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5# The pride of Oromia

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Bakari shoved the World Health Organization report in his bag. At the bell, he hurried out of class toward the beige Land Rover by the school alley.

  • “What’s up Issak?”

  • “Hey brother, how are you?"

  • “Good. Ayana’s hosting a party tonight. Her parents are out of town.”

  • “Bro, I need your card.”

  • “Just tell me what you need. I’ll get it for you.”

  • “This time it’s different. I know a guy paying 2000 birrs for a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”

  • “What’s the catch?”

  • “He’s in Gelila.”

  • “Gelila by the border?”

  • “Yes.”

  • “That’s a no-law zone. You know that, right?”

  • “Exactly. They can’t get anything from Sudan. With your card, that’s 1,600 profit per bottle. Quick and easy.”

  • “I don’t know man. It sounds sketchy.”

  • “My cousin Yahia dealt with the guy before. He connected me.”

  • “Is he reliable?”

  • “He’s a smuggler! Normally I wouldn’t risk it, but Yahia vouched for him.”

  • “How many bottles does he want?”

  • “Between 150 and 200. I’ll need to confirm first. Of course, you get a cut. I just need to borrow your card.”

  • “I cannot give you my card. You know, with my dad and all…But maybe I could come with you.”

  • “Bro, that’s even better! I’ll call Taye. If he confirms, we leave tomorrow.”

  • “What about Ayana’s party? And when will we be back?”

  • “We can be back on Sunday night.”

  • “Okay, I need an excuse for my parents. Do you have family outside Finfinne?”

  • “Yahia lives in Bahir Dar.”

  • “Perfect. So, you have to deliver something to Yahia and asked me to come with you.”

  • “Whatever. I want to be past Ambo before the morning traffic. We should leave at five at the latest.”

  • “Call your cousin, just in case. How far is Gelila from here?”

  • “It depends. The road is paved until Nekemte. After it’s savanna and forest. It should take us around ten hours.”

  • “Damn, that’s a long trip.”

  • “Says the guy not driving.”

  • “Wait…what forest?”

  • “I don’t know. It’s west of Nekemte.”

  • “That’s the rain forest. That’s where they live!”

  • “What?”

  • "The legendary black-maned!”

  • “What are you talking about?”

  • “Lions! If we’re lucky, we might spot one.”

  • “If we’re lucky, we make 150,000 birrs in a weekend.”

  • “I’d rather see lions.”

  • “You can book a private safari and invite Ayana with that money! Come on, let’s call the smuggler.”

Taye, the smuggler, confirmed six cases of whiskey and four of beer. Bakari handed his card to the clerk and met Issak in the warehouse. In total, 168 bottles fit in the back of the Land Rover. The boys stacked the cases and wrapped them with a blanket. Once the shipment secured, they went home for an early night.

The fog slowed their progress out of the capital. They reached Ambo at the peak of the morning traffic and stopped for a spicy fir-fir, a strong coffee, and a long satisfying stretch. Bakari highlighted the thin line crossing the Oromia region. Gelila was somewhere northwest, with no road access or dot on the map. The national A4 weaved through potato fields, fertile plains, and rocky plateaus. Past rose Nekemte and its wildlife reserve, last border to lions’ territory. Bakari shivered.

After lunch, Issak hit the hay while his friend dove in the World Health Organization report. His dad tasked him to analyze mortality rates in the region and assess health initiatives. His analysis quickly fell into a black hole. In rural areas, newborn mortality was four times higher than the capital. Next came maternal mortality, inadequate sanitation, and AIDS. Each problem raised more questions. It was the chicken and the egg dilemma with a morbid touch. Dispirited, Bakari closed the report.

  • “Wake up man, it’s already 3, we gotta get going.”

  • “Five minutes.”

  • “I’ll get a KitKat. Do you want anything?”

  • “Coke.”

Bakari came back with cokes, water, and KitKats. Issak yawned behind the wheel.

  • “Did you sleep?”

  • “No, I went through the health report. It’s depressing.”

  • “You worry too much, man. That’s not good for you.”

  • “It’s for my dad.”

  • “What about it?”

  • “Remember when we were kids? We thought we would have flying cars by the year 2000. Well, around here half the population doesn’t even have drinking water.”

  • “Yeah man, but what can you do?”

  • “So many things!”

  • "Start by getting your license.”

Bakari gazed through the window.

  • “Cheer up man. We’re close to the forest. Look out for lions.”

The dirt road north of Nekemte shook them more than sugar and caffeine. Issak maneuvered slowly, paced by the tinkling of whiskey and beer bottles. To their right stretched red lands marked by drought and deforestation. To their left, groves of Acacias mushroomed against the tree line, lush olive-green in the distance. Bakari spotted a long-eared owl and many jackals, but no lions.

The moon shone high when the boys reached Gelila, a lost hamlet in a plain of darkness. Issak stopped at the gas station and called the smuggler. In the beams of the Land Rover, a motorcycle approached. The rider stopped by the window and waved his flashlight.

  • “Are you Taye?”

  • “Yahia said you would be alone.”

  • “This is Bakari Toure, son of Moussa Toure.”

  • “Yahia said you would be alone.”

  • “He has diplomatic immunity. I could not have come without him.”

  • “Show me the shipment.”

Taye was a short, skinny man with a metallic tooth and a Hitlerian mustache. He followed Issak to the back of the truck. With the patience of a crocodile, he inspected the seal of every bottle with his fingers. Satisfied, he waived his flashlight. “Follow me”, he said, and hopped on his motorcycle.

They tailed Taye on a narrow dirt road deeper into the dusky bush. They crossed a bridge and resurfaced on a flat field, where yellow dots sparkled in the night. Taye stopped by a small metal shack next to a hut. “Drop the cases and come inside”, he said. Issak unloaded the alcohol and disappeared in the hut. He returned to the car with a poker face. Bakari raised a brow.

  • “All good?”

Issak slapped a stash of cash on his thigh.

  • “You tell me!”

  • “You counted?”

  • “Once. They’re having a party. Let’s go.”

  • “I don’t trust him.”

  • “Relax. What did I tell you? Quick and easy.”

Bakari counted the money in his head, then out loud.

  • “I’ll hide it in the car.”

  • “Cool. I’ll go. Join me when you’re done.”

Reggae music echoed behind a circle of plastic chairs. Bakari sat next to Issak and nodded at the crowd. The faces around him were those of smugglers, poachers, and low-class hustlers. One by one, Taye summoned them to his hut. They left their machetes and returned with their due of alcohol. Once all were served, Taye took his seat in the circle. Issak praised the brave lion hunters of Gelila. They all cheered.

Drunkenness and laughter took over the music. Bakari smoked on a passing pipe and coughed his eyes out. Dizzy and in tears, the scene swirled around him. He rubbed his eyes. White dots appeared among the trees.

  • “You see that?”

  • "Evil spirit", said the man with the pipe, his voice as rough as a saw on wood.


Bakari sauntered toward the bush. They white dots went on and off, close to the ground, in pairs. He paced to the car and locked the door. The Land Rover felt safe, quiet. No evil spirits, sketchy people, or machetes. He dozed off.

Bakari woke up with a start and returned to the party. Issak was asleep under a bush, a pink splash at his feet. Only two men remained in the circle, the man with the pipe and a drunk. They were arguing in a local dialect. The man with the pipe pulled the drunk from his seat but got pushed back. He walloped him and strode past Bakari.

  • “That’s his house”, he said, pointing at a hut.

The drunk stood on wobbly feet and chased after him. He staggered and dove face first into the ground. A muffled sound ended the party. KO. The man laid like a dead gladiator in the empty arena. Bakari lifted him over his shoulder. A rancid stench stung him. Holding his breath, he raced to the drunk’s hut and slammed on the door. A teenager with sleepy eyes and a rounded belly showed him inside. He dropped the drunk on his bed. The girl screamed.


  • “What?”


  • “But...I can’t drive!”


There was no sign of life around the huts. Bakari shook Issak, but his friend was as lively as the last drunk. He dashed to Taye’s hut and pounded on the metal sheet. Taye surged out swinging a machete above his head.



  • “Naomi is having her baby. Her waters have broken!”

  • “So? Get her husband!”

  • “He’s wasted! We need to take her to the health center.”

  • “There is no health center here!”

  • “The closest then. I can't drive. Issak is wasted. You must do it.”

  • “Not my problem.”

  • “If we don’t, she’s going to lose her baby, even her life!”

  • “She won’t be the first. Now beat it.”

Bakari erupted in a spike of rage.


Taye jerked back.

  • “Fuck you and your father!”

Bakari’s nostrils flared. He clenched his fists and stepped forward.

  • “Is that your final answer?”

The boy and the man faced each other, waiting.

  • “Pass me the damn keys!”

  • “The car is over there. I’ll get Naomi.”

Bakari helped the teenage girl to the back of the truck and sat beside her. Her grip was strong, her hand moist. He tapped the window and the Land Rover roared in the dank night. A trail of dust formed behind them. The two teenagers bounced in the back. Naomi echoed each bump with a cry. She clutched at Bakari’s wrist and squeezed harder and longer. The baby was pushing. Bakari tapped the window and Taye slowed to a stop. Her breathing was the only sound in the night. Taye flattened the blanket under Naomi while Bakari looked the other way. In the dark, two white dots appeared around them, and then two more. Bakari joined his hands and whispered a prayer.

The smell of iron attracted more white dots around the car. Naomi gurgled and wheezed. Every drop of sweat turned into a prism of pain. Her contractions yielded strength to the unstoppable force of Nature. She screamed and pushed and huffed and puffed. Pain. Sobs. Hiccups. Silence. And the cry of a newborn in the night.

Steam rose from Naomi like water on charcoal. She laid her baby on her chest and wrapped her pagne around. Taye hopped behind the wheel and resumed the journey at a slower pace. They arrived at the health center in the early morning. The midwife treated, disinfected, and checked Naomi for hemorrhages. She cut off the umbilical cord and cleaned the newborn. The baby was alright, a healthy little girl.

Naomi walked out of the health center with her baby strapped in her back. She patted Bakari, still hunched over in the corner of the truck.

  • “She does not have a name yet”.

Bakari nodded.

  • “It’s okay now.”

He looked down.

  • “Look, we’re safe. You did good.”

Bakari buried his face in his hands. She dropped a kiss on his forehead and sat with her baby in the front. The three who left Gelila at night returned four in the morning.

Taye parked the Land Rover by his hut and vanished without a word. Bakari walked Naomi to her husband. Hungover, he did not realize he became a father until she sprayed him. Shocked and pleased, he carried his daughter to spread the news. Bakari reached to Naomi.

  • “Are you going to tell him what happened?”

  • “No.”

  • “But you almost lost your baby.”

  • “These things are a woman’s business.”

  • “You could have died!”

She shrugged.

  • “Thank you.”

She patted his head and followed her husband around the hamlet. The families gathered for the baptism. The joy of the day washed the pain of the night.

Bakari dragged a toddling Issak to the truck. Tired and hungover, they started on the narrow dirt road toward the gas station. Bakari chewed on Naomi’s words, understanding was like trying to catch the rain with his fingers. Without the constant tinkling of bottles, the ride felt morose.

  • “I’m falling asleep.”

  • “We have to be back tonight, remember?”

  • “Yeah, yeah. I just need a short nap, and a Doliprane.”

  • “Doliprane is in my bag. Have some water.”

  • “Passe me two please, and the blanket. It’s chilly.”

  • “I got rid of it.”

  • “What? Why?”

  • “Long story.”

  • “You still got the money right?”

  • “Yeah we’re good. Find a quiet spot away from the road. I need to sleep too.”

Issak forked at a clearing along the tree line. The Land Rover advanced on high grass, deeper into the forest until the Acacias formed a canopy. They parked and fell in a heavy dreamless sleep.

Around the bush, in the sodden forest, a lioness prowled the high grass.

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