Project Thumbs Up Africa
Neda Boin (22), Sierd van der Bij (23) and Christiaan Triebert (21) are the lucky Dutch trio who began on 1 October a three-month-long hitchhiking trip from Groningen in the Netherlands to Cape Town, South Africa. They are part of the Thumbs Up Africa project, which aims at raising global awareness about sustainability.
We hitch a ride with a group of Ethiopian engineers and they give us shelter. Next thing I know I’m in the middle of southern Ethiopia’s breathtaking nature, in a luxurious compound alongside what is still a bumpy road.
By Christiaan Triebert, Yabelo
I am having dinner with 21-year-old Abrham Mulu. Tasty pasta with spinach and beef it is tonight.
Abrham tells me he is in his last year of civil and urban engineering studies at Hawassa University and is doing his compulsory internship at the Ethiopian construction company. This company is working to improve the road between Yabelo and Mega, which for many years has been in a bad state. That road covers some 100 kilometres and will be transformed into two lanes. This construction is part of the greater Mombasa-Nairobi-Addis Ababa road planned for completion in 2014.
This concrete can be a catalyst for Ethiopia's development, explains Abrham. “There will be different changes for our country. First of all, a much larger trade exchange will take place between Ethiopia and Kenya. The current state of the road is so bad that there are barely trucks on this route which connects our capital with the port of Mombasa. A new road will improve transportation and reduce the costs and time... a new town will arise. That'll bring economic possibilities.”
A small settlement on the other side of the compound attests to these words. Inhabitants from the region are hoping to earn money by selling coffee and tea to the workers. That number of merchants is growing.
“Of course,” says Abrham, “they discovered that they can make money by selling small goods and services to the Ethiopian and Chinese workers. Imagine what will happen when hundreds of people pass by every day as soon as the road is finished.”
That little village was established as soon as the workers got into their comfortable compounds. But even after a year, they are not that friendly towards the foreign workers. A Chinese engineer passes by and the laughter starts.
“They eat dogs!” a man yells. “They are crazy. They cannot even talk English.”
Abrham tells me about their 25 or so Chinese colleagues. “There are many obstacles with the Chinese,” he says. “Language is the biggest one. They don't speak any English, so we have to communicate with hands and feet. That is terrible if you are constructing a road. Apart from that, they're not willing to share their feelings. That is in contrast with our open culture,” says Abrham with a faint smile on his face. “We do need friendship to work together, but communication frightens them. That's sad, really sad.”
But the student is not negative about China's presence in the continent. “I believe they are doing a good job. Furthermore, they are here because of their abilities. They are also a cheap working force, let's not forget that.”
Being the highly educated, eloquent and enthusiastic guy that he is, Abrham surprises me when he says he has never before spoken to a farangi, a white man.
“There are some tourists I saw, but I never spoke in depth with one of them,” he says. “Most of the time white guys think we, as African youngsters, are not mature, but rebellious. But we are not. Even though our skin is black, we have a bright mind.”