Yup – freezing cold, peeing down with rain, electricity every second day – it must be July in Ethiopia. To be fair, they even call it their winter, but nothing quite prepares you for the sheer misery of it all.
The mighty Hotel Tommy in Debre Zeit, where we have just spent a luxurious week, doesn’t do hot water, and doesn’t even attempt breakfast on those days when electricity doesn’t make it down the grid.
So we just have to wait ‘til lunchtime for the next portion of Injura. Now there’s something pretty special. It’s the only thing the locals really love. They eat it for breakfast, they eat it for lunch, they eat it for tea. And if at any time they’re feeling a little bit peckish, the cry goes out “Why don’t we just have a little bit of that delicious Injura?”
The only way I can think of describing it to the uninitiated, is to imagine a cold, wet washing-up cloth, rolled up like a Swiss roll. And if you’re rich, you dollop a blob of meat sauce on it, or some raw mince. Mmmm, yummy!
Now to prepare this gastronomic miracle, you have to have Teff.
Teff is a cereal unique to Ethiopia – just can’t imagine why it hasn’t caught on in the rest of the world – and must be one of the lowest yielding and unproductive crops in the history of the world. It yields about ten per cent of what any other crop would do. And to get it in the ground, you plough the field six times with a maresha plough - SIX BLOOMING TIMES!
You do this with a team of oxen, or if they’ve given up the ghost, a couple of donkeys. I suppose that’s where we come in.
There are still something like eight million working animals in the place – though God knows noone’s ever really counted the teaming masses of donkeys – there’s probably twice as many.
These can be seen streaming along the roads into any of the towns, carrying loads of dried cow-pats. They use them for their fires to cook the blinking injura. Amazingly, a farmer with a cow can make more money selling the cow-pats than the milk.
But we’re really more concerned with the horses.
Donks are so tough and resilient, that given even the slightest chance, even just a sniff at a bit of feed, they will cope. They are the hardiest, most stoical creatures on the planet – they need to be.
But with horses, it’s a different ball-game. In the same conditions – poor food, endless work, pitiless heat in the summer, and wet and cold during the winter - horses really don’t cut the mustard.
So that’s what we do. Endlessly. We take a mobile clinic every day to one of the towns in central and southern Ethiopia, and try and help the endless queues of taxi and cart horses waiting for us.
What a job. Not only are most of them skin and bone – they’re covered in scabs and fly-blown harness sores, lame on as many feet as you can see, and a fair number will have an eye missing or a tooth abscess. What a crew.
Then there’s epizootic lymphangitis. This is where flies carry the infection onto an open wound and it gradually develops down the lymph tracks, until the poor wretched creature is a mass of suppurating boils and sores, and abandoned to die beside the road. Lovely.
Yet, when you look at their owners – wizened, starving looking things themselves, that don’t look as if they’ve got the strength to lift a cup of tea, it’s easier to understand. Poverty in their homes and children like I’ve never seen before.
And some of the kindest, gentlest people in the world.
What a country. I just love it.