real one’s for the most prestigious events. The same could be said about all the other poorer nations of the world.
Ethiopia was no exception. Races almost often began with an official who stood behind the runners at a place they couldn't see. He would be seen holding a flag aloft and yelling, ''Go.''
‘You have heard of Haile Gebreselassie, haven't you?’
Two-time men's Olympic champion at 10,000 meters who has set no less than seventeen world records and is considered by many the most versatile runner in history, used to say, 'We don't need a starter's gun, guns are only for fighting.’
He threw a priceless nugget, 'when one runs with the past, one never runs alone.’
'Running is not an easy task,' he said. It is not just about running but about training and coming fit to the race, that is equally important,’ he smiled ‘and that requires a very disciplined dietary regimen and proper training.' He continued passionately, ‘You know, we have the greatest future in the arena of long distance running that is going to be ours.’ His words were mystically motivating. ‘The Olympic Gold and world championships are going to be ours forever and Kenenisa Bekele, Sileshi and many others are going to smash all the running records in future; mark my words.’ I had no doubt after I heard him finish that his words were not only to be marked but also to be considered as gospel.
'Lij thoroo now,danaai daroo. The kid is good. Good night,' he heard someone say and it was time for some rest again.The routine continued. I was getting better with every passing day but my coach was tirelessly egging me on to try and do better with each day that passed. Ato Mulugeta trained me on the technique of how to effectively get off the blocks; something that became a strong point in my abilities as a runner.
'It is not only vital to start well but equally so to finish in the right manner.’ He spent hours teaching me the best way to breast the tape. I still had no idea how good or bad I was and whenever I asked him, he'd only joke. 'Winning or losing is not that important,' and he'd wait for me to finish his own line as his disciple. ‘It’s the spirit of running that is paramount.'
The last day before the event, the entire Mulugeta family and I went to the church and prayed. Weziro (Mrs) Rgebe Mulugeta who had become very fond of me asked me to kneel in front of her. She closed her eyes and prayed in continued silence for over two minutes. Neither did she take her hand off my head nor did I make any attempt to even move. The entire church saw an Ethiopian mother praying for her Jamaican son. The others and the mothers in the church looked on, and the silence in the church reflected their tacit approval that the “Ethiopian heart was reaching out to the Jamaican soul”. The Rasta’s bond was far too strong! If not for my own sake, Inow had to run for my parent and foster parents and prayed sincerely not to let any one of them down.
The stadium was filled to a capacity crowd. GebreHaile Sellasie, the finest runner and ambassador of Ethiopian sport had come to witness the competition. There were five races in all and the1500m race in which I was participating, was the last of all. I wasn’t privy to the previous races and all I could hear from the indoor room where I waited with Ato Mulugeta were the sounds made by a highly charged and motivated audience. My event was an all- Ethiopian run, and honestly, I had neither any clue how they ran nor how my timings matched against theirs. All I knew was that I had to run the way my mentor had taught me to and that there would be no deviations, irrespective of how the others ran.
His words echoed in my mind, 'Remember you are only running against yourself. It is as though your very life depends upon it.' There must have been a few thousand faces sneering and jeering at me and I kinda felt odd donning my country's yellow colors. I had no track record and was someone that had not run a single race in his own country, let alone win it!
My only recognition was that I was the legendary Mulugeta Bekele's prodigy. I was the darkest horse a race might perhaps have ever seen. My prayers were still with me and I closed my eyes and I felt an overpowering sense of levity; must have been a mystic force. More than the race, a feeling of exhilaration had already begun sweeping me off my feet. What was this? Did someone or something believe in me more than I? I inhaled deeply to ease my nerves. I felt better, more reassured, confident and slowly but surely my nervous look turned into a smile that refused to leave me till the time I took my position at the blocks. I confidently looked at my opponent in the adjacent lane and instantly recognized him as one of Ethiopia’s star contenders for an Olympic gold. The mere thought further boosted my confidence that I was honored to run among such greats! Such was the power of positive thinking that my mentor had inculcated in me that there was no other way I could think.
There were twelve of us in all and I would be happy just to finish the race. Placing no longer mattered; well not anymore!
I couldn't recall his name but I was kind of sure, he was going to win this race. I saw him bow his head and kiss his cross. This motivated me to think of God too. I thought of Pa one last time and the fire of the pistol came alive. We were all off the blocks in a flash. I was running faster than I was supposed to and yet struggling to keep pace with the pack. Though the pace of things had taken me by surprise, I continued to run at the same pace, a little faster than I had been used to. I found myself somewhere in the middle of a pack of six or seven runners. I couldn't spot the hot favorite who was calmly pacing himself at a hand shaking distance behind us. It was too early to separate the men from the boys. I continued the scorching pace I had set for myself, not to be left out of the crowd and to be a part of the race. Just the delight of having been bunched up with a pack and not being a laggard was giving me all the job satisfaction any job seeker would have ever wanted in this world.
Nothing changed since the race had started. Even at the end of seven hundred meters, the pack was unchanged and the hot favorite was still not in front. There were just two laps to go. My lungs were swelling up and a slight discomfort was beginning to set in even as I turned the bend that must have been half way into the penultimate lap. I heard a roar go up from the crowd and three Ethiopian runners came charging from behind almost like bolts out of the blue. They overtook all of us and in an instant were way into the lead.
The guy had seen kissing his cross was way ahead of the rest in a matter of micro-seconds! As they made their way out into the front, I helplessly applauded in silent admiration. My feet were tiring and my wind-pipe was almost choking and I knew I was over stretching myself. Yet, I manfully strode on in the middle of my pack as we made our way into the last lap.
Ato Mulugeta stood amidst the spectators in silent admiration at the manner in which I had chosen to push myself.
I had gone beyond limits in pushing myself to the limit. There is no strategy that works other than the strategy of winning and that is all that matters in the end.
The crowd was cheering and the uproar was now deafening. I psyched myself into re-enacting the repeat of my real life saga and even imagined that ‘a lion was chasing me from behind,’ just as my coach had auditioned. I had to run to the other end of the ground because my life had depended on it. The sun had already set and if I didn't make it in the next forty seconds, the gates would close and I would be a dead man. I started to dash as if a man possessed.
Surprisingly, everybody else was doing the same. The pack of three was still in front and getting even further and further away. There were two races being run within the same race; one by the men and the other by the boys!
Ato Mulugeta was up on his chair shouting and egging me on. Three hundred meters to go! Two more Ethiopian tri colors made a dash away from the pack. There was no more time for strategy; it was time for a brute test of stamina and strength. There was still two hundred meters to go as I watched one, two and three thunder past the finishing line like lightning.
I recreated the setting that my mentor had trained me for. This was no longer physical; it was time for mind games! The forest had gotten denser and the slope had gotten steeper. I psyched myself into believing that a lion was chasing me and I had to run for my life! I drew on everything I had and manfully continued battle. The fourth and the fifth Ethiopian runners also went past the line and with barely fifty meters to go, we were now just of five of us out there in the front. We had left two laggards behind and it was difficult to pick among us who was ahead and by how many millimeters? If I could by some magic, motorize my lungs with a super natural charge, I had to do it now; from where I knew not. All I had were my two legs and so I lengthened my strides, pressed the ground harder with every stride and began grunting loud as if to draw all the reserves I had in me in that instant. My teeth were gnawing at my jaws grinding for that extra pound of energy but my lungs couldn’t handle the frantic change in my respiratory system any longer! Breathing was more like at a premium but I took no notice of my physical situation that would compromise my mental mission. Another few strides and it was as if my lungs were would burst! In training and in my escape, I had punished my system to their limits of endurance, but this was something far beyond.
Ato Mulugeta was almost shrieking; the way he jumped around in excitement and yelled my name had his grand-children marveling that he’d even out done them! Though I couldn’t see him, I could sense his desire! At that instant, even living was not as important as winning. I could hardly even breathe but I didn’t care about myself. There was no way that I was going to let up and I had to go on and I had to finish creditably, no matter what!
With just a last fifteen meters to go, our pack of five turned to four. I pressed the ground harder and was putting in so much effort, that my shrieking and grunting, filled the stadium. With just a few more superlatively fast strides, the pack was reduced to just two, with barely a hair’s breadth, separating us. I heard an angel say, 'Son you are the son of both Shiva and Christ, you are no ordinary mortal but you have a mission in life.' As if in magical telepathy, while my opponent was still concentrating on his stride, I enacted lesson number fourteen of Ato Mulugeta's teachings, 'In a photo finish, breast first.'
I arched my body in the last split second to pip my opponent in an exciting photo finish. I had finished sixth in the race of twelve; not bad at all for a first appearance. I looked up and saw the entire crowd rise. The five Ethiopian runners who had long since finished the race stood up to give me a standing ovation and in the distance I saw my mentor doff his cap towards me.
I circled the track and though I hadn’t come prepared with any Jamaican flag, I just waved at them and they continued cheering and applauding me. When I turned to head back into the pavilion, an old man stopped me. 'Congra!' he yelled and shook my hand so vigorously, that it hurt!. Among those who cheered me the loudest were the Rastafarians of Shashemene, my soul mate Sami, his father Ato Ayelew, and Weziro Rgebe.
Ato Mulugeta welcomed me with open arms, kissed me on the forehead and then thrice on the cheeks. The applause continued to my utter delight and I began wondering what it was that I had done that had won their hearts? It was only later that I learnt from my coach that the guy who I had beaten in a photo finish was the country’s juniors champion in the 1500 m event and this was the biggest upset of the season.
Ato Mulugeta opened a bottle of champagne and the celebrations ran into the night. Sami and I didn't recreate any further magic; we'd done enough and so settled for an evening of fun and dance with Ato Mulugeta’s family. Three guys sat stoned in front of the television set watching the Ethiopian television broadcast in South Sudan. They refused to believe their eyes. Henry commented, 'A junkie has won, hurrah and the three found themselves enough reason to cheer and continue drinking themselves silly. Perhaps it was an oneness of the Rastafarian spirit that had given them a cause to cheer.
In the prison, a scuffle broke out between two sets. Mustafa claimed that it was he that had won because he was my first running coach but some of his inmates thought he had lost his marbles and began ridiculing him. Little did they know how right he had been! I really had Mustafa to thank. He was not such a bad man after all! Fred slept through the scuffle oblivious to the world around him. Even prison hadn't changed him.
My farewell was a warm send off by a bunch of genuine friends who wished well for me. The only guy who cried was Ramadhin uncle.
Regbe aunty brought me flowers. Though, she cried inside, she put up a brave front, ‘I will miss you, my son. Do come back soon.’ I hugged her and promised I would. She continued fighting her tears but continued to smile at me in trying to make me feel happier. The Ethiopian airlines made its final departure call. Until then, I had just stood beside Ato Mulugeta and we really didn’t get a chance to speak anything relevant. Overcome by a sense of emotion, I said to Ato Mulugeta, ‘But for you, I would not have been what I am today.’
Ato Mulugeta was a fantastic guy. Not only was he a man of spirit, strength and character but he was also one of profound wisdom. He spoke very less but when he did, his words were pure pearls. He looked back at me and his words took their time coming and when they did, they managed to change my outlook about life itself!
'Son, you must continue to live your life, the same way as you ran this race.’ I didn’t understand. ‘Living is not about what life chooses to do with you but about the way you choose to do what you want to with your life. Every day is a new battle and it is we who may choose to overcome or cow down. Life is all about the spirit of winning.'
I let go his hand, but took him with me; in my mind, heart and soul. The airbus A320 soared into the azure and a familiar face appeared with a double scotch with lots of soda and ice. Her eyes greeted me warmly and she smiled when she discerned a noticeable change in me. My gaze stopped at her beautiful face and exquisite features and refused to travel southwards! Ruth was more beautiful than anyone I'd ever seen but what the hell? I seen enuff of em all ………………………….
If Ruth wanted to know why I slept it off, it was because I’d seen the 3B (booze, babes and bread) by 3D………..
About the Author -Ajay Minocha
Born in Chennai in the year 1961, I was the first son and the second child of the house. I grew up to be a Mechanical Engineer, passing out from the Regional Engineering College today known as the National Institute of Technology Warangal, India in the year 1983.
Joining my father in business immediately thereafter, the spirit of entrepreneurship drove me all across the country. Learning languages and meeting people became a sub-conscious passion inside of me and so I traveled extensively not only within but also outside the country becoming a small time multi-linguist in my own right. I was in the trade of drilling for water and as if I hadn’t had enough within the country, I ventured out to Ethiopia late 2003.
I had then been married 16 years, a happy and proud father of two. A moment of ill-fate toppled the world around me when we lost our fifteen year old son Rishabh in July 2004. I followed my wife’s footsteps and took up the practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism in the year 2007 after I returned from Ethiopia.
Given the gift of writing by the faith I practice, I have but a simple message to convey….
‘There is nothing called darkness, either within or outside of us. Every individual has the infinite power to invoke his infinite wisdom by prayer, perseverance and a faith to change the life state within and outside. Therefore please start believing that you can and you will win.’
Booze Babes And Bread - A Rastafarian Roller Coaster
the world's most undiscovered commodity
cradle of humanity,land of the Black Jews, Zion of the Rastafaraians
Rasta Makonen Haileselassie
Crusader against aparthheid
Jah to the worldwide Rastafarians
Master Of Reggae
Sang in praise of Jah and against the white men's slavery.
Ethiopia- The Land of The black Jews, The Land of Zion, The Cradle Of Christianity.
This publication is aimed at showcasing one of the worlds most fascinating and unknown
commodities-Ethiopia. Modern worlds yet undiscovered commodity that the scriptures refer to as
'Land of the judgment day’, the archaeologists- 'the cradle of humanity', the historians-Abyssinia
and the Christians-land of the black Jews.’ Land of the Zion, Mecca of the Rastafarians and one
of the world’s first Christian kingdoms, Ethiopia is where Jesus still lives in the hearts of these
wonderful and God fearing people.
© 2020 AJAY MINOCHA