Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Everybody Must Get Stoned

No, I am not referring to Bob Dylan's lyric in the sense of being waylaid by partying friends. The stoning is of the biblical sort. This section of the TDA is dubbed Biblical Ethiopia so one can see the throwing of pebbles, stones and rocks as part of an ancient culture. 

As we departed Lalibela, we pased students en route to school on the roadside. Clad in uniform, they tend to greet you with a smile and a query about your destination. Where are you go? About 20 kilometres into the ride, we left tarmac and started the challenging dirt track which one day will presumably be paved. Navigating the villages off-road, one encounters an almost unending stream of children. Most are lovely; some have malicious intent.

After Monday February 10th's ride, the dominant conversation piece was the hurling of stones at us. One needs to be mentally and emotionally strong to endure the "slings and arrows" of these kids. They scurry to the shoulder of the road when they see us, "ferengi" (foreigners) and make requests for birr (money), a pen or a book. If one does not stop and oblige them, a stone will likely be thrown. 

The tossers are often in the 5-12 age group and unaccompanied by a supervising adult. Sometimes the projectiles strike you or your bike. After copping several stones, one is inclined to get off the bike and try to reason with the kids. Doing so exacerbates the frustration. The guilty assailants disperse, giggling as if hitting a foreigner is a source of great amusement. 

I tried to reason with any Ethiopian adult with whom I could communicate. The pat response is that the kids are mere babies. The counterpoint is: if they are not responsible for targeting cyclists with stones,  then who is responsible for moral guidance i.e. Throwing stones at people is wrong. Alas, many parents, especially the villagers or herdsmen, discipline their children by, you guessed it, throwing stones at them. 

As the country evolves and sustainable tourism becomes a buzzword, perhaps this sport will die out over time. In the meantime, it is an experiential hazard for ex-pat riders. Below, one of my colleagues, Kam Heather, a gentleman, tries to engage the kids who come to our camps nightly. Good on him for taking the time to give them our perspective.

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