Crooked Roads: A Tale of Ethiopia



Phoenix and I spent a long, but good morning interviewing different community leaders in Jimma, one of the towns we were visiting. We listened and learned, and when it was time to go we politely excused ourselves. Instead of walking back to our hotel alone, one of the community leaders offered to walk us back because his house was on the way. We agreed thankfully and the 3 of us went on our way. The walk allowed us to talk about many things. In fact our conversations were quite philosophical and included our life ambitions, politics, religion and just what life is like in the town we were walking. As we neared the hotel I commented on the good quality of the road. I had read that it was new and it still looked it, yet there were large pot holes in some areas (the road was built on a swamp and I guess with that comes quick deterioration). Our new friend confirmed that the road was new and was put in 2 or  3 years before. As we passed over a small bridge our walking guide stretched out his arm and pointed to the road that went out in front of us. He asked if we saw the bend in the otherwise straight road. Looking down the horizon just a bit, we could indeed see how the road turned. As we looked on, we wondered at the importance of such a seemingly small fact. Our friend went on as he told us to not believe anyone who claims that Ethiopia does not have corruption. He said that because of local corruption, even the roads are crooked.

As he said this he paused, giving me time to wonder if this was a metaphor or if there was more to this story. As we walked towards the bend, I had to ask for him to go on- a good storyteller always likes to be cheered on. He continued by saying that the road was supposed to go in a straight line through Jimma. As construction plans were made, the buildings and homes in the way of this significant paved road- the only in the town and the most important- were slated to be torn down and their inhabitants moved. Yet on this road, just past the river we were crossing, was a rich man who had a home lying in the path of the construction and the soon-to-be road. The rich man saw no need to relocate and paid the contractors to divert the road around the house. The contractors were corrupt and happily agreed to the bribe. They diverted the road around the man’s house, creating the crook we saw before us. Our narrator laughed and shook his head at the symbolism embedded in this imagery, as we turned with the road and on to our hotel.





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