Just after the communists were driven out of Ethiopia, the organisation we were connected to preferred us not to travel at night. We were seconded to a government hospital in Soddo. There was still a fair bit of shifta (bandit) activity. We had planned to leave earlier than we did, but I was held up at work. Our planned trip was about 400 km. It was almost getting dark when we filled up the main tank with diesel in a town about 150 km from our departure spot. We were using the reserve tank and didn’t switch back onto the freshly filled main tank until we arrived at the next main town a further 100 km along the way.
Within about ten kilometres, having spluttered for a while, the engine stopped altogether, My wife and I, with the 3 Ethiopian teenagers who were living with us, were stranded just outside a prison farm in the dark. A place which we had heard was not well secured.
What should we do? There was a mission station back in the town we had just passed with people we had met. We could not contact them as in those days no such things as mobile phones existed. So my wife and the oldest teenager stayed with the car and the younger two and I set out to walk back for help. I guess we were a bit scared, it was dark and I had seen at the hospital what bandits could do. I can’t remember what we talked about until the youngest explosively let off a prolonged emission from his nether end. He was embarrassed but so what! It got us talking about what sounds were common to all mankind. We could in the languages we knew between us, apart from belches and fluffs, only think of ‘amen’ and ‘hallelujah’.
By the time this enlightening conversation was over we arrived back at the last town, and were able to get help. Our acquaintance at the mission got some tools and 20 litres of diesel and a tow rope. I went to the local motel and found out how much it would cost to stay overnight.
With the mission guy’s help, having been towed back to the mission station, we discovered that the diesel we had bought previously was about 80% water. This was drained out, his diesel put into the tank, we were profuse in our thanks then went to the local fuel place and filled up. By now it was getting late, so I went back to the ‘motel’. But the manager had heard about us and, realising that my wife and I were white, doubled the price for all of us even though 3 were Ethiopians.
I decided we’d take our chances of bandits on the road rather than be robbed by this guy. So off we went for the last 150 km. No more robbers, and we arrived at about midnight. We hadn’t been able to contact them but the place we were to stay (friends) having been worried about us were glad to see us arrive.