Heels over Head: Where you’re going isn’t always your destination

2014-02-09 06:00

Two things my little running game, Get Lost, taught me when I played it in Addis Ababa the other day are:

1. Where you think you are going isn’t always your destination.

2. Trust the locals on this.

My first attempt at playing the game the morning just after my arrival in Addis Ababa proved way too easy.

Despite being apprehensive about the streets in the bustling Piazza area where I stayed possibly all looking the same, and the Amharic shop and cafe names getting to me, and generally not finding my way back to the hotel ever, it all worked out fine.

The landmarks I memorised on my way out led me back to my hotel even if my studies of the map were all lost after three minutes because street names aren’t big in Addis and the streets don’t look like the ones on the map anyway.

The run took about 20 minutes longer than I’d planned, but I didn’t get entirely lost, got back in time for breakfast, had a hearty one, and was on time for the work stuff.

Four, five days later, overconfident about being able to find my way around, and with more or less a working knowledge of the area layout, I set out in a new direction, towards the university.

All went swimmingly. Other runners were also using the same route – always a reassuring sign that this is the best of the best routes – the streetlights were working and the pavement was big and even.

Then things got interesting. On my way back I decided to take a turn-off because the trees looked greener on that side of the road.

It took me past the zoo into a leafy area with lots of fascinatingly beautiful academic buildings – the University of Addis Ababa.

The twists and turns got more interesting and I ran off into a side street that suddenly seemed unlike the city at all, with birds singing and grass and trees, and then into a cobbled street with no cars and neat corrugated iron and wood homes, pigeons and birds that don’t get startled as you almost step on them, and bucket toilets being emptied into the ditch on the side of the road. It seemed as if I had run back in time and then the time froze, and soon I began to wonder if I’d find my way out. Turning around seemed too boring – I wanted to explore, and turning back was uphill anyway.

A woman on the cobbled street pointed me in the general direction of Piazza, and soon I emerged on the tar road and the real world again. Another man on the side of the road pointed me in the opposite direction to where I thought I should be going when I asked his help.

A kilometre or so further, another man confirmed the direction, but I found it hard to believe him.

I asked a third one who very patiently and politely explained to me that I should take the road and go straight, straight, straight without turning.

Reluctantly I did so. He looked like an honest family man after all. Still, I attempted a last time to veer off in a different direction when I was almost sure he wasn’t looking, but after almost falling on top of a bunch of kids sleeping rough, I followed his instructions.

Amazingly, after about 15 minutes the place started to look familiar. There was a bustle of shops and people, and then I caught sight of the monolith of the electricity building with the bus stop in front of it that was one of my markers for the Piazza. To the right a familiar crane towered above the incomplete building work on the square. It was like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fitting together in a way I never imagined before.

I was back to where I started, but this time it was a different place.

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