We’re climbing the rocky path to the Blue Nile falls, and she’s trying to sell me a shawl. She has a fine line in patter, and would make a good saleperson in any company. But here in Ethiopia’s highlands, she’s born into a farming family of seven others, and she has to her bit to put food on the table. She’s 10.
We arrive at the falls. They’re in flood at the end of the rainy season, fed by lake Taba. Nowadays, they’re brown, not blue. Overgrazing and farming to the edge of the river bring down tons of silt. Too many people, not enough land. There are ten Ethiopians for every one that lived a century ago. Land ownership is based on the village chief allotting land, which is passed on to progeny, in ever decreasing lots, so there’s no hope for commercial production. China managed a major change in rural land ownership in the seventies, which led to a surge in output. Such change is possible in theory in Africa, but would need a Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang. That prospect is vanishingly small. There’s no Deng in view.
“Mister, what about me?” says Hannah. “I go to school and need pencils, and books. I’ll buy books. Mister?”
I don't ask why she's not at school today. I give her the last of my birr, the local currency, and am left de-birred.
We make our way to Gonder in the afternoon, a little drive, but gorgeous, up and down up and down again, like skiing on the new pistes, lovely roads, unmarked, un-signposted, pristine, through another "green and pleasant land" to the ancient Abyssian capital, to our eyre on the hill.
And now, 06:00 and about to head off to Sudan border. I have a bet with David Pineo that we'll get through without a single car check. There's some concern about Sudan being dry and we're there for four days....