Mortal Danger in Ethiopia – Resignation (3/5)

“Treasures From The Pioneer Era” – Continuation from Ernie Tanner’s book: “Where Angels Fear To Fly”

My companion Georg waded through the water to the three houses to get help and I waited for him. It seemed a very long time until finally I heard the longed for three cheers that he was not in danger. They sounded extremely far away. But soon afterwards Georg appeared accompanied by two white figures. 

When they were within earshot, he called to tell me to show myself because the men were afraid. I did so at once and talked to Georg for a while so that they could hear my voice. The two haggard, grim looking men didn’t appear very confidence inspiring. They were dressed in the typical white robes of the Somalis and spoke neither English nor French.

Still under the impression that Gode was the next town, we asked them to get help for us from there. With all the eloquence we could summon, we tried to explain that we needed fuel. They must have seen us land and therefore they knew that we had a helicopter. However, they shook their heads vigorously and kept repeating “Kelafo”. Of course, they couldn’t possibly have walked to Gode; it would have taken them days. In the end we gave in and said, “OK, then Kelafo.” At this point, each of them demanded eight dollars for medicine, claiming they were both sick. We gave them the money and asked them to leave right away. They nodded.

Meanwhile it had started to get dark and the mosquitos had almost devoured us whole. We could hardly filter the water because of the aggressive little beasts. Yet they took practically no notice of the Somalis. Although these appeared to be our only hope of rescue, we didn’t trust them. So, after we had said goodbye to them, we pretended to walk along the road towards the west. After a while, we extinguished our flashlight, turned and went back up the footpath. In a few moments we saw several lights on the road. The Somalis were obviously searching for us. Once we had reached the plateau, we found the road leading to the airstrip. We were dead tired as we trudged towards the airfield. Once again, we had to be very careful with the water and decided to take one sip every half hour. We arrived at a fork in the road, and racked our brains trying to remember where we had come from that morning. We recalled that there had been a 100 feet (30 m) long crater in the road, and chose the right hand fork hoping to come across the crater pretty quickly. But we couldn’t find it anywhere. We were exhausted and overcome by resignation. We had neither the courage nor the strength to turn back to the fork in the road, and just plodded on, praying silently, into the unknown.

From time to time, I switched on our flashlight for a quick look round. Suddenly I was wide awake. On my left, two pairs of bright predator eyes were staring at us. “Attack is the best defense,” I thought and started to yell, roar and stamp my feet. The big cats’ eyes never flinched. I snatched a flare rocket from my shirt pocket and with a bang, a red flare shot towards the animals. When our eyes had again grown accustomed to the dark, the cats had gone.

Now I switched on the flashlight at more frequent intervals, and we soon had another surprise. This time it was positive. Our road led southward past the airfield. Through the thinning undergrowth I spied a clearing, which we aimed for. Soon the huge airfield lay before us with our tiny helicopter in the distance. Our relief was beyond words. We were safe, at least for the time being.

We quickly collected wood for our campfire. As I opened the rear door of the helicopter I noticed two deep cracks running across the windshield. The Perspex pane was still in its frame but badly twisted and wedged in place. Someone had tried to heave it out. As I attempted to push the pane back into place it broke. Had the thieves just pressed on the pane once, their efforts would have been successful. It’s easy to imagine what would then have been left of the helicopter.

The most impressive aspect of this was that on that morning I had placed my hands precisely on this spot to ask for God’s protection! What a wonderful “coincidence”! 

At about ten o’clock the following morning three Somalis appeared on the airfield and approached us. We recognized our two rescuers and were amazed that they had got back so soon. To our annoyance, they said they hadn’t left yet, but came with a third man who was also sick and needed eight dollars for medicine, and was going to Kelafo with them. They had waited all morning just to come and beg another eight dollars from us! Now I asked my big, strong colleague Georg to accompany them to Kelafo in order to avoid any more delays … and all I could do was wait.

(To be continued)